Tuesday 18 October 2011

There's no information without communication...

... and no communication without information?

Some - many - years back we were discussing suggestions for a new name for the department where I work at the OU.  We discussed ICT: The Department of Information and Communication Technologies, and my colleague, Professor John Monk, commented that there was tautology in "information and communication" because Information and Communication are the same thing*.

Try to think of information without communication. It's like the tree falling in a forest that nobody hears. There may be information that's not communicated, but without it being communicated it may as well not exist. And unlike with the sound waves and the tree - the sound waves may leave some evidence that we can find later - there's no get-out with information. We only know about the information through communication, we can only know about information through communication. (The communication might, however, be through time rather than space - it can be memory.)

Similarly, what can be communicated if not information? Well actually, maybe there is answer to that,  Perhaps, for example, emotion can be communicated.  See John Monk's chapter in Ramage and Chapman, and the discussion of the different functions of signs: expressive (emotive); conative; phatic; meta-lingual; poetic. However, these only come through the interpretation of the signs, and to communicate the sign itself requires information?

In the trapezium model, it's information at the bottom and these other things out the top.

This seems to be taking me towards the fact that there are things other than information that can be communicated, so 'information and communication' is not quite a tautology, but for each you need the other.

Perhaps this intimate link between information and communication is one of the insights from Shannon.


* Warning! The details of this story may be wrong, my memory is not reliable. The key fact, though, is that the musing in this post were inspired by a comment of John's. If there is anything clever here it is probably due to John. If there isn't anything clever, it is probably because I misunderstood what John was saying.

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