Information Aesthetics


Incorporated contributions
J. M. Díaz Nafría (20/7/09)
X. Antón (18/12/2009)
Usage domain
Multidisciplinary, Semiotics, Hermeneutics, Formal sciences, Communication Theory
Esthétique informationelle
German Informations-Aesthetik

Reality is a formality being present to man, not by a concept, or by a reasoning, but -from my viewpoint- by an act of what I have called Sentient Intelligence, namely by an impression.



We consider aesthetics as the way in which subjects are aware of their identity. In an active way, they try to reach the reality they belong to and with which they have an interdependence relationship, this means that subjects are a way in which reality crystallizes. This way is depending on a space and temporary framework that expresses it in terms of action and relation. It appears as a necessity for all the formalizing synthesis and it will serve as a tool to approach to the information from everywhere wanting to make it of one’s own. This implies a real perspectiviness, a relation between analyzing and analyzed that puts the known subject in a period between relationships, in an aesthetic space.


Inside the concept Aesthetics of Information we can introduce a lot of methods and authors belonging to different fields of knowledge. Some of them are the following:


In the middle of the XIXth century M. Weber established the known fraction that tried to emphasize a quantitative measure applied to the process of perception. For that, he used the concept of intensity in the stimulus, something that till that moment was a bit ambiguous. So that, to perceive a change in a stimulus it is necessary that it grows in a constant proportion in relation to its true magnitude: ∆E/E = K. This notion acquires a logarithmic form in the work of G. Fechner  makes it more difficult adding to the term the one of intensity of the sensation. While this grows in an arithmetic progression the one of the stimulus grows in a geometric progression. The intensity of the stimulus S depends on the logarithm E in relation to two constants K and C, where S = K.loge E+C.  S. S. Stevens, thinking about Weber’s law the same as Fechner, ended improving the formula. In his case the variation of a sensation is not constant in relation to the sensation but it is proportional to it. The intensity of the sensation S is equals to the constant C multiplied by the intensity of the stimulus E: S = C.Ek. But in all cases if the stimulus is any element or agent that stimulates, provoking a reaction in the body, whereas sensation in the impression produced, then it is expected that any quantitative formula intending to measure sensation will reduce its applicability hindering any comparison between stimulus (the applicability depends on the determination of the field, which nowaday runs the risk to be restricted to the fields of media and ICTs).


A bit later, W. Wundt, follower of the ideas of Helmholtz, gave the first steps through the door that the previous physiological method has opened. He not only gave psychology a method but also he gave it the scientific character that it has currently. On the one hand he analyzes the sensations with comparative systems that play with a reality that is supposed to be objective, and on the other one he analyzes the subjective sensation that provokes in people. His new structuralist  idea would generate a long list of followers.


While this was happening in Leipzig, in Weimar the School of psychology of the Gestalt was being founded: M. Wertheimer, W. Köhler, K. Koffka and K. Lewin will say to the world that perceptions are not a group of isolated images but they consist of configurations that function as structured unities. Max Wertheimer, creator of the school, shows a whole series of innate laws that organize perception. Koffka analyzes the way in which the human being and the environment interplay to develop a theory of the human behaviour. K. Lewin starts from the idea of gestalt, that first differentiates the figure from the background. He develops his theory according to the idea of environment that functions as the framework in which the human being develops. For that he takes from Physics the concept of field, understood as the place where the particles interplay. For him the behaviour is a function between the person and the environment: C = f(p.a). This communion shows that it is impossible the conception of the human knowledge without taking into account the field, and also that it cannot be thought a figure without a background. Köhler, in his investigations about the primate reasoning, concludes that learning is not the result of a method of experiment and error, as the behaviourist thesis said. On the contrary it showed spontaneously and suddenly.


Karl Bühler, who had also been  formed in the Weimar school, develops a complete theory about language. He analyzes the sign from the point of view of the speaker, of the listener and the referent and he established three respective functions of language: the representation, expression, and appeal. His pupil Karl Popper adds a new one: the argumentative. As they established relations on the way the brain orders thought, the development of the structuralism was near.

The analysis of the configurations through which the human being discovers reality is scientific, but we cannot forget that to do it we need to leave the logic of the speech. That is to say,  formal analysis needs to be articulated by rules that are beyond it for both, Science and Language, need rules to be articulated and because of it they have a determinist character. The basis of the problem is in the final profile of some tools that are really hermetic, in the case of the formal definitions in general as well as in their symbolic side. R. Jakobson, using again the mathematic theories of information of Shannon and Weaver and influenced by Bühler’s ideas, develops a linear model of communication where he describes six functions of language (referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic) related to the six basic elements of the communicative process ( context, sender, receiver,  message, common code and contact)


It is from scientific and mathematical theories and languages that E. Cassirer takes the concept of function to develop a philosophy of symbolic forms. The human capability of being able to name, turns reality into a symbolic concept and becomes part of it. That data originates complex symbolic forms integrated in all areas and functions of the human being. This integration creates perceptions which separate from prior data. Critical thinking does not come with reason but with its cultural aspect. It is a criticism to knowledge which is created as a historic criticism that enriches previous meanings constantly.


G. Birkhoff approaches to aesthetics through mathematical studies on music and geometric. In the thirties, he published his book Aesthetic Measure that shows the quotient between the order and the complexity: M=O/C. Both notions come from a rereading of the idea of symmetry, of repetition, of regularity. If order refers to the regularity of elements of an image, the complexity refers to the number of elements that form that image. His work begins the interest for the quantitative and mathematic formalization of the aesthetic aspects generating a way that will be followed by authors such as A. Moles, M. Bense o R.  Arnheim, among others.


Regarding A. Moles, he mixes technical, physical and philosophical knowledge with some aspects of structuralism with the human behaviour in the communicative process to develop his sociological and statistical studies. In his book The physical structure of the musical and phonetic signal, of the year 52, he analyzed how a signal becomes lower till it isn’t perceived. Six years later he published Theory of the information and aesthetic perception where his deductions began in the road of measurability designed by Weber and in the theory of behaviour of Pavlov. In his work it is shown up the interaction between the semantic and static aspects of the message. He works on concepts such as the greatest information, the originality, the complexity and the redundancy. His gestalt approach of the form develops a sense of unity that follows parameters contrary to chance. His structuralist method analyzes the communicative action within a context in which he places a sender and a receiver that share the same language and, for that, the same index and a common code, emphasizing original, understandable and foreseeable elements.


For M. Bense the aesthetic aspect of the communicative process belongs to its own physical support. In his Aesthetic of information he criticizes the arbitrariness and limits that the application of Birkhoff’s formula shows, emphasizing the order version of S. Maser. In the new formula the amount of complexity aspects will be taken into account. His work is completed by a theory about text, chosen as an example of order and display of aesthetic elements.


Figure 1: Communicative system taken of A. Moles; B. Vallancien (1963): “Communication et langages”. París: Gauthier-Villars, in A. Moles (1975 [1971]). La comunicación y los mass media: las imágenes, los sonidos, las señales, teorías y técnicas desde N. Wiener y C. Shannon a M. Mcluhan. Bilbao: Mensajero.



Figure 2: Communicative system in M. Bense (1972). Estética de la información. Madrid: Alberto Corazón.

The anthropological turning is due to H.-G. Gadamer based on Dilthey, Husserl or Heidegger´s  phenomenology. From his hermeneutic perspective, he criticizes the limits of  the scientific method when being applied to the study of interactions within the communicative process. Understanding stops being an aspect of behavior to become the individual behavior of a person who is trying to interpret his reality.   He looks into the sifnificant structures on knowledge, analyses the person´s existence and leaves behind the exact method, inflexible and out of its context.


In the 60s the Frankfurt School is formed. A group of left-wing thinkers from different disciplines, Th. W. Adorno, J. Habermas, M. Horkheimer and F. Oppenheimer, who undertake some social studies which criticize the political tradition of the time, although with  no common criteria. Th. W. Adorno, who belongs to the dialectical method, studies the limits of critical thinking, taking into account the media pressure that the person has to undergo in an industrialized society, which is culturally deshumanized and which creates a genuine pressure that deprives ideologies. Following Horkheimer, he forms a social criticism in which he confronts the ideal being with the real one. Reason can´t be historic, there´s always a criticism.


J. Habermas goes further. He creates the Theory of Communicative Action confronting two rationalities: on the one hand, the substantive according to the internal perspective of the human being and, on the other, the institutionalized system according to an external perspective, which is shown through its structures and complex formal processes. In this framework the rules of the communicative action show behaviours which must be analysed from the different positions of the subjectivist methods.

The Constance School, with Jauss and other researchers, will study the texts focusing on the analysis of form and content. It is not a matter of reaching a unique truth; the communicative process constantly enriches reality. H.-R. Jauss, influenced by structuralism, shows how meanings separate from the person through history. That´s why he explains the need of an interpretive hermeneutic method which provides the text with sense away from a historic vision. 

The second half of the XXth century brings out some different points of view about the aesthetic information. In psychology, R. Arnheim says that the human being approaches to reality through his senses thanks to forms of perception. In fact, perception and knowledge are deeply united. The very sensitivity is the one that develops intelligence.


In the semiotic method data do not have importance or order till they do not have meaning. Ch. Morris studies the role of the receiver as the one who interprets the signs of language. If the aesthetic measure of Birkhoff seemed a bit simple, the value of the iconic sign of Morris is quite complicated. His qualitative analysis is left for the aspects of the speech. As the study begins to take into account the figure of the person who interprets, his behaviour starts to be more important and impairs the semantic aspect of the study. U. Eco develops and generalizes the semiotic analyzes as communicative facts related to all  society.



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How to quote this article:

García-Sampedro Vega, Xosé Antón (ed.); Díaz Nafría, José María (2010). “Estética de la Información”. En Díaz Nafría, J.M.; Pérez-Montoro, M. y Salto Alemany, F. (eds.) (2010). Glosario de conceptos, metáforas, teorías y problemas en torno a la información. León: Universidad de León.


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Nombre (fecha)
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Silvia Burset (31/12/2009)
[This entry is written in Spanish. Go to Spanish version]

Incorporated entries
Antón X. & Díaz Nafria, J.M. (18/20/2009)
[The entries were first edited in Spanish]