The Impossible, the Unthinkable: Information is Choice


  • Robert Johannson


information, holism, reductionism, cybernetics, communication


In 1948 Norbert Wiener wrote “Information is information. It is not matter or energy. No materialism that does not admit this can survive at the present time.” The materialism “that does not admit this” is mechanistic reductionism, the belief that all phenomena can be reduced to matter and energy processes.

Mechanistic reductionism is based on Aristotelian metaphysics that “substance” is really real because it does not change, and qualities or “accidens” are not real because they change. Thus matter and energy are real because they are universal constants. But information is subject to change and thus is not objectively real. For cybernetics and telecommunications, information is objectively real.

In telecommunications and computing, information is a choice. Choices can be stored in the binary state of a transistor. A transistor can be used as a gate with two possible states: open or closed. The choice of state is the information and it is measured in “bits,” the number of binary choices.

Choice is a challenge to the scientific method. The scientific method is a way to test a hypothesis to see how accurately it can predict the results of an experiment. Does the hypothesis reveal a cause and effect relationship? But if actions are also the result of choices then the future depends on decisions that haven't been made yet. The scientific method instead of being the road to all truth becomes a useful method for identifying some cause and effect relationships.

            If information is a choice then scientific knowledge is not the rational understanding of objective truth, but only models chosen for various reasons to illuminate specific aspects of the environment, and subject to change.

The advantage to the modern definition is that it is clear, simple, useful, and gives us a basis for understanding holistic systems. Holistic systems are information systems. Since information is a choice it can also function as a command. Control systems are decision making systems. The basic information process is the translation of choices in one set into choices in another set. The translation process is a command and thus is also information, but at a program level. Because information is categorical, it is also hierarchical. The basic choice, either/or, creates a difference that forms a category. When two self-controlled systems meet, since they are information systems, they communicate. They become part of a larger whole that contains them both. The individuals will begin to define functional roles to achieve a more effective control process for the whole. Since the parts are themselves wholes they form nested holarchies. Since a control process is an information process, there is the possibility of communication between the levels of the holarchy, creating hierarchical control systems. This process of communication allows information systems to evolve and grow new and more complex forms. Since communication is a process of translation and decay, holistic systems have a life cycle: genesis, growth, maturity, decline, disintegration.


2022-02-24 — Updated on 2022-02-24