Information Philosophy


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When I joined EContent in June 2004, I was attracted by its parent company, Information Today, Inc., publishers of many valuable texts and reference volumes for the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T), the home of the country’s reference librarians. I was a member of ASIS&T and also the smaller Information Architecture Institute (IAI) founded by Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld.

Peter and IAI helped me form Content Management Professionals in 2004. Content was another way of looking at information, but content management systems, especially structured content technologies such as DITA, held the promise of organizing my work in Information Philosophy, giving me a single source of content that I could publish to the web and in print.

At skyBuilders, my son Derek and I had built a CMS with sophisticated versioning of content, based on a conversation we had with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, on how best to make web content persistent. I used skyBuilders timeline tools to create my website (www.informationphilosopher.com), and I hoped to leverage DITA architecture to produce a book or books from the single source of content.

This was not to be. DITA is excellent for certain types of content, such as the software documentation IBM originally designed it for. That extended naturally to all kinds of support materials, such as help systems, with a lot of content reuse. However, my philosophy pages were fundamentally linear and long, offering few opportunities for reuse.

In early 2008, I dropped my monthly online column for EContent, and this will be my last print column. I will focus my remaining time and energy on Information Philosopher and my I-Phi blog (http://blog.i-phi.org), an attempt to examine many classic philosophy problems from the standpoint of information.

What is information that merits its use as the foundation of a new philosophical method of inquiry?

The simple definition of information is the act of informing—the communication of knowledge from a sender to a receiver that informs (literally shapes) the receiver.

Information theory is the mathematical quantification of communication to describe how information is transmitted and received. Information science is the study of the categorization, classification, manipulation, storage, and retrieval of information.

Cognitive science is the study of mental acquisition, retention, and utilization of knowledge, which we can describe as actionable information. Actionable information has pragmatic value.

In information philosophy, knowledge is the sum of all the information created and preserved by humanity. It is all the information in human minds and in artifacts of every kind—from books and networked computers to dwellings and managed environment.

I hope to show that all information in the universe is created by a single process, the only one capable of generating and maintaining information against the dreaded second law of thermodynamics, which describes the irresistible increase in disorder or entropy. I call this anti-entropic process ergodic. It should be appreciated as the creative source of everything we can possibly value and of everything distinguishable from chaos.

Enabled by the general relativistic expansion of the universe, the cosmic creative process has formed the macrocosms of galaxies, stars, and planets. It has also generated the particular forms of microscopic matter: atoms, molecules, and the complex macromolecules that support biological organisms.

Quantum phenomena control the evolution of life and human knowledge. They help bring new information into the universe in a fundamentally unpredictable way. They drive biological speciation. They facilitate human creativity and free will.

The growth of information over time is the essential reason why time matters and individuals are distinguishable. Information is the principal reason that biology is not reducible to chemistry and physics. Increasing information explains all emergent phenomena, including many "laws of nature."

In information philosophy, the future is unpredictable. Quantum mechanics shows that some events are not predictable. The world is causal but not determined. The early universe does not contain the information of later times, just as early primates do not contain the information structures for intelligence and verbal communication, and infants do not contain the knowledge and remembered experience they will have as adults.

I hope some of my EContent readers over the past 4 years will be interested in my future analyzing the importance of information today.