Notes on Information

For an introduction to information theory, see Wikipedia's articles on cybernetics and information theory, Peter A. Corning's Control Information: The Missing Element in Norbert Wiener's Cybernetic Paradigm?, and Neil Savage's Information Theory after Shannon (This last link requires login to NU's library portal.) Wyoming cartoon

snowflake All language makes use of symbols. Words have symbolic meanings and emotional connotations in addition to the explicit meaning that they denote. Our information about the world is not WYSIWYG. We filter information through perceptions and cultural categories. According to the Canadian environmental magazine Elements, people who live in the Artic have 31 words for snow. The U. S. National Snow and Ice Data Center also has more than 31 snow terms in English. Most of us don't see that much difference in snow.

bust of plato Plato objected to the use of writing in Phaedrus because it would have a negative impact on human memory; it removed the necessity for men to have to defend the truth and logic of what they said; and would allow information to fall into the wrong hands (he meant ideas that were too hard to grasp). [Full text of Phaedrus.]
Formal computerized information lacks some of the behavioral, symbolic, and tactile complexity of information based on real experience, as in the case of digital frogs for biology students to learn dissection from. leopard frog

Search engines like Google (1999 view) have become increasingly important to work and daily life in the U.S. Weather, music and other forms of entertainment, and celebrities in the news are the most frequently searched items. A 2007 report by the PEW Internet & American Life Project, Information Searches That Solve Problems, found that More Americans turn to the internet for help than from professionals or family members. Libraries, however, remain important with more than half of the respondants reporting visiting one in the previous year. Search by keyword is not the only way people find things. IBM's experimental Query By Image Content (QBIC) can be used to search the digital collection of Russia's Hermitage Museum. Google is developing a search by image feature.

dragon t-shirt image search results The different search companies interact, with Google emerging as the dominant search engine. Although searching is now free and funded by advertizing, the potential exists for a monopoly to acquire control over finding online information. Bing and Wolfram Alpha are two newer search engines that are exploring ways to monetize searching.

A search using for "Bosch" shows the influence of paid ads on searching. Bosch is both an appliances and auto parts manufacturer and Hieronymus Bosch (a Renaissance painter). Bosch the painter shows up after the paid ads. Searching for Bosch's painting The Garden of Earthly Delights can be done in high resolution using Google Earth's digitization of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

bosch drill Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights