The philosophy of information
On my desk stands a copy of A Very Short Introduction to Information by Professor Luciano Floridi just to remind me that the concept of information is very broad indeed, down to the genetic information encoded in our DNA. The book stops me focusing on the minutiae of information and instead to look at the bigger picture. A step up from the book is Professor Floridi’s contribution on the semantic conceptions of information in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I should at this point note that Luciano Floridi is is currently Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford. There is a wonderful sentence in the Stanford entry that starts “Information is a conceptual labyrinth”. I am very tired of seeing a simplistic data/information/knowledge/wisdom view of the world being positioned as the definitive map of the information universe.
In 2011 Professor Floridi’s book The Philosophy of Information was published by Oxford University Press, and was reprinted (the sign of an important book) in 2014. I gave it to myself as a Christmas present this year as it is not the sort of book that you place on Christmas list. As some readers will know I am quite passionate about music, especially in playing the music of J.S.Bach, Rachmaninov and Duruflé. If you can read music and have the necessary technique then it is entirely possible to play their music. Giving a performance that communicates the intentions of the composer is much more difficult, which explains why my bookshelves contain around 40 books on Bach and many on both Rachmaninoff and Duruflé. You have to dig beneath the surface.This is exactly what Professor Floridi does in this book and in his more recent book The Fourth Revolution
The Philosophy of Information is not an easy book to read, and I’m having to take it a sub-section at a time, not even a chapter at a time. To get a flavour “Information is still an elusive concept. This is a scandal not by itself but because so much basic theoretical work relies on a clear analysis and explanation of information and of its cognate concepts”. The book, almost 400 pages long, sets out to provide this analysis and explanation. Will this book change the way you solve today’s information puzzles? No. It is not a handbook to information management success. But for me it is a book that I know I have to read even if some (probably many!) of the sections are very difficult to cope with because without this philosophical grounding we are managing information in a way similar to science before the quantum theory was established. It is time we took a wider look at what information means to society and the individual. I sometimes think we use the word ‘content’ because we don’t want people to ask us what ‘information’ is.