Sunday, 16 July 2017

Randomness is nothing. Nothingness is random.

To say that something is random is to say that it conveys no information. That is the true nothing.

We know from physics that vacuums, as the complete absence of any matter or energy, don't exist, because the uncertainty principle allows particle-antiparticle pairs to appear spontaneously provided they vanish again quickly enough. This is what creates the 'vacuum energy' and is measurable.

So you might argue that there's no such thing as nothing, but the presence or absence of matter or energy is of no significance. What is important is information. In the data-information model, information cannot be extracted from completely random data. Or, to put it another way, completely random data is no data at all (is nothing).

However, randomness is relative. If I listen to someone speaking a Chinese language the words are random to me because I cannot extract meaning from them, but of course they are not random to a Chinese speaker. So, nothingness is relative. Unless, that is, there exists randomness that is absolutely random. Is this the randomness of quantum mechanics? Is this 'God playing dice' (in the famous phrase of Alfred Einstein)?

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.