Re: Information Theory

From: Hawkins, Sean (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 16:39:40 BST

Herewith, some other thoughts concering information

> "I have used the food dispenser example before to explain what
> information and communication are about: If there are six numbers and I
> can only choose one number each day, then my chance of getting lunch is
> 1/6, but if someone tells me that the number is odd today (and that is
> true) then my probability of lunch has gone up to 1/3."

Surely, this is at best, just probability. You can draw the
same analogy to a horse race. The probability of X horse
winning is 2/1 ie you would expect the horse to win twice in
three races. That is just pure probability - not
information. If you had bet your life savings on this
horse based on the probability of it winning, then was
having the odds before betting, information ?

I would suggest that throughout our existence, everything
single issue is based on probability - Water boiled at 100c
yesterday so there is a good chance that water will boil at
the same temperature tomorrow - nobody can be sure until it
actually happens (Actually, water at higher altitudes boils
at a higher temperature). An alternative piece of
"information' may suggest that water will boil at lower
temperatures depending on a number of factors. This in the
purest sense, is information. However, it does not decrease
your uncertainty because it does not reduce the number of
alternatives. Suppose your occupation is based on the
temperature at which water boils - you are a designer of
heating elements - this is information which will
increase your uncertainty but it MATTERS.

So, are you saying that information is anything which
decreases your uncertainty and which matters ? If so, it is
an extremely narrow view that leaves a considerable amount
of other 'data' undefinable - what is that
called - misinformation ?

> That's like saying that telling someone that "lunch is number 5 today"
> is uninformative to an anorexic: Fine, so let's turn instead to
> something that DOES matter to an anorexic...

Food or lack of food is information which does matter to an
anorexic! If an anorexic is told that they will die without
eating, does that reduce their uncertainty and thus be
classified as information ? If an anorexic wants to live
and is told that without food, they will die, they are
in exactly the same situation as prior to being told. They
have to act upon the 'information' in order to
influence the degree of certainty or uncertainty of their
continued existence. So if MATTERS is a component part of
the definition of information, does it have to matter to
that individual in probabalistic terms or does it have
matter to the individual concerned ?

It would appear to me that the definition of information is
subjectively tied to probability (which humans constructed)
and subjectively linked to MATTERS, but the question remains
as to whom it should matter - Should that be individuals who
decide that this 'information' does matter or should the
individual(s) be identified through some type of
classification system which determines the
characteristics of individuals who will be affected by this
"information' ? Importantly, is communication to these
individuals a component part of information ? If not, then
I would suggest that Whitehall (and the Pentagon) are
jammed packed full of 'information' which matters to
all people across at least two nations and which reduces
their uncertainty. Perhaps BSE is a good example.

It would seem to me therefore that the definition offered is
at best idiosyncratic.

Sean Hawkins

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