Friday, 20 April 2007


Nunberg again:
There is a widely repeated claim to the effect that a daily issue of the New York Times contains more information than the average seventeenth-century Englishman came across in a lifetime. Now whatever writers have in mind when they make such claims (not a great deal, you suspect), it’s clear that they are not talking simply about the sum of individual propositions that are communicated from one agent to another.
Nunberg supposes that we can gather a great deal of what is meant by that term, “information,” from uncritical uses like this, or the claim that “the amount of information is doubling every 15 years.” He is undoubtedly correct, but more interesting is the attractiveness of claims like each of these—that is, the uncritical claims about seventeenth-century Englishmen and information growth rates. They belong to that class of believably absurd claims, memes, mental viruses which infect their hosts (Nunberg in 1995, me upon reading it in early April, you now, perhaps). Do these paragraphs constitute a new strain of this nasty bug? Perhaps a less virulent variety? Or more virulent, now clothed as it is in haughty self-reference?

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