When I tell people I wish to pursue a Master’s in philosophy, I get a quizzical look. “I thought you were a computer guy!?”
Well, yes, I am. I also believe my computer science studies will allow me to study philosophy of information with a unique perspective. Computer scientists study information: how to manipulate it, store it, transmit it, extract it, etc. I have “real-world” knowledge of how to do these things. I’ve studied and implemented artificial intelligence algorithms—something I don’t think many philosophy majors can say.
Philosophy of information is a new field that seeks to ask:
- What is information? Are there different kinds?
- How can we ethically handle information?
- Where does information come from?
- How can information be represented or stored?
Along with many other questions. The second question I listed has probably been the most popular question since how we answer it affects what companies and governments can do with information about us. Yet, all of these questions are important and can affect other disciplines.
Okay, enough overview. Philosophy of information is important and can help us answer questions we haven’t solved yet.
These are a few specific questions I’d like to study:
- What is the difference between Signals, Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom?
- Does Information require a Mind?
One more area I’d like to study is, well, I don’t really even know how to ask the question concisely. Let me illustrate it.
I can tell you the process to multiply two numbers. You can then multiply two numbers. Information was exchanged through natural language and sound waves and now two people have the information of how to execute that process to multiply two numbers.
You can write down this same process and many people can read it and obtain this information. Information is stored on a piece of paper.
A computer scientist can read the paper and create a computer algorithm to multiply two numbers. He will probably save this algorithm description in a computer file. Is the algorithm information?
An engineer can implement this algorithm in an electrical circuit or mechanical gears and levers. Now a machine can perform this process. Is information stored in this machine? Is the machine the information?
At each stage, information was transformed and “stored” in some new manner. Sound waves, paper, computer file, physical machinery. We all understand this and will accept this fairly easily. However, the last stage is a bit peculiar. Is it right to say a machine has information inside it? It would be a pile of junk if it didn’t do something; yet, to say it intrinsically has information is a bit odd. Even odder would be to say the machine itself is information. If it is true that machines have, or are, information, then what can we say about other designed physical objects, like a teapot?
To study these questions, I want to acquire a Master’s of Philosophy to gain a proper background in philosophy. My current plan is to attend Georgia State University for this degree because their master’s of philosophy program is ranked #2 in the country and I’m right next to them geographically. Then, pursue a Philosophy Doctorate with one or more of these questions as my primary research. Which school I attend for this step is more hazy. There really isn’t a good Ph.D program in the state of Georgia, so I’ll probably have to move. Oxford, Stanford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and other places are on that list currently (that list was in no particular order). I’m hoping as I work my way through my master’s, I will develop some connections that will guide me in the direction I need to go.
I anticipate this to take roughly 10 years. So, unlike so many of my fellow Millennials, I have some pretty specific long-term goals. Leave a comment if you have any suggestions or thoughts on my plan!