As information is a central unifying concept in science playing a crucial role in many disciplines, scholars have a propensity to go beyond Shannon’s classical information theory and develop a unified theory of information (UTI). There is a faith among them that many hard problems involving purpose, function, meaning, consciousness and value can be solved, or be broken through in some aspect at least, with UTI.There are three strategies to develop UTI: pan-informationalism, methodological reductionism and transdisciplinary approach.
In this paper, I will argue against pan-informationalism and methodological reductionism and argue that transdisciplinary approach is much more promising. The difficulty to solve those hard problems is that the properties involved are hard to be incorporated into scientific theories, while a satisfied theory of information should explain these properties on the one hand and be consistent with those relevant scientific theories on the other hand. The problem of pan-informationalism is that it actually does not explain information except taking information a priori. In other words, it just names the difficulty rather than solves it. The problem of reductionism is that it leaves something out while this is what we want to explain.
Transdisciplinary approach takes every level and dimension seriously. Although each level and dimension cannot be reduced to others, it can converse to other levels and dimensions. Such conversion is not transformation in mathematical sense, which actually is a kind of reduction, but a perspective conversion like Gestalt switch. Specifically, information as a complex phenomenon comes across physical, individual and inter subjective level of the world; it has three dimensions: physical, referential and normative. Roughly, these levels and dimensions are one-to-one correspondence. A good way to study information should corporate these levels and dimensions into a coherent framework without taking information as the most primary or leaving something important out. Søren Brier’s cybersemiotics and Terrence Deacon’s model of nested hierarchy of information are such good transdisciplinary frameworks. These frameworks provides an ecology for information.