Click Here ">
« June 2004 »
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Cognition & Epistemology
Notes on Pirah?
Ontology&possible worlds
Syn-Sem Interface
Temporal Logic
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
Translate this
LINGUISTIX&LOGIK, Tony Marmo's blog
Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Some Thoughts About the Relationship Between Information and Understanding

Michael O. Luke
Paper to be presented at the American Society for Information Science Conference, San Diego, CA, May 20-22, 1996

That there is a relationship between information and understanding seems intuitively obvious. If we try to express this relationship mathematically, however, it soon becomes clear that the relationship is complex and mysterious. Knowing more about the connection, however, is important, not the least because we need more understanding as our world becomes faster paced and increasingly complex. The influence of increasing the amount of information, increasing the effectiveness of information mining tools and ways of organizing information to aid the cognitive process are briefly discussed.

Introduction: Why the Relationship Matters

Those of you who are expecting to learn something definitive about the relationship between information and understanding, or to find out the results of some project investigating it, will I hope be disappointed with this talk. My subject is indeed the relationship between information and understanding, but this is not something I can tackle in any standard way. I am afraid that you are going to have to do some of the work. What you will see from me is a great deal of ignorance - great dark stretches in the map of understanding the relationship - lit up faintly, here and there with some gleams of insight (I hope you will agree that there are some gleams).

So then what is the relationship between information and understanding? And why even pose such a question? Is there really any value in considering the relationship in any detail? What am I doing even putting the two terms on the table and drawing an arrow from one to the other with a question mark after it? After all, I know only a little about information and understand not much about understanding. What can possibly justify my temerity in raising such an issue at this conference and taking up a half hour of your time dealing with it?

In my own defense, let me suggest that this is one of the most important questions that an organization like ours, contemplating at this conference, as we are, the digital future, possibly can deal with. We practice information science and call ourselves information scientists. As scientists we seek to understand - the thirst to comprehend, to know how things work is, after all, the passion that drives science, for it certainly can only be the thirst to know and not money or fame! We seek to know and we have been puzzling at it for a long time. In this century in particular we seem to have made enormous progress in understanding as our stockpiles of information have grown at a dizzying rate. As information scientists we are interested in information. How does it work?

Surely, then the question of the relationship between these two things, information and understanding, should be no stranger to us, no alien skulking unobtrusively in our midst, but a constant companion. So maybe I am the only person in this room who doesn't understand the relationship fully. I guess if so that would eminently explain why I am up here squirming. I'll tell you a little story before I embark upon the major theme. When I came actually to write this paper, having been e-mailed that the deadline was March 1, it was -40 degrees Celcius at the time, and the sun was coming through the window of my office flat, straight across the farm land, the black soil that grows the world's best durum wheat invisible beneath a heavy mantle of glaring, gleaming white. It was a cryogenic Manitoba winter morning, bright and brittle, and we consoled ourselves by saying, "but it's a dry cold" and thinking of the mosquitoes, black fly, and deer fly we didn't have right now. So putting together the presentation proposal seemed a good idea at the time!

And in fact I still believe it is. So what is the justification for raising the question in this forum? I think it is that we are not really interested in information just for its own sake, revelling merely in piling it up and moving it around. We recognize information as a means to an end. It is what it can do for us, what it has done for us, what we might do to make it do even more that drives us. And what it can do is to promote understanding and to help us acquire knowledge and give us the basis for action, for decisions, for planning and doing. Information is useful - it helps us understand and when we understand we can do useful things, like invent things, develop better strategies for business success, and we even feel better. I am richer not poorer in the face of the rising sun for understanding something about how it may have formed, for how it creates the heat and light that enable life, for knowing how long the light has been travelling before streaming through my window and I an enriched for knowing its relative insignificance in the overall scheme of things in the universe.

It isn't useful in any economic sense this particular knowledge but it helps clear up some of the mystery around me if not the brooding stuff in the background. Information above all is useful, helping education and commerce, powering art and science, driving technology and innovation before it, commerce and industry. Knowing more about the relationship should help us to exploit it more effectively.

And that's not all! My final argument is right now, at this of all times, when we seem to stand poised at the edge of a node of almost cataclysmic change, with not much help of controlling it, maybe thinking ourselves lucky if we can just survive as the storm of change breaks around us, we shall need understanding if we are to have any hope at all of avoiding the perils and steering as best we can for safer ground. Understanding then is a prescription above all for managing, if that's the word, or perhaps more realistically coping with the future, the next millennium and beyond.

I should say that some people have higher aspirations and little patience with lowly old understanding. They have loftier things in mind as the titles of their books attest: "The Wisdom of Teams", "Working Wisdom" and the "The Wisdom of Science", the latter considerably older than the others and not a bad book. Well, I have no quarrel with wisdom? If occasionaly one can stumble across it, recognize it for what it is, and use it, so much the better! I just think that realistically there is more pay dirt in the more prosaic relationship we will explore in this session.

Considering an Equation

Now one of the things that scientists do when contemplating relationships is to seek a law, typically a mathematical expression that links the phenomena in some way, a notational short hand for the force hiding in the action. E=mc2 and that sort of thing. Rarely has something so potent been expressed so economically.


Posted by Tony Marmo at 20:02 BST
Updated: Wednesday, 23 June 2004 20:10 BST

View Latest Entries