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The Value of Communication

It should be clear from the foregoing that entropic items can be valued only in the context of some communications process. For purposes of monetary valuation, we consider only a pair of individuals: a potential source (vendor) and sink (buyer) of an entropic item. For societal valuation, we consider multiple sources and sinks.

My attribution of value to communication, rather than to individual entropic items, is well-founded in Maxwell's theory of entropy and Shannon's theory of information. In Maxwell's theory, a steam engine obtains its motive force by harnessing the differential in entropy between hot steam and cooler water. Thus it makes sense to say that there is a value in having some hot steam near some cooler water, but it would be difficult to assign a value to having one without the other.

Shannon developed his theory of information as a means of understanding the nature of communication. In his theory, information is always conditional on prior knowledge: in particular, there is absolutely no information content in a message if its contents are completely pre-determined. Thus we can speak of the value of a message to a recipient who is initially uncertain of its contents, but it would be difficult to assign a value to a message without consideration of the recipient.

Similar considerations arise in the higher-order entropic categories of doctrine, knowledge and wisdom. To properly evaluate a doctrine, we must consider the credibility of the doctrinal source, from the point of view of the potential recipient. To evaluate a bit of knowledge, we must consider not only how it is used but by whom. And to evaluate a bit of wisdom, we must consider its net effect on the possessor's morality.

Clark Thomborson
Fri Oct 3 14:28:46 NZST 1997