[Fis] [External Email] Re: defining information

Lars-Göran Johansson Lars-Goran.Johansson at filosofi.uu.se
Fri Mar 6 11:19:42 CET 2020

6 mars 2020 kl. 00:01 skrev João Alvaro Carvalho <jac at dsi.uminho.pt<mailto:jac at dsi.uminho.pt>>:

Dear Colleagues

Wittgenstein (Investigations 65-71) suggests that some concepts encompass phenomena that have no single feature in common.
However it is possible to recognise the existence of some form of likeliness.
He uses the term "family resemblances" to refer to this.
He gives the example of “games”. It is not possible to provide a definition of game that fits all sorts of games we can find.

It is my view that the same happens with information.
There is a wide range of phenomenon where we recognise features that leads us to call it “information".
However, it is not possible to provide one single definition that adequately describes all those phenomena.

I gave up looking for an unifying definition of information.
As soon I switch to another context (for example, moving from the context of organisational work to  the human mind or to the cell) the key features are different.



Dear colleagues

Wittgenstein’s observation is generally valid when it concerns terms used in informal talk. Even talk about scientific matters using vernacular expressions is as W described it. Just consider the use of the term ’energy’ in common spoken and written language. It has almost nothing to do with the physical quantity energy as the integral ∫Fds.

Another thing is mathematics and strictly formalized sciences such as physics. Central terms are carefully defined in those disciplines.  In physics and all empirical sciences the empirically fundamental ones are defined by describing measurement procedures. (Looking at the definitions of units in the SI system we see that the second is the only unit that is not defined in terms of other units; it is defined in terms of  a number of oscillations in certain devices.)

So trying to find a definition of information that covers all its uses is doomed to fail at start.

It seems to me that the driving force in the discussion about information is the desire to establish information as some kind of fundamental ’stuff’ of the world. This is pure metaphysics. Since answers to  metaphysical questions by definition cannot be determined by empirical findings, there is no hope of agreement on such matters.

Lars-Göran Johansson

Lars-Göran Johansson
Professor emeritus i teoretisk filosofi
Uppsala Universitet

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