L505 Essay Session 3
Quantum Superpositions of Information
One important use of “information” is to denote knowledge imparted; another is to denote the process of informing. Some leading theorists have dismissed the attributive use of “information” to refer to things that are informative…People are informed not only by intentional communications, but by a wide variety of objects and events (Buckland, 1991).
Here [STC1]two types of objects that have informative value are described. There are objects designed to be informative, such as a book, and objects only apparently informative, made so as if by some kind of external force, such as an antelope in the wild. Buckland desires to narrow the gap and make “things” be as important as knowledge and process but still gives a fair amount of importance to the presence in a document of the intention or desire to inform. That intention is given to the document as the result of its creation. A different model moves intention to another location and may provide a more level playing field where information-as-thing, information-as-knowledge and information-as-process interact in a more balanced fashion.
In the model implied by Buckland a document of the traditional sort, a book or article, has the intention of bestowing information upon the reader. In Foskett’s model of data, information, knowledge and wisdom this action is either data becoming information or information becoming knowledge, depending on the preparedness of the reader and their capacity to synthesize. In the Foskett model the reader also has some intention: the intention to learn about what they are reading. In the case of the antelope—if the antelope is being observed in a curious fashion—the intention is with the observer. When an observer is surprised by a billboard that states, “God lands today, be prepared” the intention lies with the author or authors of the billboard. There is no pre-meditated intention on the part of the observer.
This is messy. Intention is given importance but is hard to locate as it bounces from place to place or person to person. What if instead intention exists at the moment of encounter? Prior to and after the encounter intention is not relevant. When two information-bearing things come into contact the contact determines intention. The things have information potential and the encounter between them is a collision from which information may result.
This model can be explained more clearly if stretched onto something akin to the quantum model of reality. Data exist as superpositions in an information universe. The entire collection of data associated with an object exists as a cloud of unknown potential. Each datum has an information probability. Some objects have a greater potential for broadcasting information while other objects have a greater potential to receive. Some have high potentials for both. When objects collide, their information clouds collide, superpositions collapse to position and information is created.
An observer, with a high potential for reception, is out looking for an antelope. The antelope, relative to the context of the observer, has a high probability of being brown, having fur, being a mammal, and ingesting certain foods. The antelope has a fairly low potential for reception relative to the observer but the potential is present nonetheless. When the information clouds of the observer and antelope collide some of the probabilities become (apparent) realities. There is an initial perception: “I spy an antelope, cool!” and “Human! Yikes! Run!” In the time before the antelope disappears the observer has a chance to gather that it is in fact brown, has fur, but the question of food is left open.
A book entitled American Literature in the 1920s has a high probability of containing text about Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Parker and Hemmingway. As it sits in the shelves it is high in information potential, but what that information may be is only probable. When selected, opened and read by a reader the book and the reader collide, clouds collapse and what information the reader gains is the result of the encounter of the information clouds of both the book and the reader.
In this model everything is akin to a library containing data or information-as-thing. The data is suspended, like a potentially poisoned cat in a box, awaiting the collision of an encounter. The fallout from the collision is information. What the information means is a combination resulting from the encounter. If the choice is made to integrate the information into an understanding of the universe, the information becomes knowledge.
Buckland, M. (1991). Information as Thing. At http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/~buckland/thing.html.
Foskett, D.J. (1995). Speech at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science.
[STC1]There’s a problem here with the difference between potential and probability and what happens to both during the collapse of the cloud or the wave. They need to be kept separate, clear, distinct and equally important.