Thursday 9 August 2012

Creativity, Work and Information

One of the most interesting things about the emerging theory of Information is an increasing awareness of the role of 'work' (as it is understood in physics) and probabilistic information as it is understood in Shannon's theory. In essence, what this concerns is the fact that the uncertainty of the correct transmission of a message (which Shannon equates to information), and which is expressed in:
nevertheless requires physical work to be done to a medium in which to transmit a message. This is the essence of Deacon's argument (see, and he says (convincingly) it creates a connection between Shannon's information entropy and Boltzmann's statistical thermodynamics (from which Shannon derived his equation). Importantly, however, the absence of physical work can convey information - if evidence of some physical agency in transmitting a message is expected and not received, then some conclusions about the status of the sender, or the connection will be reached, and these lie outside the domain of uncertainty that is expressed by Shannon's equation alone. But the important question here is "what is the information that might be inferred from such absence?"

The nature of the relationship between the physical work which is required to transmit a message and the creative human agency which has the intention of transmitting something relies on the efficient cause of the transmission of the information in the first place. I'm increasingly thinking that the effficient cause is 'creativity', and that without creativity there is no information. Whilst the relationship between Shannon and Boltzmann indicates that the material cause of information may be oscillating atoms or electrons down a wire, does it mean that the formal cause of information is human agency, or rather a human being? And what of its final 
cause? Floridi goes to some lengths to insist that false information is not information. He may be right.. certainly, taking that position would be to take a position that insists on some morally-oriented final cause of information... I'd like to think that the final cause of information is "emancipation".

I think about music as I think about these things. Without creativity there is no music. But there is no such thing as false information in music. And music does appear to have a liberating purpose. But there is more thinking to be done here!

To think of information away from human agency seems a mistake. When it is seen as such, the inquiry into information is as much a political inquiry as it is a physical or a mathematical one. Theologians like Arthur Peacocke have suggested that it is also a theological inquiry: that information is the essence of God. Certainly the idea that creativity is the essence of God is not new, and if information and creativity are so tightly bound together, then I can see this argument holding.

It seems that an information-focused inquiry into politics and society is precisely the inquiry that our world needs now. In particular, it may help us to understand (or come to terms with) the remarkable tools we have created for manipulating an ever-rich information environment which steadily confounds our historical preconceptions about the world, leading us into an ever-deepening crisis.

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