The Disposition of Information LO29433

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 11/01/02

Replying to LO29408 --

Dear Organlearners,

Don Dwiggins <> writes

>I believe there's an important point lurking here. It seems to
>me that Stacey was primarily thinking in terms of sensory
>inputs that people get from each other in a social context,
>while At's point above deals with a person's perception of
>his non-human environment. By "social context" here, I mean
>that one person speaks, writes, draws, gestures, etc. with an
>intent to have others perceive it. We could say that only
>artifacts of that kind qualify as information. This would imply
>that information exists specifically to affect people's knowledge
>(I carefully avoid saying "knowledge transfer" here).

Greetings dear Dwig,

Thank you Dwig for taking up this intrigueing point. The more we explore
it with dialogue, the more we will learn about knowledge and information

Allow me to first make a comment on my concepts of knowledge and

I cannot remember when I became aware that "knowledge dwells within" while
"information exists outside". But after a couple of years employed by the
present university I wrote an article for its journal on lecturing issues.
I think that in i first in it articulated this tressing the liveness of
knowledge which information does not have. I assumed that many other
people also made this distinction. But in 1995 I subscribed to a
listserver in the Netherlands which mails weekly information on every
major event in the world of artificial intelligence and informatics. The
increasing flood of announcements on Knowledge Management and the hundreds
of top academical brass from universities all over the world refered to in
them, showed me the fallacy of my assumption. Far too many highly
qualified people for my comfort think that information can have knowledge
in it. It is then when I began to observe how many ordinary people also
confuse knowledge with information.

Let us now proceed to your point.

I used to think of information as coming from two sources -- nature or
culture. But as I became more sure that knowledge is needed to create
information (encoding) as well as to create meaning out of information
(decoding), I began to wonder about the difference between cultural and
natural information. In any cultural information some human with knowledge
has encoded it creatively. To be consistent, i will have to postulate that
in natural information it has to be the same. Some agent with knowledge
has encoded natural information. Since this agent cannot be a human
because culture involves humans, who or what is this agent?

As a Christian it is easy for me to answer that God with his infinite
knowledge created this information in nature. In other words, i could
actually use the assumption that knowledge is required to create
information to proof that natural information requires God with infinite
knowledge to have created it. But from my studies in logic i have learned
that one cannot prove what one has assumed. It is a vicious circularity
which leads nowhere as Russel and Whitehead has discovered.

Futhermore, when a human creates information, he/she uses an algorithm to
encode that information. That algorithm may be considered as a natural or
a technical language. Another human who wish to make sense out of that
information needs exactly the same algorithm, but employed in a reverse
order. In other words, the reversibility of the algorithm for encoding or
decoding knowledge into information is its central feature. But what has
struck me deeply since the days of my research as a soil scientist and my
subsequent explorations to deserts, is the irreversibility of nature. As
Dollo had commented, nature does not reverse its steps nor follow the same
route twice. In other words, should natural information exist, nature
forbid a reversible algorithm to encode or decode it. Nature does not have
a zip-unzip procedure as we have for our computer files.

Perhaps we can say that nature supllies us with bare data whereas humans
create information containing data.

What I do know is that nature provides me profusely with signals to my
five sense organs. This cause sensations within me. If I want to stay
alive in a desert, I have to take heed to such sensations. My knowledge
have to accomodate such sensations and respond to it, otherwise I would
become a skeleton and my family would have lost a father. Few are they who
dare to face life in a desert. Thus I do not have anybody else to inform
me how to respond upon upon a particular sensation. I have to make self my
own understanding of it, for better or worse. The deserts provide immense
opportunities for individual learning, but zero for organisational

How did the deserts changed my knowledge? Imagine having walked in hot
baking sun, having used up all water in a container and still losing water
through sweat. (The sweat is imperceptable because it evaporates
immediately to keep the body cool.) A thirst which frightens for nothing
takes hold of me. How will i ever get back to my truck where I have stored
water? I either have to rush back and perhaps perish enroute, or I have to
forget about the truck and seek for water accumulated by some desert

In a desert water is the most valuable commodity. A desert plant storing
water will do its best not to advertise that it has water, or to protect
it with spines and poisinous substances. Should it not do so, it will
become devoured and its species becomes extinct in a short time. There is
a genus of plants called Fockea which belongs to the family Asclepidacea.
They have huge underground tubers consisting of about 98% water. The
species to be found in a South African desert is usually F angolensis. The
visible parts above the ground are indescript. It has a few tendrils of up
to 20 cm in length and about 1 mm in diameter. Its leaves are about 2cm
long and 2mm broad. To spot this upper growth needs the eye of a falcon.
When in thirst, do not become agitated because techmology is not close.
Seek for a F angolensis as nondescript as it may be. When you have found
one, dug out the massive tuber which may contain up to 5 liters of water,
enough for a whole day. The San (Bushemen) people called it a kambroo.

The deserts taught me not to depend on technology for survival. It is not
technology (a human creation) which sustains life, but an ecological
resource which has to be protected as it protects itself. Such a source
does not advertise itself, but continues living humble. The deserts have
no treasure maps for sale. They have only one lesson to be taught. Become
like us to survive. Do not impose yourself on us and force us to your
whims, but become part of us, otherwise you will be the loser. The whole,
more than the sum of the parts, is not one part taking control of the

>Could we then say, using Smuts' terms, that information sent and
>received constitutes part of the field of a person's knowledge?
>And that information does in a sense live, to the extent that it's
>embedded in an interpersonal evolution of knowledge?

Yes, Smuts' wholeness (whole+field) does entail that information is part
of the field of knowledge. I think that information gets alive in the
process of encoding or decoding it in the mind. But after that it has
served its purpose so that it becomes dead again. Its like the nutrients
in food which we eat. In the food they are inert. Then, in our intestines,
they become active, are carried in our blood stream, are converted into
tissue and then become inert again. So perhaps we should speak of active
rather than inert information during interpersonal evolution of knowledge.

>Of course, this leaves the question of what to call perceptions
>like those that changed At's knowledge in the desert. I'll let
>that slide for now.

As I have written, dear Doug, when I call them information, I open up a
Pandora box of strange questions.

>Thank you both for a fascinating thread.

The same here

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> 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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