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Journal cover: Kybernetes


ISSN: 0368-492X

Online from: 1972

Subject Area: Electrical & Electronic Engineering

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Norwich's Entropy Theory: how not to go from abstract to actual

Document Information:
Title:Norwich's Entropy Theory: how not to go from abstract to actual
Author(s):Lance Nizami, (Palo Alto, California, USA)
Citation:Lance Nizami, (2011) "Norwich's Entropy Theory: how not to go from abstract to actual", Kybernetes, Vol. 40 Iss: 7/8, pp.1102 - 1118
Keywords:Communication, Cybernetics, Information theory, Perception, Systems
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/03684921111160331 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:The author's profound thanks for peer commentary to Claire S. Barnes, Faisal Kadri, and two anonymous reviewers. Thanks also to American Society for Cybernetics President Ranulph Glanville and the C:ADM Organizing Committee for accepting an earlier version of this paper for “Cybernetics: Art, Design, Mathematics”, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA, July 29-August 5, 2010. Finally, thanks to the Editors of the Kybernetes special issue, Ranulph Glanville (again) and Ben Sweeting.

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to ask whether a first-order-cybernetics concept, Shannon's Information Theory, actually allows a far-reaching mathematics of perception allegedly derived from it, Norwich et al.'s “Entropy Theory of Perception”.

Design/methodology/approach – All of The Entropy Theory, 35 years of publications, was scrutinized for its characterization of what underlies Shannon Information Theory: Shannon's “general communication system”. There, “events” are passed by a “source” to a “transmitter”, thence through a “noisy channel” to a “receiver”, that passes “outcomes” (received events) to a “destination”.

Findings – In the entropy theory, “events” were sometimes interactions with the stimulus, but could be microscopic stimulus conditions. “Outcomes” often went unnamed; sometimes, the stimulus, or the interaction with it, or the resulting sensation, were “outcomes”. A “source” was often implied to be a “transmitter”, which frequently was a primary afferent neuron; elsewhere, the stimulus was the “transmitter” and perhaps also the “source”. “Channel” was rarely named; once, it was the whole eye; once, the incident photons; elsewhere, the primary or secondary afferent. “Receiver” was usually the sensory receptor, but could be an afferent. “Destination” went unmentioned. In sum, the entropy theory's idea of Shannon's “general communication system” was entirely ambiguous.

Research limitations/implications – The ambiguities indicate that, contrary to claim, the entropy theory cannot be an “information theoretical description of the process of perception”.

Originality/value – Scrutiny of the entropy theory's use of information theory was overdue and reveals incompatibilities that force a reconsideration of information theory's possible role in perception models. A second-order-cybernetics approach is suggested.

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