Information and the Origin of Media
written by Yuzo Nakano 1993
"The ideal that art could influence the state of mind of society, instead
of adding to its materialism, is emphasized by the seemingly ephemeral
and transparent nature of its materials." Naum Gabo
One of man's most intense desires is to make a reproduction of his or
her experience. Any form of expression should be based on our physical or
Experiential data (learning) is filed with frequent examinations within
us. This is the database in our brain which is its information control room;
it is also the sub-function of gene-carrying, transmitting a vast as mount of
information about the fundamental maintenance of life since first life
happened on the earth about 3.5 billion years ago. All creatures act to
insure their survival in response to changes in the environment. The data base
in the brain and genetic information are always reexamined and processed in order
to edit the fittest information to adapt to the environment and transmit this
information to the peripheral nervous system from the nervous center. It is the most
immense network function in the micro world. It is a crucial function: depending on
the speed and skill of this selection process, the information gathered could mean
the difference between life and death. What is the real power of this data editing
process to insure continuous life ? It is all very well to say that we edit the various
data accumulated from experience to choose the information necessary to protect ourselves
and have a better life. But how about the genetic information ? Can we, in a short time,
change the genetic information received from our ancestors. This genetic information
may take a long time to change . Even if we were in the middle of the ice age, our body
would not immediately become hairy to protect us from the cold climate. During the last
three ice ages, many species became extinct because of their slowness to adapt.
But humans survived because they immediately created warm clothes, thus using their brain
processor to select the right information to fit the environment, instead of waiting,
like other mammals, for the much slower process by which genetic information would cause
them to develop a hairy body like other mammals.
Man, who has survived and triumphed since the earliest ice age, now confronts new environmental problems created by our
industrial society. Since we have come to believe that our process of advancement is
unending, we were optimistic until we realized that the problems in a particular
industrial area have grown into a crisis threatening the ecology of the entire earth.
What can we do about this crisis? Some will say that it is high technology that has
caused the problems and that I am opposed to high technology. But we should be aware that
it was through the benefits of high technology that such environmental problems as the holes
in the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, and so on, were discovered. Things could,
moreover, be much worse. Had we lived in a technological environment since the seventeenth
century instead of only since the nineteenth, we would have a far worse environmental
situation, since we would have cut down all our forests, they having been the chief energy
source at the time. However everybody knows the environmental crisis is very real now.
And we also know that we canºt go back to the original state of nature. Our civilization
seemingly has promised endless development by advancing technology since the Industrial
revolution in the eighteenth century. But now there is doubt about the whole meaning of
advancement in our technological civilization on the earth --just as artists often think
doubtfully about the idea of "progress" in art.
Whether man can overcome this crisis and be able to continue an unbroken process of advancement in technology, or come to
the conclusion that future development must be greatly limited, depends on the storage of
experiential data in our brains and on how well we use that experiential data by selecting
or editing out the right information. We have developed our ability to use our brain function
to solve complex problems. We have also developed the advanced computer to act as a sub-function
of our brain. Powerful computers can greatly help in the task of storing the immense amount
of available data, classifying this data, and editing it. But computers canºt create
"information" because they do not in themselves have a particular purpose or aim.
"Information" alone has an aim or purpose, whereas a piece of data is a defined fact.
Here, for example, are a series of facts (data) gathered by observation of the natural world:
A. Ozone exists in the atmosphere within the range of 15 to 50 km. from the earthºs surface.
B. During the months of September and October at the South pole the ozone layer is observed to
decrease by 40%. This phenomenon is called the "ozone hole." C. Chlorine compounds have been
detected around the ozone hole. D. Ozone absorbs 99 % of the sun's ultra-violet rays .
E. Chlorine compounds destroy ozone. Ozone has a molecular structure with three oxygen radicals.
These data from A. to F. are obvious facts now resulting from periodic scientific observations
over time. If we were to combine these data to form information, the result would be something like this:
A. A certain quantity of ultra-violet rays from the sun directly reach the earth's surface, without
being absorbed by the ozone layer, by penetrating through the ozone hole created by ozone-destroying
"chlorine compounds." Is this valuable information to transmit to others? Yes, for those people who
know what chlorine compounds and ultra-violet rays are . Otherwise such information is not of much
value to people in our society , except as a description for the reproduction (simulation) of the facts
out of which it is composed. A piece of information should have a certain meaning and purposes for which
it is transmitted to others . The nature of this meaning and purpose determines the information value
of the items. Whether you find information valuable or not, depends on the way you interpret its meaning.
In a larger knowledge base,the way information is classified and interpreted must become both wider
and more accurate. In the example above of items A to F, the items concerning ultra-violet rays
and chlorine compounds are the key to the dataºs impact . Without them, information about the ozone
hole discovered in 1982 would still have lacked an essential element of meaning for us.
Information acquired as the result of a continual editing of scientific data accumulated over
a long period of time by a well informed and purposeful observer should, in fact,continually reveal
A computer in whose database a tremendous amount of personal knowledge and global knowledge is stored
can become a rich source of information only when its human users give it a purpose by devising a suitable
program. Computers themselves of course cannot judge the value of data and information.
This is true although I fear that in the near future people may start to rely on computer judgments
about values, regardless of the benefit to society of such judgments. Computers, fortunately, have been
globally networked and large amounts of information in multimedia can be transmitted anywhere in the world
through the internet of web. Information and data referenced on a global network system can only be more and more
effective in the integration of media.
The more computer networks expand and the more rapidly computer data is transmitted, the more closely
our earthly mechanical information transmission system comes to approximate the neural system of the human
The ideal that information in a global computer network environment always brings some benefit to
the majority of people is a too optimistic one. Though no one, I think, is fully aware of this, we must
come to realize that human societies are becoming more similar at an extraordinary rate through the effect
of expanded, increasingly rapid trasmission of data and information. Among the similarities of societies
changed by rapidly disseminated information are those of their body of values and their ways of judging
the value systems of others.
To use an extreme hypothesis, what will happen to us when we allow only one reference book and nothing
else in the present world to judge values? My answer is that we will become like ants or honey bees if we
are lucky or, if we are not, we will become dinosaurs.
The idea that one book can change all human values may seem far fetched. But this view may seem less extreme
if we examine the example of a perfect work to test this hypothesis, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species
bu mean of "natural selection" . Darwin's Origin of Species, this book, published in 1859, deals with some
of the most important subjects mankind has ever examined. For almost a century and a half, the influence of
The Origin of Species has been tremendous, made continually important by the possibility that present world
problems such as hunger, refugees, the destruction of the environment, racial descrimination, and political
conflicts may be indirectly due to the improper interpretation of the theory of evolution Darwin expresses
in his book. This theory has not been scientifically proven yet due to limited data and the impossibility
of conducting experiments over a sufficiently long period, and many people of wisdom have chosen to disagree
with Darwin since the book was published. Nevertheless Darwin's theory, or at least part of it, has become
a kind of Bible among mainstream scientists in combination with the latest genetic theories--theories which
also have not been tested through long-term experimentation. I suspect that the reason why Darwin's theory
of evolution has been spread through the world as if it were truth (except to religious fundametalists--or
perhaps to God) may be that those in power found that the theory's essential elements contained "information"
by which the nineteenth centuryºs power struggles could be justified and explained.
As you know already, the existence of "natural selection" is one of the conclusions of The Origin of Species.
"Natural selection" means, in Darwin's words, "Nature [the environment] selects the fittest." According to this
"heory, homo sapiens evolved to the highest level of earth's species through the process of natural selection.
"The stronger survive" is interpreted to mean that the stronger species prevail over others. "The fittest"
according to The Origin of Species means the fittest examples of a species.
It should not be difficult for us to imagine how such uncertain information as "Nature selects the fittest"
would be interpreted to our convenience --to the convenience of mankind alone. A detailed analysis and
criticism of Darwin's theory are not the aim of this article. But there is a vast amount of information in
integrated media form nowadays concerning worldwide social problems and the planetary eco-system that
indicates thay "Nature may not select the overfit," that "Nature dislikes being set apart from man," and also
that "Nature loves co-evolution, but the individual is fittest among species." At least I can interpret
the data to draw such a conclusion. Everybody knows the name of Darwin's book and one may imagine that any
serious person will speculate about "evolution" at some time in his or her life. I have chosen this work as
an example to show that a significant piece of information, despite the lack of sufficient data to support it
or long-term experimentation to test it, can nonetheless change the world and turn thought in a certain
direction. Now, the faster and the wider our information travels by the transmission system, the more rapidly
the world changes --probably without our even being aware of the changes, if we do not exercise constant
Gregory Bateson defines information as follows: "All kinds of statements in which distinctions
are made, are information." This is a thoughtful and I think accurate definition. However I can't help
suspecting that it arises from a mind trained in confrontation. Emphasizing distinctions between things
naturally creates confrontations. Nature in one eco-system of the earth has been refined into the distinctions
between her sub-systems (creatures) and classified into more than a million species (not including plants)
through being observed by eyes separated from the eco-system. It is natural that in consequence we have
come to confront an ecological problem. ( By the way, can you define the distinction between "similarity"
and "distinction"? Depending on which we use as our basis for defining the relationship between two things,
the way we see them will end up in two entirely different ways.)
Homo sapiens, like other creatures, carry out the motive to live and maintain life by achieving three desires:
the desire to make a reproduction, as mentioned at the outset; the desire to "record" this reproduction; and
the desire to "transmit" it. Media have become a necessity for carrying out our "three desires" by providing
recorded reproductions to transmit. The three desires are fundamental to being and to the maintenance of the
life mechanism, rather than something that creatures develop by themselves. When an artist makes a painting,
he or she is basing it on his or her experience. (The technique and quality of the painting naturally depends
on the artist's skill in editing the database of accumulated experience/study in his brain.) And on the most
fundamental, genetic, level, all creatures have the desire to "make a reproduction" of the whole genetic body
of information of their species to reproduce. If we are able to perceive the close relationship between
reproduction on these two levels, we will realize that there is a very basic drive behind the artistºs painting.
But of course we also see that the painting is not "necessary "for survival in the same way as literal genetic
reproduction is. We may see the basic difference between humankind and other species in terms of this difference:
We homo sapiens have from the beginning differed from other creatures in our creating objects external to ourselves.
All objects in a way are made for extension of our physical functions and the subfunctions of achieving
the "three desires." The totality of this object-making is called "culture" and,being distinct from the fundamental
function of genetic reproduction,it may be called "artificial nature." In our object-making, we always place
ourselves at the center, and even in looking at nature, we do not place nature at the center but ourselves.
In doing this we necessarily create a human culture that is not in harmony with nature. And yet the creation of
"artificial nature" implies the mastery of natural law, and we have been moving in this direction ever since our
first ancesters picked up a stone.
In picking up a stone and, say, cutting it into a shape, our ancestor was making a reproduction of his or her
conceptual experience by simulating with an external object the remembered functions of the arms or fingers as tools
for hunting or carving meat, and was combining this memory with his knowledge about stone. Later he recorded
his action --he memorized it-- and he transmitted all this information to others. This was the beginning of our culture.
Over time, our "three desires" have led to an enormous expansion of our sensuous functions (our brain) and an equally
enormous accumulation of data and information in different fields and forms.
Within this accumulation that constitutes human culture, art has a special place because it provides inspiration
to man: it fills us with new hope and allows us to see the beauty and the point of life. For us, as thinking beings,
this art making is perhaps the most essential of all our activities for "reproduction" in the most far-reaching sense,
because it makes us want to go on. The gene is a wonderful medium for all creatures to express their life. However,
we know that the gene is too slow a medium to transmit our knowledge and our enthusiasm about
existence. We live now in a multimedia environment --it can be defined as "the artificial functions of physical
extension," and the computer, acting as the most sophisticated extension of our brains that we have yet devised,
is advancing powerfully enough to integrate all media.
In computers whose databases contain both personal and global knowledge in multimedia form, networked globally, we are
presented with enormous opportunities. How should we go about using them?
Finally, I ask myself, what does "originality" mean? Is the database in my brain original? Is the information created
by collating the ideas in my personal knowlege base and my global knowledge base original? Do I have any justification for
> Y U Z O N A K A N O 1993
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