Søren Brier: firstname.lastname@example.org
Béla A. Bánáthy: email@example.com
Jed Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information, information processing and information society are all key terms in describing technology, intelligence and the social development today. Actually the idea of an information science including AI and cognitive science integrated with cybernetics and systems represents the most recognized attempt of making a transdisciplinary framework dissolving the conflict between science and the humanities. As Norbert Wiener pointed out: in formation is information, neither matter nor energy; and with the computer understood in principle as a Turing machine a new view has been created where information becomes the organizing and sometimes creative aspect of nature, that combined with the principle of mergence, can explain how life and mind arose from matter. This was originally done by Schrödinger and Wiener - among others – by combining the information theory with thermodynamics and today most often also with complexity science. But the term information has a multitude of varying definitions in use today. Some of these definitions are more technical in nature, while others are more abstract and broad-based. A precisely-defined, technical view of information as a mathematically-derivable quantity is represented by the theories of Claude Shannon who saw information as entropy in his attempt to optimize the transmission of a message composed of a string of bits through a noisy channel. Later Wiener and Schrödinger redefined the definition of information in view of thermodynamics as neg-entropy.
These models of information do not account for the concept of meaning. Building on this theoretical foundation, Gregory Bateson developed a non-technical and more wide-ranging concept of cybernetic information in a cognitive and an ecological direction defining information as “a difference that makes a difference” for a cybernetic mind attempting to link information and meaning in a cybernetic and systems framework including the whole biosphere, as well as culture and social systems. The questions is if Bateson managed to develop cybernetic information theory out of Wiener’s and others pure mathematical and logic definitions and into the realm of meaning, life, real human beings, ecology and culture or not. Brier (2007)claims that Bateson never managed to escape the functionalistic foundation of cybernetics to get into a theory that includes meaningful cognition and communication as well as qualia and free will in self-conscious linguistic beings. Such theories have traditionally been created on a phenomenological and hermenutical philosophical basis by researcher like Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Gadamer, all opposing science and technology as having a privileged admittance to the truth of reality. Heidegger considered cybernetics as the high point of the techno-scientific reductionistic and controlling knowledge type (as Habermas called it). Many inside cybernetics and systems claim that the later second order cybernetics of von Foerster plus the autopoiesis theory of Maturana and Varela, has solved this conflict at least when they are integrated in Niklas Luhmann’s theory of socio-communication. In the last 25 years a partly phenomenological biosemiotics has been developed. This doctrine of signs that view life and meaningful signs as co-defining compete with the new cybernetics of being the transdisciplinary framework of meaning, cognition and communication.
For dialogue and discussion: Can the two views of information described above be reconciled? What is the difference between information, signal and sign, if any? Are they mutually contradictory or are they the complementary and therefore have to be combined into a Cybersemiotics to obtain our goals of communicating and understanding machines? What kind of technological, scientific and theoretical-philosophical data do we have to shed light on where we are in this problematique?
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