I’m working on my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “information”:
information, a property of a state or event, X, (a signal) enabling one to infer truths about some state or event Y (where X and Y are usually distinct). Alternately, “information” may be used to refer to the truths about Y that X enables inferences of. The mathematical theory of information (Shannon and Weaver’s “Mathematical Theory of Communication”) provides means for defining amounts of information (such as “bits”) in terms of the number and probability of possible events. Philosophical theories of information strive to define the semantic CONTENT of information, that is, they strive to define not how much information a signal carries but instead what information a signal carries. Various philosophical conceptions of information define signal content in terms of what events are either causally, nomologically, or probabilistically correlated with the occurrence of a signal. The notion of information may be utilized to characterize various mental states such as states of PERCEPTION and MEMORY as information-bearing states: states by which a creature respectively acquires and retains information about its environment. The notion of information has also been used by some philosophers as a basis for understanding INTENTIONALITY and CONTENT (see INFORMATIONAL THEORY OF CONTENT). A further use of information of significance for the philosophy of mind is in characterizations of COMPUTATION as “information processing”.