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Information

The ASCII codes for the word "Wikipedia" represented in binary, the numeral system most commonly used for encoding computer information.

Information, in its most restricted technical sense, is an ordered sequence of symbols. As a concept, however, information has many meanings.[1] Moreover, the concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation.

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[edit] Etymology

The English word was apparently derived from the Latin accusative form (informationem) of the nominative (informatio): this noun is in its turn derived from the verb "informare" (to inform) in the sense of "to give form to the mind", "to discipline", "instruct", "teach": "Men so wise should go and inform their kings." (1330) Inform itself comes (via French) from the Latin verb informare, to give form to, to form an idea of. Furthermore, Latin itself already contained the word informatio meaning concept or idea, but the extent to which this may have influenced the development of the word information in English is not clear.

The ancient Greek word for form was îî¿ρφî (morphe; cf. morph) and also îáîî¿ς (eidos) "kind, idea, shape, set", the latter word was famously used in a technical philosophical sense by Plato (and later Aristotle) to denote the ideal identity or essence of something (see Theory of forms). "Eidos" can also be associated with thought, proposition or even concept.

[edit] As sensory input

Often information is viewed as a type of input to an organism or designed device. Inputs are of two kinds. Some inputs are important to the function of the organism (for example, food) or device (energy) by themselves. In his book Sensory Ecology, Dusenbery called these causal inputs. Other inputs (information) are important only because they are associated with causal inputs and can be used to predict the occurrence of a causal input at a later time (and perhaps another place). Some information is important because of association with other information but eventually there must be a connection to a causal input. In practice, information is usually carried by weak stimuli that must be detected by specialized sensory systems and amplified by energy inputs before they can be functional to the organism or device. For example, light is often a causal input to plants but provides information to animals. The colored light reflected from a flower is too weak to do much photosynthetic work but the visual system of the bee detects it and the bee's nervous system uses the information to guide the bee to the flower, where the bee often finds nectar or pollen, which are causal inputs, serving a nutritional function.

Information is any type of sensory input. When an organism with a nervous system receives an input, it transforms the input into an electrical signal. This is regarded information by some. The idea of representation is still relevant, but in a slightly different manner. That is, while abstract painting does not represent anything concretely, when the viewer sees the painting, it is nevertheless transformed into electrical signals that create a representation of the painting. Defined this way, information does not have to be related to truth, communication, or representation of an object. Entertainment in general is not intended to be informative. Music, the performing arts, amusement parks, works of fiction and so on are thus forms of information in this sense, but they are not necessarily forms of information according to some definitions given above. Consider another example: food supplies both nutrition and taste for those who eat it. If information is equated to sensory input, then nutrition is not information but taste is.

[edit] As an influence which leads to a transformation

Information is any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns. In this sense, there is no need for a conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern.[citation needed] Consider, for example, DNA. The sequence of nucleotides is a pattern that influences the formation and development of an organism without any need for a conscious mind. Systems theory at times seems to refer to information in this sense, assuming information does not necessarily involve any conscious mind, and patterns circulating (due to feedback) in the system can be called information. In other words, it can be said that information in this sense is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or presented for that purpose.

If, however, the premise of "influence" implies that information has been perceived by a conscious mind and also interpreted by it, the specific context associated with this interpretation may cause the transformation of the information into knowledge. Complex definitions of both "information" and "knowledge" make such semantic and logical analysis difficult, but the condition of "transformation" is an important point in the study of information as it relates to knowledge, especially in the business discipline of knowledge management. In this practice, tools and processes are used to assist a knowledge worker in performing research and making decisions, including steps such as:

  • reviewing information in order to effectively derive value and meaning
  • referencing metadata if any is available
  • establishing a relevant context, often selecting from many possible contexts
  • deriving new knowledge from the information
  • making decisions or recommendations from the resulting knowledge.

Stewart (2001) argues that the transformation of information into knowledge is a critical one, lying at the core of value creation and competitive advantage for the modern enterprise.

The Danish Dictionary of Information Terms[2] argues that information only provides an answer to a posed question. Whether the answer provides knowledge depends on the informed person. So a generalized definition of the concept should be: "Information" = An answer to a specific question".

When Marshall McLuhan speaks of media and their effects on human cultures, he refers to the structure of artifacts that in turn shape our behaviors and mindsets. Also, pheromones are often said to be "information" in this sense.

[edit] As a property in physics

In 2003, J. D. Bekenstein claimed there is a growing trend in physics to define the physical world as being made of information itself (and thus information is defined in this way) (see Digital physics). Information has a well defined meaning in physics. Examples of this include the phenomenon of quantum entanglement where particles can interact without reference to their separation or the speed of light. Information itself cannot travel faster than light even if the information is transmitted indirectly. This could lead to the fact that all attempts at physically observing a particle with an "entangled" relationship to another are slowed down, even though the particles are not connected in any other way other than by the information they carry.

Another link is demonstrated by the Maxwell's demon thought experiment. In this experiment, a direct relationship between information and another physical property, entropy, is demonstrated. A consequence is that it is impossible to destroy information without increasing the entropy of a system; in practical terms this often means generating heat. Another, more philosophical, outcome is that information could be thought of as interchangeable with energy. Thus, in the study of logic gates, the theoretical lower bound of thermal energy released by an AND gate is higher than for the NOT gate (because information is destroyed in an AND gate and simply converted in a NOT gate). Physical information is of particular importance in the theory of quantum computers.

[edit] As records

Records are a specialized form of information. Essentially, records are information produced consciously or as by-products of business activities or transactions and retained because of their value. Primarily their value is as evidence of the activities of the organization but they may also be retained for their informational value. Sound records management ensures that the integrity of records is preserved for as long as they are required.

The international standard on records management, ISO 15489, defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". The International Committee on Archives (ICA) Committee on electronic records defined a record as, "a specific piece of recorded information generated, collected or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an activity and that comprises sufficient content, context and structure to provide proof or evidence of that activity".

Records may be maintained to retain corporate memory of the organization or to meet legal, fiscal or accountability requirements imposed on the organization. Willis (2005) expressed the view that sound management of business records and information delivered "âsix key requirements for good corporate governanceâtransparency; accountability; due process; compliance; meeting statutory and common law requirements; and security of personal and corporate information."

[edit] Information and semiotics

Beynon-Davies[3][4] explains the multi-faceted concept of information in terms of signs and signal-sign systems. Signs themselves can be considered in terms of four inter-dependent levels, layers or branches of semiotics: pragmatics, semantics, syntax, and empirics. These four layers serve to connect the social world on the one hand with the physical or technical world on the other...

Pragmatics is concerned with the purpose of communication. Pragmatics links the issue of signs with the context within which signs are used. The focus of pragmatics is on the intentions of living agents underlying communicative behaviour. In other words, pragmatics link language to action.[5]

Semantics is concerned with the meaning of a message conveyed in a communicative act. Semantics considers the content of communication. Semantics is the study of the meaning of signs - the association between signs and behaviour. Semantics can be considered as the study of the link between symbols and their referents or concepts; particularly the way in which signs relate to human behaviour.

Syntax is concerned with the formalism used to represent a message. Syntax as an area studies the form of communication in terms of the logic and grammar of sign systems. Syntax is devoted to the study of the form rather than the content of signs and sign-systems.

Empirics is the study of the signals used to carry a message; the physical characteristics of the medium of communication. Empirics is devoted to the study of communication channels and their characteristics, e.g., sound, light, electronic transmission etc..

Nielsen (2008) discusses the relationship between semiotics and information in relation to dictionaries. The concept of lexicographic information costs is introduced and refers to the efforts users of dictionaries need to make in order to, first, find the data sought and, secondly, understand the data so that they can generate information.

Communication normally exists within the context of some social situation. The social situation sets the context for the intentions conveyed (pragmatics) and the form in which communication takes place. In a communicative situation intentions are expressed through messages which comprise collections of inter-related signs taken from a language which is mutually understood by the agents involved in the communication. Mutual understanding implies that agents involved understand the chosen language in terms of its agreed syntax (syntactics) and semantics. The sender codes the message in the language and sends the message as signals along some communication channel (empirics). The chosen communication channel will have inherent properties which determine outcomes such as the speed with which communication can take place and over what distance.

More recently Shu-Kun Lin proposed a simple definition of information: Information is the amount of the data after data compression.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ L. Floridi, Information - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press) provides a short overview.
  2. ^ Informationsordbogen.dk
  3. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2002). Information Systems: an introduction to informatics in Organisations. Palgrave, Basingstoke, UK. ISBN 0-333-96390-3
  4. ^ Beynon-Davies P. (2009). Business Information Systems. Palgrave, Basingstoke. ISBN 978-0-230-20368-6
  5. ^ Witzany G. (2010) Biocommunication and Natural Genome Editing. Springer: Dordrecht

[edit] Further reading

  • Alan Liu (2004). The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, University of Chicago Press
  • Bekenstein, Jacob D. (2003, August). Information in the holographic universe. Scientific American.
  • Shu-Kun Lin (2008). 'Gibbs Paradox and the Concepts of Information, Symmetry, Similarity and Their Relationship', Entropy, 10 (1), 1-5. Available online at Entropy journal website.
  • Luciano Floridi, (2005). 'Is Information Meaningful Data?', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 70 (2), pp. 351 â 370. Available online at PhilSci Archive
  • Luciano Floridi, (2005). 'Semantic Conceptions of Information', The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Available online at Stanford University
  • Sandro Nielsen: 'The Effect of Lexicographical Information Costs on Dictionary Making and Use', Lexikos 18/2008, 170-189.
  • Stewart, Thomas, (2001). Wealth of Knowledge. Doubleday, New York, NY, 379 p.
  • Young, Paul. The Nature of Information (1987). Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, Ct. ISBN 0-275-92698-2.

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