J.M.Diaz & RainerZimmermann

Interviewer: José María Díaz Nafría

Interviewee: Rainer Zimmermann

Date: 09/11/2011

On the occasion of Rainer Zimmemann’s 60th birthday on November 9th, I met him in Vienna while attending a whorkshop on system science chaired by Wolfgang Hofkirchner. Nearby the Burg Theatre, we met in the pleasant atmosphere of the Viennese café Landtmann, where he first sketched out to me his forthcoming book on Schelling which I am now looking forward to hold in my hands. Before bringing up the matter for discussion, let me give a short review of his scientific carrier:

Rainer Zimmermann, born in Berlin in 1951, studied mathematics and physics in Germany and England not far from those who have formulated some of the best candidates to provide a unified understanding of the physical world, then he arrived to philosophy after having deepened into the core knowledge of our natural sciences. Thus his philosophy has been a “philosophia ultima” in the first place, as he advocates that it properly should be. His academic itinerary shows an earnest dedication to both the updated knowledge about the world and a philosophical speculation driven to find a more adequate conception towards human life in its social praxis.  As professor of philosophy, he has taught and developed extensive interdisciplinary research in Berlin, Kassel and Munich, also in Cambridge (UK),Bologna and Salzburg.

In the territory of philosophy he has dug into the work of Sartre, Bloch, Schelling and Spinoza –among others – finding out that among them there is an underground thinking line which goes back to both Averroism and Stoicism. His inquiry into the work of these philosophers – as we can see in his recent “New ethics proved in geometrical order”– has not been a sort of mere archaeology of thinking or apologetic reflexion, but a sort of heuristic approach to current problems of our knowledge and praxis and particularly in the understanding of complex evolutionary systems. To this end he has respectfully followed the path pointed out by these authors though using the horizon of our current knowledge.

His approach can be better branded as transcendental materialism as he names it since 1990. He has authored about 350 publications including some 24 books and monographies, scientific articles in a broad spectrum of topics (from mathematics to ethics, from physics to political systems…).

J.M.: In your writings, you often refer to the necessity to reorient philosophy as it has been conceived in the 20th century in order to properly reflecting the world. You mention that it should be “visualized as a science of totality” following the works of Hans Heinz Holz, and you also consider the task of your own philosophy, the “transcendental materialism” as an “ultima philosophia” rather than a “prima philosophia” in the Aristotelian sense (referring to an expression introduced by Theunissen for the first time). As I understand, both things are closed related. Can you explain in some detail the requirements of this reorientation, as well as its alleged benefits?

R.Z.: The basic idea is that we cannot conceive a theoretical nucleus of what is traditionally called “metaphysics” as something which can be derived from first thoughts entailing then a picture of the world which prescribes so to speak the latter’s evolution and structure. Instead, we have to look first for what the sciences (and the arts as to that) are offering us in terms of insight. This present state of knowledge is our raw material for constructing then the desired picture of the world such that philosophy can be visualized as one which follows up the scientific and artistic modeling of fragments of the world rather than laying the grounds for them (this is Theunissen’s 1989 aspect of ultima philosophia) and, by doing so, drafts out an overarching “theory of everything” whilst composing a meta-theory telling us about what is common to the worldly fragments in structural terms, but also about what we actually do or have to do when developing theories about the world in the first place (this being Holzen’s aspect of philosophy as science of totality). The important point is here that within this approach, philosophy gains an explicitly empirical character: It is thus possible to speak not only of theoretical and practical philosophy, but also of experimental philosophy, namely by exploring possible worlds whilst exploring possible implications of scientific and artistic results and viewpoints. Thanks to recent developments in computer technology, these somehow “artificial worlds” can be modeled much more easily nowadays. (I have discussed these aspects in detail in my book on transcendental materialism and within the framework of the INTAS cooperation, led from 2000 through 2005 by Wolfgang Hofkirchner.) Obviously, this type of philosophy is achieving nothing else than what philosophy is always achieving: i.e. an improved orientation within the world in order to eventually draft adequate principles for an appropriate ethics. (more…)

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Luciano Floridi

THE PHILOSOPHY OF INFORMATION

Oxford, UK, Oxford Univesity Press, 2011 (Hardback, 360 pp. $55.00)

As the author declares at the beginning of his book, it “brings together the outcome of ten years of research”. A project arisen by the intention of “looking for a philosophy that could be free from the anthropocentric obsession with the knowing subject, and from commonsensical introspection.” The result is a Philosophy of information (PI) that can be articulated in three fundamental questions: What is really information? How is it understood, investigated and manipulated? How can information be used to cope with philosophical problems? Though obviously not all these broad and open questions can be fully answered –and particularly not in the extent of a book– this work can be regarded as a first serious attempt of laying down the principles and conceptual foundations of this new area of research, named Philosophy of information. Following Floridi, PI can be “defined as the new philosophical field concerned with (a) the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its dynamics, utilisation and sciences; and (b) the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to philosophical problems.”

In order to settle the principles of PI, Floridi pursues three goals, which are metatheoretical, introductory and analytic. Its metatheoretical goal is to describe what the philosophy of information is, its problems, approaches, and methods. Its introductory goal is to help the reader to gain a better grasp of the complex and multifarious nature of the various concepts and phenomena related to information. Its analytic goal is to answer several key theoretical questions of great philosophical interest, arising from the investigation of semantic information. However, it is in the analysis of meaning and his proposed General Definition of Information (GDI) where we found unnecessary the requirements of meaningfulness (as well as truthfulness for semantic information) as proposed by Floridi, if the final intention is to grasp the universality of information; though it might be of course relevant in human contexts. In other words, we consider unsatisfactory the given approach to “the symbol grounding problem”, i.e. “how can data, constituting semantic information, acquire meaning in the first place?” To this respect we have elaborated a “GDI revisiting programme”. (See: Emergence and evolution of meaning).

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A report by: José María Díaz Nafría (University of León, Spain)

4th International Conference on the Foundations of Information Science

Beijin, August, 2010

At the beginning of 2010, Professor Zong-Rong Li (from the Social Information Science Institute, SISI, at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, HUST, China) proposed to our colleague Wolfgang Hofkirchner the organization in China of an international scientific gathering aimed at laying the foundations of a science of information being integrative with respect to scientific domain- and geographical gaps. That is, in the line of the conferences on the Foundations of Information Science, but including now a scientific community which was previously absent. Hence, it was decided the convening of a 4th edition of this conference series (Madrid 1994, Vienna 1996, Paris 2005) under the motto: “towards a new science of information”, which was happily being held in Beijin on past August 21 to 24.

From left to right: Hucan He, Konstantin Kolin, Pedro Marijuán, Yi-Xin Zhong, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Kang Ouyang

The conference, co-chaired by Kang Ouyang (Director of the SISI), Wolfgang Hofkirchner and Pedro Marijuán, was held under the sponsorship of the Chinese Association for Artificial Inteligence (CAAI) and the SISI. It was part of the Multi-Conference on Advanced Intelligence (MCAI-2010) which also included: the second international conference in advance intelligence (ICAI-2010) and the IEEE Natural Language Processing and Knowledge Engineering (NLP-KE’10). It was clearly proven the amount and relevancy of the eastern scientific activity in interdisciplinary informational studies with a notorious prevalence of Chinese contributions (59 %) as well as a significant Japanese participation (10 %). Nevertheless, the global character of the call was preserved with a participation of 4 continents, especially North America and Europe. Thus, the objective of founding a scientific international association responsible for promoting a global- and integrative science of information was supported by a sufficient representation of the required parties.

Access to: Programme and abstracts, including links to preliminary texts (PDF)

Report contents

  1. Gaps and Bridges
  2. In historical Perspective
  3. Informational Babel
  4. Science of Information Institute (SciI) participation
  5. Foundation of the International Society for Information Studies (ISIS)
  6. Conclusions

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Our colleague and member of the Science Advisory CommitteeLuciano Floridi, held a professorial lecture at the University of Herfordshire on March 23th. It was recorded and can be accessed in the Website of the University.

In the history of human knowing there have been radical changes in the way we conceive our place among other beings in the universe. The way we look at ourselves, what are our expectations, endeavours, responsibilities… depends dramatically on this conception of our place in the realm of beings. The development of IT is “not only changing how we deal with the world and make sense of it, or interact with each other” -which is plenty of practical consequences-; we are also attending (after Copernico, Darwin and Freud) to a forth shift in the human-conciousness affecting what roles and responsibilities we assume.

Our colleague Luciano -in his characteristic clear and sharp style- poses questions and arguments concerning the very Science of Information. In the necessary equilibrium between the technical and natural world -pointed out by Floridi, as an state we should strive for if we decide to life in a decent world-, the Science of Information could play a significant role.

Page where the video stream is available: http://web-apps.herts.ac.uk/uhweb/apps/video/prof-luciano-floridi.cfm

We wish to express our gratitude to the University of Herfordshire, to whom we ask for the possibility of making the lecture somehow available.

From BITagora and the SoII directory board, we are very pleased to announce this conference, wishing it became a turning point in the erection of a new science of information. We wish to express our gratitude to all organisers and especially to Hua-Can He and to our colleagues Pedro, Wolfgang and Zong-Rong.


FlS 2010Towards a New Science of Information

Beijing: 20-23 August, 2010

Conference website: www.fis2010.cn (http://fis2010.sisi2006.cn/fis2010/index.aspx)

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Continuing the series of FIS Conferences (Madrid 1994, Vienna 1996, Paris 2005) a new venue will be held in Beijing 2010.  In our times, an increasing number of disciplines are dealing with information in very different ways: from information society and information technology to communication studies (and related subjects like codes, meaning, knowledge, and intelligence), as well as quantum information, bioinformation, knowledge economy, network science, computer science and Internet, to name but a few. At the same time, an increasing number of scientists in the East and the West have been engaged with the foundational problems underlying this development, to such an extent that the integration of disciplines revolving around information seems an idea whose time has come. A new science of information can be envisaged that explores the possibilities of establishing a common ground around the information concept, of constructing a new scientific perspective that connects the different information-related disciplines and provides a new framework for transdisciplinary research.

The purpose of this conference is thus:

  • to enable the discussion of different concepts, theories and approaches to the information field,
  • to facilitate the exchange between informational disciplines concerning different but complementary tasks, objects of study, and methodologies,
  • to network researchers and research institutions as well as knowledge transfer institutions in the promotion of the new science of information,
  • to create a new community of scholars and to promote a new style of scholarship,
  • to advance a new point of view on global problems.

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