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Philosophy of information

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Encyclopedia
The philosophy of information (PI) is the area of research that studies conceptual issues arising at the intersection of computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

, information technology
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

, and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

.

It includes:
  1. the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information
    Information
    Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

    , including its dynamics, utilisation and sciences
  2. the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical problems.

History


The philosophy of information (PI) has evolved from the Philosophy of artificial intelligence
Philosophy of artificial intelligence
The philosophy of artificial intelligence attempts to answer such questions as:* Can a machine act intelligently? Can it solve any problem that a person would solve by thinking?...

, logic of information
Logic of information
The logic of information, or the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical signs and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce...

, cybernetics
Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

, social theory
Social theory
Social theories are theoretical frameworks which are used to study and interpret social phenomena within a particular school of thought. An essential tool used by social scientists, theories relate to historical debates over the most valid and reliable methodologies , as well as the primacy of...

, ethics
Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 and the study of language and information.

Logic of information


The logic of information
Logic of information
The logic of information, or the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical signs and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce...

, also known as the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical sign
Sign (semiotics)
A sign is understood as a discrete unit of meaning in semiotics. It is defined as "something that stands for something, to someone in some capacity" It includes words, images, gestures, scents, tastes, textures, sounds – essentially all of the ways in which information can be...

s and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce.

Cybernetics


One source for the philosophy of information can be found in the technical work of Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener
Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician.A famous child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.Wiener is regarded as the originator of cybernetics, a...

, Alan Turing
Alan Turing
Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS , was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of "algorithm" and "computation" with the Turing machine, which played a...

, William Ross Ashby
William Ross Ashby
W. Ross Ashby was an English psychiatrist and a pioneer in cybernetics, the study of complex systems. His first name was not used: he was known as Ross Ashby....

, Claude Shannon, Warren Weaver
Warren Weaver
Warren Weaver was an American scientist, mathematician, and science administrator...

, and many other scientists working on computing and information theory back in the early 1950s. See the main article on Cybernetics
Cybernetics
Cybernetics is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems. Cybernetics is closely related to information theory, control theory and systems theory, at least in its first-order form...

.

Some important work on information and communication was done by Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. He had a natural ability to recognize order and pattern in the universe...

 and his colleagues.

Study of language and information


Later contributions to the field were made by Fred Dretske
Fred Dretske
Frederick Irwin Dretske is a philosopher noted for his contributions to epistemology and the philosophy of mind. His more recent work centers on conscious experience and self-knowledge. Additionally, he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 1994...

, Jon Barwise
Jon Barwise
Kenneth Jon Barwise was an American mathematician, philosopher and logician who proposed some fundamental revisions to the way that logic is understood and used....

, Brian Cantwell Smith
Brian Cantwell Smith
Brian Cantwell Smith is a scholar in the fields of cognitive science, computer science, information studies, and philosophy, especially ontology. His research has focused on the foundations and philosophy of computing, both in the practice and theory of computer science, and in the use of...

, and others.

The Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) was founded at Stanford University in 1983 by philosophers, computer scientists, linguists, and psychologists, under the direction of John Perry
John Perry (philosopher)
John R. Perry is Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. He has made significant contributions to areas of philosophy, including logic, philosophy of language, metaphysics, and philosophy of mind...

 and Jon Barwise
Jon Barwise
Kenneth Jon Barwise was an American mathematician, philosopher and logician who proposed some fundamental revisions to the way that logic is understood and used....

.

P.I.


More recently this field has become known as the philosophy of information. The expression was coined in the 1990s by Luciano Floridi
Luciano Floridi
Luciano Floridi currently holds the Research Chair in philosophy of information and the UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics, both at the University of Hertfordshire, Department of Philosophy...

, who has published prolifically in this area with the intention of elaborating a unified and coherent, conceptual frame for the whole subject.

Peirce


C.S. Peirce's theory of information was embedded in his wider theory of symbolic communication he called the semeiotic, now a major part of semiotics
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

. For Peirce, information integrates the aspects of sign
Sign
A sign is something that implies a connection between itself and its object. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence...

s and expressions
Expression (mathematics)
In mathematics, an expression is a finite combination of symbols that is well-formed according to rules that depend on the context. Symbols can designate numbers , variables, operations, functions, and other mathematical symbols, as well as punctuation, symbols of grouping, and other syntactic...

 separately covered by the concepts of denotation
Denotation
This word has distinct meanings in other fields: see denotation . For the opposite of Denotation see Connotation.*In logic, linguistics and semiotics, the denotation of a word or phrase is a part of its meaning; however, the part referred to varies by context:** In grammar and literary theory, the...

 and extension
Extension (semantics)
In any of several studies that treat the use of signs - for example, in linguistics, logic, mathematics, semantics, and semiotics - the extension of a concept, idea, or sign consists of the things to which it applies, in contrast with its comprehension or intension, which consists very roughly of...

, on the one hand, and by connotation
Connotation
A connotation is a commonly understood subjective cultural or emotional association that some word or phrase carries, in addition to the word's or phrase's explicit or literal meaning, which is its denotation....

 and comprehension
Comprehension (logic)
In logic, the comprehension of an object is the totality of intensions, that is, attributes, characters, marks, properties, or qualities, that the object possesses, or else the totality of intensions that are pertinent to the context of a given discussion...

 on the other.

Shannon and Weaver


Claude E. Shannon, for his part, was very cautious: “The word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory. It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition. It is hardly to be expected that a single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field.” (Shannon 1993, p. 180). Thus, following Shannon, Weaver supported a tripartite analysis of information in terms of (1) technical problems concerning the quantification of information and dealt with by Shannon's theory; (2) semantic problems relating to meaning and truth; and (3) what he called “influential” problems concerning the impact and effectiveness of information on human behaviour, which he thought had to play an equally important role. And these are only two early examples of the problems raised by any analysis of information.

A map of the main senses in which one may speak of information is provided by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article. The previous paragraphs are based on it.

Bateson


Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. He had a natural ability to recognize order and pattern in the universe...

 defined information as "a difference that makes a difference". which is based on MacKay
Mackay
Mackay is a Scottish surname which can refer to:*Clan Mackay, the Scottish clan from which the surname "MacKay" derives*Mackay Trophy, named in honour of Clarence Mackay, is awarded annually by the US Air Force for the "Most Meritorious Flight"...

: information is a distinction that makes a difference.

Floridi


According to Floridi, four kinds of mutually compatible phenomena are commonly referred to as "information":
  • Information about something (e.g. a train timetable)
  • Information as something (e.g. DNA, or fingerprints)
  • Information for something (e.g. algorithms or instructions)
  • Information in something (e.g. a pattern or a constraint).


The word "information" is commonly used so metaphorically or so abstractly that the meaning is unclear.

Computing and philosophy


Recent creative advances and efforts in computing
Computing
Computing is usually defined as the activity of using and improving computer hardware and software. It is the computer-specific part of information technology...

, such as semantic web
Semantic Web
The Semantic Web is a collaborative movement led by the World Wide Web Consortium that promotes common formats for data on the World Wide Web. By encouraging the inclusion of semantic content in web pages, the Semantic Web aims at converting the current web of unstructured documents into a "web of...

, ontology engineering
Ontology engineering
Ontology engineering in computer science and information science is a new field, which studies the methods and methodologies for building ontologies: formal representations of a set of concepts within a domain and the relationships between those concepts....

, knowledge engineering
Knowledge engineering
Knowledge engineering was defined in 1983 by Edward Feigenbaum, and Pamela McCorduck as follows:At present, it refers to the building, maintaining and development of knowledge-based systems...

, and modern artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 provide philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 with fertile notions, new and evolving subject matters, methodologies, and models for philosophical inquiry. While computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 brings new opportunities and challenges to traditional philosophical studies, and changes the ways philosophers understand foundational concepts in philosophy, further major progress in computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 would only be feasible when philosophy provides sound foundations for areas such as bioinformatics, software engineering, knowledge engineering, and ontologies.

Classical topics in philosophy, namely, mind
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

, consciousness
Consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

, experience
Experience
Experience as a general concept comprises knowledge of or skill in or observation of some thing or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event....

, reasoning, knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

, truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

, morality
Morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 and creativity
Creativity
Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that has some kind of value. What counts as "new" may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs...

 are rapidly becoming common concerns and foci of investigation in computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

, e.g., in areas such as agent computing, software agents, and intelligent mobile agent technologies.

According to L. Floridi " one can think of several ways for applying computational methods towards philosophical matters:
  1. Conceptual experiments in silico: As an innovative extension of an ancient tradition of thought experiment
    Thought experiment
    A thought experiment or Gedankenexperiment considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences...

    , a trend has begun in philosophy to apply computational modeling schemes to questions in logic
    Logic
    In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

    , epistemology, philosophy of science
    Philosophy of science
    The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

    , philosophy of biology
    Philosophy of biology
    The philosophy of biology is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences...

    , philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind
    Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

    , and so on.
  2. Pancomputationalism: By this view, computational and informational concepts are considered to be so powerful that given the right Level of abstraction
    Abstraction
    Abstraction is a process by which higher concepts are derived from the usage and classification of literal concepts, first principles, or other methods....

    , anything in the world could be modeled and represented as a computational system, and any process could be simulated computationally. Then, however, pancomputationalists have the hard task of providing credible answers to the following two questions:
    1. how can one avoid blurring all differences among systems?
    2. what would it mean for the system under investigation not to be an informational system
      Information system
      An information system - or application landscape - is any combination of information technology and people's activities that support operations, management, and decision making. In a very broad sense, the term information system is frequently used to refer to the interaction between people,...

       (or a computational
      Computational
      Computational may refer to:* Computer* Computational algebra* Computational Aeroacoustics* Computational and Information Systems Laboratory* Computational and Systems Neuroscience* Computational archaeology* Computational auditory scene analysis...

       system, if computation = information processing)?


The self-dual, self-interacting property of informational self-transduction has also been metaphorically described as infocognition and protocomputing.

Information and society


Philosophical studies of the social and cultural aspects of electronically mediated information have been carried out by numerous philosophers and other thinkers.
  • Albert Borgmann
    Albert Borgmann
    Albert Borgmann is an American philosopher, specializing in the philosophy of technology. He was born in Freiburg, Germany, and is a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana.-Philosophy:...

    , Holding onto Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium (Chicago University Press, 1999)
  • Mark Poster
    Mark Poster
    Mark Poster is a Professor Emeritus of History, Film and Media Studies, and the Critical Theory Emphasis at UC Irvine. He received his Ph.D...

    , The Mode of Information (Chicago Press, 1990)
  • Luciano Floridi
    Luciano Floridi
    Luciano Floridi currently holds the Research Chair in philosophy of information and the UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics, both at the University of Hertfordshire, Department of Philosophy...

    , Informational Nature of Reality, Key Talk selected at the E-CAP conference 2006 (Trondheim, 2006)

See also



  • Barwise prize
    Barwise prize
    The Barwise prize was established in 2002 by the American Philosophical Association, in conjunction with the APA Committee on Philosophy and Computers, on the basis of a proposal from the International Association for Computing and Philosophy for significant and sustained contributions to areas...

  • Complex system
    Complex system
    A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties not obvious from the properties of the individual parts....

  • Digital philosophy
    Digital philosophy
    Digital philosophy is a direction in philosophy and cosmology advocated by certain mathematicians and theoretical physicists, e.g., Gregory Chaitin, Edward Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, and Konrad Zuse ....

  • Digital physics
    Digital physics
    In physics and cosmology, digital physics is a collection of theoretical perspectives based on the premise that the universe is, at heart, describable by information, and is therefore computable...

  • Game theory
    Game theory
    Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

  • Informatics
    Informatics (academic field)
    Informatics is the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems. Informatics studies the structure, algorithms, behavior, and interactions of natural and artificial systems that store, process, access and communicate information...


  • Information art
    Information art
    Information art is an emerging field of electronic art that synthesizes computer science, information technology, and more classical forms of art, including performance art, visual art, new media art and conceptual art...

  • Information ethics
    Information ethics
    Information ethics has been defined as "the branch of ethics that focuses on the relationship between the creation, organization, dissemination, and use of information, and the ethical standards and moral codes governing human conduct in society". It provides a critical framework for considering...

  • Information philosophy
  • Information theory
    Information theory
    Information theory is a branch of applied mathematics and electrical engineering involving the quantification of information. Information theory was developed by Claude E. Shannon to find fundamental limits on signal processing operations such as compressing data and on reliably storing and...

  • International Association for Computing and Philosophy
    International Association for Computing and Philosophy
    The International Association for Computing and Philosophy is a professional, philosophical association emerging from a history of conferences that began in 1986...

  • Logic of information
    Logic of information
    The logic of information, or the logical theory of information, considers the information content of logical signs and expressions along the lines initially developed by Charles Sanders Peirce...

  • Philosophy of artificial intelligence
    Philosophy of artificial intelligence
    The philosophy of artificial intelligence attempts to answer such questions as:* Can a machine act intelligently? Can it solve any problem that a person would solve by thinking?...

  • Philosophy of computer science
    Philosophy of computer science
    The philosophy of computer science is concerned with the philosophical questions that arise with the study of computer science, which is understood to mean not just programming but the whole study of concepts and methodologies that assist in the development and maintenance of computer systems...


  • Philosophy of technology
    Philosophy of technology
    The philosophy of technology is a philosophical field dedicated to studying the nature of technology and its social effects.- History :Considered under the rubric of the Greek term techne , the philosophy of technology goes to the very roots of Western philosophy.* In his Republic, Plato sees...

  • Philosophy of thermal and statistical physics
    Philosophy of thermal and statistical physics
    The philosophy of thermal and statistical physics is that part of the philosophy of physics whose subject matter is classical thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and related theories...

  • Physical information
    Physical information
    In physics, physical information refers generally to the information that is contained in a physical system. Its usage in quantum mechanics In physics, physical information refers generally to the information that is contained in a physical system. Its usage in quantum mechanics In physics,...

  • Relational quantum mechanics
    Relational quantum mechanics
    Relational quantum mechanics is an interpretation of quantum mechanics which treats the state of a quantum system as being observer-dependent, that is, the state is the relation between the observer and the system. This interpretation was first delineated by Carlo Rovelli in a 1994 preprint, and...

  • Social informatics
    Social informatics
    Social informatics is the study of information and communication tools in cultural, or institutional contexts...

  • Statistical mechanics
    Statistical mechanics
    Statistical mechanics or statistical thermodynamicsThe terms statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics are used interchangeably...



Further reading


External links

  • Information Eschatopaedia
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a freely-accessible online encyclopedia of philosophy maintained by Stanford University. Each entry is written and maintained by an expert in the field, including professors from over 65 academic institutions worldwide...

    : "Philosophy of Statistical Mechanics" -- by Lawrence Sklar.
  • IEG site, the Oxford University research group on the philosophy of information.
  • Philosophy of Information website.
  • Luciano Floridi
    Luciano Floridi
    Luciano Floridi currently holds the Research Chair in philosophy of information and the UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics, both at the University of Hertfordshire, Department of Philosophy...

    , "Where are we in the philosophy of information?" University of Bergen
    University of Bergen
    The University of Bergen is located in Bergen, Norway. Although founded as late as 1946, academic activity had taken place at Bergen Museum as far back as 1825. The university today serves more than 14,500 students...

    , Norway
    Norway
    Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

    . Podcast dated 21.06.06.