RE: virus: Nature of Information

Robin Faichney (
Sun, 12 Oct 1997 16:07:45 +0100

> From: Dave K-P[]
> At 11:32 AM 10/12/97 +0100, Robin Faichney wrote:
> >An information stream contains a pattern if and only if
> >it can be compressed and reexpanded without loss,
> >otherwise it is random. (See Dennett's "Real Patterns"
> >in the Journal of Philosophy 1991, though he gets it
> >from someone else, whose details I don't recall right
> >now, but can get if required.)
> Hrm, this calls for a re-reading of Chaos. As far as I can recall,
> however, there is no such thing as "completely random". That what we
> call
> chaotic, is really so complexly ordered that there is no _perceptable_
> pattern by the observer.
Was it you who said this recently? If not, it's an
interesting duplication of error. I didn't understand
what was meant last time, but now I do. "Chaos"
has two meanings, one older and less formal, the
other newer and more strict. You are confusing
them. Only on the older meaning are "chaotic"
and "random" synonymous. On the newer one,
*apparently* random patterns have been
discovered to be determined by relatively simple
equations, but in this case chaotic != random,
and this discovery says nothing about the
possibility of genuinely random phenomena.
And furthermore, even if there were none such,
the point being made here would not be affected:
the definition of "pattern" would remain the same,
even though every information stream turned out
to contain some. So without randomness:
patterning is that which allows the compression
of information. (Where compression is
distinguished from any gain in info carrying
capacity provided by other means, such as the
use of context.)

> >I guess maybe what we're really arguing about is the
> >nature of information: does it exist "out there",
> >independently of us, or is it only in our minds. I go
> >along with the information theorists, physicists, etc,
> >and say it's out there, though, of course, the
> >argument is at least partly about definitions, as
> >seemingly always.
> Perhaps it was someone on this list, perhaps not, who said that if a
> tree
> falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it makes a
> compression
> of air waves... that it is out there, but it takes two to tango.
I understand and sympathise with the point you're
making here, but I *don't* think that on the most
useful definition of information, which I take to be
the technical one, it is like sound in that sense.
Even in the case of sound, the answer to that old
question depends on exactly what you mean by
the word: airborne vibrations or subjective
sensation. It is only that ambiguity that makes
the question interesting. (That and its
resonance with deeper-seated issues regarding
subjectivity and objectivity in general.)

But now you've raised that issue (and on second
thoughts), this could explain the difference of
opinion about patterns. To make the analogy
with the case of sound, those of us who say
patterns are "out there" are thinking of them as
being like airborne vibrations, while those who
say they are only "in here", see them as like
subjective sensations. Both, of course, being
correct within their own terms of reference.

Thanks, Dave!