virus: Information basics 1

Robin Faichney (
Sat, 17 Apr 1999 09:51:17 +0100

Here's the "test message" I threatened, on info basics. No mention of memes whatsoever (except there), but I hope the possibility of building up to memetics from this base will be fairly obvious.

The concept of information is used in physics, for instance in connection with entropy, but that often seems, to me at least, to conflict somewhat with the more common sorts of use of the concept, for instance in "management information systems". Having had some success with the technique in other (but related) areas, I decided to analyse information (the concept(s)) in terms of subjectivity and objectivity.

I now seem to be making real progress, having divided information into two categories. Objective information is what physicists deal with. While this is not central to my interests, and I'm not entirely clear about it, I believe it is equivalent to "negentropy". But objective information is not esoteric: it is, in fact, just the form of physical reality. Every physical thing can be considered to carry the information that is its own description. And this is equally true on all levels of description/explanation, the difference between levels being that of the scale of the patterns we're interested in.

Subjective information is the more commonly thought-of sort. It is carried by telephone lines, radio waves, hard and floppy discs, etc. It is always "about something" other than its carrier -- or at least, if it does happen to be about its carrier, it is so in a fundamentally different way than is objective information. Subjective information is an interpretation of objective information: when analysed with maximal objectivity, a floppy disc carries only its own objective information, which happens to include magnetic charges. But those charges, when interpreted in a particular way, provide additional information, which could be about anything from naked women to floppy discs. This additional information is not a supernatural entity, "the soul of the floppy", or such, but is a function of the relationship between the floppy's objective information, and the method of interpretation -- which is more information, in some sense "sent ahead", and can be thought of as context. Thus subjective information conforms to Wittgenstein's notion of meaning as use in a particular language game (context). And it requires information processing, whether by computer or brain (or both).

Of course, the concepts of subjective and objective information are already in common use, but the difference is that there, they are relative, while my usage is absolute. Say we have two descriptions of a building, one made by an artist, and the other by a construction engineer. It's quite likely that the former will be relatively subjective, and the latter relatively objective, but both are, in my, absolute terminology, subjective. Only the building itself can carry its own objective information, it is necessarily the sole possessor of its perfectly objective description. I contend that there is no necessary conflict between these relative and absolute usages. The intended meaning should be made clear by the context.

Any comments so far?

Robin Faichney
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