mind, matter, meaning and information


the reality status of information

Daniel Dennett, following Gregory Chaitin, says that a stream of information contains a pattern if it can be compressed and expanded again without loss, otherwise it is a random sequence.

If a random sequence was repeated, the information stream consisting of the random sequence twice would be compressable, by reducing it to the random sequence plus a code meaning “times two.” Compression is possible here because these are actually two instances of the same pattern, of which we therefore really only need one, eliminating the redundancy. But that's what patterning means: if there's a pattern, then there is some repetition, however subtle or slight, some kind of rhythm present in the information, and that is what makes it compressable—the same thing occurs more than once—so in fact the compressability of information depends on its numerical identity.

“Pattern” is very well defined, and so we can say that patterns are real—that's what “real” means in this particular context: patterns do not exist only in the eye of the beholder, i.e. they are objective. Resemblance is also objective, because pattern-matching is well defined, and it is possible to determine computationally, i.e. objectively, when the same pattern is encountered more than once.

Encoding is a type of transformation of information. The concept is generally applied to transformations that are reversible—the reverse operation being, of course, decoding (though it can be more widely used, as explained under information processing). Compression of information is a type of encoding: wherever any encoded form is shorter than the “clear” form it is compressed, whether that was the main aim or just a side effect. Given the argument above, any pattern in a compressed stream of information must be considered as real as the uncompressed version, no matter how complex the compression process, or how different the compressed version appears. It is therefore reasonable to consider encoded information to be objectively real. Genes and memes are examples of naturally occurring items of encoded information.

The foregoing applies to physical information, but what about the intentional sort: what is its reality status?

Intentional information is encoded within physical information. Where there is intentionality, however, there is uncertainty. Wherever information is about something, is a reference, uncertainty is inevitable, due to the gap between any reference and its referent, and such is intentional information.

But is it real? Na´ve realism does not work in this context, because it is far from clear just what “real” means here—there is too much uncertainty associated with the word for it to be useful. But there is no doubt about the usefulness of the concept of intentional information.

Copyright © 1998--2005 by Robin Faichney. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later (the latest version is presently available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/). Distribution of substantively modified versions of this document is prohibited without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. Distribution of the work or derivative of the work in any standard (paper) book form is prohibited unless prior permission is obtained from the copyright holder.
Last modified 23-Feb-2005 14:36:17 by Robin Faichney .