– Bruce Long

My specialisation is the philosophy of information and information theory (you can find some easily consumable material at informationist.info).  This is a very analytic and scientifically attuned kind of philosophy, but it does in fact have some overlap with continental philosophy. The overlap does not (only) come from the usual source: the crossover between philosophy of mind and phenomenological existentialism (the fancy term, you may remember, for describing conscious experience from an existentialist or “existing as a perceiving/experiencing being” perspective). The common ground is located more in the surprising nexus of aesthetic theory, psychology, and the relationship between aesthetic perception and psychology (most centrally in the work of literary and aesthetic theorists like Wolfgang Iser via the surprising work of little known French analytic-cum-continental philosopher and physicist Abram Moles).

This intersection of philosophical disciplines is reflected in planning philosophy at the point at which the psychological and physical health of an agent as related to psychophysical stimuli and especially to their aesthetic perception of their environment. Basically, living in a busy, crowded, overly uniform concrete jungle is not regarded – and does not measure as being – as  healthy (on a normative and statistically corrected basis) as living in an attractive urban setting with greenspace that gives the inhabitant an impression of Utopia. Notwithstanding the fact that aesthetic perception is greatly subjective (some people might thrive in a colourless concrete jungle), the point is that there are statistically measurable (using psychoanalytic and neuroscientific tools) trends towards the appreciation of Eden-like, Utoptian-like living spaces.

There are theories of the nature of information that regard that it is primarily subjectively and psychologically determined or realised, but these are not the only theories of how information exists and is realised. Other theories of information regard that it is realised mathematically and Platonically (as some kind of abstracta), and according to yet others it is physically and objectively realised (I favour these views). This reveals another area where the philosophy of information and that of urban planning overlap: information science. This intersection of aesthetic theory, aesthetic perception, and psychological health benefits of the right kind of lived environment is not the only place where information theory informs planning theory and philosophy.

Apart from systems to measure quantities associated with human geography (the impact that human populations have on the landscapes they inhabit) and geographic information systems, there are other uses of information science – and therefore information theories of different varieties (there are several) – that impact planning practice. There are three state of the art praxes in which information science is deployed in urban and city planning, all three of which directly reflect important sub-disciplines in the philosophy of information and information theory. They are game theory, which is deployed in situation analyses for planning, ontology and epistemology, which is integrated into information science in a surprisingly direct way and used to help manage the large number of variables associated with planning projects, and then finally there is the use of semantic conceptions of information in all of these undertakings, which by its very definition is almost completely the domain of the philosophy of information. All of these disciplines and subdisciplines have very direct links with the philosophy of information and information theory.

Semantic Web

The question of the nature, definition, and use of semantic information is one of the primary examples of where information science and therefore city planning not only reflect – but positively need to engage with – the philosophy of information. The question of the nature of semantic information and how it should be defined and understood is one of the most important questions in information science and information theory, and it is mostly philosophers of information that are trying to work it out.

So planning philosophy exists not only on the basis that in many settings political philosophy directly influences it, but also by dint of very direct overlap with my own discipline – the philosophy of information and information theory.


Bibliography and References

  1. Guite, H. F., Clark, C., & Ackrill, G. (2006). The impact of the physical and urban environment on mental well-being. Public Health, 120(12), 1117–1126.

Links of Interest

Information is Intrinsically Semantic but Alethically Neutral