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Information is a term with many meanings depending on context, but is as a
rule closely related to such concepts as meaning, knowledge, negentropy,
communication, truth, representation, and mental stimulus.
Although many people speak of the advent of the "information age", the
"information society", and information technologies, and even though
information science and informatics are often in the spotlight, the word
"information" is often used without careful consideration of the various
meanings it has come to acquire.
Here is a list of the most important meanings, roughly in order of narrowest
1) Information is negative entropy - the instructions that are needed to
produce order or reduce uncertainty (whether about future events or past or
current conditions). Information in this sense can be measured. Because it
conveys accurate instructions about creating order or reducing uncertainty,
it can be said to be useful, true knowledge. It helps people make judgments
and take actions and in some contexts is called intelligence. By contrast,
disinformation signifies the transmission of falsehoods in an attempt to
alter the judgements or actions of others.
2) Information is a message, something to be communicated from the sender to
the receiver, as opposed to noise, which is something that inhibits the flow
of communication or creates misunderstanding. If information is viewed
merely as a message, it does not have to be accurate. It may be a lie, or
just a sound of a kiss. This model assumes a sender and a receiver, and does
not attach any significance to the idea that information is something that
can be extracted from an environment, e.g. through observation or
measurement. Information in this sense is simply any message the sender
chooses to create.
3) Information is a represented pattern. This view assumes neither accuracy
nor directly communicating parties, but instead assumes a separation between
an object and its representation, as well as the involvement of someone
capable of understanding this relationship. This view seems therefore to
require a conscious mind. Consider the following example: economic
statistics represent an economy, however inaccurately. What is commonly
referred to as data in computing, statistics, and other fields, are forms of
information in this sense. The electro-magnetic patterns in a computer
network and connected devices are related to something other than the
pattern itself, such as text to be displayed and keyboard input. Signals,
signs, and symbols are also in this category. Painting and drawing contain
information to the extent that they represent something such as an
assortment of objects on a table, a profile, or a landscape. In other words,
when a pattern of something is transposed to a pattern of something else,
the latter is information. This type of information still assumes some
involvement of conscious mind, of either the entity constructing the
representation, or the entity interpreting it. When one constructs a
representation of an object, one can selectively extract from the object
(sampling) or use a system of signs to replace (coding), or both. The
sampling and coding result in representation. An example of the former is a
"sample" of a product; an example of the latter is "verbal description" of a
product. Both contain information of the product, however inaccurate. When
one interprets representation, one can predict a broader pattern from a
limited number of observations (inference) or understand the relation
between patterns of two different things (decoding). One example of the
former is to sip a soup to know if it is spoiled; an example of the latter
is examining footprints to determine the animal and its condition. In both
cases, information sources are not constructed or presented by some "sender"
of information. To repeat, information in this sense does not assume direct
communication, but it assumes involvement of some conscious mind.
4) Information is any type of sensory input. When an organism with a nervous
system receives an input, it transforms the input into an electrical signal.
This is regarded information by some. The idea of representation is still
relevant, but in a slightly different manner. That is, while abstract
painting does not contain represent anything concretely, when the viewer
sees the painting, it is nevertheless transformed into electrical signals
that create a representation of the painting. Defined this way, information
does not have to be related to truth, communication, or representation of an
object. Entertainment in general is not intended to be informative. Music,
the performing arts, amusement parks, works of fiction and so on are thus
forms of information in this sense, but they are not forms of information
according to the previous definitions above. Consider another example: food
supplies both nutrition and taste for those who eat it. If information is
equated to sensory input, then nutrition is not information but taste is.
5) Information is any type of pattern that influences the formation or
transformation of other patterns. In this sense, there is no need for a
conscious mind to perceive, much less appreciate, the pattern. Consider, for
example, DNA. The sequence of nucleotides is a pattern that influences the
formation and development of an organism without any need for a conscious
mind. Systems theory at times seems to refer to information in this sense,
assuming information does not necessarily involve any conscious mind, and
patterns circulating (due to feedback) in the system can be called
information. In other words, it can be said that information in this sense
is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or
presented for that purpose. When someone suggests that this world is made of
information, information is defined in this way. (See Gregory Bateson.) When
Marshall McLuhan speaks of media and their effects on human culures, it is
about the structure of artefacts that in turn shape our behaviors and
mindsets. Pheromones are often said to be information in this sense, too.