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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

information vs. story/meaning

Ok, another post to motivate myself to get back to some work I should be doing.

First about information in general: I was just realizing that in some sense, I never really got my head around what this actually means. We are saying that information is key. And we develop information technologies, etc. But what is information? There is the physics definition in terms of entropy, but what is the more practical definition? I suppose it would have to do with a representation of something existing in the real world? So why are these representations so important? I guess because some things are set up such that once one has such a representation, one can impact the thing itself? A person has a set of information associated with them that is deemed important. And this information represents certain aspects of that person. And with this information, the person can be affected. If one has information about a country, then one may affect that country in certain ways.

On another end of this topic, I've been realizing that I've had this concept of work where I just need to collect together the appropriate information associated with some topic, and then I feel that my job is mostly done. Now I need to put together a report on beam lifetime, and I'm realizing that there's a lot to be done even though in some sense most of what I thought of as the work, is already done. I need to put the report together which means presenting the plots in certain ways, labelling stuff, etc. I think that other people would keep such a report, or a paper, or some other final product more in mind as they do the work of assembling the information. Then it gets put into the proper form along the way. I suppose there's a balance. Collecting stuff with such a clear final goal in mind may also skew the results and make them less robust. But it may also be more understandable, and have more impact. I could learn to direct my work a bit more towards goals, and would probably save myself some work, and get more done. Pure information is not so useful if you can't do something with it.

Do these two different queries/angles on information inform each other? I will have to think further on this.
(Incidentally, this question about the nature of information was partially prompted by reading stuff by Jared Lanier. I've been finding a lot of his writing a nice anecdote to some of what scares me online these days. Thinking more clearly about ideology and about our opinions on "information" seems useful. Perhaps more later.)

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