What is information theory

: What is information theory?


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From Thomas v. Randow

Science also creates fashions from time to time. Newton's grandiose mathematicization of physics not only made scientists sit up and take notice. Suddenly the psychologists, the philosophers, even the astrologers asked for an exact formula language. Freud's unintentional fashion creation raged more in the literary field and in the visual arts. Today in "cybernetics" modern and thus at the same time its mathematical framework, the information theory.

It must also have a fascinating effect that we have now apparently succeeded in mathematically describing and evaluating the motor of life and the essence of the specifically human, the information. After all, it concerns everyone, the geneticist who tries to discover how genetic information is passed on from cell to cell and from generation to generation, the advertising man who is anxious to hammer his advertising slogans into our brains, the natural scientist who is informed of his experiments and measurement results, the defense service who wants to decipher ciphers, the educators, the psychologists, the journalists ... Everything that moves us is information, the work of art, a scream of fear, a poster, smell, gestures, the congratulatory telegram, Pain, the light of a star, the hallucination of a schizophrenic, the report in a newspaper, the wink ...

So it is not surprising that information theory is "under discussion". No author of a technical or scientific non-fiction book would do without this modern theory to mention. And we learn from books and newspaper articles that the military used information theory around thus their strategic problems to solve that one can illuminate the process of learning with information theory or that information theoretical calculations have led to the decipherment of archaic writings and the genetic code. Management consultants assure their customers that they could use information-theoretic methods to restore messed up businesses, and the treatises on information-theoretic psychology, pedagogy or even aesthetics are countless.

Only one thing was missing until recently, at least in German: a book that expertly explains to the non-mathematician what information theory actually is, where its possibilities and especially its so often disregarded limits lie. This book is finally out now:

John R. Pierce: "Phenomena of Communication", Information Theory - Communication - Cybernetics; Econ-Verlag, Düsseldorf / Vienna; 338 pp., 20 DM.

Pierce is Professional. He has witnessed the development of information theory almost since its birth in 1948 and has contributed a great deal to its expansion. What Pierce writes is based on a solid knowledge of the matter. He was a student of Claude Shannon who laid the foundations for the mathematics of the information process with the publication of his "classic" book "Mathematical Theory of Communication". Pierce puts things in perspective, although many fantasies about the applicability of the calculus disappear in the shadows. Above all, however, the American mathematician succeeds in making the theory and its implications clear to anyone who is willing to help a little while reading. This cooperation is necessary, but it should not be difficult for anyone, on the contrary, the author knows how to present the reader in an amusing way with the not too complicated mathematical requirements for understanding the theory. If you have forgotten the most primitive rules of arithmetic, a more helpful appendix is ​​included.