Information, how much in this word …

It is very difficult to understand (believe me, it has been verified many times) the simple idea that the same word in different subject areas, at different levels of analysis, by different people can denote fundamentally different concepts. For example, the majority is convinced that there is some real, as it really is, consciousness, and the only problem is that we can not describe it in words. No matter how many people take up this, everyone gets something about different things. Although one can simply admit that the word “consciousness” is used by many in different meanings, that is, they denote different concepts, and this will end the endless debate. We observe the same story with the word “information” – one can count over a hundred different definitions, sometimes very far from each other in content. According to some, information is “any data presented in electronic form”, according to others – “a universal property of matter”, and right there – “a measure of the organization of the system”, and also “intelligenceperceived by man. Someone is trying to explain the presence of many definitions of information by the fact that the very concept of ‘information’ is multifaceted, complex, and even declares it to be basic, indefinable. But it is obvious that the above definitions cannot describe one thing in any way: the stream of symbols transmitted through communication channels cannot be a measure of the complexity of the system, and the information perceived by a person cannot be a universal property of matter. Next, I will try to convince you of the following: firstly, there is no information in itself, about which you can say that it is the same information (complex, primary, ubiquitous) and it is only required to give it the only correct definition; secondly, we are dealing with a number of concepts that are not reducible to each other, which in different areas are denoted by different people by the same word “information”.

So, consider a simple sentence: “Among information is on the disk informationwhich contains informationconfirming my information». No, no, this is not a play on words, but an extremely meaningful and correct sentence of the Russian language. Only in it four different concepts are designated by one word “information” in full agreement with the definitions taken from authoritative sources:

  • information – any datasubmitted electronically, written on paper, spoken at a meeting, or in any other medium [ГОСТ Р ИСО/ТО 13569-2007];

  • information – any message or conveying information about something that was not previously known [Анисимов С.Ф. Человек и машина: Философские проблемы кибернетики. М.: Наука, 1958.];

  • information – intelligenceperceived by a person and (or) special devices as a reflection of the facts of the material or spiritual world in the process of communication [ГОСТ 7.0-99];

  • information – knowledge about objects, facts, ideas, etc. that people can exchange within a specific context [ISO/IEC 10746-2:1996].

The enumerated definitions invite us to use the word “information” to refer to such concepts as ‘data’, ‘message’, ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’. And if these concepts are called “by their proper names”, then our proposal will look like this: “among data is on the disk messagewhich contains intelligenceconfirming my knowledge”. That is, the sentence describes a completely trivial state of affairs: there is data on the hard drive of my computer, among the data there is a message sent to me, say, email, after reading and understanding the message, I received information, that is, some specific content that I can compare with the ones I have knowledge.

Once again I draw your attention to the fact that in the described situation we are dealing with four different concepts. What my computer’s disk is full of is not a message or a bunch of messages – it’s just data, essentially a set of characters. A message, on the other hand, is a piece of data created by the sender of the message so that I can read and understand it. A message is, of course, data, but not all data is a message. The next concept that appears in the described situation is ‘information’, that is, what I understood, learned from the message, what appeared in my conceptual space (one might say, in my head) after reading the message. Well, knowledge is (as well as information) some system of concepts that already existed in my head at the time of reading the message and which I can compare with the information received. Here it is very important to pay attention to the fundamentally different ontological status of messages and data, on the one hand, and information and knowledge, on the other. The former exist in the form of a set of signs (on a disk, in a book, in speech), while the latter exist exclusively in the head in the form of structures of concepts, thoughts. And precisely because information and knowledge have the same ontological nature – they are systems of concepts – they can be correlated, compared, confirmed or refuted. And a message can be transmitted over communication lines and stored on media because it is, by its nature, data, a set of characters.

So, the example I have analyzed demonstrates that such a number of definitions of information is explained not by the complexity, versatility of the concept itself, but by the use of the word “information” to refer to many different concepts (in our example, ‘data’, ‘message’, ‘information’, ‘knowledge’ ). And each of these concepts is not complicated and is quite unambiguously defined:

  • data is a set of characters intended for processing and transmission over communication channels;

  • message – a sequence of characters created by the sender to convey some information to the recipient;

  • information – a thought that is recorded in the message by the sender or understood by the recipient;

  • knowledge is a fixed thought used to unambiguously reproduce actions.

In itself, the situation with the use of one word in several meanings is quite common and unproblematic, if it is understood that any definition is primarily and only an agreement on the use of a word in a specific area, project, text. There are no right or wrong definitions. An unacceptable mistake is only the use of one word in different meanings in the same text, as was the case in our original example. Such an error is considered a violation of the logical law of identity, which requires that in the course of reasoning one and the same concept be denoted by one word. That is, you need to ensure that you do not write in one text about the amount of information (data) on the disk and immediately note that the user received information (information) by mail.

In fact, the above example leads to another, one might say, seditious thought: when discussing computer technology, you can completely abandon the word “information”. After all, look at what we discuss when creating digital systems: (1) data, their volume, processing and transmission through communication channels; (2) messages exchanged between users and the text of which can be displayed; (3) information understood by a particular user when reading messages; and (4) knowledge stored in the user’s memory. We can talk about all this without using the word “information”, calling all concepts “by their proper names”.

Although, of course, given the rootedness in the language of the word “information”, which usually denotes some important content for the recipient, transmitted using a text (written or oral), it is advisable to leave the word “information” to denote the concept of “information”. With this in mind, the final version of the sentence from our example should be written as follows: “Among data is on the disk messagewhich contains informationconfirming my knowledge“. Such a terminological decision emphasizes that data in general and any structured fragments of them (text messages) in themselves, before and outside of their reading, are not information. Information from the data can only be extracted by an actor who knows the meanings of the signs, the set of which is the data. It is the information extracted from the data in the form of thoughts (structures of concepts) that is the information that can be used in the activity of the actor. And the use of two terms – “information” and “knowledge” – is necessary to indicate that we call information the received content that can change our state at the time of receipt, in contrast to knowledge that has already been accumulated and used as needed.

The use of the word “information” to denote the concept of “information” is the most acceptable not only in my opinion, but also in the opinion of the compilers of many reference books:

  • information – information perceived by a person and (or) special devices … [ГОСТ 7.0-99];

  • information – information transmitted by one person to another person orally, in writing or in some other way … [БСЭ, 1980];

  • information – information is primarily an interpretation (meaning) … [ISO/IEC/IEEE 24765:2010];

  • information – the content of the message or signal; information considered in the process of their transmission or perception … [Терминологический словарь, 1991].

Once again, I emphasize: the above definitions are not about what information “really” is, not about the fact that we all must accept the formula “information is information” and abandon other options for using the word. These definitions only fix the convention on the use of the word “information”, which can be reached, say, in some project. Participants in another project may well agree to designate the word “information” data. Then for them the sentence from our example will sound like this: “Among information is on the disk messagewhich has intelligenceconfirming my knowledge”. Saying the phrases “write information to disk”, “archive information”, “transfer information”, the participants of this project will understand that it is only and exclusively about a set of characters, and not about a message, information or knowledge.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the text, the word “information” is used to denote not only such concepts as ‘data’, ‘message’, ‘information’, ‘knowledge’, but also such as the “measure of system organization” in cybernetics or “universal property of matter” in philosophy. But even in these subject areas (especially, of course, in philosophy) there is no consensus. We open books on cybernetics and read that information is “uncertainty removed” (Shannon), “denial of entropy” (Brillouin), “measure of complexity of structures” (Mol), “probability of choice” (Yaglom), “indistinguishability removed, transfer of diversity , a measure of change in time and space in the structural diversity of systems” (Ashby). Or from the philosophical “heritage” (without authors): “universal property of matter”, “non-material component of the material world”, “reflection in the minds of people of objective cause-and-effect relationships”, “content of reflection processes”, “one of the properties of objects, phenomena , processes of objective reality”. That is the same game.

In conclusion, it remains only to repeat the idea that I wanted to convey with this text: there is no basic, multifaceted entity that could be called the word “information”, but there are many more or less fixed concepts that in different subject areas, by different people, are denoted by this word. You just have to deal with this kind of situation. And each time, meeting the word “information” in the text, ask yourself the question in what sense the author uses it. And when you want to write the word “information”, it is better to replace it with another one, knowing that there will definitely be a reader who understands it differently than you do. Although this does not apply to everyday conversations, in which information is most often received information.


  1. Shannon K.E. Symbolic analysis of relay and switching circuits / K.E.Shannon // Works on information theory and cybernetics. Translation from English. Edited by R.L. Dobrushin and O.B. Lupanova: foreword by A.I. Kolmogorov. – M.: Nauka, ch. ed. Phys.-Math. literature. – 1963. – S. 333-402.

  2. Ross Ashby. Introduction to Cybernetics / Ross Ashby. – M.: Ed. in. lit., 1959. – 432p.

  3. Mol A. Theory of information and aesthetic education / A. Mol. – M.: Mir. – 1966. -352p.

  4. Brillouin L. Science and information theory / L. Brillouin. – M.: Ed. Phys.-Math. Literature, 1960. – 392p.

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