Saturday, March 04, 2006

Suprising Information?

Long-time Maybe'ers and RAW fans are probably not strangers to the concept of "information equals suprise." Lately though, I've kind of found this idea a little... inaccurate might be the word. Not that there isn't a certain amount of truth to it, but suprise only gets you so far. If something is truly unexpected, do we have the framework to comprehend it? And if we don't comprehend it, is it really useful to think in terms of information?

Another favorite author of mine, Robert Pirsig, develops an idea in his book Lila (the follow-up to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), of static vs. dynamic. Too far into the dynamic range and things tend to break down, almost reminiscent of the "grey goo" scenario for nanotechnology that's gotten attention in recent years. Too far into the static range, and you have a tradition-bound, rigid environment that can't face anything unexpected. I think this idea has a certain amount of usefulness when thinking about RAW's "information = suprise" concept. Truly suprising strings of characters, when you didn't have any idea whatsoever what might come next, would, it seems to me, be pretty much incomprehensible. But in order to have information content, you would need some element of suprise, otherwise you're just repeating what you already know... kind of like a story that read:
    This is the first sentence of my first paragraph of my story. This is the second sentence of the first paragraph of my story.
So, it's not that I really disagree that "information = suprise" but more that I think the concept needs a little more clarification. Perhaps that information would seem to be made up of a communication medium that follows certain guidelines to direct our thinking towards the suprise, or new content we didn't expect. It reminds me a little of a quote I always liked in (I think this is where I saw it) Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, critizing Einstein's theory, e=mc2, that there needs to be an A in there for AWARENESS, without which the others don't really matter. If information is totally suprise, we'd be almost stuck in a state of total amazement. I think a better way to think of it would be as a symphony, with some notes that are more dynamic, some that are more static, that together create the "warp and weave" of the music.

1 comment:

Bogus Magus said...

I think you have a point, Arkiver, as a lot of us use this slogan (to the point where it does not contain much surprise any more!)

Another take on it (from Shannon) goes "we can define information as that which reduces uncertainty" and I suppose (say) statistical results may confirm expectations and still contain information, perhaps just not as much information as a 'blip' in the Bell Curve might.

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