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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Undergraduate Course: Philosophy of Information (PHIL10186)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines different conceptual analyses of information and their implications for issues in cognitive science, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. It covers questions such as: Can we perceive information? Does information convey knowledge? Is misinformation nevertheless a form of information, i.e. can information be false? Does physics tell us the universe is fundamentally information? Do interactions in realms of pure information (chatrooms, MMORPGs) carry the same ethical obligations as physical interactions? and Who has a right to information about your activities online?
Course description This course covers several different conceptions of what information is (including Shannon information, semantic information, Kolmogorov information, and ecological information). Each new notion of information is motivated by conceptual questions that philosophers (or philosophically minded statisticians, computer scientists, cognitive scientists, physicists, etc.) have wanted a notion of information to solve.

The course begins with a brief introduction to the basics of probability theory, and the different philosophical conceptions of probability (subjective vs. frequentist), before introducing Shannon information (which is defined in terms of probability). Conceptual questions about Shannon information, including whether it satisfies our intuitions about the factivity of information, lead to the notion of semantic information and its applications (e.g. naturalizing epistemology - Dretske; naturalizing semantics - Perry). This ''standard'' view of information then serves as the backdrop for the second half of the course, which covers a selection of more idiosyncratic notions of information and their applications. At each stage, we will reflect on how the different conceptions of information introduced so far might offer different perspectives on the philosophical issues addressed.

Special topics covered in the second half of the course may include:

-Kolmogorov information - information as inverse susceptibility to compression
-The conjecture that fundamental physics is essentially a theory of information flow, and thus information may serve as a subvenience basis for all of physical reality.
- Gibson's notion of ''ecological information'' as a target of direct perception
- Norms of internet interactions vs. norms of physical interactions
- Who owns / has rights to information (generator, user, platform, etc.)?

In the final paper, students will be encouraged to pursue their own interests in information, as well as any background experience they bring to the course, applying distinctions and insights about information introduced in the course to a self-designed research topic.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) AND Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017)
It is RECOMMENDED that students have passed Logic 2: Modal Logics (PHIL10162)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students studying on MA Cognitive Science (Humanities) and students who have studied 1 course in probability and 1 course are permitted to take this course without having met the pre-requisites of: Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017) AND Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014). However, it is advisable that students discuss the suitability of the course with their PT and the course organizer before enrolling.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2019/20, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 100% coursework:
Midterm take-home test (approx. 1500 wds): 40%
Final paper (approx. 2500 wds.): 60%
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Articulate and defend a philosophical analysis of information.
  2. Define and critically contrast Shannon information and semantic information.
  3. Critically discuss whether information is factive.
  4. Explain and evaluate relevant notions of information for ethical questions arising on the internet.
  5. Articulate and critically assess the relationship between physical and informational aspects of the world.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Alistair Isaac
Tel: (0131 6)51 5174
Course secretaryMiss Ann-Marie Cowe
Tel: (0131 6)50 3961
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