European Survey of Information Society

 

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Information

In terms of communication, information is expressed either as the content of a message or through direct or indirect observation. That which is perceived can be construed as a message in its own right, and in that sense, information is always conveyed as the content of a message.
Often information can be viewed as a type of input to an organism or system. Inputs are of two kinds; some inputs are important to the function of the organism (for example, food) or system (energy) by themselves. In his book Sensory Ecology Dusenbery called these causal inputs. Other inputs (information) are important only because they are associated with causal inputs and can be used to predict the occurrence of a causal input at a later time (and perhaps another place). Some information is important because of association with other information but eventually there must be a connection to a causal input. In practice, information is usually carried by weak stimuli that must be detected by specialized sensory systems and amplified by energy inputs before they can be functional to the organism or system. For example, light is mainly (but not only, e.g. plants can grow in the direction of the lightsource) a causal input to plants but for animals it only provides information. The colored light reflected from a flower is too weak to do much photosynthetic work but the visual system of the bee detects it and the bee's nervous system uses the information to guide the bee to the flower, where the bee often finds nectar or pollen, which are causal inputs, serving a nutritional function.
Systems theory at times seems to refer to information in this sense, assuming information does not necessarily involve any conscious mind, and patterns circulating (due to feedback) in the system can be called information. In other words, it can be said that information in this sense is something potentially perceived as representation, though not created or presented for that purpose. For example, Gregory Bateson defines "information" as a "difference that makes a difference".
Information has a well-defined meaning in physics. In 2003 J. D. Bekenstein claimed that a growing trend in physics was to define the physical world as being made up of information itself (and thus information is defined in this way) (see Digital physics). Examples of this include the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, where particles can interact without reference to their separation or the speed of light. Material information itself cannot travel faster than light even if that information is transmitted indirectly. This could lead to all attempts at physically observing a particle with an "entangled" relationship to another being slowed down, even though the particles are not connected in any other way other than by the information they carry.
The information cycle (addressed as a whole or in its distinct components) is of great concern to information technology, information systems, as well as information science. These fields deal with those processes and techniques pertaining to information capture (through sensors) and generation (through computation, formulation or composition), processing (including encoding, encryption, compression, packaging), transmission (including all telecommunication methods), presentation (including visualization / display methods), storage (such as magnetic or optical, including holographic methods), etc. Information does not cease to exist, it may only get scrambled beyond any possibility of retrieval (within information theory, see lossy compression; in physics, the black hole information paradox gets solved with the aid of the holographic principle).