Definition of Information
I get this from Luciano Floridi’s Information: A Very Short Introduction. It might help explain what I mean by “information” and why “energy signature” is just a longer synonym for “information” in this sense. Warning: there is symbolic logic. I will explain as we go.
σ is an instance of information, iff
σ consists of n data, for n ≥ 1
the data are well-formed
the well-formed data are meaningful
So, something is an example of information if-and-only-if it consists of one or more bits of data. These can be the letters of an alphabet, a yes/no circuit, a particular shape of a leaf, the color of my carpet, a graph or a chart, or anything else that can differentiated from anything else. All of our sensory experiences are data. All of our experiences are data, period: we have no experience of anything that is not data.
Well-formed means that these data follow rules of organization. In language, this is syntax. In mathematics, its conventions. In the natural world, it’s coherence — if I see a dwarf hanging upside-down from the tree outside my window, I assume that this is not information; it is hallucination because it does not seem to be coherent with my experiences. It is not well-formed.
It is meaningful. Much data gets discarded because we do not assign it meaning. But meaning is merely fitting that data into our experiences. A bee is circling the gutter outside of my window: this is a datum. It is well-formed — bees do fly in the summer, and so it fits within the symbol system of my experiences. It is meaningful: it may mean I need to be careful when I water the lilacs.
Now, by this definition, any meaningful organization of data (for which you can read “experience”) is information.
In fact, information can exist without a consciousness being aware of it.
We often find ourselves facing with Floridi calls “environmental information.” Environmental information is when “two systems, a and b, are coupled in such a way that a’s being of type or state F is correlated to b’s being of type or state G, thus carrying for the observer of a that b is G.” The example I gave above, of the bee, was an example of environmental information. When Temperance Brennan looks at a skull on Bones and says “male, caucasian, thirty years old,” she’s interpreting the data of the skull to arrive at meaning.
Now, if there are any locations where there can be no consciousness, then there can be no information there. Even environmental information requires that someone could at some point observe a. Yet this strikes me as a difficult proposition to accept. Insofar as we are conscious, and construct meaning, then it seems we could at least theoretically observe any environmental data to give it meaning. Which means information must be ubiquitous.
Why is this useful in the study of magic? We have in the definition above the three requirements for magic to work, for our act to be informative enough to cause change in the world. It must contain data — symbols, in our case. Those symbols must be well-formed, selected from a coherent symbol system that reflects human experience. And by manipulating those symbols, we must give them meaning: our ritual must take our attention, our concentration, our deliberation. We can breathe rhythmically and imagine colored spheres of light all we like, if that’s the system that we wish to borrow our symbols from. But it’s not the imaginary colored light that does the magic: it’s the meaning we attach to it.