The Disposition of Information LO29439

From: Don Dwiggins (
Date: 11/02/02

Replying to LO29433 --

At creates the following information in LO29433:
> 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

Indeed. In fact, this thread has instigated some learning on my own part,
and also some confusion.

> 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.

This touches to some extent on my confusion. Certainly, in communication
between computers, we need this kind of reversibility. If the receiving
computer creates a representation of the encoded information that's not
isomorphic to that of the sending computer, bad effects will shortly

However, reversibility has never been part of my understanding of
information passed among humans. In fact, there are many social
institutions that devote considerable effot just to achieve a "sufficient
degree of alignment" within a community over the meaning of certain
repositories of information such as laws, religious texts, and literature.
Also, it seems many long threads on this list are devoted to trying to
develop a kind of harmony among members' "knowledge structures" (tacit or
explicit) about the meaning of information "chunks" such as Senge's 5
disciplines or the 7 E's.

In fact, I have to wonder about the truth (or possibly the usefulness) of
saying "information is dead". Is the Bible dead, or the works of Ben
Franklin, which have recently been transforming your knowledge, seemingly
at all levels? And I can't escape the feeling that, through the
information you and I are exchanging through this list, my knowledge is
interacting with your knowledge, however asynchronously and awkwardly.

Here's an analogy, as a next attempt to resolve my confusion: a piece of
information is like an organic molecule -- not alive in itself, but
capable of sustaining (or transforming) the life of a living entity that
ingests it (a peculiar kind of ingestion, in which the molecule isn't
destroyed, but remains available for another entity to ingest). These
pieces can be small molecules, or very large and complex, such as the
works of Polanyi on the tacit dimension.

I still think it's most useful to consider information as essentially
language-oriented, and therefore specific to intentional communication.
(The visible actions of a honeybee dancing to "inform" its colleagues
about the whereabouts of a good pollen source would be a simple example.)
Somehow, I'm reminded of Andrew's wry comment a while back: "knowledge
doesn't happen between our ears but between our noses".

> 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.

On the other hand, I wouldn't classify the distinctive above-ground shape
of a F angolensis as information in itself -- although the description
above is certainly information, and well worth "ingesting" for those
spending a serious amount of time in your deserts. (In Arizona, you'd
need other information.) Not that the "Pandora box of strange questions"
isn't worth looking into ;^) -- I just think that we've got enough to deal
with for the moment in the smaller context of intentional communication.

> 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.

Or possibly kinetic vs. potential, as with energy.

>> Thank you both for a fascinating thread.

> The same here

Weave and spin,weave and spin...


Don Dwiggins I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard was not what I meant. -- S.I. Hiyakawa

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