By Way of Differentiation

The data is in the difference.

From The Information, by James Gleick:

Two Letters of the Alphabet being transposed through five Places, will yield thirty two Differences, and so will more than serve for the Four and twenty Letters; unto which they may be thus applied.

Two symbols. In groups of five. “Yield thirty two Differences.”That word, differences, must have struck Wilkins’s readers (few though they were) as an odd choice. But it was deliberate and pregnant with meaning. Wilkins was reaching for a conception of information in its purest, most general form. Writing was only a special case: “For in the general we must note, That whatever is capable of a competent Difference, perceptible to any Sense, may be a sufficient Means whereby to express the Cogitations.”A difference could be “two Bells of different Notes”; or “any Object of Sight, whether Flame, Smoak, &c.”; or trumpets, cannons, or drums. Any difference meant a binary choice. Any binary choice began the expressing of cogitations. Here, in this arcane and anonymous treatise of 1641, the essential idea of information theory poked to the surface of human thought, saw its shadow, and disappeared again for four hundred years.

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