Claude Shannon’s vision was clear, and incomplete.
In a 1948 paper, A mathematical theory of communication (which I have not read), Shannon clearly defined the boundaries and central precepts of a mathematical form of communication, the fundamental principles of the transfer of a message from source14 to destination15:
In this theory, individual conceptual objects of meaning — symbols — units of information and fragments of other informational or conceptual entities — bits, discrete in the virtual space, can be transferred or sent and received, perceived and interpreted. Its simplicity was surpassed only by its brilliance: largely due to the accuracy of Shannon’s descriptions of this phenomenon, information technologies have exploded in sophistication, utility and use across the world. For our purposes, this primarily refers to networked computing — I’m not aware of the implications of Shannon’s theories for the advancement of the computer’s internal capabilities, though I imagine they are similarly profound.
This mathematical theory, which ultimately describes how to convey information encoded in the most simplistic system of symbology imaginable: a one dimensional sequence of conceptual voids that could be occupied by one of two states: something, or nothing. One or zero. Absence, presence.
“ lies behind any phenomenon involving data encoding and transmission” (Floridi 2010).
By describing the measurement and communication of units of information, Shannon established what was necessary to understand encoded signals and how to transmit messages on a channel. By Shannon’s definition, a message consists of a sequence of symbols — Shannon information (Floridi 2010 pp 38). “If base 2 is used, the resulting units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word suggested by J. W. Tukey” (Shannon 1948 pp 380).
Looking beyond the intense usefulness of Shannon’s theories, I wonder what we might find if we considered Shannon’s definition of “message” to fail to describe the complete picture. Importantly, this is not to discredit the brilliance and profound impact Shannon’s work has had on the world by applying a rigorous conceptual framework to the mathematical treatment of binary information, but to build on it, and plant seeds that may grow into a coherent worldview. What are the limits to this theory of digital communication? What if we accepted a definition of “message” broader than Shannon’s?
Communication entails the transfer of meaning.
Meaning only manifests in awareness — within the boundaries of a mind. The interface with matter is difficult to describe, but it appears that all manifest information is rooted, or anchored, in matter. Symbols are encoded and etched into matter or inscribed in a ray of light, or electrical current, or in the microvariations in air pressure.
Information exists connected to matter — it is the subject, or meaning, of a physical object, be it a planet or a human or a book. It also can be transmitted, cast very rapidly through space, if it is connected to energy.
Physical objects act as informees — they either project the energy required to transmit a signal out, or reflect energy emitted by some other object. (These objects can be said to have agency, which is the ability to act.)
Purely physical or conceptual objects seem to me to be purely theoretical: by being able to imagine “every physical thing that exists”, even the physical object most distant from any knower’s awareness has manifested a conceptual
This is a key point, perhaps: conceptual entities — the objects’ subjects — can exist independently of the object in both space and time. Some are imaginary, in which the information is conjured from within, and some are experienced, or empirical: an interaction with another object that conveyed information into my body, into my sensory organs, into my awareness.
Informational entities with Agency
the data that contain
Physical reality is formed of matter and energy existing in an ether, a multidimensional space where our bodies exist, and all of physical reality in our awareness. In this ether, when matter clumps together it forms physical objects that have mass. These masses — matter or energy, to the best of my knowledge — all exist in a zone of the ether from moment to moment through time. Mass exists within a framework that contains certain laws that govern it. Mass cannot disappear in one place and appear in another entirely without first occupying some continuous sequence of connected spaces — the path through which the object is moving. Objects exist in relation to other objects. The boundaries between these objects are perceived in our minds — some of these boundaries are empirical and some are conceptual, or imaginary, and many are a blend of both. Everything we can name or imagine is at once its own individual object, is embedded in infinite encompassing objects, and contains infinite embedded objects within it. Holons.
Objects in the ether
Consider two tennis balls: two physical masses, disconnected — discrete. Two discrete physical objects.
Some are discrete — physically unconnected
As information transfer
Passive vs active — intended vs not
Messages can be intentionally or unintentionally cast into the ether
- Message. Meaning.
The message is an informational entity composed of meaning — part of the subject of the data’s signal.
- Signal. Matter.
- Channel. Ether.
- Informer. Sender.
- Informed. Receiver
Heterogeneous physical universe
Data — at rest and in transit. “Variation” or a lack of uniformity.
Information — meaning in data.
Points on awareness — minds, arising from matter
With minds manifested a parallel, second layer — conceptual reality — the layer of meaning
Minds perceive meaning. In fact, meaning only manifests within a mind.
Information -> mind. Data -> brain.
Words are identifiers for concepts
Scope of identification / namespace. Local vs global.
Why it matters
Our worldview informs how we understand the patterns of reality
The materialist worldview is falling dreadfully short
We need to upgrade our understanding
Acknowledging the existence of these two facets of reality — physical and conceptual — means we can have more accurate conversations.
The characteristics or qualities of conceptual objects
Ethereum as the infrastructure for us to create a shared, open, durable informational reality.