Title: An Invisible Connection: Information Theory, Cognitive Psychology and Humankind
Author(s): Hung Chih Wei
Affiliation: Virginia Tech
Presented At: STiS 2008
Primary Topic Area: ICT Policy
This paper provides a historical frame for examining the change of the definition of information after the Second World War. In Cybernetics, information is a theoretical concept, namely, a kind of measurable energy, but nowadays people regard information as messages. How does this conceptual change happen? Drawing from works of history and science and technology studies, the paper asserts that cognitive psychology played a pivotal role in the transition of the meaning of information. During wartime, the military recruited many psychologists into weaponry projects. Cooperating with information scientists and engineers, psychologists absorbed the concepts of cybernetics and informatics, and gradually took them for granted. Examining the main arguments in the cognitive psychologist George Miller’s works from the 1950s to the 1960s, including Language and Communication, Psychology: The Science of Mental Life, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information,” the paper contends that the Second World War and the extensive adoption of the concepts of information science caused the theoretical revolution from behaviorist psychology to cognitive psychology. The psychology paradigm shift changed the meaning of information from a cybernetics term to an everyday usage. Both the influence of information science on psychology and the influence of psychology on what ordinary people understand information reveal that humans usually do not realize the power and influence of knowledge on human societies until their life has been changed.