What is Information?

This may seem like such a basic question that you’ve never bothered to ask it, but what exactly is information?

It is so important to our modern lives, yet we don’t really understand why.

Fundamentally, information allows us to extend our experience of the World beyond the range of our five senses.

If we didn’t use information, we would only know what we directly see, hear, touch, smell or taste.

Information comes from the word “inform” – it informs us about things that we didn’t directly experience.

We’ve been using communication (e.g. talking to one another) as an information source for tens of thousands of years, but it’s only in the last millenium that other sources of information began to be used by the masses – be it through the printing press, the camera, radio, television and now the Internet.

Here are some examples…

  • The chances are that you never met Adolf Hitler in person, yet you know what he looked like because you have seen photographs of him.
  • You know about wars in countries that you have never visited, because you read newspapers.
  • You know with a fair degree of accuracy what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, yet it hasn’t happened yet, because you watched the forecast on TV.

And this is why information becomes really valuable – because it means that we can develop knowledge on things that we have had no direct contact with, rather than depending on our own experiences.

Knowledge is our map of the World that we build inside of our heads. Whenever we see or hear something new, our brain updates this map.

We make decisions based upon this “map” – not the actual World itself. It’s like driving a car using your Satellite Navigation system rather than looking through the front window of the car.

Therefore, if our knowledge is either wrong or incomplete, we can end up making the wrong decisions. Information helps us fill in the blanks in our knowledge and help us complete this map.

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