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American Society for Cybernetics
ASC 2001 Conference
May 26-28, Vancouver 


  Information and Social Systems Evolution

Antonín Rosicky

Department of System Analysis, University of Economics, Prague,

W. Churchill Square 4, 130 67 Praha 3, Czech Republic

Rosicky, Antonín (2001). Information and Social Systems Evolution.
Online Proceedings of the American Society for Cybernetics 2001 Conference, Vancouver, May 2001.



I say that nobody and nothing can go to bat for humans except humans themselves. No power that could facilitate our being exists besides us. Humans generate themselves as well their own future.

Andrej Tarkovskij

Contemporary society: modernity and information technology

We are participating in dramatic changes in our society and our environment as a result of the key role of information and communication technology (ICT). The two most commonly used names for these changes, namely "information society" and "global world" refer to different and somewhat opposing trends within the overall change. Whereas both names presume an existing organization of the world, it seems to me that they represent two viewpoints which are understood and interpreted from different positions. While "information society" stresses the importance (rather than the role) of information, "global world" refers to the changing features and disposition (rather than the complexity) of our environment. While the thinking that underlies the notion of an information society is rather optimistic, reflections about a global world refer to various extensive and often poorly understood problems.

The contemporary changes that are referred to as "development" are commonly associated with technological progress, in particular ICT. In this anthropocentric perspective opinions are divided into two groups. While technocratically oriented people ("techno-boosters") believe the solutions to contemporary problems lie in technological progress, other people consider technology to be somehow or other jeopardizing humanity. A third outlook recognizes the considerable influence of ICT while emphasizing that information has an ordering role in all systems including social and environmental systems. Many well-cited authors from recent systems thinking publications [Stonier 1991, De Vree 1994, Kampis 1991] point to the close association between information and evolutionary processes. One of these, Bela Banathy [1996] states:

"... in living systems in general, and social systems in particular, evolution and information are so tightly interrelated that it is not appropriate to discuss one without the other.":  

Though some might be astonished to see the concept of evolution extended beyond biological territory, the notion of evolution has been adopted in various other fields including the systems sciences. For example, the notion of human or cultural evolution is accepted, though often poorly understood, by many sociologists.

A bridge which connects these views of information can be found in Gidden's proposition of "high modernity" as a conception of contemporary society. Aside from "time-space abbreviation" he introduces the notion of emergent "expert systems" which he defines as:

" of technical accomplishment or professional expertise that organize large areas of the material and social environments in which we live today".

Giddens describes such systems as "disembedding mechanisms" which serve to increase shared trust and mutual dependency within society. This view corresponds with the concept of shared knowledge and the changing character of information acting within society and thus influencing its ongoing evolution.

Problems of traditional science and society

The notion of common trust is also addressed by Ulrich Beck (1992), another sociologist concerned with modernity. Beck points out several novel and global risks in our current society such as nuclear disasters, global warming and "mad cow" disease . For each of these problems he contrasts "scientifically justified" arguments with "expert knowledge" as grounds for and/or solutions to them. In this sense science relinquishes monopoly on rationality and ironically supports a world where verity is regarded as provisional. Beck's claim might appear extreme, but it is not possible to deny the visible dilemmas in the examples.

These circumstances resemble what Kuhn [1962] describes as happening when a new paradigm is arising. The dilemmas mentioned above appears to represent a generalized dilemma between human driven "development" and natural evolution in which people participate in an unprecedented manner. Moreover, the basic framework for such a general paradigm shift is foreshadowed in Einstein's relativity theory, quantum physics, Gödel's theorem, and the thermodynamics of open systems.

Nobody can ignore the huge benefits of traditional science, nor deny that it has been involved in the dynamics of societal change and the evolution of the world in the direction of globalization. However, the practice of traditional science, such as Newtonian physics, which has had such an impact on our daily work, now appears to have reached its practical limits. Established science is very successful in recognizing the features of a system's components, but finds itself at a loss when faced with the problem of using this knowledge for understanding the behaviour of the whole system. We face this difficulty in all cases where our perception leads us beyond our everyday empirical experience of sensorial perception, and it increases with the complexity of observed/conceived affairs and wholes. Undoubtedly the phenomenal growth of the entire sphere of human knowledge and ideas can also be attributed to the growing abstraction of concepts and the language that carries them. Many traditional terms acquire various meanings that depend on the context of their use and shift not only among different domains but fluctuate within the same disciplinary boundaries. :  

Accordingly many contemporary disciplines - including cybernetics, systems theory, the biology of cognition (autopoiesis) and others encounter difficulties in conveying their essential concepts. It is not effortless to understand their principles, especially as their basic concepts involve a shift from the still prevailing mechanically based world-view. In the pragmatically oriented culture of ‘the industrial era such concepts as ‘Economic Welfare' or ‘Progress' call for simple solutions to problems as distinguished in the currently pervasive worldview.

This situation was already alluded to by C.P. Snow in 1962 as he discerned two cultures: the first based on the rationality of traditional natural science and the second revolving around the thinking of humanitarians (intellectuals). These cultures are deeply rooted in Enlightenment period - one is based upon an immovable belief in reason and rational agency and the other is shielded by the premise of an inviolate individuality (in the sense of a-prioriy equality and a resultant human rights without commensurate responsibility). Snow further pointed out that neither culture was able to communicate well with the other. It appears that the situation has not changed since then. Contrariwise the conjoint difficulties of these two views have been exacerbated in the "high modernity" of the global world. If, like Snow, we are to found our hopes on the emergence of a new science and/or culture, it is probably necessary that we establish a new basis for that.

Limited hope of system science

Bertalanffy's systems theory, which is grounded in biology overcomes simple holism in an essential way. His concept of a system as "a whole that consists of the elements and their relationship" signifies the "turning point" in the attention given to topics of composition. Although this view enables an analysis of parts and relations, it doesn't lead to a rejection of the irreducible complexity of the whole (system, complex) and emergence of those holistic features which represent its identity. This eminent systems idea has immediately gained acceptance and became the grounds for great aspirations. Nevertheless three major stages can be distinguished in evolution of system thinking.

The first stage is represented by the traditional hard approaches of the sixties as inspired by the cybernetics notions of "black box" and the controls that keep systems in required bounds through negative feedback. The notion of "input" and "output" were suitable for analyzing the behaviour of deterministic and/or stochastically determined systems. These notions were exceedingly successful in the design of large deterministic systems where the organizations of elements was known as they corresponded to the intentions of their designers. We could say that the designer's knowledge is embodied or embedded as internal information of his or her construct.

However, the thinking, models and methods appropriate for designed systems have proved inadequate in the case of complex dynamic systems and have thus resulted in a devaluation of systems thinking in many areas including management. However these criticisms don't respect more further developments in systems thinking. The second stage of systems thinking is well represented by Checkland's soft systems methodology which embraces the following:

  • A system is to be accepted as an individual "mental model" or understanding rather than a true mapping or representation of reality. This postulate requires an explicit articulation of the assumptions and premises that ground any given view.
  • A system is a dynamic entity as its root definition (individual-based distinction) is in itself based on verbs not on nouns.
  • The equivocal (non-deterministic) nature of systems results in the possibility of formulating various models that aren't confined to formalized and exact examples.
  • The discernment of what is commonly termed as "systems of human activities" or "social systems" in the soft systems view inevitably leads to a realization of the circular relationship between human knowing and intentional doing, and this to a clearer concept of what is entailed in designed systems.

These views have improved the understanding to complex (soft) systems and thus comprise an important step in the evolution of system thinking. Yet some controversial issues remain. For example it is not clear whether the new shared vision (that results from more a more fundamental definition of "system") is better than that which arose from any of the participating views? And does the deeper understanding to systems bring about better actions and interventions?

The "soft system principles" (as I understand them) changed the worldview to the extent that the notion "soft" is now used as a platitude as for example in the paradoxical term "soft algorithm." However, the successful use of soft system principles does lead to the "paradigm shift" discussed above. It leads from the anthropocentric view of external observers towards a view of a natural world within which the observer participates .

Based on this changing worldview , and congruently with the modern scientific world-view , the third stage in systems thinking has incorporated an evolutionary understanding of the whole universe [Laszlo, 1996]. In this sense modern science, no longer only a set of pragmatic oriented streams, has already undergone a paradigm shift as described by Prigogine [1980] "From being to becoming". Complexity is now seen to arise from various forms of indeterminateness and spontaneous organization. The term "systemic" is used by many to distinguish this way of seeing from "systematic." The systemic view closely corresponds with the concept of an observer that has shifted from the outside in . From this procedurally-genetic) position an observer comprehends systems "from the inside" as everlasting interaction of matter, energy and information.

In this sense we should understand systems not as "complexes of actual interactions among components" but rather as "whole of observed and/or pondered elements and relationships between them". Further, in accepting spontaneously- or self-organizing processes we replace the distinction between a systems and its environment with a consideration of the dynamic interactions between parts and wholes.

Given this we now have a tractable means of approaching the intricate issue of the relationaship between teleology and teleonomy [see: Ulrich 1994, p. 328]. The awareness of the agency of a human observer prevents the presumption of pure boundaries and reveals that systems arise in human thinking as a result from both purposefulness/intentionality and limited discernment. The purpose and self-reflective human agency on the one hand, and the concept of (teleonomic) principles of self-organization on the other hand, actuate a new and even higher type of complexity. I can but agree with Prigogine and Stengers [1984] when they point out the immense complexity of social systems and of human society as a whole. Due to the circularity between purposiveness and self organization, as well as the capacity for reflection and change, human society produces a huge number of fluctuations to which it is in turn very sensitive. This results in innumerable possible bifurcations that are both the source of threat (to the point of self-destruction) as well as hope. A sense of danger arises from "the realization that in our universe the security of stable, permanent rules are gone forever" while hope resides in the awareness "that even small fluctuations may grow and change the overall structure".

The systemic paradigm reveals the limited feasibility of our (human) dreams and at the same time emphasies our responsibility for our actions. It leads from (hard) methodology in the sense of a "set of warranted methods" towards critically shared and individually applied knowledge .

Changing meaning of information

From the stance of assuming the observer to be outside and independent of the system, the notion of information cannot help but take on a particular form. Commonplace notions conceive information as a representation of reality and associates or even substitutes information for messages presented through language. Such a view of information brings forth questions such as "How much information is included in a message?" or "What proportion of phonetic and visual information comprises the news in a television broadcast?" or "What information does a given gene carry?" Fundamental issues concerning the character of information cannot be expounded from this position; indeed they are not of interest.

In order to begin addressing the first question one would need to consider the origin of the concept information and regard the mutual relations among information, language and message. Similarly, in order to begin addressing the third question one would have to consider the nature of genetic information, especially since the substitution of a description of the gene doesn't inhibit our ability to manipulate the information. Probably the essential and general problem lies in having a priori accepted the ordering role of information as it is enthroned in cybernetics. Our comprehension of the nature of information is likely also influenced by a subconsciously manifested effort of the observer wanting to acquire more "information".

To answer the above sketched questions and to understand nature of information we turn to the new systemic paradigm mentioned in the previous section, and view information from the inside, so to speak. Accordingly to Varela [1979]:

"...we are led to a reexamination of the notion of information itself: away from instruction, to the way in which information is constructed; away from representation to the way in which adequate behavior reflects viability in the system's functioning rather than a correspondence with a given state of affairs."

In this sense the physical nature of information can be seen as temporal and spatial variation in matter and/or energy. Recall that Wiener [1948, p.132] argued that "Information is (information,) not matter or energy" and Ashby [1956, chap.1] emphasized "difference" as the essential cybernetics concept. Only through a dynamic point of view can the relationship between the material and conceptual aspects of information be understood. Through regarding the role of information within natural systems one sees that "information" must consist of an interaction between structures. G. Bateson [1972. P. 452] alluded to this in his succinct and frequently quoted phrase:

"... what we mean by information — elementary unit of information — is a difference, which makes a difference."

Given all these coherent ideas we can outline some aspects of information as variations in the spatial structures of matter and/or in the temporal structures of energy. In this sense information is materialized, however this does not imply that it is possible to substitute matter or energy for information. We need to take into account not only actual but also potential states of systems - in similar sense as Maturana [1978] distinguishes organization as "the relations between components that define and specify a system as a composite unity of a particular class, and determine its properties as such a unity" and structure as "the actual components and to the actual relations that ... satisfy in their participation in the constitution of a given composite unity" Thus the structure is the manifestation or material realization of the organization. As the organization characterizes a system's identity it qualifies the range (domain) of possible interactions that are distinguished by an observer as a set of properties. Thus information refers to an abstraction of the dynamic architecture and concommitant relational dynamics of any given system. In regarding these relational dynamics we may name one the interacting systems as "source" and the other "receiver" of the information. Related to this, Kampis [1991] ponders on "information as action" and distinguishes it from "information as knowledge."

Even if we are satisfied with the existence of "information" as a meaningful notion in the double look of attributing it with an independent existence and at the same time remaining aware of it arising as a distinction of operational dynamics as made by an observer, we are left with determining the nature of meaning and its relation to information. The concern for "meaning" arises from a culturally modified perception under the notion of "purpose" and thus causes confusion in our interpretation of the world. We attribute various qualities to the world that have arises as concepts in language [Bunnell, 2000] so that we comprehend the natural world through the concepts and language in which we live. Thus we attribute meaning when presented with certain patterns of mutual relations that result from the systems interactions. Meaning is not an attribute of a system, or of information, but depends on the dynamics of the system which is considered by the observer to be the receiver of the information. Further, meaning depends on the significance attributed by the observer to the consequences of the interaction.

Types of Information

According to Salk's sphere of universal evolution [in Rosicky, 1999] we can specify three major levels of complexity and distinguish the type of information proper to that level (Table. 1). In each level new features of information are seen an relevant and as they appear to have a role in ordering system both in its internal dyanics and through its activities also in it relation to its environment. Each system includes all the types information which were seen as relevant in the lower levels.

Table 1 Three types/aspects of information depending on system's complexity

type of system




emergence of

matter, energy (information)

life (replicated DNA)

consciousness (knowledge)


of the Universe



emergence of

order: dynamical equilibrium

effect / meaning

value and culture

conception of

in system

from system

information applied to
(about) system

Relevant notions (Kampis & Banathy)

State referential information (as organization or order)

Referential information
(as action)

Non-referential information (as knowledge)

common sense





it characterizes system's state and resulting (self) organization (through interactions of structures)

received by organisms from their environment, bears meaning and initiates actions

‘product' of human mind, shared between people in symbolic form (as data)

In the third level, namely in the human/social type of system, a basically new type of information, namely conceptual information, arises with language and the resultant possibility for self-consciousness. As with all other objects in language, concepts become objects in language and become accepted as having an intrinsic existence. This type of information is different from other types of information in a physical sense, namely the correspondence of concepts with physical actions is far less direct. I have chosen the phrase "information applied to system" as the conception of this type of information as I would like to emphasize observer's active relation with its generation as well as the fact that information is ascribed to the observed system. Conceptual information is internal to the observer's mind (individual as system) yet we embed it our environment in various ways, and in our daily activities we converse with others in a manner that treats the concepts as having an existence outside ourselves. Stonier [1990, p. 17] names this type of information ‘human' and argues:

"In contrast to physical information, there exists human information which includes information created, interpreted, organized or transmitted by human beings. The term includes ‚data' on the one hand and "knowledge", "insight" and "wisdom" on the other. A datum is a small chunk of information. Usually the term information is thought of as organized data or "facts" organized into a coherent pattern."

Since the physical base of conceptual information is materialized within individual nervous system this kind of "information" is as elusive as "mind" or "self-consciousness" — all of which are instances of this very type of conceptual information. However an essential change compared with other kinds of information lies in the way of its origin: it arises in a network of conversations which may be carried by groups of humans whose existence as living beings is not dependent on those particular conversations. Nevertheless, like all conversations, conversations concerning concepts are considered valid, and persist, only in a proper interlacing of languaging and emotioning, and the latter becomes more obviously present than in conversations which appear to deal only with direct actions in the environment . In both origin and evolution conceptual information nevertheless pertains to an ongoing and historically grounded interaction between languaging beings coordinating their actions with each other and the rest of their environment.

Constitution of internal information as knowledge

Stonier doesn't allude to the form of human information, however it seems to me that he implicitly takes into account the familiar notion of "conceptual information" as that which is presented in symbolic form as structures of signs/symbols. Any message or well structured database organized in the form of meaningful signs has at one time been associated with information according to Shannon's "theory of information" [add reference or delete sentence] . Such symbolical structures are denoted by many authors simply as "knowledge" and some identify them as "externalized knowledge." This implicit difference reflects a difference in understanding of "knowledge." Like information, the notion of knowledge has undergone a shift from being regarded as a transcendentally existing substance to something that has to do with humans or in particular with human cognition. Davenport, who has been concerned with the human aspect of information, locates knowledge in the human mind and associates it with self-awareness. Regarding idea of knowledge management he Davenport argues [2000, p. 168]:

"The continuous conversion of knowledge into information and information into knowledge is key element of what companies must do to develop and apply knowledge successfully."

In this case receiver of information is considered to be the human and information as structural changes within the human nervous system that correspond to the persons interactions with his or her environment . If we accept Varela's notion of information (see above) we must accept its character resulting from this interaction. Thus too, the meaning of the received information depends on the changeable and self-organizing structure(s) of the nervous system. This again becomes inherently circular, or better recursive, as the structures of the nervous system itself evolves according to the character of what is considered information or knowledge.

In this sense human information has a nature analogous to the phenotype as both result from a unique person's interaction with his or her environment. The dynamic character of such internal information is often connected with the concept of knowledge, and knowledge is seen as the basis for generating ideas about potential future states of the world and adequate kind of actions. To stress dynamical character of knowledge many authors (for example Gordon Pask [Reference!] ) prefer to specify a procedural notion of "knowing" (also "observing: and/or "distinguishing").

For the moment I will speak of knowledge as "internal information" that corresponds to a cognitive process in contrast to an externalized form which I have referred to as "conceptual information". Thus knowledge (as-internal-information) is a name used by an external observer to refer to particular dynamics in the immensely changeable structure of the nervous system. The character of such knowledge, as well as the conceptual information or actual behavior which it gives rise to depends not only on the information received, but also on the structures of the nervous system at the moment that the information is received, in the other words on "previous knowledge". Maturana and Varela [1987] have emphasized the organizational closure, structural determination and plasticity of the nervous system which enables such a flow of structural changes that conserves coherence with the flow of changes in the environment (structural coupling).

The notions inherent in complex systems theory suggest similar features for the nervous system. According to this theory the nervous system is an extremely complex system which has the essential ability of self-organization while its states (structures and processes) depend on former states. Its states fluctuate around various "patterns" of dynamical equilibrium while at the same time the system's processes are very sensitive to internal fluctuation and external perturbation. In this way internal structures and associated cognitive (mental) processes on the one hand have a tendency to retain some patterns while on the other hand they have an immense ability to form new dynamic structures (formulate ideas).

To understand the nature of knowledge better we can use Miller's idea that a complexity of internal information processes are needed for survival of living systems. Miller [1978] distinguishes three types of information:

  • Information from the past;
  • Information of the world outside;
  • Information about self and own parts.

From the perspective that I have been developing in this paper, information from the past is that internal configuration, or knowledge which focuses or directs observation of / engagement with the environment. In other words it tacitly determines what distinctions can be made, and what comprises information in the world outside. Engagement and observation can then be spoken of as receiving information from the environment, which in turn changes the internal configuration and thus knowledge. In this manner the organism and medium operate in a recurrent process of structural coupling, and we as observers abstract aspects of this interaction as "information" and "knowledge" — according to what appears pertinent to us. This relationship pertains also to that which we consider the "social" constituent of individual knowledge, that is knowledge which is attributable to conceptual information. Such knowledge is common to the members of societies and organizations, and includes what we call scientific paradigm, worldview , and cultures. This common knowledge acts in the same manner as other information from the past, namely it determines what is treated as information and thus influences the manner of investigation and the possible changes in these concepts.

The coherence of the environment, which is itself an evolved network of structurally coupled interactions, coupled with the immense human capability to interact with its diversity points out a richness of this cognitive process. The human ability to distinguish a richness in the medium isn't so much a matter of highly differentiated sensors (including their technologically-based expansion) but more a matter of the richness inherent in languaging, namely the ability to specify, to classify, to collate, to evaluate, to label and other ways of distinguishing operating with the relations between relations.

Information from the inside (about self) is associated with various kinds of sensations including proprioception and molecular dynamics (neuropeptides, hormones, and other distributed chemicals and their receptors) — and these sources of "information" operate with the nervous system in essentially the same manner as information from the environment. Further, the internal sensations are in the nervous system associated with the concomitant flow of information and behaviour that has to do with the environment. To the extent that these internal sensations are not directly associated with coordinations in a languaging network (community) they are only loosely distinguished in language and refer to loosely specified domains of potential behaviours. On an individual level these sensations may be broadly generalized as either sensations of well-being or "felicity" or sensations of distress or "tribulation." As these sensations are associated with external behaviours, they are abstracted and spoken of as emotions — indeed the sensation is named according to the behaviour as it is in the coordination of activities that the distinctions are relevant. The internal information or knowledge actually remains tacit.

Many psychologists (including Piaget) claim the existence of internal structures of human (self) consciousness. Arieti [in: Pstruzina, 1998] labels these structurs as "endocepts" as opposed to "concepts" which exist only in the domain of signs and symbols. Nevertheless, the tacit aspect of internal knowledge seems to be imponderable, even as it serves a very important role as a source of personal functionality through connecting past experiences with future activities .

Activities as a meaning of human information

The theory of internal knowledge/information briefly outlined above remains incomplete without without a consideration of its bearing on language. I take language to mean any symbolic system arising from social interaction, but I consider the mother tongue to play a basal role. Language is not only a means of communication, it also embodies human internal knowledge and enables its externalization. With language we externalize internal knowledge and/or produce new types of information. With language we generate the information which is attributed to the observed system (environment) by observer.

Given this, we are compelled to reconsider the nature of conceptual information (or externalized knowledge) as presented by means of symbols or signs or as symbolic structures (alias data) . In spite of the role and importance of this kind information, and its acceptance as an attribute of the observed world, I would like point out the implication of the phrase "attributed to the observed system" which serves to emphasize central position of observer.

The observer has traditionally been considered as a "receiver" who passively gathers information "coming" from the surrounding system. However according to the cognitive processes described above, observation is not a passive act, and an observer acts somewhat like a commentator who attributes various features to the observed system. Resulting knowledge (information) not so much describes as "is ascribed" to the observed system. It has an individual character: it isn't independent of the observer observing, but neither is it subjective (influenced by shared knowledge). Hence the observer is the maker who actively bestows information on the environment and in so doing also changes his or her inner information. In this sense information-knowledge corresponds to the declaration "All doing is knowing and knowing is doing" [Maturana & Varela, 1978, p. 27].

In spite of the fact that any segregation of actions into a particular set of categories is in some sense also an attribution of information made by an observer, I would like to outline five basic categories of human activities which are reasonably comprehensive and serve to bring attention to the role of information, as a product of an observer, in these activities:

  1. Cognitive process including various types and ways of thinking (lateral, vertical), judgement, investigation, decision and forecasting. In his analysis of rationality Simon [1979] names this set of processes as procedural rationality .
  2. Re-creation of personal knowledge itself that runs either knowingly (using externalized knowledge) or more often subconsciously as learning from experiences;
  3. Design of artifacts and other purposive systems based on human knowledge and intentions. They are commonly connected with engineering processes resulting in techniques and/or technologies. According to Checkland's analysis of human activities including most organizations and institutions would fit this category, even though they are "soft" artifacts. When we use artifacts and/or services provided by organizations we use the knowledge embedded in them.
  4. Information production in the sense of the externalization of internal knowledge and generation of conceptual information, including its presentation. This process is intimately linked with language and requires some form of technology to support such operations as transfer, storing and transformation of information. However we should be aware that any information technology, whether pencil and paper or megacomputer, restricts information to the manipulation of signs (data).
  5. Physical activities that can be distinguished from the above by the level of applied energy and through the magnitude of direct change to the environment.

The first two types of human activities have a primarily individual character even thought they take place in a cultural environment. The next two types bear directly on cultural evolution: people produce them and they in turn become the environment which acts on the people. Any individual participates in this activities using his individual knowledge while affected by the various systems that have been generated by the actitivies which arise out of the knowledge of other people. This may be manifested as an anonymous power or "omnipresent expertise" as the individual authorship of various aspects of the artifacts has been obscured. In this way we became more and more dependent on various unkown systems which are treated as valid. We often accept these systems without an understanding of what they entail, and without being aware of whether or not we desire the consequeces of using them. In these circumstances our sense of individual responsibility languishes. Modern advanced technology, particularly information technology dramatic exacerbates this process so that human intention no longer takes a central role. However, some proponents of technology are not concerned about a loss of human awareness; For example Vanda Orlikowski [2000] in discussing the application of IS/IT in management and organizations states:

"We are purposeful, knowlegeable, adaptive and inventive agents who engage with technology to accomplish various and changing ends".

The last type of activities (number 5 in the above list) take us from cultural sphere back to the tangible physical world and hence the evolution of the universe. Although many people have pointed out the unprecedented power that has multiplied the magnitude and speed of human influence upon the environment, most people remain unaware of this as they continue each in their own sphere of activities. And underlying concern is that the magnitude of human influence increases the potential of irreversible and large scale changes, that is to mistakes resulting from failing knowledge.

Figure 2:  Circular information process between the observer and the physical, social and technological world.

Misinterpretation of information

So far I have focused on knowledge and information and their mutual relation, now I wish to consider the notion of "data."

Data represent a consensual form used for the externalization and coordination of internal human information. This is already implicit in our common understanding as we ask the question "What does this data represent?" Moreover we commonly refer only to recorded forms of information, and take care that a suitable form of signs or symbols have been used in this. Even when data is considered in a generalized way, as for example when applied to the phonemes of language, care is taken in the proper coding so that the written symbols properly and unambiguously represent the spoken form. Similarly we can consider other consensual forms of externalized human knowledge (for example charts) as data. However the distinction between information recorded in a consensually established form and that which is intended to be holistically perceived , as in a photograph, is often vague.

The distinctions drawn between the elements of the related triad of data, information, and knowledge support a better understanding of the process of communicating information. Communication becomes more effective when we consistently distinguish between two overlapping activities, data transfer and individual interpretation (Figure 3.)

Figure 3:  Basic scheme of the process of communication from data through interpretation into meaningful information and action.

Advances in information and communication technology have only involved those processes which deal with data. Thanks to communication technology we have access to the immense growth of shareable data. Our problems lie in the fact that we suffer from information overloading and lack appropriate individual knowledge to interpret these data into meaningful information and action.

With the expansion of electronic data systems new phenomena that bear on the matter of information have emerged. Data are transformed within designed information systems in ways that are inaccessible to the receiver's mind. There is an invisible alteration based on the individual knowledge of the designers of these systems, who inevitably embed this in the models and the form of applications software. Furthermore the character of both embedded and exposed "information," its source, veracity, precision and accuracy is obscured. This is a hidden and undervalued problem: though huge amounts of data are presented, data which would be inaccessible by any other means, their selected and their organisation by database designers obscures other interpretations than what are conceived in the design of these data sets. This in effect comprises a form of censorship. Further the anonymity of many prevailing data sources, along with the impossibility of determining the context and circumstances of their origin, selection, and various transformations, has bearing on the consequences of using such information in a substantive and extensive manner within society. The immense interconnection of computers into networks and the world wide web serves to increase such invisible distortions in a synergistic manner.

Nevertheless it is not only modern ICT that has bent individual knowledge according to the invisible hand of other individuals. The amount of shared information has increased throughout human history ever since the emergence and expansion of language. Even thought the considerable technological advances as printing or telephone represent new domains in the expansion of data and information, we should not forget constitutive role of less technological information systems such as mass media, education, public institutions, as well as the expansion of the scientific form itself.


By sharing individual knowledge through conceptual information we shape the basic framework of cultural evolution. This includes an increased mass of shared knowledge (theories, worldview... artifacts), division of labor, and the dramatic growth of concepts and abstractions, and much more. The contemporary situation presents a new stage of evolution, which can be seen as the threshold of a new type or sphere of information. There is no way back. does not exist However we can, or at least I hope we can, influence the evolution towards noo-sphere or cyber-sphere (Fig. 1.)

Figure 1:  Stages of Universe evolution characterized by emergent complexity (inc. newly arising sphere)

While first way leads to sharing common knowledge and diversity of its interpretation based on individual competency, second is connected with decreasing of individual competence including individual values and shared norms arising from them. However first way doesn't constitute boundless liberty (lack of restriction) rather makes towards individual competency and freedom together with an appropriate accountability. Distinctive border between individual and shared knowledge as well as between individual freedom and responsibility towards higher systems doesn't exist. It is problem of relationship of whole and its parts, typical just for self-organization.

Maybe we can espy the hopeful domain between pragmatic (rather than technological) oriented post-industrial (rather than information) society and global world with its global problems. Movement towards "knowledge society" implies transformation from the Middle Ages to modern period rather than commonly declared conversion from industrial to information society. Fundamental novelty resembles significant change like the progress from medieval dogmatic reflection to renaissance thinking. Today we need make good make good Age of Reason by the knowledge of co-evolution based on individual competence and responsibility.


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