Interactions Between Levels

Interactions between different logical levels
produce phenomena unseen at either level


Macroinformation is my term for information more complex than some threshold, the complexity being occasioned by interactions among more than one meta-level. I am developing my theory of macroinformation with the goal of being quite specific about it: developing a science, a chemistry as it were of information. By analogy I shall show that information can have complex “molecules,” “compounds” and so forth: not just atoms and molecules: a chemistry of information with a quantitative branch about which we can be quite objective and a qualitative branch about which we can be somewhat objective. I wish to establish, analyze, and taxonomize the mechanisms of complex information.

Emergence results in the creation of novelty,
and this novelty is often qualitatively different from the phenomena out of which it emerged

Fritjof Capra

The subject is fractal. What we say, no matter what level of resolution we are on, can go deeper or wider (or higher or narrower). Large areas will be self-similar across scale. The principles are independent of scale.

I shall be arguing that the universe that a sentient species such as Homo sapiens lives in is neither material nor energetic, neither spiritual nor any other such thing or non-thing, so much as it is informational.

I trust that my readers notice that thus far I am speaking (writing) metaphorically. That’s to begin. As we go I’ll be taking these metaphors quite seriously.

My goal is to suggest the scope and import of the subject (one, two, three) with as close to mathematical simplicity as I am capable. Four years of hundreds of such attempts have all gone deep or wide before marking the span. The reader can help by seeing where this is going (and not flinching, since it goes into areas taboo in our culture). (Yes. Taboo in our universities too: taboo almost especially in our universities.)

What I can say in words I intend to mirror in a series of tables, charts, graphics. I will need collaborators to see what can or should be expressed mathematically.

People have lived in a series of different “universes.” Abelard, Copernicus, Freud, Einstein, Heisenberg, Godel … change the universe, mix universes, never mixing them equally for all sentiences. You may live in a Godelian universe while your neighbor lives in a Pre-Columbian universe (or some decimal fraction thereof). Hang here with me and I shall shortly be offering you a cosmology more epistemologically responsible than all but a few semiotic fanatics are acquainted with more than a fraction of.

The informational universe I shall be modeling came near human consciousness with the work of thinkers so recent they are almost our contemporaries. Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener … Gregory Bateson …

But without a science of what I call macroinformation I don’t believe we have moved our minds very well into that universe. (Superstition and tyranny would be even more difficult in a universe of macroinformation than in a universe of say democracy.)

Gregory Bateson defined information as

any difference that makes a difference.

That’s a fractal we will never leave off illustrating; but for now, ever so briefly: the phoneme /a/ is different from the phoneme /i/ Both are different from /b/. When we note the difference, information is triggered. In writing, “A” is different from “B.” In binary cybernetics, 0 is different from 1.

Such differences generate information in its most primitive form: data. My theory of macroinformation is needed because I fear that our vaunted Information Age has dealt with little but data: almost any previous age was wiser. We leave that implication hanging for only the present moment: except to say that Norbert Wiener anticipated the macroinformational implications of information theory: why is there such a gap between Wiener and pk?

Claude Elwood Shannon formulated the information content for a message H:

H = -∑pi

That, like Wiener’s analogous math, translates as

the negative reciprocal of probability.

The less well the signal can be predicted, step by step, the more information; the better, the less. “Roses are red, violets are blue” contains very little information for a reader in our culture. “Roses ain’t green; violets … P! U!” would contain

Now I hope the reader is ready — technically — to begin to see what I mean by macroinformation.

Example 1: Casablanca roulette:

Oh so briefly:

Captain Renault professes that he is “shocked” to see that gambling is going on in Rick’s gambling house. He says this as he collects his evening payola from the roulette table. All of the information, from trivial to important, is based in differences that make differences. The sounds from the sound track where the words begin, “I am shocked, shocked,” are based in data. The images flickering on the screen are likewise products of data: Claude Rains’ face is light; his uniform is dark. Claude Rains’ face is distinct from Humphrey Bogart’s: they’re different complications and concatenations of differences. The concept of data, a concept within the concept of information, is entirely adequate to deal with these differences. But the information which counts most in the scene is a product of different differences, differences for which the film provides no separate data: Claude Rains’s character’s actions are different from his words! The information from these differences is emergent. It has no simple one-to-one correspondence with the data as does the word “cat” from the letters (or sounds) c-a-t.

We have a word for this information: irony. I shall argue that the concept of irony is primitive, shallow. It can take us only so far. My theory of macroinformation will take us all of the rest of the way: leaving a review-able trail: like the models we have of DNA. Our model will be testable, improvable, falsifiable.

I want very much to take that image of emergent, abstract, complex, synergistic, gestalt information to the next level of understanding, and I will. But first, macroinformation is information in stereo: as in music where melody works with-and-against harmony, the rhythm works with and against the meter, and so forth. Let’s start with at least a pair of examples.

Example 2: who’s BoB?

Oh so briefly:

The woman’s husband calls her “Beautiful Buns.” She codes a message by having a B tattooed on each buttock. That night she strips and bends over to show him. “who’s Bob?” he asks.

Now: we know where the first “b” in Bob comes from. We have that data. We likewise know where the second “b” comes from. But what about the “o”?

We see the “o” in Bob just as clearly because the data for it is already in our minds: We know what the human animal, particularly the female human looks like: even though we clothe ourselves most of the time. The word “Bob” completes itself by macroinformation. Parts of the image are in the data. The whole image is emergent. It’s part concrete; part abstract.

The abstract part is also “real” insofar as the information we carry with us in our minds at all times is real. Every adult member of the audience for Casablanca knows about hypocrisy and corrupt police officials before they enter the theater. Macroinformation completes the data. Not every atom of the actual universe must be in the model of the universe.

Now: Notice: In both cases: macroinformation emerges at a juncture between two informational types. The macroinformation in that scene of Casablanca which we traditionally call irony sparks from friction between the visuals and the sound track. (All irony is macroinformation; not all macroinformation is irony.) In “Bob,” literal information bumps against inherent visual (& physical) information: the word emerges from the collision. (All jokes depend on macroinformation; not all macroinformation involves jokes.) I repeat that macroinformation is a synergy. Take a magnet. It’s just a hunk of metal: until there are other metals or magnets around: then new behaviors are exhibited. The theoretical role of policemen and the actual behavior of policemen like Captain Renault are not only different: they are discrepant. They are incompatible. (Here the macroinformation has a moral aspect: and a political aspect.)

Surely the reader at least begins to see that a complex informational chemistry could be developed where implicit information is given its due along side explicit information. In a word, I charge the Information Age with confusing data, a subset of information, with the set: information itself. Surely also the reader begins to see that an informational study of informational meta-levels would help us track, map, and understand informational complexity, improving human communications (proofing us somewhat against informational fraud). (Perhaps the reader also recognizes that improving communications at the perceptual level in addition to the technological level is not in the best (selfish) interests of more than one of our vaunted institutions.)


Developing this theory single-handedly has been difficult for me in the extreme as information is not my field. I am an amateur in science. My “trained” field is English. But my communications with all fields including English have long been faulty to non-existent: I hear some of what is said in the field; the fields are deaf to my questions as well as to my input. That’s what comes of being an individualist anarchist who offered networking to the public decades before government offered it to corporations (where corporations now shove it up our nose).

I started thinking about information as complex in the mid-1960s when I sensed those around me, including English-specialists, beginning to absorb some of the seeming-implications of computers. Some were realizing that digitally stored information could be counted: such and such a string of data can be stored as so many bits or bytes. I instantly objected that there’s vastly more information in a line like My salad days/ When I was green in judgement, cold in blood than in some arbitrary string such as “four pairs of black socks and three white handkerchiefs.” It was only last month, four years after laboring to articulate and refine Macroinformation, that I learned that Norbert Wiener had argued for the improbable nature of information at around the same time that Claude Shannon developed his formula. Wiener specifically said that there was more information in a great poem than in a political speech. Had I heard that while in school I never would have bothered to develop my own theory. Now that I have, I believe that my version is distinct from that of the main stream and itself uniquely valuable. It’s a theory developed by an artist and Humanities scholar with a hobby of science, not a scientist with a hobby of art and Humanities.

I add that I recently came upon a passage of Gregory Bateson’s read by me only once previously and not since the early 1980s. I now recognize macroinformation in it clearly: except that Bateson was talking about psychology and logic in human communications. I see that I have expanded his Russellian perception to his own definition of information: where it fertilizes everything.

Taking as an example the paradox presented by the man who says, “I am lying,” we are caught in paradox because he makes a statement, and he makes a statement about this statement, the second being of a different order of abstraction from the first. The paradox arises from the interplay of these two levels of abstraction.

In discussing metacommunicative propositions, we land ourselves at once in this position because metacommunicative statements are of a different level of abstraction from the simple objective statements upon the stream of which they are carried.

A considerable amount of inquiry in the last twenty years has gone into the attempt to unravel these difficulties, which came to the fore in the twenties. It was then hoped that the whole of mathematics and logic might be made self-contained and unified without recourse to “self-evident” propositions, and Russell and Whitehead labored in the Principia Mathematica to establish such a unity between mathematics and logic. It was found, however, that any such attempt involved asking, “What is really meant by the ‘self-evident” axioms on which any mathematical system rests?” and that the statements which would define the axioms and give them logical foundation must always be statements of a different order of abstraction from the axioms, as the latter are contained in the theorems which are built upon them. The statements explaining the axioms are in fact metacommunicative as compared with the axioms themselves, and the latter are metacommunicative as compared with the theorems. The status of the axioms therefore becomes ambiguous, since they are used at two levels of abstraction, one relatively metacommunicative and the other relatively “objective”; and the total system of statements thus becomes comparable to the electric buzzer which must oscillate between the “yes” and “no” positions.

Since the days of the Principia Mathematica the matter has become even more difficult and more directly relevant to the questions with which we are here dealing. Godel has now demonstrated with rigorous proof that no system of statements can be self-contained in the sense of explaining its own axioms and not self-contradictory; that always-as a result of the very nature of communication and metacommunication-contradictions of the Russellian type must creep in. This statement of Godel’s-and there is apparently at present no reason to doubt his proof-means in fact that psychology and the study of human communication can never hope to build a self-contained and coherent system which will not be self-contradictory.

In brief, we have to face the fact that when we deal simultaneously with both objective communication and metacommunication, contradictions will arise within the very field of our own inquiry.

I emphasis: Bateson stresses the interplay between different levels of abstraction. That is the essence of what attracted this mystic to that thinker. That is the essence of Macroinformation. (And Bateson’s metaphor of the buzzer has long had an honored place at and at Macroinformation. Macroinformation is information that “buzzes”: one side of a difference provoking and re-provoking its opposite, its contradiction, its complement.) Thus far, in my writing since February 1999, the birth of my old hypothesis being worked toward theory-hood, only one reader has fully reflected that essence back to me: “proving” that they “get” it. bkMarcus wrote [September 2002]: ” … Interactions between different logical levels [produce] phenomena unseen at either level.”

Unseen at either level: that’s the essence exactly. There’s no macroinformation in Captain Renault saying he’s shocked: until the audience sees it bump up against incompatibles: the way the ordinary human name “Jesus” bumps up against “Christ”: a title of numinous exclusivity. The movie’s visual track forces the bump by the action of handing the police official his night’s bribe at that moment. There’s no macroinformation in the tattooed woman’s pair of Bs. The macroinformational “o” appears only when the husband
misreads his gift.

Without a telescope human eyes failed to notice satellites around Jupiter. Without a microscope, people had no concept of the “cell” in organic tissues. Better microscopes showed a “nucleus.” Now we can detail mitochondria within the cell. My theory of macroinformation is merely at the point where I’m trying to show others 1) there is such a thing and 2) there’s more than one kind. The actual mapping and subsequent taxonomy remains to be developed. I sure could use help from mathematical modelers how to “show” it “molecularly” (and statistically). (I just write words: with a few pictures.)


Entrenched interests in our culture including in our churches, governments, and universities, have not helped this consciousness to develop: routinely ignoring my work, sometimes co-opting it, occasionally interfering, sabotaging. Their influence is incompatible with science: with survival. I bet authoritative institutions would do away with the little bit of science we already have if they could. (That’s why science is so ill taught in schools: including the Ivy League.) (Technology, yes: our bombs must work; Science no: wisdom too: verboten.)

But information is what it is, regardless of what we say or don’t say about it.

I said above that my theory of macroinformation, rigorously developed, could take us all of the rest of the way … Let me now temper that a bit. Even a critical consciousness macroinformationally attuned may have to process some information, to use Wittgenstein’s word, in silence.

My focus is about to move to my Spectrum of Levels of Informational Complexity: 1) Data 2) Meta-data 3) Meta-information 4) Macroinformation.

First we’ll say a few preparatory words about time, space, and meta-levels: extension and intension. Continue to Section 1: Time, Space, Meta-

Any difference that makes a difference: Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature,
NY, 1979, Glossary, p. 233.

Claude Elwood Shannon on Information: for example (PDF).

Norbert Wiener on Information: for example.


2002 11 26 Today I learn that Robert Anton Wilson used the same example to make the same point in his Prometheus Rising,
1983. I improvised my own improbable variation. RAW quotes one by Steve Allen:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
You think this will rhyme
But it ain’t gonna


Thinking Tools Information, Macroinformation Menu Mi Views

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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