Information/In-Formation: An Epistolary Exchange

It is a tribute to that peculiarly modern mixture of chance and globalism that, although Jaime Cárdenas-García and I both spent much of our childhoods in the northern Andes (Jaime in Ecuador and I in the neighbouring Colombia), and that though we both eventually came to have an interest in matters pertaining to signs, meaning, and information, it was at the University of Tartu, Estonia, that we first met.

I had just presented an overview of my research about wildlife observation and tourism as part of the Department of Semiotics’ Jakob von Uexküll lecture series. Thereafter we both gave papers in a conference organised by that same department, and which was about the Semiotics of Hybrid Natures. Jaime’s paper was titled ‘The Information Process of Hybrid Natures’.

When we discovered that we both spoke Spanish and shared something of a common geographic-cultural background, we devoted a good few hours between conference presentations to acquainting ourselves with each others’ vital histories and intellectual interests. One productive difference that soon became apparent was that while my own research started from semiotic phenomenology and the philosophy of Charles Sanders Pierce, Jaime’s research started from the theory of information, and the philosophy of Gregory Bateson.

The following exchange is the result of a friendly contest that emerged during our first conversations. Jaime suggested that my presentations had failed to address the central question of information. By contrast, I felt that Peircian semiotic categories were fundamental to information. What started out as brief (and of course frequently interrupted) discussions transmogrified into an email exchange; Jaime lives in Washington DC, and I in Bristol, England. At some point, it occurred to me that we ought to go beyond a purely informal (and private) exchange. Why not conduct the discussion as an exchange of ‘letters’, which we might then make more widely available to anyone interested in the subject?

Jaime agreed, and noted that doing so would encourage us to write more clearly and honestly by questioning our knowledge. He also suggested that the letters would transform what might otherwise be a simple exchange of views into a kind of research project – one with no predetermined outcome, and so more likely to be a contribution to knowledge about the subject.

Below you will find the epistolary (e-pistolary?) exchange, which we are making available as part of the Coenoscopics page of The letters may be accessed in one of two ways: each letter will appear as a separate pdf, presented by date and author (most recent letters first). If, however, you would like a single document with all of the letters up to and including the most recent, you will also be able to download a single Pdf labelled ‘All Letters So Far’.

Jaime and I hope that you will find the exchange meaningful, and thank you in advance for your interest.

Nils Lindahl Elliot

All Letters So Far

Letters by Date and Author