[Fis] [External Email] defining information - On relating definitions of information

Christophe Menant christophe.menant at hotmail.fr
Fri Mar 6 15:42:13 CET 2020

Dear Gordana,
Thanks for highlighting the agentivity I implicitly refer to.
An evolutionary perspective can bring some details.
Putting aside any possible finality of our universe, we can say that information came up with life in the evolution of our universe.
Before that, only ubiquist laws were guiding the universe.  No information was present. It is only when a local "maintain status" constraint came up, applying to a local far from thermodynamic equilibrium, that information and agency came in (https://philpapers.org/rec/MENICA-2).

This positions local constraints as the source of agency, information and meaning. In an evolutionary perspective it looks difficult to talk about information without talking about agency. And the evolution of local constraints can characterize the evolution of our universe where management of information by humans is only a recent event (this to put into context the focus on human management of information).

De : Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic <gordana.dodig-crnkovic at mdh.se>
Envoyé : vendredi 6 mars 2020 12:37
À : fis <fis at listas.unizar.es>
Cc : Lars-Göran Johansson <Lars-Goran.Johansson at filosofi.uu.se>; Christophe Menant <christophe.menant at hotmail.fr>
Objet : Re: [Fis] [External Email] defining information - On relating definitions of information

Dear colleagues

Just a short comment on the current discussion, regarding physics of information:

Here is an interview that might be of interest:


and special issue of Information<https://eur05.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mdpi.com%2Fjournal%2Finformation&data=02%7C01%7C%7C917c9422d2c64c6a8e0508d7c1c2c6ee%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637190914607058733&sdata=VAeTiPENN6dt47%2FBHl%2F7rST5LggJaZaS3%2B4YBspOu94%3D&reserved=0> (2012) on "Information and Energy/Matter".  3(4), 751-755. doi:10.3390/info3040751

Measurement is only one part of physics, and it is essential that fundamental units are few and commonly shared


But meaning of it all comes from the interaction of a human (agent) and the physical world outside, thus bringing into picture much more than mapping of observations into suitable units.

Agency can be as simple thing as ability to act, and I believe Christophe talks about cognitive agency which is the property of living. Beings and cognitive artifacts, and it can be expressed in terms of agency of inanimate physical-chemical objects that those cognitive agents are made of.

Information can be as simple or as complex notion as you can imagine, but this comes with a cost – either we see no detail, or we don’t see a big picture. Or we don’t see the dynamics of it etc. What we might want, is not so much to vote for the best definition of information but instead to understand how those different definitions relate to each other, and what makes people call them information. The same goes for energy, life, cognition or any other fundamental idea that we discuss.

All the best,


From: Fis <fis-bounces at listas.unizar.es> on behalf of Lars-Göran Johansson <Lars-Goran.Johansson at filosofi.uu.se>
Date: Friday, 6 March 2020 at 11:57
To: Christophe Menant <christophe.menant at hotmail.fr>
Cc: fis <fis at listas.unizar.es>
Subject: Re: [Fis] [External Email] Re: defining information

Lars-Göran Johansson

lars-goran.johansson at filosofi.uu.se<mailto:lars-goran.johansson at filosofi.uu.se>

6 mars 2020 kl. 11:37 skrev Christophe Menant <christophe.menant at hotmail.fr<mailto:christophe.menant at hotmail.fr>>:

It is indeed difficult to define information as it applies to many different things. But these different things have in common to be agents, and agency may be a “key feature” of information. Take away the agent, information does not exist, has no reason of being.
And the reason of being of information is its meaning for the agent. Information exists only by its meaning for the agent which uses it to satisfy its constraints.
The agent can then be looked at as “an identifiable entity submitted to internal constraints and capable of actions for the satisfaction of the constraints” (see para 3.2.3 inhttps://philpapers.org/rec/MENCSA-2<https://eur05.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fphilpapers.org%2Frec%2FMENCSA-2&data=02%7C01%7C%7C917c9422d2c64c6a8e0508d7c1c2c6ee%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637190914607068727&sdata=Qaa%2FZeDS0ZhLcXNGqKyden2PJerhfFpWNc6p%2B4N%2BgMQ%3D&reserved=0>).
This would bring to a definition of information like “energy variation which leads an agent to generate meanings to satisfy its constraints” (looks like a rewording of “a difference that makes a difference"….)

Using the term ’agent’ in the definition of information just highlights Wittgenstein’s point. What is the common characteristics for all things called ’agents’? And ’generate meanings’? What is that?



De : Fis <fis-bounces at listas.unizar.es<mailto:fis-bounces at listas.unizar.es>> de la part de Loet Leydesdorff <loet at leydesdorff.net<mailto:loet at leydesdorff.net>>
Envoyé : vendredi 6 mars 2020 07:47
À : João Alvaro Carvalho <jac at dsi.uminho.pt<mailto:jac at dsi.uminho.pt>>; fis <fis at listas.unizar.es<mailto:fis at listas.unizar.es>>
Objet : Re: [Fis] [External Email] Re: defining information

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.

This problem is precisely a reason to stick to a content-free, i.e., mathematical definition of information.  Information can then further be made relevant in any special theory. The application is not dimension-free.



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