# Is data information?

This is kind of convoluted, but it’s here in GD because I don’t know that there is a set answer, and I’d really like discussion on it.

This comes from a paper I am writing (I’m almost done, with just formatting left, so I promise you’re not doing my homework for me). The topic of the paper is “Discuss the ambiguity of information as a theoretical object. Why is it so difficult to define and study?”

This has led to discussions within the class as to what information is, and does it have to be communicated in order to be information. My thoughts on the subject are that information is, whether we realize it or not. I attempted in my mind to relate it to genetic diseases present in DNA, but realized that was a poor example, because once the disease is present it has been communicated by the body.

This led me to consider whether information exists that has not been communicated in some manner. Take this weekend’s space shuttle incident. During a news conference yesterday, there was a statement that 32 seconds worth of data may be present. Now, the information is there within that data. We can get to that data and extract information about it. But is the data itself information? I know it could be considered “raw information” that has to be processed before it is of use…but is it really information until it is processed?

Within my mind this has turned into a “If a tree falls in a forest” kind of thing. I’d love to get some thoughts on it.

Whether data is information is an interesting philosophical question. However, as you mentioned, data is not useful information. The entire purpose of statistics is to transform data into information. There’s at least one other branch of mathematics that has that as a goal, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name.

For an interesting perspective, you might consider looking up Kolmogorov complexity. It’s a little heady, but if you can grasp the basic idea, you might find it interesting to play with.

I’ll come back and say more on that later.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Claude Shannon and information theory, the basis of many interesting things being done with computers these days like compression and encryption.

The way I see it (and I am by no means authoritative) is that information is the relationships between bits. Even if nothing has been communicated or processed, the relationships still exist. Information is not necessarily useful, either. When you tune your tv to a dead station and it fills with static, there’s information there. You could describe the state of the screen in n bits (where n is probably far fewer than the number of pixels on the screen)

It’s not a tree falling in a forest thing. Data is information.

Now, if you want to get into “spooky action at a distance” quantum effects and Bell’s inequality, and whether Schrodinger has a zombie cat, that’s more interesting and tree-forest-y. But there’s information there too, in that we can describe the state of the system in terms of probabilities.

I am very unclear on what you mean by “data” and what you mean by “information” in the first place. I thought I knew, but then ultrafilter’s comment on statistics made me reconsider. But then I thought, maybe that’s right with what I was thinking. So now I don’t know.

When I think “data” I think of the binary representation in, for example, RAM, of numbers. When I think “information”, I think: how does the operating system look at this data? So I guess I would say data is just numbers, plain and simple. Information is a way of looking at numbers as representing something else, like a date, velocity, a color, etc.

I don’t know if that is even what we’re talking about here.

February 2, 2003
9:00 a.m.
12,500 mph
Texas, Louisiana

All of that is data, but without a context and something to tie it all together I don’t think it is information (standing alone, and taken individually, it does not “inform” me about anything).

If you haven’t covered it in class, you might want to read Searle’s Chinese Room Argument.

There’s also an interesting (though not entirely persuasive) chapter in “The Electric Meme” by Robert Aunger called, appropriately enough, “The Data on Information”.

Personally, my working WAG is that the above question is somewhat malformed… that information isn’t a thing-that-is-processed, information is a process.
TheNerd wrote:

I disagree, kinda. It’s true that the relationship between bits remains even if nothing has been communicated or processed, but the relationship is arbitrary and meaningless until the information process occurs. What I might think is just a cool abstract wall hanging may be calligraphy depicting the 99 names of God to someone who can process Arabic.

I think the Chinese Room took a beating here in GD, other-wise. Look for a thread started by Ramanujan here in the last 3 or 6 months with “Chinese Room” in the title. Better yet, why don’t I just do it for you and anyone else who might like to read it: Strong AI and the Chinese Room.

The other branch of math that I was thinking of is called formal concept analysis.

Whoa up there, eris! I didn’t say I agreed with Searle’s argument… I just figured anyone who’s researching information has gotta read Searle sooner or later.

The following links might be of some relevance:

The History of the Modern Fact

A Review

I think “data” is information if it informs, and it only “informs” when there is “someone “ that is informed.

“data” is like a black box, or an unread book, it is information about the possible presence of further information.
** plnnr**

wrote:

[quote]

Everything has context, and meaning. For me the context of your example above is your post.

I am informed of something although I might not consider it relevant, interesting, or significant.

So your saying that it can’t be information if it’s not communicated, but until it’s communicated in some method it’s merely data?
I’m not sure I agree - I think that data is somehow less than uncommunicated information, that it’s more unprocessed information, but that as soon as it’s processed in some manner, it is information that is ready to be used by someone to inform them.

(My brain really hurts from this paper - it’s about all I worked on for three days before I decided I was finished. I fully apologize for any statements in the OP or this one that don’t make sense.)