Literature/1956/Ashby

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Ashby, Ross (1956). An Introduction to Cybernetics, a university paperback ed., London: Chapman & Hall, 1964.

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The information conveyed is not an intrinsic property of the individual message

Communication ... necessarily demands a set of messages. Not only is this so, but the information carried by a particular message depends on the set it comes from. The information conveyed is not an intrinsic property of the individual message. That this is so can be seen by considering the following example. Two soldiers are taken prisoner by two enemy countries A and B, one by each; and their two wives later each receive the brief message "I am well". It is known, however, that country A allows the prisoner a choice from

I am well,
I am slightly ill,
I am seriously ill,

while country B allows only the message

I am well

meaning "I am alive". (Also in the set is the possibility of "no message"). The two wives will certainly be aware that though each has received the same phrase, the informations that they have received are by no means identical. (p. 124) [c 1]

Black Box

The child who tries to open a door has to manipulate the handle (the input) so as to produce the desired movement at the latch (the output); and he has to learn how to control the one by the other without being able to see the internal mechanism that links them. In our daily lives we are confronted at every turn with systems whose internal mechanisms are not fully open to inspection, and which must be treated by the methods appropriate to the Black Box.

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  1. This is a case of the writer's meaning or intention, though not pure, having nothing to do with the reader's meaning or attention. Without being known about such choices, however, the reader's interpretation must be quite uncertain; she may even doubt the truthfulness of the message and the death of their husband. This case also adds up to why information as meaning is barely an intrinsic property of the message.

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Gradient-optical-illusion.svg
The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."