Information theory

Fairthorne’s theory of notification is an elegant example of a theory in information science

Fairthorne’s theory of notification clarifies the foundations of information science. He defined ‘notification’ as ‘mention and delivery of recorded messages to users’, listing as the main elements of library operations: (1) Source (e.g., authors), (2) Code (e.g., language of a book), (3) Message (the signal), (4) Channel (e.g., microfilms), (5) Destination (e.g., reader) and (6) Designation (subject description).

Nitecki, Joseph Z. 1995. Philosophical Aspects of Library Information Science in Retrospect.



The scope of our activities and studies lie inside Discourse but outside Signaling, i.e., outside the scope of Shannon’s Information Theory. The variables involved are, in general terms, Source, Destination, Designation, and Message, Channel, Code. In the present context a Code is a symbol system used to indicate choices made from a set of Messages, and represented by patterns of physical events (signals or inscriptions) consistent with the physical mode and conditions of communication, the Channel, in the given social and physical environment.
Formally the Message set is adequately defined as an agreed finite set of distinct identifiable entities, from which choices are made by Sources. Here we regard it also as drawn from what can be told in a given recorded language. The Sources are those within the given environment who tell it, in the sense of being agreed and identifiable publishers, distributors, organizations, or accepted authors. The latter need not be actual authors. From the present point of view the works of Shakespeare, or of anonymous authors, are those records that tile local retrieval tools attribute to “Shakespeare,” or to “anon.” Tile Destinations are those within the given environment who are to be told, or wish to be told. They must be identifiable, but otherwise may be organizations, functionaries, groups, or individuals. A set of Designations is assigned to Messages, Sources, or Destinations to characterize them according to what is told, or is to be told. They are aspects of what the particular discourse is “about,” in some operational sense. For example, Subject Indexing assigns topics to the messages; author indexes may be classified by subject matter; Selective Dissemination of Information designates executives according to what they should be told about. Clearly the same set of Designations can be assigned differently according to circumstances. A reader (Destination) may well differ with the author (Source) as to the main interest (Designation) of an article (Message).

source: Morphology of “Information Flow” Robert A. Fairthorne. Journal of the ACM. Volume 14 , Issue 4 (October 1967)

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Oct 12, 2007  ]

Solovyov’s Meaning of Love

While looking for the online text of Beauty in Nature and The Meaning of Love by Solovyov, I found the various online resources maintained by Michael Lee, a professor in the Department of Psychology of the University of Manitoba. I found Michael Lee’s page while looking for essays by Solovyov, and so I will add that Lee mentions him in a page called “Required Reading for Revolters“. This is what he said about Solovyov’s The Meaning of Love:


Solovyov lived from 1853 to 1900. I find him the most profound and prescient Christian theologian and visionary. He believed that romantic love was potentially the instrument for effecting the kind of spiritual transformation that would enable us to attain physical immortality and to realize the Kingdom of God on earth.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Apr 11, 2007  ]

Definition of a system

There are many definitions of what a system is, I like Mario Bunge’s definition:

“A system is a complex object every part or component of which is connected with other parts of the same object in such a manner that the whole possesses some features that its components lack – that is emergent properties” (Bunge 1996: 20).

Examples of emergent properties of a system: structure or history of social system. Examples of emergent properties of a component (i.e., part would not possess property if were independent or isolated): role, civil right, scarcity, price (Bunge 1996: 20).

quotes from: Bunge, Mario Augusto. Finding Philosophy in Social Science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

In my understanding of open systems, its components are continuously changing with their environment. Open systems have the emergent property of continuous exchange (input/output) of their components with the environment. Ludwig von Bertalanffy argues that open systems reach states of equilibrium within and through this interaction with their environment. Closed systems are isolated from their environment. Is mathematics a closed system?

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 10, 2007]

Systems intelligence and interdependent arising

The concept of systems intelligence has been described by Raimo P. Hämäläinen and Esa Saarinen, researchers at the Systems Intelligence Research GroupSystems Analysis Laboratory of the Helsinki University of Technology. It is an attempt to formulate an applied systems thinking.

Esa Saarinen and Raimo P. Hämäläinen, argue that systems intelligence is a set of higher-level cognitive capacities, that are not explained by Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, or Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence. Gardner provided others that are not explained: common sense, metaphorical capacity and wisdom. Saarinen and Hämäläinen define systems intelligence as

intelligent behaviour in the context of complex systems
involving interaction and feedback. A subject acting with Systems Intelligence engages
successfully and productively with the holistic
feedback mechanisms of her environment. She
perceives herself as part of a whole, the influence of
the whole upon herself as well as her own influence
upon the whole. By observing her own
interdependence in the feedback intensive
environment, she is able to act intelligently.

source: Systems Intelligence – Discovering a hidden competence in human action and organizational life (PDF)

Systems Intelligence as described here seems to me to be an attempt at an industrial application of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-arising, Pratītyasamutpāda, the belief that “phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect”.

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 10, 2007]

information retrieval: relevance, pertinence, precision and recall

The relevance of information in relation to some question was defined in the late 1950s when the Cranfield test was developed at the Cranfield College of Aeronautics . The two measures that were developed are precision and recall.


The extent to which information retrieved in a search of a library collection or other resource, such as an online catalog or bibliographic database, is judged by the user to be applicable to (“about”) the subject of the query. Relevance depends on the searcher’s subjective perception of the degree to which the document fulfills the information need, which may or may not have been
expressed fully or with precision in the search statement. Measures of the effectiveness of information retrieval, such as precision and recall, depend on the relevance of search results.

Compare with pertinence.

In information retrieval, the extent to which a document retrieved in response to a query actually satisfies the information need, depending on the user’s current state of knowledge–a narrower concept than relevance. Although a document may be relevant to the subject of the inquiry, it may already be known to the searcher, written in a language the user does not read, available in a format the reseacher is unable or unwilling to use, or unacceptable for some other reason.

In information retrieval, a measure of search effectiveness, expressed as the ratio of relevant records or documents retrieved from a database to the total number retrieved in response to the query;

Compare with recall.

recall In information retrieval, a measure of the effectiveness of a search, expressed as the ratio of the number of relevant records or documents retrieved in response to the query to the total number of relevant records or documents in the database;One of the main difficulties in using recall as a measure of search effectiveness is that it can be nearly impossible to determine the total number of relevant records in all but very small databases.

source: ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science


Fairthorne, Robert A. in “The Symmetries of Ignorance” distinguishes between two kinds of aboutness, extensional and intentional:

Robert Fairthorne writes: “The problem of helping those who are ignorant, in detail, of what people have said about things, is therefore solved by defining ‘aboutness’ in extension. That is by listing the things that are mentioned in a document. . . .” […]
(1) extensional “aboutness” takes into account the environment of the use and the production of a document (thus it is a relation, not an attribute);
and (2) intentional “aboutness,” which clearly cannot be determined from the study of the text alone: “It entails knowledge of how it is going to be used by what class of readers.”The Role of Classification in Subject Retrieval in the Future by Rolland-Thomas, Paule

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 13, 2007 ]

Ryszard Kapuściński, a poetic reporter of the human condition

Ryszard Kapuściński was a historian, writer and journalist. His reporting was both philosophical and poetic without sacrificing fact, the inventor of ‘literary reportage’. I’ve read his Heban(Ebony), Szachinszach (Shah of Shahs), Cesarz (Emperor). He specialized in Africa and Latin America and Cesarz (Emperor), the story of Haile Selassie, is his best known book. He did also write about the Soviet Union, the first part of his Imperium (First encounters 1939-1967) describes Kapuściński’s original voyage through Belarus, Siberia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbeijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kirghiz, and Uzbekhistan. Here is my translation of Kapuściński’s description of an encounter with Gulnara Gusein, a medical student and phytotherapist in Azerbeijan

People come to Gulnara with a paper from professor Gasanov. On the paper, the professor prescribed the name of a flower and the duration of smelling. The smelling is done sitting down, most often for ten minutes. Gulnara oversees so that everyone is smelling what they are supposed to, so that, for example, a sclerotic does not begin to smell rosemary. The flowers stand in rows in a glass house that is called a phytotherapy office, it is reminiscent of a greenhouse. Gulnara tells me to sit down and also smell something. Can I sense the scent? I don’t smell anything. Obviously – that is because a flower does not emit a scent all for itself. One has to touch the stem, and the flower can feel that someone is showing interest in it. And it starts to emit its aroma. Every stir the flower meets with aroma – it is naive and frivolous, it wants to be liked by everyone. Comrades, stir up the flowers! – Gulnara reminds the elders sitting in the study, who start to stir the stems as though they were shaking ants off of them.

I ask Gulnara, who is a medical student, if she believes, that a flower can cure a human being. Cure not psychologically, because this possibility has been substantiated, but cure physically, for example return elasticity to a calcifying cell. Gulnara smiles. She says only, that people from all over the world come to see her. She emphasizes: even from America. Professor Gasanov’s method – therapy using the scent of flowers – has already become well known.

I think that for Gulnara, like for me, the charm of this method is not only its aesthetic trait, but also its cheer and goodly wisdom. What is the professor supposed to do with an elder that carries seven crosses and forgets their date of birth? Of course, the professor could put them in a crowded hospital room, into the odor of chloroform and iodine. But what for? Is a twilight that smells of flowers not more beautiful than the twilight of chloroform? So when the professor sees someone, who has to look into their identity documents to give him their own date of birth, and complains, that his head is silting somehow, professor listens carefully, and then writes on the paper: “Rp.: Laurel leaves. Ten minutes a day. For three weeks.” And look, says Gulnara, crowds try to see the professor. The waiting list lasts for months.

source: translated from Polish, Imperium, 2001 edition, p 58-

While in Armenia, he recounts the biography of Soghomon Soghomonyan (Komitas), as it was told to him by the young composer Emina Aristakesjana.

1915, the beginning of the massacre of Armenians in Turkey. Until the times of Hitler, it was the greatest massacre in the history of the world, one and a half million Armenians died. Turkish soldiers dragged Komitas on a cliff from whence they were to execute him. At the last moment the daughter of the sultan of Istanbul saved him, his student. But he already saw the abyss and this disturbed his mind.

He was 45 then. Someone took him to Paris. He did not know that he is in Paris. He lived another 20 years in an insane asylum. He walked little, was silent, but looked on. Perhaps he saw those who came to visit him, they say that he stared at their faces.

When spoken to he did not respond.

They tried different things. They sat him down in front of an organ. He got up and left. They played records for him. He gave the impression that he did not hear. Someone placed on his lap the Armenian instrument, tar. He carefully put it away. Nobody knows for sure if he was ill. Perhaps he chose silence?

Maybe that was his freedom.
He did not die, but he was no longer alive.
He existed-in-non-existence in this hanging between life and death, in the lunatic purgatory. Those who visited him say that he was increasingly tired. He stooped, thinned, darkened. Sometimes he fidgeted his fingers on the table, in silence, because the table made no sound. He was calm, always serious.

He died in 1935: so after 20 years he fell into that abyss before which the daughter of the sultan of Istanbul saved him, his student.

source: translated from Polish, Imperium, 2001 edition, p 51-

Kapuściński died last Tuesday, January 23, 2007.

This man who witnessed 30 coups and revolutions and counted Che Guevara, Salvador Allende and Patrice Lumumba among his friends


In his “Travels with Herodotus,” due to be published in the United States this year, Kapuscinski offers tribute to the Greek historian he considered the world’s first great reporter.

In a 2003 speech, Kapuscinski explained Herodotus’ formula for successful journalism: First, be willing to submit to hard, painstaking travel to get information first hand. Then, be able to listen carefully and respectfully to people. Third, do your homework, be investigative and precise. Journalists must be “missionaries, translators and messengers.”

Retrieved from:  International Herald Tribune. “Kapuscinski, master of literature of fact ”

see also: NPR – audio of 1988 interview with Ryszard Kapuscinski

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 28, 2007   ]

Komitas, a.k.a. Soghomon Soghomonyan

Some music by the great Armenian monk-composer Soghomon Soghomonyan (Komitas) can be found in the virtual museum of Komitas. Komitas is credited for bringing a renaissance to Armenian music through his collection and arrangement of over 3000 Armenian folk songs.

Gomidas Songs

Isabel Bayrakdarian was on CBC Radio today, presenting her new album Gomidas Songs .

The life of Father Gomidas is a powerful story of devotion and passion for his country, its people and its music — and it is one beautifully explored by Isabel Bayrakdarian and her husband, pianist and composer Serouj Kradijan, in a new CD called “Gomidas Songs.” THE_SUNDAY_EDITION, 2008 12 14

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from 2007-2008  ]

Montreal International Jazz Festival 2007

The 28th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival is taking place from June 28th to July 8th. I would have liked to have seen Angelique Kidjo, and I still hope to get tickets for theToumani Diabete show. In the meantime, I took in the high-energy Femi Kuti show…

Femi Kuti performing at Metropolis, July 2007

Seun Kuti and Egypt ’80, the original Fela Kuti group, played on Tuesday.

   Toumani Diabate

Toumani Diabate played the Spectrum on Friday with the Symmetric Orchestra, and that was for me the most enjoyable concert of the festival. Toumani Diabate comes from a long line of musicians, seventy-one generations of musical knowledge passed from generation to generation. He played with musicians from the various countries that exist today on the land that was once the ancient kingdom of Mali… 2 vocalists, keyboards, drums, bass, guitar, traditional African guitar, belafon, djembe. Symmetric Orchestra’s album was released last year asBoulevard de l’Independance.

Toumani Diabaté (Kora), Fodé Lassana Diabaté (Balafon), Toumani Diabate Symmetric Orchestra at Spectrum, July 2007

Soumaila Kanoute (Vocals)

Fodé Lassana Diabaté (Balafon)

Toumani Diabate’s previous album, In the Heart of the Moon, is a collaboration with the Malian singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré. He has also recorded an album with Ballake Sissoko,New Ancient Strings. Other Diabate albums include Djelika and Kaira .

There is a feature on Toumani Diabate and the Symmetric Orchestra, including interviews and the full audio of 3 tracks at NPR.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from July, 2007  ]

Krzysztof Wodiczko spoke about the Canada Council in 1983

In 1984, Krzysztof Wodiczko published an essay in Parallelogramme based on his lecture, “The Bureaucratization of the Avante-Garde” given at Rivoli Cafe in Toronto a year earlier. He warns against the dangers of integration with “the present central bureaucratic process of political, social, or cultural incapacitation and moral capitulation of the entire artistic culture”. He sketches out a comparative analysis between the artistic climate of the Warsaw coffee shop and the Toronto bar.

My own and my friends’ lives in my native Poland of the sixties and seventies consisted to a large extent of conducting, as a daily routine, a continuous critique of the cultural policy of the central bureaucracy. The main place of the exercise of our opposition was, of course, the coffee shop, an important cultural site of intellectual and artistic discourse in Poland. […] The more liberal and flexible in their strategies the “state ideological apparatuses” were (the coffee shop is one of them), the more difficult it was for us to see to what degree our sharp, restless, and detailed critique was adopting the enemy’s linguistics and subjecting us deeper and deeper to its seductive site, to its mastery at indoctrinating our souls, and awakening our unconscious drive for collaboration, and desire for bureaucratic habits, style, language, aesthetics, philosophy, and power.

The statements and complaints made in the coffee shop were appropriated by the Polish state (through monitoring, recording and informants) “as an illusion of its liberalizing process, to reinforce their operational capabilities, and, in the end, to serve the mechanisms of bureaucratic legitimation.” The contrast between the authoritarian one-party system and that of a ‘liberal’ stoic democratic organization becomes increasingly blurred as we focus on the similarity of the ‘artistic’ atmosphere and ‘cultural climate’ in Poland and that of the Canada Council, a country within Canada.

One learns that within the capitalist-liberal state of Canada, this bar belongs to another state (a state within the state), that is, to the aristocratic “state” of the Canada council. The Toronto site of the romantic dialectics of capitalist madness! This is a Canada Council bar, in which the trapped spirit of a middle-class artist is tossing between a desire for democratic egalitarian capitalism and that of a postcolonial bureaucratic aristocratism. 

Institutions and bureaucracies inevitably try to perfect the mechanisms that will perpetuate themselves through information control and ‘feedback’, acting superficially in a self-controlled way, in ‘opposition’ to themselves.

The Canada Council, as in Poland and in every authoritarian machine, must neurotically produce its own “coffee shops,” alternative publications, and spaces, in order to control its own position and direction and to serve itself as a medium of critical discourse on its own future.

The ultimate victory of the Canada Council lies in a perfect camouflage of its main cultural effect: “a total bureaucratic pacification of the intellectual creative power of the artistic intelligentsia and artistic culture”. The language and gestures of the artists and bureaucrats becomes indistinguishable

Looking closer, one will be able to disclose a horrifying phenomenon: what was for Warsaw a nightmare or an imminent danger (not yet reality) received its total three-dimensional realization in Toronto. Finally everyone appears to be both the artist and the bureaucrat. In the happy and comfortable atmosphere of life in this state-hi-cultural-bureaucratic musak, in the climate of final reunion of old enemies, artistic (antibourgeois) and modern state (bourgeois) avant-gardes, in the aura of communion of the bureaucratized artist and the aesthetisized bureaucrat, the Toronto artist intelligentsia elevates itself to a much higher level of collaboration than artists in Poland. It approaches the conscious level, the level which I shall call cultural corruption!

The Canada Council contributes and supports the existing political balance by remaining politically silent and still. “By not saying anything, on the one hand, the Canada Council reinforces the modern liberal state, and on the other hand, by overstating the romantic notion of ‘creativity’ it degenerates art to cathartic kitsch and separates it from any political, social, or philosophical sense.” The cultural bureaucracy functions as a modern aristocracy and high priest that “protects, coordinates, steers, governs and understands for everyone” the climate of spirituality that is necessary for democracy. Changing the Canada Council from an oligarchic system into a democratically elected one would only serve to further assimilate the left avante-garde into the existing democratic corporate/capitalist system, resulting in a completely balanced one, a

“back-and-forth movement of two terms” (“artistocrats” versus “cultural workers”), a permanent spectacle which will not be the spectacle for us – we will be the spectacle.
Once again (as if nothing ever happened in the 60s), we are living the time of a corporate/commercial and bureaucratic incapacitation of art. This time it manifests itself culturally in various forms of dissolution or capitulation of the artistic intelligentsia and takes the form of a decadent revival of pseudocritical, anti-intellectual “expression” in art and the ornamental, skating irresponsibly on the surfaces of history – “postmodern” design manipulation.

Wodiczko concludes with a clear recommendation for “the formulation of self-governing artist’ economic organizations and agencies, the gradual detachment of the artistic cultural community from the centralized state bureaucracy, and the organization of nonbureaucratic, small and flexible ‘Intelligence”-like working institutes and other, yet to be defined, artistic-educational institutions”. Contrary to the state bureaucratic, these organizations are always ready to dissolve themselves, and could actually help “to rescue and revive our stolen souls from bureaucratic protection, annexation, assimilation, and appropriation; to return to collective or individual constructive critical knowledge, independent and systematic artistic research, and a sense of social place.”

Interestingly, the NFB produced a film about Wodiczko’s projections.

Wodiczko quotes are taken from: Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects, Interviews. MIT Press, 1999

Critical vehicles: writings, projects, interviews, For the Incapacitation of the Avante Garde in Canada (1983), p32-34
full-text at Google Books

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Feb 24, 2007]

Bruno Schulz, Witkacy and Jerzy Ficowski

I attended a conference this morning, on the life and work of the writer illustrator Bruno Schulz.

One of the guests at the conference, the wife of the poet Jerzy Ficowski spoke about her husband’s life-long fascination and search for Schulz’ work. Towards the end of her talk, she read a quote from a letter that Bruno Schulz wrote to Witkiewicz (aka Witkacy):

I think that the rationalization of the vision of things rooted in the work of art is like the demasking of actors. It is the end of the game, it is the impoverishment of the question of the work. Not because art is an anagram with a hidden key [and] philosophy is this same anagram–solved. The difference is more profound. In the work of art the umbilical cord is not yet cut that joins it to the whole of the problem. The blood of the mystery is still circulating; the ends of the vessels escape into the surrounding night and return full of dark fluid. 


Sklepy Cynamonowe [Cinnamon Shops] was published in 1934, and is available in English translation as The Street of Crocodiles. The conference included the screening of a film with that title by the Quay brothers that was inspired by Schulz’ work.

After reading Sklepy Cynamonowe, Ficowski sent a letter of gratitude and admiration to Schulz, who likely never received it due to the tragic circumstances of nazi occupation. Bruno Schulz was killed by a Gestapo officer on the streets of the Jewish ghetto in Drohobycz in 1942. Ficowski tried to collect and make available as much of Schulz’ work as possible, but some of his work, such as The Messiah, was never recovered.

The second film screened was a documentary interview with Jerzy Ficowski, Amulety i definicje czyli szkic do portretu Jerzego Ficowskiego. The documentary ends with the following Ficowski lyric:

I’m a poet, I patch the holes in umbrellas with raindrops.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from  May 05, 2007 ]