Beyond Information

Information in the terms of information theory is the likelihood of the selection of messages in relation to all possible messages. Thus, if a selection is made from a number of possibilities which are all equally likely or unlikely, the information is high. The mathematical theory of information is linked to the concept of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. This says that the available degree of ordering of matter - and thereby the energy contained in it - is decreasing.

The arrow of time according to physics is this tendency to have less ordered systems, or rather to achieve an equilibrium at the minimum cost. As Weaver writes: “This situation is highly organized, it is not characterized by a large degree of randomness or of choice—that is to say, the information (or the entropy) is low”(Weaver 1949). In such a highly organised system a lot of energy is stored. For instance, some of the most ordered structures are crystall structures. The information is low, because in the three dimensional grid of a crystall it is mathematically, logically clear where the next point should be. If the crystall breaks apart, the energy gets released. Its not lost, no energy gets ever lost (first thermodynamic law) but it's not usable anymore. Entropy has increased. The key point here is that we have a relationship between information and energy. To 'have' information, to create it, to communicate it, always an expenditure of energy is necessary. Thus, we can say on a banal level, if we keep using computers which are built like they are now, we will loose the capacity to process information in foreseeable time. We can only hope that new, less energy intensive forms of computing will be invented.

Yet what information theorists are not concerned with is how the information gets produced and where it ends up. The production of new information is a miracle insofar as it was thought that only god can do it. While most people do not believe that anymore, the miraculous is still attached to the word creativity. If we stay with information theory then new information is a selection from possibilities already existing. In that sense the making of new information is not a creative act, since nothing is created. As we have become used to living in a world based on constant newness this poses a condundrum, because either this newness is fake or information theory becomes a hindrance to understanding the production of newness. If god is left out of the picture then the making of new things is a human activity, moreover a social activity insofar as to make something already implies to communicate it. The manuscript left in the drawer of the writer till after death is also a message. As Wiener explained, life is negative entropy, it is a local tendency to beat the second thermodynamic law, albeit only temporarily (Wiener 1948; Wiener 1988). Thus we have to consider the factors of time and living labour. Creativity is 99% transpiration and only 1% inspiration a famous French novelist said. We produce our works in the sweat of our faces.

The current global political economy is based on a system which combines the expectation of extremely high profits for financial investments with an expansion of the controlling power of capital through socalled Just-In-Time (JIT) production. Through JIT, it has been argued, the economy has moved from a push to a pull type system. As a new product leaves the salesroom the process is started which produces its replacement. It is of the utmost imperative to control the global logistics chains which bind together the world economy. The existence of that system at the same time exerts downward pressure on wage levels for low-skilled labour in the more developed countries. Not only in JIT, the most generalised management technique is that of controlling. Every step in the production chain is costed and the expectation of costs is matched with the outcome. Everybody living as a part of the global political economy is part of a system which manages time through costing, i.e. the management of the probability of information. While in the old factory discipline workers were told how to carry out their work, they have more lee-way in deciding how to do that, while narrow limits are set by time and performance figures. Rather than being controlled from outside workers have come to control - i.e rationalise - themselves and their colleagues to achieve the required output within the allowed time.

Thus, the system has achieved a high level of control of time and space, but at a price. The expenditure of energy to keep this system going is enormous and completely unsustainable. At the same time human life is subsumed under the controlling facilities of a cybernetic system, it seems as if our lives are controlled by information. Moreover we are obliged to produce that information ourselves, through our accountancy statements, our work reports, filling of forms, performance of duties.

The difficulties are exacerbated through the pressure from the financial markets. Here, a number of near magical operations are performed, as the financial markets constantly outperform productive industry. One of the ways this is done is by so called real-time trading. Financial assets are 'traded' on automated bourses where relatively small transactions are carried out in micro-seconds, much too fast for any human to make the decisions. Thus, the decision making facilities have been programmed into the systems. Small pieces of software, so called agents, bundled in multi-agent-systems, deal with financial assets whereby the human trader only keeps the overview and watches if the sum of positions nears a danger threshold, similar to how a worker in an automated factory does not perform work in the traditional sense apart from watching the dials and instruments. Real-time trading however, is not de-coupled from the real economy. It has very real consequences for pensions, insurance, the finances of nation states and the overall flow of allocation of capital. The current rise of the price of food is surely not only down to normal market fluctuations of supply and demand but also due to speculation. Thus, real-time trading coupled with real-time information - about markets, political volatility, disturbances of the smoothness of JIT - holds an indirect, seemingly impersonal but nevertheless strong power over the lives of people who follow the path of least resistance to be able to making a living. Statistically most people will do what seems easiest, they will follow those grooves which have been cut by previous decisions into the economic landscape of energy and information. Their space of possible decisions is 'low', hence they are not very 'creative'. As Wiener wrote, machine labour is slave labour and human labour that competes with machine labour is accepting the conditions of slave labour (Wiener 1988).

The conundrum which poses itself to us is how we can escape from the trap of information versus energy which we have set ourselves up, especially since we have advanced already quite far into that tunnel where we need ever increasing amounts of energy to produce fewer and fewer new information at an increasingly high cost, not mentioning the need to maintain also a 'memory' as a systemic capacity. As has been pointed out, living beings have a capacity to forget, or rather, to remember only that which they need at a given situation. We can forget things for now and remember them later when we need them. Actually, the memory will be there once we need it, although in the meanwhile we have not been aware or did not need to be aware of it. On the level of the global political economy the cost of memory becomes increasingly a problem, while technology is less davanced than nature, since it does not forget. Information always ever only adds up. Thus, the tendency toward the rise of entropy is concurrent with a decrease of information. As information in technical systems accumulates the space of probability shrinks, information as the measure of the probability of a selection, becomes less, not more.

For all those reasons outlined above, we need to move beyond information. I know I sound contradictory, as I have used the terms of information theory to show why we need to move beyond information. I have done so consciously to avoid any easy detour into metaphysics or spiritualism, trying to argue on a rational basis. After the destruction of Reason with capital R as a category of enlightenment, which was necessary to counter the false universalisms of the Euro-centric enlightenment viewpoint, we now need to move on. In the current phase it is urgent to recapture a different sense of reason and rationality. We need a better form of reasoning in order to get away from the path of self-destruction. Last time I looked the financial assets - in other words the accumulated debt which somebody owes somebody else - outweighed the real economy by 14:1.

Money, in its form as capital, is the potential power which some people hold over other people. In the information society money has become synonymous with information. From this point of view, the information society is a product of capital which fetishises information to the detriment of people. The fetishising tendency is manifest in the preferrence expressed for 'informational' or immaterial labour over manual labour. Even leftists fall into that trap as the phrase 'cognitive capitalism' shows which is used frequently by autonomous Marxists. It ascribes a mythical intelligence to capitalism only mirroring capitalism's mysticist tendencies in ascribing intelligence to machines. The global political economy is currently investing itself in the automation of the functions of the mind and of creativity itself. The crisis of the universities is the crisis of the concept of the knowledge economy. While industrialisation replaced human muscle power with machines, and so managed to take the sting out of the labour movements, it is now the turn for intellectuals, the professional classes and all kinds of knowledge workers to become exposed to machine labour, that is, to enter the position of near slave labour.

It is, acknowledgedly, a more comfortable type of slaving away, but a slaving no less it is, with an increasingly small degree of freedom for the autonomy of the individual, hence less creativity, less capacity to create new things. What we see is the call to order of intellectual labour in the rich countries. As intellectual labour is performing its duties it is destroying its own capacity to be a force for renewal. The term creative industries fades into memory as one of the more optimistic but doomed reflexes of the nineties and 2000s. Intellectual and creative labour in the information society has to battle the withdrawal of its own capacity to reproduce itself. To put it more simply, most artists are dead poor and most who work 'creatively' in the service industries are living precarious lives despite their demonstration of subservience to the needs of capital. The message to them now is that they are not so important after all, as funding for culture and education is cut.

One of the finest achievements of artistic creativity in the 20th century has been to create links between intellectual and manual labour and to uphold the utopia of non-alienated labour (Roberts 2007). Since the end of the avant-gardes this tendency has been obscured and its impulses weakened. Art has been unable to heal the deep systemic splits that separate manual and intellectual labour. Instead, it has come to heighten the segregation by emphasising the immateriality of the creative process in neo- and post-conceptual art. Art is affected by the generalisation of the principles of advanced productive modes of capital just like any other activity. If there is anything to be expected from art, it needs to develop models which shows us how we can go beyond information and the social stratifications it creates. Art needs to rediscover the smell of work and its vital links with all labour as a form of creation, not just those forms the system happens to privilege now.


Roberts, J., 2007. The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade, London: Verso.

Weaver, W., 1949. Recent contributions to the mathematical theory of communication. The mathematical theory of communication, pp.1–28.

Wiener, N., 1948. Cybernetics; or, Control and communication in the animal and the machine, Technology Press.

Wiener, N., 1988. The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society, Da Capo Press.


rediscovering also the smell of non- work - Viva la art strike!?

Hi armin

interesting text, thanks... sorry i don't feel sharp enough to comment directly, but it made me think about art as the handmaiden of capital, and the necesssity also to make dumb art, and the value of the art strike and participatory retreats-- which now i realise i wrote about here in my Sno Witch text here 2010

while i was researching this stuff last year i also came across and wrote a bit about suzi gablik and connective aesthetics which also ties in, altho a bit spiritual/metaphysical mebbe...

i am also thinking about 'traditional' societies...certainly is still happening within certain australian indigenous societies..the vital importance of the ceremonial function of art to renew the cycle of life, keep ecosystems balanced, etc..the ceremony can last for days or weeks... and combines manual (making masks, body painting etc) and symbolic labour (very abstracted forms of dance/movement)..

how can we make post-industrial ceremonies that aren't so much the fire andmetal spectacles of Survival Research Lab but more.....something else....

something about ceremonial unweavings of capital to remake new flying carpets