Monday, 22 May 2017

The line-up for DTMD 2017 at IS4SI. Narrative and Rhetoric: exploring meaning in a digitalised society

The line-up for DTMD 2017 at IS4SI in Gothenburg is now finalised. Here's a brief description.
DTMD 2017 is the sixth workshop on understanding the nature of information organised by the DTMD group from The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. DTMD is abbreviated from ‘The Difference that Makes a Difference’, Gregory Bateson’s celebrated definition of information, and the workshops have all had an interdisciplinary approach to information and sought to encourage cross-discipline discussion.

DTMD 2017 takes as its theme ‘narrative’: exploring both the narratives of information and language of information in the narratives of the digitalised society in order to enhance understanding, both of society and of information. The workshop is divided into two halves, with significant time allocated for in-depth discussion in each. The first half has a philosophical flavour, starting with Chapman asking “What can we say about information?” followed by Jones’ exploration of “Narrative realities and optimal entropy” and Fiorini’s Predicative Competence in a Digitalised Society. After discussion of the first three presentations, the second half has a more applied/political focus. Both of Ali’s “Decolonizing Information Narratives” and Sordi’s “The Algorithmic Narrator” take a critical look at algorithms in society, then the final paper of the workshop, Ramage’s “Meaning, selection & narrative: the information we see and the information we don’t” explores the contested nature of information and narratives before the final period of discussion.

It takes place on Monday 12th June to the schedule as follows:

10:30-11:00 What can we say about information? Agreeing a narrative (David Chapman)
11:00-11:30 Predicative Competence in a Digitalised Society (Rodolfo A. Fiorini) ;
11:30-12:00 Narrative realities and optimal entropy (Derek Jones)
[12:00-14:00 Lunch, then Deacon panel]
14:00-14:30 General discussion 1
14:30-1:500 Decolonizing Information Narratives (Syed Mustafa Ali)
[15:00-15:30 Tea]
15:30-16:00 The Algorithmic Narrator (Paolo Sordi)
16:00-16:30 Meaning, selection & narrative: the information we see and the information we don’t (Magnus Ramage)
16:30-17:00 General discussion 2

Monday, 8 May 2017

Perspectives on Information - now only £28

I've just spotted that you can now buy Perspectives on Information (Routledge, 2011) for as little as £28. (It originally came out in hardback at about £90!)

The book arose out the very first of the DTMD workshops (not that we called it DTMD at the time). It was an internal workshop at the Open University held in 2007, so all of the authors of Perspectives were, at the time of the workshop, employed at the OU, though some have since moved on.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Data rising and information falling

I've been too busy to blog for a while, and I'm still too busy, but here's a quick one.

QI, quite interesting, don't you think?  I did the comparison because I suspected that 'information' was going out of favour. I think people might be starting to be more careful in their use of 'information' and 'data'.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Submission deadline for DTMD 2017 extended to 1 April

The deadline for submitting papers to DTMD 2017, Information, Narrative and Rhetoric: Exploring Meaning in a Digitalised Society (and to all the conferences at IS4SI) has been extended to the first of April. See my previous post for details of DTMD 2017.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Studentships to study the nature of information at The Open University

The department where I work at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, is offering two full-time PhD studentships.  The details are here: 

Note the deadline of 10th March

Applications are invited to work in any of the fields of interest of the department, and that includes the study of information.  See the list of topics of interest here:,

but note especially:


Both of these would be based in the DTMD Research Group.

If you might be interested in studying for a PhD in either of these areas, or you have an idea for a related topic, please get in touch with me (david.chapman[at] as soon as possible.

And please pass this on!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Is the information of physics 'about' anything?

The New Scientist has been talking about reality again, and concludes:
"But to Susskind [Leonard Susskind of Stanford University] at least, the idea that reality might be rooted in 0s and 1s is poetically beautiful. Perhaps, he says, we will one day be able to sum up the universe in a simple epigram: “ah, everything is information”".

Note, though:
"[T]he sort of quantum information that might underlie space-time must be a little different [from Shannon information]. The information in a stream of words is about something. By contrast, the quantum information from which space emerges in Carroll’s [Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology] work is just there. “The quantum state is not of or about anything,” says Carroll. 
One of the ongoing issues in information research is whether a unified theory of information (UTI) is possible. I've recently been thinking of it in terms of a unified narrative of information: an agreed way of talking about information, and trying to come up with the things we can say about whatever it is we are calling information. One of those things seemed to be that it is always about something. (Though we have to be careful about what it means to 'be about' something. I think my trapeziums help.)  So, here's a question: could it be that the physicists are wrong? Could it be that even their information is about something? Could it be that in order to understand 'reality' you need a type of information that is about something? Could it be that they are missing something?

Anyway, here's a fuller quote from the New Scientist article.
It is all very well to suggest that space and time are made of quantum entanglement and possibly quantum complexity – but what are they made of? Here is where we edge closer to finding the true bedrock of reality. Because both approaches suggest the same tantalising answer: information.

The mathematician and engineer Claude Shannon gave us a neat way to define information in 1948. He showed that the amount of information in something like a stream of bits or letters is related to its entropy, a measure of disorder. The greater the entropy, the greater the information. For example, a stream of three-bit numbers that are always 000 contains less information than a stream in which the numbers can also be 001, 101 or 111.

So in what sense is information at the root of things? Well, entanglement is information: the greater the entanglement between two systems, the more information they share. But there’s a caveat. The information Shannon defined certainly seems to exist and has real effects. Experiments just last year showed a nanomachine could use information to chill metal. But the sort of quantum information that might underlie space-time must be a little different. The information in a stream of words is about something. By contrast, the quantum information from which space emerges in Carroll’s work is just there. “The quantum state is not of or about anything,” says Carroll. “It is simply our best mathematical description of the universe.”

It actually makes sense that quantum information would be the foundation everything is built on, says Carroll. If you start with quantum mechanics and don’t presume anything else exists, then “basically all you have to play with is quantum information”. That would make information a basic constituent of the universe. “You can find people who think that information is all there is,” says Carroll.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

DTMD 2017: Information, Narrative and Rhetoric: Exploring Meaning in a Digitalised Society

The DTMD Research Group has launched the Call for Papers. It always irritates me when people say 'we are excited about...' and then go in to talk about some tedious, mundane or even negative development, but this is different: I really am excited about DTMD 2017!


The sixth Difference that Makes a Difference conference, DTMD 2017, will form part of the IS4SI 2017: Digitalisation for a Sustainable Society summit, which will take place 12-16 June 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden, on the theme of:

Information, narrative and rhetoric: exploring meaning in a digitalised society

Meaning is embedded within, and defined by, stories. This workshop will explore the use of the language of information in the stories of the digitalised society in order to enhance understanding, both of society and of information.

In our increasingly digitalised society, certain narratives have emerged depicting possible futures of an information society. ‘Smart cities’, ‘big data’ and ‘the internet of things’ constitute perhaps the most obvious examples of such stories, offering somewhat utopian views of a society enhanced through their application. On the other hand digital technologies such as websites and social media are implicated in the spread of fake news and the rise of post-truth politics. Discussions of these developments engage with information and a shared, tacit understanding of its nature in order to generate meaning, rhetoric and the narratives themselves; reflexively, there is also a need to consider the role of rhetoric and narrative in the shift to a digitalised or informational conception of society. The exploration of information and its use, and their intersection with rhetorical considerations gives rise to alternative viewpoints and prompts a range of questions, thereby providing the basis for a valuable critique of emerging ideas and narratives.

In this workshop, the Difference that Makes a Difference (DTMD) group will continue its interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary exploration at the intersection of information and other phenomena by exploring its relationship to narrative and rhetoric. These conversations between – and across – disciplines encourage new perspectives and foster insight into the meanings and values we apply to our lives and way of living.

The workshop will address the following questions (among others):
  • How is information represented/embodied through stories and narratives?
  • In what way do the structures (e.g. shape and grammars) of stories create information in themselves?
  • Is it necessary to have both rhetoric and narrative to create stories? Can narrative-free or rhetoric-free stories exist? For example, can a bitstream or a DNA sequence be considered a story, or do mathematical equations form narratives in themselves?
  • What are the processes by which narratives are formed? How are meta-narratives formed, and what is their reflexive relationship with the information that the narrative shapes and is shaped by?
  • Are there circumstances when the forming of a narrative leads to the destruction or ignoring of information? Likewise, are there circumstances when the destruction of a narrative leads to the creation of information?
  • How do narratives become hegemonic on particular topics, for example, in political discourse? Who has the power to create and shape these hegemonic narratives?
  • What does the relationship between information and narrative say about the rise of post-truth politics?
  • What is the relationship between levels of abstraction (in Floridi’s sense) or levels of communication (in the sense of the ISO 7-layer model) and narratives?
  • Which narratives, particularly in public discourse, are generated in ways that (deliberately or tacitly) exclude information from discussion rather than adding to it?
  • How can we identify and investigate the narratives around digitalised societies, and critique the assumptions behind those narratives?

Keynote speaker

The conference will be opened by our keynote speaker, Ken MacLeod. Ken is a celebrated science fiction writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has written many novels which look in various ways at the relationship, both utopian and dystopian, between technology and society. He has been described as “one of the most consistently interesting authors we have in contemporary science fiction”. He has been a writer in residence at the Genomics Forum and the Creative Writing MA course at Edinburgh Napier University.

Important dates and submissions

Submissions should be made via the IS4SI summit website: 
  • 8/1/2017: Call for papers launched
  • 1/3/2017 Extended to 1/4/2017 Submission deadline for extended abstracts following the Instructions for Authors
  • 1/4/2017 1/5/2017 Acceptance notifications
  • 15/4/2017 15/5/2017 Program & Proceedings with extended abstracts prepared
  • 30/4/2017 Conference Program on the web page
  • 12/6/2017-16/6/2017 Summit