Friday, 7 August 2009

Information theory and fine wine

In the June 2009 IEEE Information Society newsletter, originally in The World of Fine Wine 18, 2007, is:
Spirits of Place. An information-theoretic account of terroir and typicity.

Douglass Smith
I'm not sure how seriously we are supposed to take it, or how tic (tongue in cheek) it is. My initial reaction was to look for '1st April' somewhere, but on reflection it is entirely in the line with what I was doing with art previously, and that was entirely serious.

The author explores the idea of a communication channel, communicating the terroir to the drinker.  He models it by the iconic diagram from Shannon's classic paper, with the information source as the terroir, and the drinker as the destination.

You can't help but think about Marshall McLuhan's phrase "the medium is the message' in this context!

I'm sure my layers and trapeziums could be used to make this model work better.


Magnus said...

Actually I don't think it's an April Fool at all, though I'm not sure how much I agree with it. To me the question (as ever with my reading of Shannon) is about meaning and objectivity. So does the wine actually contain objective information about the terroir, or is that something subjective that has to be interpreted by the wine expert? If the former, Shannon seems to apply; if the latter, maybe not. But your trapezium does contain more of a sense of subjectivity, and as such would help a lot.

David Chapman said...

I don't think I would talk in terms of 'agreeing' with it. It is more a matter of 'is it useful'? Does it provide any insight into the concept of terroir? I think, though, it is a false dicotomy to distinguish between containing objective information and subjective intepretation. I think in any communication there is always objective information carried by the signal, and it only every gets subjective meaning by interpretation at the receiver (that's what goes on in the trapezium).