A framework, or metatheory, is an artifact designed to control variety. Coordination of directions in information management (including communication management, vice versa) requires, first of all, a framework for information concepts. A framework is erected from semiotic enneads on the assumption of sign exchange. With two fundamental positions in sign exchange, occupied by a producer and an observer, respectively, a dia-enneadic framework for information concepts results. The concept of a framework itself is traced to structuralism, leading to a characteristic view of rigor and relevance. Popular information concepts, taken from a review of literature by Vreeken, are discussed from the perspective of the dia-enneadic framework.
Information concept, dia-enneadic framework, semiotic ennead, metatheory, structuralism, philosophy of science, methodology, interdisciplinarity, rigor and relevance.
Metatheory, framework and conceptual variety
Some earlier structured approaches at variety
Adding concepts for variety
Dia-enneadic sign exchange
Framework, or toward a structuralist metaconcept
A platform for interdisciplinarity
Directions in information management
Is shared meaning a necessary requirement for people to cooperate? Does, as a corollary, conflict rest on difference? Elsewhere (Wisse 2002), I've argued that cooperation is equally conditioned by difference. From the paradigm of subjective situationism it follows that shared meaning simply doesn't exist. Rather, all behavior retains elements of both cooperation and conflict. How person A evaluates particular behavior by person B in terms of cooperation and conflict ultimately depends on how A, as part of his evaluation, experiences B's behavior to comply with his own motives. All along, respective motives drive uniquely individual persons and are therefore essentially different. As meaning derives from motive, meaning is uniquely individual (and situational), too. This includes, by the way, what counts as cooperation and conflict.
Taking subjective situationism seriously means, among other things, that generally valid definitions are illusory. For 'it' depends. And 'it' is not just subjective, meaning that different persons will hold different concepts. A concept may even differ between motives of one and the same person (where a motive is a subject's concept of a situation; see the framework, below).
At face value, indeed, subjective situationism effectively puts a stop to theorizing. Concepts don't appear in a strictly objectivist sense. Does subjective situationism only leave as an exception the rule of developing purely individual concepts? Ultimately, the answer is: yes. However, a level of so-called metatheory, or a framework, may be created. It doesn't serve the purpose of leading up to single, generally valid concepts. On the contrary, a metatheory rigorously demonstrates what variety in concepts is relevant.
Especially now, many concepts all called information occur (Newman 2001). A naive response would be to insist on absolute, single definition of information. Or anarchy of definitions might be accepted, instead. This article establishes a middle-ground, i.e. a framework as a metatheory for the conceptual variety of information.
As this particular framework deals with information, reflexivity (Woolgar 1988, Bloor 1976) suggests that subjective situationism provides assumptions and structure. Why? First of all, why should a framework be reflexive? What does it mean, anyway? A theory is reflexive when it is also applicable to itself. This requirement is of course only relevant when the theory assumes a reality which includes it. This clearly, and particularly so, holds for a framework for information concepts. For it is both about information and, as such, constitutes information. Secondly, why in particular does subjective situationism qualify to guarantee reflexivity? The reason is that it has been explicitly designed as a model of interpretation. So, subjective situation as a theory of interpretation explains interpretation of itself, too.
The proliferation of information concepts is bewildering, indeed. The sheer volume, continuing to increase rapidly, of relevant literature makes it impossible to arrive at anything like an exhaustive inventory. With the road of pure induction blocked for such only too practical reasons and, more importantly, lacking in a methodical sense (Popper 1959), design of a framework is a viable approach for gaining overview. Then specific concepts, in this case of information, may be deduced from the framework annex metatheory and subsequently compared with concepts separately discovered in reviews of literature, reviews which of necessity always remain incomplete.
An additional problem with collecting information concepts — note: in what, under the banner of induction, is often mistakenly presented as an empirical manner — is that the distinction between specific concepts and metatheory has not been drawn. A clear illustration is the concept of the sign whereby signifier and signified act as arbitrarily related aspects (De Saussure 1916). Limited to spoken or written language, this means that any word may represent any concept. Now isn't this a metatheory for information concepts, as well? In fact, applied to the signifier 'information' itself, De Saussure's postulate of arbitrariness leads to the conclusion that any signified (here, also read: concept) can be called by that 'name.' The irony is that De Saussure's theory of language is called structuralist. It does view a single signified as constituted by its structural position in a language (see also below). What Saussurean structuralism lacks, though, is structure for tracing homonymy. It is evident that different concepts are called information. How does De Saussure's distinction between signifier and signified make one concept of information relate to another? For sharing a signifier doesn't in itself establish such a structure at the level of signifieds.
A hint at — such a concept of — structure implies family resemblance (Wittgenstein 1953). In Saussurean terms, Wittgenstein relaxes the assumption of the arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified as sign aspects. He also argues that a word may carry different meanings but its use in a so-called language game always makes meaning unambiguous. For a proper structure enabling comparison of meanings (here, also read: concepts), of course a framework of language games is required. Wittgenstein stopped short, however, just as he overestimated family resemblance on the basis of signifier concurrence.
Likewise, other theories may also be interpreted as metatheories of information. As with specific concepts, this article doesn't aim at supplying an inventory at that level. Reviews of literature remain essential of course to add to the store of both information concepts and frameworks/metatheories of information but such reviews are left for other publications. Instead, what follows is a design of the framework built from elements and structure of subjective situationism.
Semiosis involves an irreducible relationship between sign, object and interpretant yielding the semiotic triad (Peirce 1902). Compared to De Saussure's concept of sign, the Peircean concept of semiosis supports more variety as the latter includes sign. This conceptual design has recently been expanded to nine equally irreducibly related elements, the semiotic ennead (Wisse 2002), through integrating interpretations of Peirce's concept of ground (1902) and basic concepts of the metapattern approach to information modeling (Wisse 2001). Here, some elements of the original semiotic ennead have been renamed for the purpose of developing the framework of information concepts. Figure 1 features motive as background interpretant and concept as foreground interpretant.
The semiotic ennead.
Peirce's triadic elements of semiosis reappear as dimensions, with the enneadic elements of semiosis corresponding between dimensions as follows:
situation : identity : behavior (Object) =
context : signature : intext (Sign) =
motive : focus : concept (Interpretant).
Combining Peirce's idea of semiosis with the assumption of unique individuals behaving, including knowing, from underlying motives (Schopenhauer 1813-47, 1818-59), has far-reaching implications for modeling sign exchange, or communication. For it follows that semiosis in the producer of the sign is different from semiosis in the sign observer. Of course, difference between speaker's meaning and hearer's meaning has been conceptualized before (Mannoury 1947-48). Applying the semiotic ennead, however, communication may be modeled as a framework providing additional structure.
The model of dia-enneadic sign exchange requires a few steps to develop. It starts by distinguishing sign producer from sign observer, as in figure 2.
Sign exchange between producer and observer.
Semiosis is an iterative process under uniquely individual pragmatic control (Peirce 1905, Wisse 2002). For the sign producer, an instance of semiosis ends with an external sign. First of all, the sign is an object, too. As figure 1 shows, an object only deserves to be called a sign, when the sign producer has invested his own relative, interpretive elements of motive, focus and concept. He has de-signed one object — in a more literal sense, I'd rather argue he on-signed it — to exhibit relative elements of context, signature and intext for representing another object constituted from relative elements of situation, identity and behavior. However, the object thus represented doesn't exist immediately external to the sign producer, i.e. objectively. Actually, the sign directly represents the sign producer's interpretant. The interpretant may nevertheless be partly considered an objectification (Schopenhauer 1813-47). It is inherently subjective. A sign therefore represents so-called objective reality only indirectly, filtered in varying degrees by subjective pragmatic control.
It would be a mistake to identify, for example, concepts with objectively existing behavior of external objects, only. Situations etc. cover the whole range of what is interpreted to exist internally and externally. So, also motive, focus or concept cannot be known in themselves but only as objects, too, i.e. through context, signature and intext as situation, identity and behavior. The irreducibility of semiotic elements is pervasive.
Figure 3 deliberately proposes a short-cut to conceptual regression. It does so by adding, in this case for the sign producer, the dimensions of semiosis as separate objectifications. Of course, object-as-object sounds contrived. However, it makes sense alongside sign-as-object and interpretant-as-object. Please note that figure 3 allows the perspective to shift from dynamics (semiosis) to statics (objectification), vice versa. The dynamic nature of such a shift is not explored here, but is merely assumed.
Just as there is no escaping from semiosis for the sign producer, the sign observer is similarly constrained. Applying the same logic, an instance of semiosis ends for the sign observer with an interpretant. Under pragmatic control the 'world' is seen differently. The difference may include the sign observer's motives etc., leading him to a change of behavior.
For a metatheoretical model, the semiotic ennead suggests an internal structure of the sign producer and the sign observer, respectively. That's precisely why it is called a dia-enneadic model of sign exchange. Above, and looking ahead at some specific concepts of information to be covered, the model was already enhanced for the sign producer by including elements for semiotic dimensions (which are the elements of Peirce's triad). Adding the same concepts for the sign observer leads to the framework, now complete, as shown in figure 4. The presentation of a single ennead has changed slightly to accommodate all concepts in a single model.
Framework of information concepts.
A particular information concept may be derived from, or positioned into, the framework. Especially, positioning an information concept which is considered relevant amounts to an empirical test of the framework-as-hypothesis. The framework is falsified when such a concept doesn't fit properly; otherwise it is allowed to 'stand;' any instance of falsification is sufficient reason for designing a new hypothesis annex framework (Popper 1963).
Initially, the emphasis here is on concept derivation, i.e. the framework of figure 4 gives rise to distinct concepts of information. For that purpose, insight is helpful into fundamentals of structuralism as conceived by De Saussure. As a linguist, he argued that (1916, p 107) "[t]he mechanism of a language turns entirely on identities and differences." And (1916, p 115) "what we find, instead of ideas given in advance, are values emanating from a linguistic system." In De Saussure's sense, system is equivalent with structure. Reading information, or meaning, for value, information becomes a so-called emergent phenomenon. It 'emerges' from the structure. However, that's not rigorous enough. Does a structure imply the totality of a language, that is, does it include all "identities and differences"? Shouldn't "the mechanism of a language" behave in a more localized manner?
A more rigorous approach therefore is to start from a totality in set-theoretical terms. This allows the power set to be introduced, i.e. the collection of all subsets of the original set. With set A having n elements, its power set P(A) has 2n elements. So, each element of the power set may be productively taken as a structure from which a corresponding "value" emerges, or emanates. A structure is a precondition for rigor when it provides necessary and sufficient variables, their interrelationships included, for relevance.
An obstacle to invariant rigor is the dynamic nature of languages. Applying structuralism by limiting and controlling the "terms" of a "relation," Lévi-Strauss (1962, p 84) assumed closed rather that open totalities for the anthropological phenomena he studied. A "table" or relational matrix is equivalent with a framework or metatheory. Furthermore, a "permutation" of terms equals an element from the totality's power set. Actually, a similar procedure is that of bracketing in phenomenology (Kohák 1978), or translation in significs (Welby 1903).
A first idea that is important to learn from Lévi-Strauss is to view 'information' as a "relation" in the structuralist sense, too. That is, at the additional level of a metaconcept, information converges with meaning, communication, and possibly with a host of other phenomena. Secondly, concepts of information, meaning, etc. are both exhaustively and rigorously derived from a framework through its power set. Every power set's element, i.e. a particular subset of the framework, yields a specific information concept. As the dia-enneadic framework contains 18 elements, it gives rise to 218 = 262,144 theoretically distinguishable information concepts.
Note that the original set is an element of its power set, too. It is precisely at that 'point,' and for no other element of the power set, where information concept and metaconcept coincide. Thinking back of how the framework annex metaconcept was designed, this is not so much a conclusion than an assumption. For the most elaborate structure imaginable from which a relevant concept of information might emerge has been assigned the status of "relation," or framework.
As Lévi-Strauss has demonstrated for anthropology, systematically investigating permutations, or power set elements, can lead to the discovery of hitherto unrecognized concepts. Every productive framework has this generative quality right after it has been launched, for example the periodic system in chemistry. For information concepts, a systematic exploitation of the dia-enneadic model was left outside the scope of this article where the emphasis is — still — on overall framework orientation and design. In order to construct a solid theoretical foundation it has been necessary to first of all dwell on philosophy of science and scientific methodology.
Anticipating detailed structuralist derivation of information concepts elsewhere, a taste of their variety is already introduced here. For example, a major reduction would be to limit the information concept to either the sign producer or the sign observer. In fact, this immediately rules out any connection between information and communication. Another approach might not so much exclude one, or even both, but rather abstract from the roles of producer and observer. This is the objectivist paradigm of popular linguistics, further reducing its 'subject' to subdisciplines such as syntax and semantics. Pragmatics, on the other hand, assumes behavior and, by implication, an actor. In this case, figure 4 suggests variations along the dimension of the interpretant. Is behavior grounded on separate concepts, only? Or do motives play a more fundamental role? Do motives ultimately rest in an actor's unconsciousness, or not (Wegner 2002)? Can motives be shared between different persons? Actually, to what extent does even the sign-as-produced coincide with the sign-as-observed? Is there any guarantee that the sign-as-produced is identical to the sign-as-observed?
An overview such as figure 4 inspires an almost endless list of highly varied questions. Endless, too, because the elements constituting the ennead are relative, that is, for example focus may shift to part of a concept, resulting in changed values throughout the ennead. Indeed, variety in objectification is 'constructed.' Situations, too, are relative. A particular situation is what makes particular behavior — as conceived in subjective interpretation — consistent and coherent. Situations therefore vary from an incidental discourse to an organizational setting to exchange at formal levels of politics. Reflexivity leads to the recognition that the subject, when self-conscious, i.e. reflecting on his interpretative activity, necessarily conceives it as behavior in a situation, too. For example, he may think himself in organization A thinking about organization A. Superficially, such identical labels for 'the' organization suggest equivalence. However, in a contextual model they show up as different structural elements. Displaying 'depth,' a structure provides an additional logical order. So, please also note that the semiotic ennead allows for reframing questions that from the perspective of first-order logic can only appear as elusive puzzles and paradoxes.
In fact, structures taken from the dia-enneadic framework may touch upon different disciplines, ranging from linguistics to political science, from sociology to psychoanalysis, etc. The framework offers the opportunities for both integrating single-discipline information paradigms and switching between them in an orderly fashion. As such, it provides a platform for interdisciplinarity. It also invites existing disciplines to submit their respective concepts of information. Any framework as a useful metatheory should encompass them all. Please note that this framework-based, deductive-structuralist and generative concept of interdisciplinarity runs counter to earlier concepts where interdisciplinarity is more of an inductive synthesis of a priori disciplines (Moran 2002).
As subjective situationism suggests, different concepts of rigor in science should not come as a surprise. The rigor in a structuralist sense, as demonstrated above, reflects the control over artifact that a framework 'by nature' is. This allows specific concepts to be derived with at least theoretical confidence. Another kind of rigor pertains to starting from a specific concept that is known from practical use and/or is found in the literature elsewhere and then testing how a framework holds up. Is the specific concept properly accounted for? Does the framework also help to explain it? As for the second, analytical perspective, how does the dia-enneadic framework for information concepts perform?
As an indication of the framework's potential for analysis, a few comments on specific information concepts are added here. Concepts are taken from Vreeken who retrieved from literature, mostly on information management while ordering them according to Newman's (2001) overview, what he calls (2002, p2) "four basic notions. [...] These notions are information-as-thing (information is treated as if it is a thing), information-as-process (a mental process of informing/altering), information-as-social-construction (the shared, constructed information base of social systems) and information-as-probability (the probability of a message being sent)."
Confronting these basic notions with the dia-enneadic framework, it becomes immediately clear how much each of them takes for granted. Yes, the information-as-thing might merely be the object-as-sign, i.e. the signifier. Indeed, within the thing-like concept of information Vreeken distinguishes between (2002, p 16) "a non-material thing (content)" and "a material thing that is informative (representation of content)." This strongly resembles De Saussure's aspects of signifier and signified but without the encompassing concept of sign. Even without criticizing the relevance of the basic notions which Vreeken assembled, the dia-enneadic framework suggests that already from the point of rigor his rendering of "information-as-thing" is underspecified. For it might be given several positions in the framework. Additional specifications are required to do so unambiguously.
As reported by Vreeken, information-as-process seems even less rigorously conceptualized. Again, the dia-enneadic framework can serve to direct relevant specification. The variety of its power set is a rigorous guideline. As for empirically testing the framework-as-hypothesis, however, this basic notion also falls short.
Information-as-social-construction would involve abstracting from particularities of individual sign producers and sign observers. My projection onto the dia-enneadic framework would show how a fixed relationship was imposed between sign-as-object and object-as-object. That is, according to information-as-social-construction the sign A' universally stands for the object A. How impoverished in terms of relevance such an information concept is for helping to understand how unique individuals dynamically create their community, follows from attempting to position it within the framework. For many elements of the framework are simply not involved in that particular concept. But, then again, suggesting an alternative concept from the framework can only come after the more limited application of 'testing' the original concept against it.
The concept of information-as-probability actually seems a misnomer. Of course, in a formal sense only an object-as-object is an element of the framework's power set, too. Therefore, this basic notion certainly doesn't falsify the framework. But is it a relevant concept of information? Yes, conceptualizing about transmission was once labeled information theory. But isn't it overstretching Wittgenstein's concept of family resemblances originating from homonymy, a concept with shortcomings of its own as argued above?
The critical issue, of course, is whether any specific information concept is equal to the task it was proposed for, i.e. relevant. Above, what perspires from even such a short discussion of a sample of essentially unrelated information concepts that are currently popular is their pervasive underspecification when viewed from the vantage point of a tightly reasoned framework, or metatheory. This result emphasizes the importance of taking inventory of what information concepts are used, for what purposes, and confronting them with the rigor of a framework. When a specific concept is found lacking — and not only the possibility of under-, but also of overspecification should be considered — the framework might readily suggest the optimal alternative concept. In this article, the dia-enneadic model of sign exchange is proposed as precisely such a metatheory. However, far from claiming that this particular framework is the final word on establishing rigor and relevance, ongoing evaluation of specific information concepts should drive its further development whenever it is falsified. As Popper instructs, an instance of falsification is not a problem but an opportunity. The framework's potential for payoff must be dynamically managed.
A paradox of the information society consists of requirements for information specialization and integration, respectively. A rational approach to resolve the paradox is through an integrative device at the next-higher level. Essentially, it is the 'job' a framework is cut out for. A framework, or metatheory, provides an overview from which to explain, shape, undertake, etc. more specific developments. The dia-enneadic framework has been expressly designed as a contribution to such coordination of future directions in information management.
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Dr ir Pieter Wisse Pieter Wisse is the founder and president of
Information Dynamics, an independent company operating from the Netherlands and
involved in research & development of complex information systems. He holds
an engineering degree (mathematics and information management) from Delft
University of Technology and received his PhD from Amsterdam University.
See also www.informationdynamics.nl/pwisse.
February 2003, web edition 2003 © Pieter Wisse