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1st Semester 2020/21: Introduction to Philosophy of Information

Pieter Adriaans

Philosophy of Information deals with the philosophical analysis of the notion of information both from a historical and a systematic perspective. With the emergence of the empiricist theory of knowledge in early modern philosophy, the development of various mathematical theories of information in the 20th century and the rise of information technology, the concept of ‘information’ has conquered a central place in the sciences and in society. This interest also led to the emergence of a separate branch of philosophy that analyzes information in all its guises (Adriaans and van Benthem 2008a,b; Lenski 2010; Floridi 2002, 2011). Information has become a central category in both the sciences and the humanities and the reflection on information influences a broad range of philosophical disciplines varying from logic (Dretske 1981; van Benthem en van Rooij 2003; van Benthem 2006, see the entry on Logic and Information), epistemology (Simondon 1989) to ethics (Floridi 1999) and esthetics (Schmidhuber 1997a; Adriaans 2008) to ontology (Zuse 1969; Wheeler 1990; Schmidhuber 1997b; Wolfram 2002; Hutter 2010). 

The basis of the course will be my revised entry(2020)  on Information in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  In the course I will use this text as a reference. An overview of the subjects: 

1. Information in colloquial speech

2. History of the term and the concept of information

2.1 Classical philosophy

2.2 Medieval philosophy

2.3 Modern philosophy

2.4 Historical development of the meaning of the term ‘information’

3. Building blocks of modern theories of information 

3.1 Languages

3.2 Optimal codes 

3.3 Numbers

3.4 Physics

4. Developments in philosophy of Information

4.1 Popper: Information as degree of falsifiability

4.2 Shannon: Information defined in terms of probability

4.3 Solomonoff, Kolmogorov, Chaitin: Information as the length of a program

5. Systematic Considerations

5.1 Philosophy of Information as an extension of Philosophy of Mathematics

5.1.1 Information as a Natural Phenomenon

5.1.2 Symbol manipulation and Extensiveness: Sets, Multisets and Strings 

5.1.3 Sets and Numbers

5.1.4 Measuring Information in Numbers

5.1.5 Measuring Information and Probabilities in Sets of Numbers

5.1.6 Perspectives for Unification

5.1.7 Information Processing and the Flow of Information

5.1.8 Information, Primes and Factors

5.1.9 Incompleteness of Arithmetic

5.2 Information and Symbolic Computation 

5.2.1 Turing Machines

5.2.2 Universality and Invariance 

5.3 Quantum Information and Beyond

6. Anomalies, Paradoxes and Problems

6.1 The paradox of systematic search

6.2 Effective Search in Finite Sets

6.3 The P versus NP problem, descriptive complexity versus time complexity 

6.4 Model Selection and Data Compression

6.5 Determinism and Thermodynamics

6.6 Logic and Semantic Information

6.7 Meaning and Computation


Three weeks of interactive classes, ca. 6 to 8 meetings. One or two evaluation meetings to discuss individual projects/essays. The exact schedule is to be determined. 


Elementary understanding of mathematics, logic and information theory (Shannon, Kolmogorov).  

Homework assignments, presentation, small report.

This last text will be made accessible on line since the book is not yet available. 

Course will be held via Zoom. I will not be in Holland during the course so all contacts will be on line.