Wednesday 19 November 2008

From information to difference, and triangles

I don't know whether I am unusually slow, but some ideas take weeks, months or years to get through to me. I'm gradually coming around to understanding the significance of Gregory Bateson's definition of information as:
The Difference that makes a difference
In the layered model of communication that I've been pushing, I think that 'differences that make a difference' are precisely what is conveyed horizontally at each level.

There's a great little paper by Stuart Umpleby "Physical Relationships Among Matter, Energy and Information" that includes the following:
But because of the complexities introduced by having to specify one or more observers, the term “information” is not an elementary concept. “Difference” denotes the elementary building block of data or signal or information. Hence, when dealing with physical foundations, I believe it is preferable to speak in terms of matter, energy and difference. To define terms, a “difference” is a physical entity that can be noted by an observer. Drawing a “distinction” is a purposeful act that creates two categories.
Umpleby was at the Stockholm conference, talking on Reflections on the Russian and American Conversations on Cybernetics and Systems Theory.

Umpleby had this diagram in his talk

In his paper he has this:

While another speaker, Karl Mueller, had this:

(Mueller as talking about how people have described `scientific truth', and C stands for cognition, W for world and D for decription.)

I don't have time to discuss the content of these images here, but I just want to reflect on this use of triangles and the way that people keep seeing the world as having three elements, like the 'trinity' in Christianity. Doesn't fit with 'air, earth, fire and water' though. Shame.

Krippendorff, of course, wanted to know what the 'world' was in Umpleby's triangle and why anyone was interested in 'truth' in Muellers!

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