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.


6 Responses to “Definition of Information”

  1. inominandum Says:

    Patrick, have you ever worked a system of magic, yoga, qigung, or internal arts at all that depended not only on visualizations but on BREATH? How about muscle control?

    I think if you did you would understand those of us who keep insisting that your need to insist on information terms misses the boat on such practices.

    • pomomagic Says:

      Absolutely! And this sort of practice creates a very visceral experience that we conceptualize as heat, electricity, or a feeling of vitality — and we grope for the term “energy” for that experience. But that doesn’t mean it *is* energy. It’s data. I understand that people wish to cling to that visceral reaction and the term they select to describe it, and I understand that living in a culture built on a scientific understanding of “energy,” we glom onto that as a convenient metaphor. But it is not energy. If it were, actually, energy, we would easily be able to perceive it with scientific instruments. Other than in unusual cases, such as the practice of tumo, we don’t. If we did, magic wouldn’t be magic: it’d be science.

  2. You might enjoy digging into Claude Shannon’s work – he basically invented information theory. It is very mathematical but has some interesting implications and I’m sure you can find more. James Gleick’s most recent book The Information is a great way to access it. It comes from the signal processing end of things but there are interesting disputes around if information requires meaning or not and some really cool things about defining entropy in terms of information.

    I am sure you will respond to inominandum’s comment, anything having to do with propioception, breath control, muscle control, breath awareness is fundamentally neural signal processing – information is being sent and received all the time.

    • pomomagic Says:

      I’m a bit familiar with Shannon’s work. Gleick’s book is on my “eventually read” list. But that list is huge.

  3. This and the previous post are very thought-provoking. I tend to integrate the ideas into my understanding of early Irish magical assumptions (for instance, that to name something is to invoke it into being, in some sense), and that continues to prove out as you continue to explicate your model.

  4. This post reminds me of a distinction I find useful but that most mages don’t think about:

    When you visualize (or manipulate symbols or whatever), are you interacting with external reality, or giving instructions to your unconscious, which then interacts with external reality in some unknown way?

    Here’s why I think it’s important: If you’re directly interacting with external reality, then you have to get it right. There can only be one external reality, and we all share it.

    But if you’re communicating with your unconscious, then all that matters is that you share a language. That you know what should happen when you visualize X, and your unconscious agrees, and makes it happen.

    Folks that visualize energy as a glowing light, or think of putting a message into a ball of light, are doing the second. There is no actual glowing thing, but their unconscious knows what they mean and moves the thing they think of as energy (which you think of as something else, which is totally fine).

    How to tell the difference? After all, energy healers think their glowing thing directly maps to an actual something in the world. I don’t have a definite answer that you can implement quickly (I have a definite answer but it takes about 6 months to learn). But as a first cut, I’d try meditating, doing some simple magick, and focusing on the idea of “Is this visualization to communicate an intent, or are the actual steps I’m visualizing happening in the external world?”

    Curious both on your thoughts, and on your experience if you try this.

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