- Digital Culture, by Charlie Gere.
Published by Reaktion Books, Ltd. ISBN 1-861-89143-1
- An Introduction to Information Theory, 2nd revised edition, by
John R. Pierce. Published by Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-24061-4
- A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Published by
Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-37926-7
- The Gold Bug Variations, by Richard Powers. Published by Harper
Perennial. ISBN 0-06-097500-8
General Introduction: This course is part of our GE cluster,
Humans in the Information Age. The course will use the contemporary theory of
information as a context and lens for exploring examples from information
technologies, biology/genetics, language/linguistics, cognition/artificial
intelligence, philosophy, and the arts.
Purpose of the course and learning objectives: The primary purpose of
the course is to develop a general understanding of the foundations of the
contemporary theory of information, and to develop from there to applications
and issues in various fields. The course will begin with a broad examination
of information and information technologies in today's culture. From there we
will move to Shannon's basic model of communication channels and related
theoretical tools. We will develop a general understanding of the model, and
see how the theory can be applied in a variety of fields. We will explore
applications of these ideas to a variety of disciplines, including
biology/genetics, language/linguistics, cognition/artificial intelligence,
philosophy, psychology, scientific methodology, and the arts, with a
particular emphasis on literature. We will explore the varieties of
approaches to information and meaning across different cultures in various
modes of communication, such as differences in languages and the arts,
including visual arts and music, and symbolic representations and meaning.
Students will be responsible for exploring and developing example applications
of these approaches.
This course will take an interdisciplinary approach, using information theory
as a central theme in understanding various aspects of human culture and
endeavors. During the course, we will explore and apply a variety of
investigative methodologies. Our emphasis will be on the application of
advanced reading, thinking and writing skills to the study of complex
problems, with particular attention being paid to team-based research efforts.
You can expect to find the course challenging, but rewarding.
Requirements/Responsibilities: Your first responsibility is to be
prepared, aware, active participants in class, and in team projects.
This means that you will be expected to read attentively each of the
assigned sections, and be prepared to contribute to discussions of the
material each class day.
- To help you prepare for class discussions, you will write a brief
response (two pages or less) to each reading, to be handed in each class
day; and be active participants in class. For some sections, I may give you
more explicit directions for your responses to the readings.
- There will be at least one in-class writing experience (think -
- There will be a longer (4-6 page) written response to /
analysis of one or more of the books you are reading for the class.
- Each of you will also write/develop an individual longer (6-8 pages)
final paper/project, on a topic of your choice related to the material of the
course, and showing your own learning and development through the course.
The grades for this course will be based on these four components. Each
component will carry approximately the same weight. Plus/minus grading may be
used. The work you do for this course will be your own. You are not to
submit other people's work and represent it as your own. However, you will be
expected and encouraged to work collaboratively with others during the course.
General outline of course topics:
- Theories and making sense of the world.
- Information and information technologies in the contemporary world, and
their metaphorical places in our understandings of the world.
- Contemporary cultures and the cult of information.
- Finding and making meaning, and their role in our understandings of the
- Shannon's model of information and communication channels.
- Codes, bits and symbols. Entropy and average information. Efficient
- Information theory and biology - DNA, RNA and beyond. Genes, genomes,
coding, and identity. Uses of the codes and coded information.
- Information theory and psychology.
- Information theory and language / linguistics. Translation, and the
effects of context (including cultural context) on extracting and
- Information theory and art.
- Information and cultural differences -- how various cultures represent and
use information, and how differences in language and symbolic representations
affect meaning and understanding.
- Philosophical notions of meaning, and their relation to entropy and
- Computers, computation, and information processing.
- Creativity, originality, and information theory.
- Information, intelligence, and artificial intelligence. Cognition and
- Information theory, experiments, and knowledge about the world.
- Information and literature - metaphors, models, meaning and understanding.
This course (and this cluster) are part of the General Education portion of
your degree program. When we proposed the cluster, one of our
responsibilities was to explain how the courses would satisfy the General
Education requirements. Here is a portion of what I wrote about this course.
Additional information on the "GE checklist":
- Subject Knowledge: This course introduces students to the elements of
information theory, which is a central component of the information processing
model of cognition. Students will develop an understanding of the application
of the information theory models to a variety of communication systems, such
as language/linguistics, and biological systems.
- Communication: Students in the course will be writing reflections on the
readings for the course, and expository papers on particular topics relevant
to the material of the course. They will be expected to develop a group
presentation summarizing, explaining, and extending an application of
information theory to a particular example. These tasks have as part of their
requirement careful, clear, and rigorous communication of complex material and
- Inquiry and Critical Thinking: The primary focus of this course is the
development of methods and techniques for careful, structured analysis of
various aspects of human culture and biological existence through the
application of information theory. Students will continue to develop their
ability to understand and apply rigorous theoretical tools to specific
- Information Retrieval and Evaluation: An essential aspect of this course
is understanding what information is, how it is obtained, and how it is
communicated. This includes examination of reliability of communication
channels, and the extent to which we can trust information we receive.
- Interdisciplinary Relationships: This is a very strongly interdisciplinary
course. We will apply the methods of information to a variety of disciplines,
including biology/genetics, language/linguistics, philosophy, and the arts.
The course will also develop the specifically interdisciplinary approaches
particular to some specific theoretical methods in cognitive science. We will
explore commonalities and differences among the various approaches.
- Global or Multicultural Perspectives: A particular emphasis of the course
will be issues of language/linguistics, such as intertranslatability of
information encoded in language. We will explore the commonalities and
differences among various approaches to effective communication. A central
concept will be the exploration of issues of identity and difference, as
revealed by information theory and entropy measures, with particular
application to genome sequences. We will also be exploring how we understand
the world through various scientific, literary, and artistic modes, including
similarities and differences among various media, and in various cultures.
- Social Responsibility: An important theme of this course will be the
difficulties of understanding the meaning of transmitted information.
Decisions we make depend on reliable information about the world, and our
ability to trust that information. This will be particularly true of our use
of genomic and other biological information. This course will focus on the
reliability of communication, and on what is involved in deriving meaning from
data we gather or receive.
Additional discussion on Global and Multicultural Perspectives:
A central theme in information theory is the effect of context and
perspective on the extraction of information from transmissions over a
communication channel. The most important communication channel we all use is
language. Throughout the course, we will examine a variety of issues in terms
of the effects of cultural differences on understanding, and how various
information media can influence culture and perspective. A particular
emphasis of the course will be issues of language/linguistics, such as
intertranslatability of information encoded in language. We will explore the
commonalities and differences among various approaches to effective
communication. We will look at how various media are used for the
communication of information, including symbol systems embedded in language,
nonlinguistic symbols such as the visual arts, and systems that are not
obviously symbolic such as music. A central concept will be the exploration
of issues of identity and difference.
We will explore a variety of examples of cultural differences in communication
systems. One important linguistic example is the effects of language
differences such as gendered nouns in romance and germanic languages. The
fact that nouns have a gender in some languages adds to the communication
redundancy in the language, and can improve reliability of communication.
Languages such as English use gendered pronouns and word order in sentences
for redundancy and reliability. These differences also affect metaphoric
possibilities in the language, and the possibilities for poetic ambiguities.
Because humans are deeply linguistic beings, our entire worldview can be
affected by differences in language constructs.
A second important example is variety in modes of expression in the visual
arts. For example, much of western art works toward realistic representation.
Within some other cultures, such as Japanese ink-brush art, expressive
gestural modes are prevalent. These differences in communicating esthetic and
emotive aspects of our understandings of the world can play important roles in
how cultures approach problems facing us.