Information, Data and Meaning- Chirin Dirani

Although E-information transmission model  is very important to understand how an important layer in the semiotic systems functions, however, it can’t be used as a general model for communication and meaning. According to Professor Irvine’s piece, Introducing Information Theory, “the signal transmission theory is constrained by a “signal-unit, point-to-point model,” with the “conduit” and “container” metaphors.” This transmitted signal code model is not a description of meaning, because the technical aspect of the information model was not originally designed to interpret meanings as the human brain does. As a result, the content that passes through the conduit when the E-information is transmitted does not hold a meaning. Another important feature of the E-information is that it needs a symbolic medium for the purpose of “understanding of meaning frameworks for meanings” which is called, by cognitive science research, the “meta-symbolic” knowledge. 

Now we know that we need a medium for meaningful communication and representation, here comes the need for an essential layer in the semiotic systems, which is the “E-information theory.” In fact, in electronic systems, information uses the “physics of electricity” as the required medium to “impose regular interpretable patterns.” The information in this context is designed as units of structure-preserving structures.” As emphasized by Professor Irvine, these electrical signal patterns are designed to be “communicable” internally and externally; internally through the components of the physical system and externally in meaningful symbols to humans.  The physics of electricity as a medium is what makes the information theory model essential for everything electronic and digital.

Finally, It is important to mention here that information theory model is insufficient for extending to models for meanings, uses, and purposes of our sign and symbol systems because as described by Professor Irvine, “meanings” do not have the properties of a physical medium in the communication process. Meanings as generators of symbols are presupposed and taken for granted. This fact brackets the meanings off Shannon’s system problem.  

Case Study: 

In the mid 90s, the only means of shopping in Syria were few physical shops and a famous German shopping catalogue. The minimum time to receive the ordered items from Germany is two months. Paradoxically, last Christmas and through Amazon, I ordered a Sony headset at 10 am, and received it at 3 pm the same day. I can’t think of a better example than online shopping as a case study for this class. Using my Iphone device with its Apple iOS system, I logged into the Amazon app and chose the desired Sony headset. When I clicked “submit order,” my Iphone as a transmitter, used physics of electricity as a medium to impose regular interpretable patterns via electrical signals. These signals were communicated through the components of the physical system (the internet). Amazon (as a receiver) received the transmitted signal and interpreted it into meaningful symbols. My order was processed within Amazon system in a few hours. Amazon (as a transmitter now), sent other types of signals that were interpreted into meaningful symbols by the shipping company, as a receiver, to deliver the ordered item. This case made me pause and think about the importance of computer system as a solution and a mean of protection for human being during COVID.


  1. What is the difference between a symbol and a token? Is the token an encoded symbol?
  2. Information theory is an engineering solution to a semiotic problem — it is a model for “designer electronics.” Why designer electronics not designed electronics?
  3. Can you explain the concept of “electronic systems are designed as units of structure-preserving structure” in more details?


Martin Irvine’s, Introducing Information Theory (2021).