Counting distinctions: on the conceptual foundations of Shannon’s information theory

Synthese 168 (1):119-149 (2009)
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Abstract

Categorical logic has shown that modern logic is essentially the logic of subsets (or "subobjects"). Partitions are dual to subsets so there is a dual logic of partitions where a "distinction" [an ordered pair of distinct elements (u,u′) from the universe U ] is dual to an "element". An element being in a subset is analogous to a partition π on U making a distinction, i.e., if u and u′ were in different blocks of π. Subset logic leads to finite probability theory by taking the (Laplacian) probability as the normalized size of each subset-event of a finite universe. The analogous step in the logic of partitions is to assign to a partition the number of distinctions made by a partition normalized by the total number of ordered pairs |U|² from the finite universe. That yields a notion of "logical entropy" for partitions and a "logical information theory." The logical theory directly counts the (normalized) number of distinctions in a partition while Shannon's theory gives the average number of binary partitions needed to make those same distinctions. Thus the logical theory is seen as providing a conceptual underpinning for Shannon's theory based on the logical notion of "distinctions."

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David Ellerman
University of Ljubljana

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