Between noise and information
Toward the ethics of a docte ignorance for the 21st century
Speaker : Cécile Malaspina (Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7)
According to Claude Shannon information can be quantified in terms of its ‘information entropy’, in other words as a certain ‘freedom of choice’ – a probabilistic freedom, relative to the unpredictability of a message rich in entropy.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this idea, according to which a piece of information only informs us if it is not redundant, the notion of ‘information entropy’ has failed to impose itself outside information theory – which in turn concerns itself not with information in the larger sense of the word, but only with signal transmission. The idea that prevailed instead was Norbert Wiener’s notion of ‘negentropy’, according to which information reflects the level of organisation of any system apt, on the contrary, to resist entropy. Via the influence of cybernetic theory this idea of ‘negentropy’ has disseminated itself across discourse in the natural and human sciences. Often without its mathematical formulation, it has contributed, as a metaphor, to polarise our epistemic field in its relation with the unpredictable and the improbable, by emphasising the negation of contingency.
Insofar as our systems of prediction have failed both spectacularly and catastrophically before a good number of the crises that have inaugurated the 21st century, by which I mean the media spectacles heralding a ‘post-truth’ era of politics, but also the catastrophic crises in finance, war and migration, it is now time to reevaluate the epistemological and ethical import of Shannon’s entropic idea of information, and to do so in light of the new protagonists, ‘noise’ and ‘crashe’.
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