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Information and reference

Terrence W. Deacon

pp. 3-15

The technical concept of information developed after Shannon [22] has fueled advances in many fields, but its quantitative precision and its breadth of application have come at a cost. Its formal abstraction from issues of reference and significance has reduced its usefulness in fields such as biology, cognitive neuroscience and the social sciences where such issues are most relevant. I argue that explaining these nonintrinsic properties requires focusing on the physical properties of the information medium with respect to those of its physical context—and specifically the relationship between the thermodynamic and information entropies of each. Reference is shown to be a function of the thermodynamic openness of the information medium. Interactions between an informing medium and its physical context that drive the medium to a less probable state create intrinsic constraints that indirectly reflect the form of this extrinsic influence. This susceptibility of an informing medium to the effects of physical work is also relevant for assessing the significance or usefulness of information. Significance can be measured in terms of work "saved" due to access to information about certain contextual factors relevant to achieving a preferred target condition.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-43784-2_1

Full citation:

Deacon, T. W. (2017)., Information and reference, in G. Dodig Crnkovic & R. Giovagnoli (eds.), Representation and reality in humans, other living organisms and intelligent machines, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 3-15.

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