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From Perceiving to Knowing

For a person or process to describe or utilize a state of nature, perception must take place, and observation often may be said to take place. These actions are necessary if the information is to leave the system under observation and become known and used by other processes or individuals. Understanding the arrival and use of information in sentient beings requires that the nature of observation, knowledge, and related topics be understood and described if information is be understood, defined, and measured. We make some initial suggestions here as to ways of modeling these phenomena as the result of transforming and hierarchical processes, allowing them to be incorporated into our general conceptual framework for information.

A low level of information reception in humans is perception, the physical receipt of information about a state or situation occurring elsewhere. Perception, often understood to be a biological phenomena, may involve a substantial amount of processing by neural networks [Nor93]. Visual perceptions, for example, involve the sensing of light and dark images by rods in the back of the eye, with some animals detecting colors through reactions taking place within cones in their retinas. These sensors are linked through complex networks to portions of the brain.

Some higher level perceptual processes involve cognitive processing and require memory. For example, the detection of motion obviously requires that one remember the previous position of the object if one is to detect a change in position. Similarly, detecting the presence of a particular shape (e.g., a square) requires the ability to recognize a set of individual retinal points representing a square as being a square despite the variations in sizes for squares and the different orientations (e.g., rotation) in the visual field that a square may take.

An entity may be said to perceive another entity when a process or chain of processes receives ``input," that is, something at the ``causal" end of the process changes, and a representative output is physically produced by the perceiver. Information is available in the perceiver about the object of perception only when the perception is physically necessitated by the presence of a characteristic's values at the input and the information carrying or producing process.

The processes that take physical events to human sense organs is often unaffected by higher level cognitive processes as well as by other human biases. On the other hand, empirical evidence strongly supports the notion that human background and experience strongly determine the nature of what is observed by humans. The ``biased" nature of information processing by humans is such that all processing, whether of observations of the outside world or ``thought process" running from rumination to formal deductions are likely to be biased. The ability of human biases to manipulate what is perceived is one of the factors separating perception from observation.

An observation takes place when a sentient being directly receives the output of a process whose input is said to be ``observed." Observation and perception require some degree of accuracy, with scholars disagreeing on the amount of error allowed, if any, for a valid perceptual or observational act to have taken place. Some suggest that the observation must take place ``without interference" [Sha82], while others suggest that a ``fitness condition" for observation is that identical inputs to the function should produce identical outputs and similar inputs should produce similar outputs or observations [Pal89]. Observations take place within the context of the observer's beliefs and states; an electronically knowledgeable individual will take away far more from viewing the insides of a desktop computer than will most adults or any child.

Observation is understood by some to be limited to ``humanly-accessible information" which is eventually used ``by a human being" [Sha82]. Perception functions as a lower level function, with observation requiring a higher level of cognition and reasoning on the part of the observer. Abstract concepts such as emotions are usually described as observed rather than perceived. For example, people often feel more comfortable saying they ``observe hostility" rather than they ``perceive" hostility.

Observing is like receiving the output of any other function [Sha82]; its primary difference is in the nature of the function itself, the high degree of reproduction of the input in the output, and its higher location in the hierarchy, usually including what is referred to as ``reason." If an observation is viewed as the output of a single process linking the observed and the observer, the information provided to the observer concerns the state presented to the input of the process as well as about the observation transmitting process itself. This observation transmitting process may also be viewed as a series of processes stacked in a hierarchy, such as those described earlier. The output of each of these processes provides information about its input as well as about the process itself. The output from the terminating process provides information about its input as well as about the terminating process and provides some information about the processes that preceded it. Similar arguments can be made about direct and indirect perceptual processes.



 
next up previous
Next: Belief and Knowledge Up: A Discipline Independent Definition Information Previous: The Beginnings of ``Information
Bob Losee
1999-03-10