Difference

Article

 Editor
 Incorporated contributions
Gejman (09/2009)
 Usage domain
general, transdisciplinar
 Type
Concept
 French
différence
 German Unterschied

[Good English]

Difference denotes a relationship between two entities, or objects, or between an entity and itself in different circumstances.  A and B are said to be different if the same property or attribute, applied to both, yields non equal values.

The definition of information presented by Gregory Bateson, "a difference that makes a difference" is famous in the bibliography of information.

Floridi also uses the term difference, relating it to the most basic informational situation, the definition of "datum".

However, to use the concept of difference as the deepest substrate of the concept of information is dangerous, since it ignores a fact which is even more elementary or fundamental. For a difference between two things to exist, it necessarily must relate to qualities or attributes of both. For example, if an observer reported that John is higher than William, he or she is recognizing at least three previous facts:

  • John and William are objects.
  • It makes sense to apply the "height" attribute to both John and William.
  • The "height" attribute comes from a consensus reached by a community of agents, which defines the word itself, defines the attribute as a function that assigns a real number to material objects and defines acceptable forms of calculating the function. This is all part of the common sense or ontological background of that community. 

Only if these three facts or previous items exist the observer can state that the height of one differs from the height of the other. This can also be seen when someone says that there is a difference between the objects A and B. It is very likely that anyone who is listening would ask: "In what (quality) is it that they differ?". Whenever A and B are different, it is because of a quality or property they both have.

Now, when Bateson uses the phrase above to define information, probably refers to the perception of a difference perceived by an observer, whose state, as a result of the perception, is altered, i.e. differentiated from the state existing prior to it.

When Floridi mentions "difference" he refers to the difference produced in, for example a sheet of paper, when somebody writes on it.  In other words, he points to the change of state of a record, between two different time points.  This operation is usually used to record information, by means of consensus symbols, and that is the relationship between difference and information that Floridi puts forward.

We see that both uses of the word "difference" are not equal; although one could build a relationship between them. For example, a word written on paper might be perceived by an observer and it could trigger therein a state change. However, clearly, Bateson refers to the domain of perception and knowledge, while Floridi refers to the domain of objects and records.

In conclusion, supporting a definition of the concept of information only on the concept of "difference" we incur the risk of forgetting that first we need categories and qualities collectively agreed, and the risk of confusing information with records and representations of it.

 
References
  • BATESON, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press.
  • FLORIDI, L. (2009). Information - A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (En proceso de publicación).
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Incorporated entries
Roberto Gejman (12/09/2009) 

Difference denotes a relationship between two entities, or objects, or between an entity and itself in different circumstances.  A and B are said to be different if the same property or attribute, applied to both, yields non equal values.

The definition of information presented by Gregory Bateson, "a difference that makes a difference" is famous in the bibliography of information.

Also Floridi uses the term difference, relating to the most basic informational situation, the definition of "datum".

However, to use the concept of difference as the deepest substrate of the concept of information, is dangerous since it ignores a fact which is even more elementary or fundamental. For a difference between two things to exist, it necessarily must relate to qualities or attributes of both. For example, if an observer reported that John is higher than William, he or she is recognizing at least three previous facts:

· John and William are objects.

· It makes sense to apply the "height" attribute to both John and William.

· The "height" attribute comes from a consensus reached by a community of agents, which defines the word itself, defines the attribute as function that assigns a real number to material objects and defines acceptable forms of calculating the function. This is all part of the common sense or ontological background of that community. 

Only if these three facts or previous items exist, the observer can now say that the height of one differs from the height of the other. This can also be seen when someone says that there is a difference between the objects A and B. It is very likely that anyone who is listening would ask: "In what (quality) is it that they differ?". Whenever A and B are different, it is because of a quality or property they both have.

Now, when Bateson uses the phrase above to define information, probably refers to the perception of a difference perceived by an observer, whose state, as a result of the perception, is altered, i.e. differentiated from the state existing prior to it.

When Floridi mentions "difference" he refers to the difference produced in, for example a sheet of paper, when somebody writes on it.  In other words, he points to the change of state of a record, between two different time points.  This operation is usually used to record information, by means of consensus symbols, and that is the relationship between difference and information that Floridi puts forward.

We see that both uses of the word "difference" are not equal; although one could build a relationship between them. For example, a word written on paper might be perceived by an observer and it could trigger therein a state change. However, clearly, Bateson refers to the domain of perception and knowledge, while Floridi refers to the domain of objects and records.

In conclusion, to support a definition of the concept of information only on the concept of "difference" makes us incur the risk of forgetting that first we need categories and qualities collectively agreed, and the risk of confusing information with records and representations of it.

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