What “meaning” to we find when we “meaning” signal-code transmission and information theory models

A re-occurring theme/discussion point through out our conversations and readings, has been the concept behind de-black-boxing tech and the reason behind that is probably due to the fact that we struggle to truly grasp what is behind these machines and how do we really end up getting the “information” that we do in the formats that we do. How does an image get so easily captured and transferred from reality to the initial shutter of the specific camera that took the photo, to a digitalized form that can be re-used for multiple purposes, over an infinite time period in a gazillion different ways. You can send it, post it, delete it, put a filter on it, put a bunch of filters on it and photoshop it. No matter what you’re doing, you have managed to take something that exists in the physical real world and converted it to its digitized representation and depiction aka form. 

“E-information theory supports our
whole symbolic-cognitive system by providing the techniques for using electrical
energy quantities in time for physical substrates of all human sign and symbol
structures (data representations)” (Irvine, 2020, 4). We are basically trying to imprint our human and cultural understandings, meanings and values into an electronic format where automated calculations and interpretations can take place in order to take the information that has been fed into the machine or system and “spit out” new representations and meanings that yet have an overall meaning used for communication and interpretation. Physical electronics and machines such as our computers or smartphones have been created in order to present and hold, in a way “carry” these data representations that have been translated from human symbol meanings to bits and bytes, aka data. (“Data: Binary structure for units that can be assigned a first level of meaning” (Irvine, 2020, 3). Information theory is considered to be what we call “designer electronics” as it represents, processes and transmits designed binary electronics (what we have fed into the computer and converted it into the “language” it understands) as an “engineering solution to a semiotic problem” that of “imposing human logical and values on electronic and physical media for creating meaningful patterns” (Irvine, 2020, 2). 

Indicating a state of existence, the signal-code-transmission model does not replace the meaning of whatever the representation is, stands for. “Meanings are not properties of electrical structure” (Irvine, 2020, 9). We can understand and conceptualize the message that we have received through the transmission because of the pre-supposed meaning or notion we have attributed to it. The same way a color blind personal will view the color blue on his screen differently than a person who isn’t colorblind. However, the system itself does not make distinctions between the two blues, those are made solemnly by the person at the receiving end who conceptualize and see the color differently. The transmission just gets the job done of “carrying” the “message”/transmission from one designer electronic to the next. As Shannon also explains in his theories and findings, that “what a relay passes onward from
one circuit to the next is not really electricity but rather a fact: the fact of
whether the circuit is open or closed” (Gleick, 2011, 18). 

Whatever is transmitted is what will be shown. The system/computer does not have actual concepts or true understanding of what is happening, said, painted, shown, depicted, stated, etc. on the receiving end of a signal. The system/computer have zero pre-supposed cultural notions or any sort of conceptual belief about the E-information, that is up to the user, the real human. Leading to why the information theory model works for everything digital and electronic but “not extending to models for meanings, uses, and purposes of our sign and symbol systems” since that is ultimately left to the task of the human user. In reality, information isn’t something tangible, we can’t see it and most times we cannot touch it, especially if we are talking about E-information (Irvine, 2020). As long as the system runs and works properly what we see are “the effects of information shaped and “communicable” for internal processing in the systems” (Irvine, 2020, 13) that take place in seconds as the order come from binary switches and other processes that do not contain any further meaning other than on/off, 1/0, etc. The meaning-making comes in a later stage that takes place in our human brains that can unfortunately or fortunately, not work as fast as a computer’s processor and systems and therefore need time to process, conceptualize and interpret meaning found in the data using our own human symbol systems and cultural notions. 



Gleick, J. (2011). The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Bantheon Books: NY

Irvine, M. (2021). Introducing Information Theory: The Context of Electrical Signals Engineering and Digital Encoding.

Martell, C & Denning, P (2015). Great Principles of Computing. The MIT Press: London