Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Information Science of Music - and the Future of Educational Technology

I've really enjoyed leading an online discussion on the future of scientific communication on the Foundations of Information Science list ( I've become frustrated that in debates about educational technology, emphasis has been placed on technology/practice x, y, z on the benefits to teaching and learning. As I've written (here: this is an indefensible metaphysical claim: nobody can see learning. Fundamentally, these arguments are all intended to serve the interests of the institution of education. But what matters more is science.

The embrace of new communications technology, new pedagogic practice, etc is much more important to the future of science than it is the future of universities. And Universities are institutions which fundamentally depend of science. It is the scientific arguments for the embrace of new ways of communicating which, in the end, will transform universities - just as the critique of Francis Bacon in 1605 (The advancement of learning) transformed the old curriculum of Aristotelian doctrine to a new empirical approach (it had all changed by 1700).

But there are questions about communication, and more deeply about information. These deep questions demand attention to be focused on different ways of communicating.

Musical communication is the most powerful form of communication I know. It also doesn't appear to work by the same rules as an academic paper. How does it work? What does it tell us about communication more generally? What does it tell us about the importance of embracing new media in scientific communication? These are questions of the philosophy of information.

I produced a final video for the FIS discussion here where I drew on a Bach Fugue as an example of information and communication (it's a bit crackly in places unfortunately).
At the root of my argument is a critical appraisal of the nature of 'counting' and probability in the way we think about communication. In Shannon's equations, probability plays an important role - but what does it mean? It appears to be something about "surprise" (Shannon measures the average "surprisingness" of a message) - but what's that?

John Maynard Keynes asked deep questions about probability (which sits behind Shannon) in the early 1920s as he was formulating the foundations of his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. His work on probability is more important in our world of big data, learning analytics, etc than the General Theory. The video concerns Keynes's idea of 'negative analogy' in the way that we understand and experience music. Deep down, he, and many other thinkers about information today, are pointing at the importance of the 'apophatic' (absence/the "not there") in thinking about information and communication.

It's a small idea - the "not there". But its the kind of small idea which can change everything.

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