The Concept of Information

In the so-called information society, the concept of information is highly appreciated and used in nearly every discipline. Therefore, is “information” helpful to build a bridge between these different disciplines and language games?

What is "Information"? An Introduction

An insightful introduction to the topic was given by Rafael Capurro, Professor of Information Science and Information Ethics at FH Stuttgart, Hochschule der Medien - University of Applied Sciences. Capurro distinguishes five different concepts of information. He offered an analysis of information in:

1) communication technology (by C. Shannon and W. Weaver)
2) linguistics
3) cybernetics (e.g. H. Maturana, F. Varela, H. v. Foerster)
4) cultural studies (e.g. P. Janich)
5) the natural sciences (e.g. C. F. v. Weizsäcker)

Rafael Capurro

The main question is whether "information" means the same in all disciplines regardless of the specific contexts and applications. With this question, we face a logical situation of three options, designated by several authors as the "Capurro-Trilemma".

The so-called Capurro-Trilemma

Information may mean the same at all levels (univocity), something similar (analogy), or something different (equivocity). In the first case, we lose all qualitative differences, as, for instance, when we say that e-mail and cell reproduction are the same kind of information process. Not only the "stuff" and the structure, but also the processes in cells and computer devices are rather different from each other. If we say the concept of information is being used as an analogy, then we have to state what the "original" meaning is. If it is the concept of information at the human level, then we are confronted with anthropomorphisms if we use it at a non-human level. We would say that "in some way" atoms "talk" to each other, etc. Finally, there is equivocity, which means that information in physics and information in education are wholly different concepts. In this case, information cannot be a unifying concept any more.
To overcome this trilemma, Capurro recommends the notion of Wittgenstein's "Familienaehnlichkeit" (family resemblance), a concept that joins different elements by unspecified similarity; a concept that is weaker than the concept of analogy.

Estimation by H. D. Mutschler

Even the weaker notion of Wittgenstein's Familienaehnlichkeit (family resemblance) is hardly applicable because this principle should lead further to a stricter selection of related words. For example, if a white person appeared in a black family, you would not consider him to be a relative. The concepts of information are even more different, if not contradictory. Therefore, the cybernetic concept (3) is completely subjective, whereas the scientific concept (5) considers information to be the objective and entire ontological basis of all. We can ask whether these opponents still belong to one family.

Hans Dieter Mutschler


You can only accept the concept of information as a bridge between different domains, if you accept a very wide concept of information (and not a strict one).

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