[4] Information farming

I would like to use the information-food analogy (post [2]) one more time, in order to illuminate the process of information production. After the hunter-gatherer period (post [3]), we humans have learned to actively produce our food using the techniques of agriculture. By doing so, a large part of the environmental conditions necessary for the growth of food plants is brought under the control of the farmer: A specific part of soil is chosen, a specific type of seeds are sowed at the right time, water is supplied in the proper amount. The growth of the plant is monitored and actively protected from any perturbations. Despite all this external control, the biological growth process of the plant remains autonomous. We only have to provide good external conditions for this fascinating process of self-organization, in which nutrients distributed randomly in the soil and air are automatically integrated into the complex biochemical machinery of the plant. Due to our partial control of the necessary conditions and parameters of growth, we gain many advantages. For instance, as farmers we don’t need any longer be content with what we find in nature, but can produce exactly the food we need for our well-being.

Many of these observations can be transferred to the realm of information. In this analogy, an “information farmer” might correspond to a “knowledge worker” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki… ), a person that uses information fragments from the environment, combines them with her present mind-structure (post [2]) to new combinations which represent the product of her work. Note that this mental growth process of new ideas is also a self-organization process that is not fully under control of the individual. As professional knowledge workers, we have learned how to optimize the conditions for idea production to some extent, but the inner working of our mind is out of control.

I want to make a final point here: Although farmers in modern times produce food in order to sell it, the original setting of early agriculture was that of home gardeners that produced mainly for their own (families’) use. And just as home gardeners are convinced that their own vegetables taste best, I find that it is also most satisfying to live in a world of self-grown ideas. As a theoretical physicist, I can enjoy my own garden of ideas and even get paid for it !

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