Greetings to all of you!
I wanted to call this topic "The Nature of Information". But somehow the
word "nature" is not fittingly for me because I often perceive information
and its use as unnatural.
In what follows, i will try to organise my own thoughts on information as
i did it in the past on learning and knowledge. I will not try to give a
resume of informatics (information science) because i think that the
interaction between knowledge and information has been neglected too much.
I do hope that a lively dialogue will ensue from this essay because at
least i will then learn much from your own thinking on information.
My fundamental stance, if i may call it that rather than a thesis, is that
I think of knowledge as something which dwells within a person whereas
information exists outside that person. A person requires knowledge to
create meaningful information. A person also requires knowledge to create
meaning from information and thereby possibly add to his/her own
The last few years i have kept a look out for anyone else who also
has this fundamental stance. I found that they are far and few between.
A recent scholar and his thoughts pointed out to me is at
< http://www.capurro.de/trita.htm >
Most people think of information as having knowledge in it. This
knowledge in information is then said to be managed, mined and also
to be transferred from one person to another. But according to my
own stance it is impossible for information to have knowledge in it.
Knowledge dwells within a person and not also within information
which exists outside that person. A person with knowledge can
create information, but this so-called knowledge in information is
absolutely incapable of creating self additional information.
I am well aware that in this claim I have made seemingly use of LEM (Law
of Excluded Middle) whereas I try to avoid using LEM wherever possible.
But this seems to be so because my thinking on this issue is organic
rather than mechanistic. Think of knowledge as all the living tissue in
any plant. Think of information as the nutrients (minerals, gases and
water) in the soil and air which this plant lives upon. This plant may
even add to these nutrients by for example shedding its dead leaves so
that they will decay and release some nutrients. The plant can be
identified clearly from its environment containing the nutrients. The
living tissue is within that plant and definitely not also in the
nutrients of the environment. The plant lives in the environment, but not
in its nutrients, although it lives of that nutrients.
Jan Smuts, the father of holism, would have said that the plant
(knowledge) is the whole and that the nutrients (information) is its
field. Wholeness, for him, consists of any whole with its field. Holism,
for him, is the increase of that wholeness in both the whole and its
field. The whole (plant or knowledge) increases its tissue so that its
roots can be extended into the soil and its branches into the air. The
field (nutrients or information) increases by the plant giving through its
leaves nutrients back to the soil and improving through its roots the
permeability of the soil and thus the solubility of nutrients.
Nutrients (information) in the field is vastly different from what becomes
of them in the whole plant (knowledge). For example, cobalt exists as the
simple, positive ion Co++ in soil water. But in the plant it is used to
produce the neutral, complex vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a co-enzyme in
vital biochemical pathways. Consider carbon dioxide as another example. In
the air it exists as the simple gas molecule CO2. But in the plant it is
used to produce hundreds of different carbohydrates. One such a
carbohydrate is cellulose which the plant uses to keep its form.
Before I go deeper into information, allow me to summarise my thinking on
knowledge and learning. The knowledge of a person is manifested as the
capacity to act with purpose. Knowledge is acquired through the process of
learning. It begins with sensations leading to experiences. The
experiential level of knowledge emerges into the tacit level of knowledge
when these experiences become organised coherently. The tacit level of
knowledge emerges into the formal level of knowledge when it gets
articulated in any kind of medium like language or music. The formal level
of knowledge emerges into the sapient level of knowledge when it respects
harmoniously the knowledge of another person.
This chain of emergences forms together part of the complex act of
learning. Learning consists not only of emergences, but also of
digestions. On the experiential level a person depends not only on his/her
own sensations, but also on the body language of other persons indicating
their sensations. On the tacit level a person depends not only on his/her
own experiences, but also on the experiences of other persons told by
them. On the formal level a person depends not only on his/her own tacit
knowing, but also on what is "said between the lines" of their
articulations. On the sapient level a person depends not only on his/her
own articulated knowing, but also on information coming from other
persons. In other words, whereas in the emergent phase of learning the
person has to close up, the person has to open up in the digestive phase
of learning. The birth of a noble thought is private, but its growth is
Information which exists outside also has organisation like knowledge
which dwells within. Information is not merely a plasmodial lump of
signals intended to stimulate some of the five sense organs. For example,
the organisation in a book of chemical data is far different from that of
a textbook on chemistry. Even a person with no knowledge of chemistry will
easily see the difference in organisation. Likewise a symphony by, say,
Mozart is far different in organisation from ten items performed by a pop
group. Even a person with no knowledge of music will easily hear the
difference in organisation.
However, a most important difference between the organisations of
knowledge and information is that knowledge ought to have wholeness
whereas information is always fragmented into "parcels" like books or
musical performances. With such a "parcel" I mean that the information in
it is of a fixed, bounded nature. It is a tragedy for me that a person's
knowledge may also get fragmented into "parcels", although each "parcel"
does not necessarily have a fixed, bounded nature. For example, a person's
knowledge of chemistry or biotechnology may never become integrated with
his/her knowledge of logic or ethics. This leads to a "schizophrenia of
knowledge". It is the cause of many malpractices which endanger modern
As I have noted in previous contributions, a peculiarity of humankind in
contrast to other kinds of animals is to present information visually
while neglecting the other four sense organs. Perhaps this is the reason
why information is so often misidentified with knowledge. People will say
without second thoughts that a textbook on chemistry is knowledge, even
though it is merely information. But they will far less convincingly say
that a symphony of Mozart (hearing sense) or a statue of Michelangelo
(touching sense) are knowledge. They will also give it second thoughts
when somebody says that a symphony of Mozart or a statue of Michelangelo
are actually information.
Another peculiarity of humans is that when they want to present
information for the other four sense organs, they often first formulate
that information primarily for sight. The prescriptions in this visual
information then have to be followed to produce information for smell,
taste, hear or touch. It is because the visual information can be
preserved for a long time in contrast to the other four kinds of
information which are fleetingly. Perhaps this "preservation of
information" is another reason why written or printed information is
confused with knowledge.
A most important change in the "preservation of information" came about
with the emergence of micro-electronics. Information is now increasingly
stored in electric, magnetic and optic devices of the so called "paperless
office". It allows the storage of vast amounts of information in compact
form. However, the preservation of it is contentious. It needs hardware,
operating systems and software to present it visually on a screen. Since
these devices are continually updated, it makes the past preservation of
information easily obsolete. Furthermore, digestions on the experiential
and tacit level of knowledge in cyberspace becomes increasingly difficult.
A person cannot see the body language of another person in cyberspace, nor
follow his/her experiences. Consequently the digestive phase of learning
gets increasingly impoverished.
Written or printed information are always formulated in some or other
language -- a protocol of how to interpret signs. The language may be
natural like English or Russian. But it may also be technical like in
music script or machine code of a computer program. The language itself
usually allows for more organisation than that of the information in the
document coded by it. Furthermore, the understanding of such an
information document requires a knowledge of the language in which it has
been formulated. Perhaps this "language of information" is another reason
why information is confused with knowledge.
Every person who creates a document with information has far more
knowledge in general than that reflected specifically by the information.
Therefor it ought to be surprising that so many people in some cases
consider the information as the sole source of knowledge to be gained.
This literalism is particularly the case with religious texts like the
Bible, Quran or Veda. Furthermore, every person who creates information
lives in a cultural environment far more complex than that reflected
specifically by the information. This cultural environment plays a crucial
role in giving identity to that person's knowledge. Therefor it also ought
to be surprising that so many people consider the information as
applicable to their own cultural environment without even first trying to
establish its identity in terms of the cultural environment in which it
has been formulated originally.
Bearing in mind that information is visual for preservation while it
involves the knowledge and culture of the person who formulated it, we may
now begin to think of the kinds of information. For example, we may think
of the various faculties/subjects/disciplines into which information can
be classified. This is what happens typically in a library. Obviously, one
person cannot know all the information contained in a large library. Yet a
taxonomy is used to accomplish the organisation of these "parcels" of
Is this taxonomy derived from knowledge which dwells within or from
information which exists outside? The classification of information into
various faculties/subjects/disciplines becomes increasingly difficult as
they become integrated through interdisciplinary thinking. The title of
such a document may suggest a unique classification, but its contents
makes it possible to classify it among several taxa. Consequently it seems
to me that the taxonomy is derived from information rather than knowledge.
The above comment concerns a most important issue. A systematic
classification requires individual specimens. Information is delivered in
discreet "parcels" so that a taxonomy is possible, despite how complex it
may be. But can knowledge be fragmented into "parcels"? All my
consciousness of knowledge wants to cry out NEVER! Knowledge defies a
classification in discreet taxa. Knowledge is like an ecosystem in which
all the taxa interacts in harmony, "ignorant" to any human taxonomy.
Whenever knowledge is subjected to any taxonomy, it is placed under the
servitude of information. This cannot be the case because the ecosystem
evolved long before humankind's contemplation of it as ecology!
By adhering to a taxonomy of information, we do our knowledge much harm.
Consider the earlier example in which I have likened knowledge (the whole)
to a plant and information (its field) to the nutrients upon which it
feeds while illustrating increasing wholeness with the cobalt ion and
carbon dioxide. Assume that I have elaborated this comparison into a full
article, a "parcel" of information. Under which subject will we classify
this article -- chemistry, botany, education or philosophy? Say, for
example, that it is classified under chemistry. We could choose anyone of
the other three too and work out its consequences, but choosing chemistry
will be enough to get the idea across.
How many chemists would accept the botany, education and philosophy in it
as "part of chemistry"? I do not think that even one would do so. They
would never consider botany, education and philosophy as part of
chemistry. Thus they would not allow the publication of such an article in
a journal of chemistry. It is just not chemistry -- and the chemistry in
it is not novel. However, the chemistry, botany, education and philosophy
which I have used to create this example, are "parts" of my knowledge.
Since the information which I have created with my knowledge cannot be
classified, this knowledge cannot be disseminated to others. Allow me to
explain it again because this is most important.
What is this knowledge? It is that knowledge should have wholeness
("unity-associativity"). I have "associated" four subjects (chemistry,
botany, education and philosophy) to establish the "unity" of knowledge.
Jan Smuts would have been annoyed by me for calling his holism a
philosophy. He repeatedly stressed that holism is not a philosophy, but a
way of thinking and acting. Should we think of knowledge as the capacity
to act, then his holism is nothing else than a way of knowing! By not
allowing that article to be published in a journal of chemistry (or
botany, education and philosophy for the same reason), we rule out the
most important way of knowing -- bringing parts together.
Jan Smuts considered wholeness as the whole with its field. In terms
of my notation for the 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity), it would be
nominal name ("seminal name")
Thus he would have been surprised by my
However, I would then have explained to him that his wholeness is
a combination of wholeness ("unity-associativity") and sureness
("identity-context"), another one of the 7Es. Every whole has an
"identity". Its field ("context") gives it sureness.
Now think of what happens to my knowledge which I have used to create that
article on knowledge/information containing chemistry, botany, education
and philosophy when that article cannot be accepted for publication. Not
only is the wholeness of my knowledge jeopardised, but also am I forced to
doubt the sureness of my knowledge. For example, how can I be sure that
knowledge is not in information? How can I be sure that chemistry cannot
be combined with botany, education and philosophy?
We may assume without second thoughts that information has much wholeness.
But it does not since it always comes in "parcels" (like books) as was
pointed out earlier. Such "parcels" limit the wholeness of information
severely. Even within each "parcel" is a fixed wholeness. Should we want
to increase the wholeness in a "parcel", a new edition of that "parcel"
will have to be created. It is impossible for information to increase self
spontaneously because of the little wholeness which it has.
We may also assume without second thoughts that information has much
sureness. But it does not since a "parcel" on chemistry does little, if
any, to establish the identity of a "parcel" on, say, mathematics. The
same applies to the five remaining 7Es. This lack in the 7Es means that
information, although having been created by knowledgeable people, is
devoid of creativity self. Information cannot create like people with
knowledge can do. Information is creativeless.
What happens when a person memorise a "parcel" of information? The person
may consider it to be knowledge, but does not integrate it with his/her
knowledge having the experiential, tacit, formal and sapient levels. That
"parcel" of information in memory will be as creativeless as it is outside
the person because it still lacks the 7Es. For example, it will lack
liveness ("becoming-being"). Just like a "parcel" of information which
exists outside a person cannot "become", the same "parcel" of information
in the memory of a person also cannot "become". This lack of "becoming" or
change is known as a Mental Model (MM).
Several theories have been formulated to explain the origin of MMs. But I
think MMs are nothing else than "parcels" of existing information in a
person's memory which have not been integrated into the living knowledge
of that person. It happened because that person thinks of them as
knowledge, whether outside or inside the mind. Yet they remain to be
information, whether outside the mind by existence or inside the mind by
memory. The more we confuse knowledge with information, the more the MMs
we have to cope with.
Humankind has evolved through three phases of creativity. Its childhood
had been from times immemorial up to about 500 BC. It did not make any
difference between knowledge and information. Its teenhood lasted another
two and half millennia up to WWII. It focussed far more on producing
information than serving such information for digestion by the
knowledgeable. We are now entering the adulthood of creativity. The rat
race of producing information is near its end, even though millions still
participate in it. Smart people will seek first for existing information
to advance their knowledge rather than creating new information which
might some day become useful.
The organisation of information within a "parcel" of information entails
that it has entropy. Entropy is the measure of organisation which a system
has. However, the existence of information in millions of "parcels"
entails that there is no entropy between them. Even when seemingly
organised into a library, they still have no organisation between them.
Consequently the entropy (fitness) landscape of information is like the
vast Skeleton Coast desert in Namibia. Although it consists of tiny dunes
(each dune being a "parcel" of information), it is otherwise flat from
horizon to horizon. Except for these small dunes, the landscape has no
other ruggedness. Such a Skeleton Coast for information is not fit for
life. No one can stay fit in it.
The free energy landscape of information is even worse. Since information
lacks in each of the 7Es, for example, it has no "becoming" in each
"parcel", there is not even small dunes in the free energy landscape. It
is absolutely flat from horizon to horizon. Hence the free energy cannot
decrease to drive any other change. Among other things it means that
information on its own can never give rise to other information.
Information is sterile. Information is like the Skeleton Coast desert. It
is worthless without knowledge to digest it. All the flagging of this dead
beast with expert information systems will not give even one heart beat of
life to it. Information is dead. Long live knowledge!
With care and best wishes
At de Lange <firstname.lastname@example.org> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa
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