#TMOI (The Meanings Of Information, June 27, 2015):

SynTalk thinks about information, while constantly wondering about its physical nature and computability. Is there information in the universe irrespective of human beings or life? Does all the meaning come from a protocol, and what if there is no shared language? Does a protocol or a context need to pre exist? The concepts are derived off / from Laplace, Carnot, Boltzmann, Shannon, Ronald Fisher, Kolmogorov, T S Eliot, Warren Weaver, & Nørretranders, among others. We retrace the journey of the notion of information within (say) thermodynamics, electrical engineering, neurolinguistics, mathematics, and computational systems, & notice how the core departure was to think of it as measurable? Does the universe speak in one language? Does ignorance go down when information is received, and is ignorance analogous to disorder? Is entropy an anthropomorphic principle, as it assumes an underlying notion of order? How, in language, the norm (order) can be identified directly from a close study of the deviation from the norm (disorder). How the brain or any system may learn how to learn and negotiate meaning via ‘bootstrapping’? Is the nature of ‘input’ processing different from information processing as the neural networks are formed in a child’s brain? What makes data information for the receiver? Why does an internal combustion engine ‘have’ to dump out the disorder via the exhaust to direct order to the wheels? Can one think of information content as an objective ‘event cone’ with past and future imprinted in it? Is all time eternally present? Is there a fundamental unit (say, bit or qubit) of information, & is it discrete or continuous or both? How & why are the first and second language signals stored differently in the brain? What is the role played by shared context (exformation) and commonality in communication? Are there different mathematical theories of communication, information content and complexity? The links between wax, steam engines, Voyager, heads or tails, ‘motive power of fire’, critical period hypothesis, It from Bit, falling stones, the case of Chelsea’s misdiagnosis, Four Quartets, ‘I do’, heat death, & Schrodinger’s cat. Can we forget something if we explicitly want to? Does nature forget (information)? Will we drown in the crazy amount of information in the future, or will we develop new tools to handle complexity? Do we need to understand human mind & cognition better? Can we communicate with animals and (may be) aliens in the future? ‘If a lion could speak, we could not understand him’. The SynTalkrs are: Prof. Vaishna Narang (biolinguistics, JNU, New Delhi), Prof. Rajaram Nityananda (astrophysics, Azim Premji University, ex NCRA-TIFR, Bangalore), & Prof. R. Ramanujam (computer science, IMSc, Chennai).

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TMOI show.

Prof. Vaishna Narang (biolinguistics) is currently a Professor of Linguistics & former Dean of School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at JNU, Delhi. Prof. Narang has been teaching since 1973 after completing her M.A in Linguistics from Delhi University. She completed her Ph.D in Linguistics from JNU in 1983. While in JNU, since 1985, Prof. Narang has taught and developed several new courses at M.A. and M.Phil levels in General and Applied Linguistics as well as General and Applied Speech Sciences, such as Grammatical Theories and Models, Language Pedagogy, Acoustics and Experimental Phonetics, Language-Mind and Brain Studies, Neurolinguistics and Disorders of Communication, Neuro-cognitive Linguistics, Developmental Psycholinguistics, Sign Language, and Sign Linguistics. Her publications include 13 completed books, monographs and project reports (in Hindi & English) and 4 books under publication. She has published / presented (in seminars) more than 85 articles & research papers. She was awarded the title of Visiting Professor by Essex University (2010 to 2013). She also consults with DSLC (Diplomatic Service Language Centre), FCO/ UK for syllabi and course material development for Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu for British Diplomats training in these languages in the UK.

Prof. Rajaram Nityananda (astrophysics) is a physicist whose interest in light took him from the theory of the colours of liquid crystals, to the mathematics of polarisation, the formation and processing of images in astronomy and the bending of light from distant objects by the gravity of other objects near the light path. Astronomy led to dynamical but also statistical questions – the behaviour of a large number of stars in a galaxy under their mutual gravitational forces, or a number of galaxies in an expanding universe. Prof. Nityananda has developed the theory of light propagation in cholesteric liquid crystals, predicting the optical analogue of the Borrmann effect. More than two decades at the Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore (1975 – 2000) gave him the freedom to pursue these interests, in addition to forays into condensed matter physics. A decade at the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA-TIFR) in Pune, as the Director (2000 – 2010), gave him a chance to pursue and contribute to the concrete application of theory in an observatory setting. A long standing urge to teach has found outlets at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and IISER Pune. He is currently at the Azim Premji University (APU), Bangalore.

Prof. R. Ramanujam (computer science) got his B.E. (Hons) in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from BITS, Pilani and his Ph.D. in (Mathematical foundations of) Computer Science from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. After post-doctoral research in New York, he has been at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), Chennai where he is currently a Professor. His research interests are in mathematical logic and theory of computation, and their applications to theory of distributed systems, game theory and security theory. He has held adjunct positions with  universities in Germany and the USA, and is on the editorial board of three journals. In 2010, he was elected Lorentz Fellow of the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies. Prof. Ramanujam was a member of the Yash Pal Committee for National Curriculum Framework 2005, and chaired the National Focus Group on Teaching of Mathematics, NCERT. He writes extensively on science and mathematics for school children and teachers, especially in Tamil.

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.