Philosophy of Information


These readings provided an interesting contrast as our introduction to questions about information technology and literacy.

Luciano Floridi, “ Open Problems in the Philosophy of Information ," Metaphilosophy 35:4 (July 2004), 554-582.

This article was a dense, philosophical treatise on the ontology and he epistemology of knowledge. In plainer English, Floridi laid out a bunch of questions philosophers are engaging these days in the grip of the great digital turn.


Floridi's vocabulary list alone made some important distinctions for us:

Data, information, knowledge, truth, meaning.

Cognition, intelligence, consciousness, creativity, mind.

Know, prove, inform, signify, describe, explain.


We also got some important definitions from Floridi:

Data is a set of elements with uninterpreted differences.

Information is well-formed patterns of data.

Knowledge is meaningful, truthful and well-explained information.


Information management processes include:

Data seeking, acquiring and mining.

Information harvesting, gathering, storage, retrieval, editing, formatting, aggregation, extrapolation, distribution, verification, quality control and evaluation.


The relation between data, information and knowledge is complex.

Data and information can be read at multiple levels of abstraction.

Information at one level of abstraction can serve as data for the next one up.

Knowing is apprehending multiple levels of abstraction about a data set and being able to explain the relation of data to information.


An example used by Floridi to explain the compound relation between data, information and knowledge:

Egyptian hieroglyphics were pure data to western eyes prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. They were uninterpreted patterns of difference.

With the Rosetta Stone, they became interpretable by western scholars and thus became information.

When scholars developed the ability to explain the information contained in hieroglyphic writings, they began to develop knowledge.


Questions this example and the article raised for us:

Does information exist as a quality intrinsic to data patterning or is it framed only through cognition? Did the hieroglyphics contain information about the Egyptians whether westerners could read it or not?

Is the scientific characterization of DNA as information an empirical description or a metaphor? If a strand of DNA falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Are meaning and truth moral elements of data and information? Is knowledge? Can data and information have moral content? Can knowledge?


Trent Batson and Randy Bass, “Teaching and Learning in the Computer Age,” Change 28:2 (Mar/Apr 1996), 42-49.

This article is a charming look back at the utopian hopes educators had very recently about the world wide web.

The authors utilize the metaphor of the information super highway and recommend that K-12 educators find the exit ramps to make a "flying merge" into the new technology.

They predict that computers will free educators from teaching content to teaching discovery skills.

Though their enthusiasm may now seem naive, they describe very well the potential for computers to change traditional teaching and learning processes.

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