I will continue assembling an assortment of background materials and links to other resources that I think are useful in understanding Peirce’s notion of information and how it has the potential to extend and generalize both our intuitive notions of information and the more or less formalized theories of information that have become standard in contemporary scientific practice.
The next bit of background material I wanted to add to the account is the perspective on signs and information that Susan Awbrey and I outlined in the paper we gave at a Society for Applied Learning Technology conference in 1990.
Information as a Matter of Form, Not a Form of Matter
Information is the property of a message or sign by virtue of which it can reduce the uncertainty of an interpreter about the state of an object. This property has the alternate aspect of acting to increase the control of an interpreter with respect to achieving a goal.
In Aristotle’s Psychology , two important distinctions were drawn which we would like to adapt to our discussion of information.
First, he distinguished form and matter, saying that matter is the potentiality, while form is the actuality of the mind. Although it combines both, the essential nature of the mind is found in its form. Applied to the mind in its aspect of information processing system, this proposition foreshadows a point that was often emphasized at the beginning of the information revolution, that information is a formal entity, not a material one.
Next, Aristotle drew a distinction between the possession and the exercise of knowledge. A corresponding distinction may be drawn between the information that a system possesses by virtue of being in a certain state and the information that a self-informed or intelligent system may exercise with respect to its own states. It is not a distinction in the kind or essence of information, but a pragmatic difference in the role a system plays within the relation of sign, object, and interpreter. In the first case, the state of a system serves as a sign to others, reducing the uncertainty of these interpreters about the state of an object system. In the second case, the state of a system serves as information to itself in its role as interpreter. This is one of the marks of an intelligent system.
- Aristotle, “On the Soul” (De Anima), W.S. Hett (trans.), in Aristotle, Volume 8, Loeb Classical Library, William Heinemann, London, 1986.
I continued to make use of the frame introduced in Aristotle’s sketch of the soul in my work on Inquiry Driven Systems, for instance, here:
To be continued …