Mark Johnson johnsonmwj1 at gmail.com
Tue Jan 21 12:04:43 CET 2020

Dear Jerry,

Thank you very much for this response. I think it’s spot-on in identifying
the both the intellectual progress that’s been made and in the challenges
that lie ahead. I hope my response makes some kind of sense!

I want to first draw attention to what you say about the success of science
and the formation of symbolic boundaries – the issue of consciousness is
important, but I fear if we start there, we’ll get lost!

First of all, there is a question about the nature of symbolic boundaries –
are they “things” or are they epiphenomena of “processes”? This question
has a bearing on what you go on to say about scientific communication and
empirical results.

I think you are absolutely right about the role of experiment in the
codification of symbolic boundaries. If our discussions on FIS have a
central weakness, it is too little empirical work.

But think for a moment about how empirical results assist in the
codification process. During the scientific revolution, there were “images”
produced by technologies – instruments – which were reproducible, and
incontrovertibly “true”. Bas van Frassen has argued for the centrality of
two images: the microscope and the telescope. I find this helpful and
raises a question – what is our scientific “image” today?

Is “probability” – whether from Shannon information theory, or other
statistical methods in science – an “image”? Maybe we call it “information”
because we don’t know what else to call it…

I want to suggest that we need new ways of looking at the world. Viewed
through the lens of Shannon entropy, (or Ashby’s “variety”), the world is
contrapuntal. How do we picture counterpoint without simply attenuating
individual “lines” and excluding their relations?

Our current attempts at information measurement feel two-dimensional – a
bit like medieval art. We are waiting for a Donatello or a Ghiberti!

Like many on this list, I think there are many deficiencies with measuring
Shannon entropy. But its practical successes are plain to see. Bob
Ulanowicz, Loet and others have done important work in this area. But there
are some indications that we might refine Shannon’s techniques to produce a
more 3-dimensional image of entropy counterpoint.

First of all, Shannon’s H is always relative. Imagine that in measuring the
entropy of a string of characters, the entropies  of both “A” and “AAAA” is
zero. Yet if one calculates the mutual information (as T(ij) = H(i) + H(j)
– H(ij)) between such a string and another string of varied characters, say
“ABCDJJJHE”, we can obtain negative values for mutual information – what
does that mean?

The problem may be that although Shannon’s H for “A” and “AAAAAAA” is the
same, perhaps it is not really the same. Something’s missing – and what’s
missing seems to be a proper way of accounting for zero, or nothing, to
which even the single “A” is relative. How do we understand zero?

It’s a jump and reflects the weird collection of friends I have, but this
makes me think of William Rowan Hamilton’s discovery of quaternions.
Hamilton realised that the non-commutativity of the quaternions produced 3
dimensions. Indeed, he went further to suggest that in order to have 3
dimensions in physics, you need non-commutativity (which Dirac picked-up

What do quaternions do? Well, one thing they do is give us an alternative
representation of nothing – a nilpotent (first conceived by Benjamin Peirce
– C.S. Peirce’s father), where a^2 = 0

So does 3D information require quaternions and nilpotents? Its worth asking
the question.

Do we then have a new image of science? I wonder if we might. Maybe it’s a
fractal, or hologram, which works as an “anticipatory system” in the sense
that Daniel Dubois (and Loet) have argued. This can help us overcome
problems of non-ergodicity and 2-dimensionality which might move us on. I
think it can also help us understand better the relations between
consciousness and matter.

Best wishes,


On Sat, 18 Jan 2020 at 17:19, Jerry LR Chandler <
jerry_lr_chandler at icloud.com> wrote:

> List, Mark:
> Is one of the critical issues in these recent exchanges the illumination
> of the meaning of the concept of “information”?
> Is there any rhetorical approach that can remove the concept of
> “information” from the dark shadows of human consciousness and
> communication?
> Does the extension of the penumbra of the term information into the umbra
> of disinformation and misinformation improve communication among our
> enlightened discussants?
> Loet’s message captures deep portions of the public situation. But, in my
> view, it is misses one critical area of the intersections between science
> and society.
> The historical development and the modern successes of science are driven
> by beliefs in a particular form of truth.
> The difference that makes a difference between the successes of science
> and other systems of belief is the demarcation of symbolic boundaries. We
> all accept that these symbolic boundaries are far from being perfect forms.
> Yet, the symbolic boundaries inform the specificity of meaning of messages
> intended to communicate form. Within the boundaries of specific
> representations of scientific symbol systems, the meanings of messages can
> be conveyed with substantial precision and accuracy.  The boundaries of
> meanings of symbols are improved by empirical reproducibility in order to
> extend the consistency of meanings. This is a pragmatic view of the history
> of the perplexification of the natural sciences over the centuries.
> But this communication of information is *necessarily dependent* on the
> sender and the receiver of the encoded message being scientifically
> enlightened by knowledge of the synthetic symbol system used in the coding
> and decoding processes of communication. This constraint on scientific
> communication *sharply* *distinguishes* it from the forms of
> communication used in the cultural communities such as literature, the
> arts, politics and religion.
> With these remarks as preamble, I comment on Mark’s questions.
> On Jan 18, 2020, at 5:41 AM, Mark Johnson <johnsonmwj1 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Is the problem "disinformation" or the inability to organise ourselves
> effectively to manage this complexity? (Or rather the ineffectiveness of
> existing institutional forms to manage this, some of which are making a
> claim to "reinforce the truth" - witness our universities).
> By and large, the current debate is merely cultural “business as usual”,
> amplified by the social media.
> The theory of intersubjectivity upon which Luhmann (and Loet) build their
> transpersonalism is predicated on the construction of effective selection
> mechanisms that can manage the complexity of the environment. That
> construction process requires a social context - an institution - in order
> to operate... Does it not?
> Yes, rules are often useful. The challenge is to design new rules that
> serve the goals that are (putatively) desired by cultural leaders.
> Cheers
> Jerry
> Best wishes
> Mark

Dr. Mark William Johnson
Institute of Learning and Teaching
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
University of Liverpool

Phone: 07786 064505
Email: johnsonmwj1 at gmail.com
Blog: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.com
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