By: Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver
Dr. Stephen Hillis
23 February 2012
The study of communication has long been a formidable presence in the world of academia and a topic of discourse among its influencing scholars. Since ancient times when rhetoric, oratory and persuasion were vital to the Greek and Roman empires, communication and the study thereof has endured. And it can be traced back even farther to the beginnings of civilization. Because of its widespread, necessary and self-evident use, communication has been labeled the most humanizing activity one can engage in. And today, communication and its associated particulars have developed further and become a field that not only permeates almost every area of academia and human culture but also changes the reality of the world we live in. It has grown from a “means to and end” perspective to being viewed as an integral part of the human condition that creates and shapes everything around us. It is not a way of life; it is what creates the ways of life.
This evolution of thought or the realization of what communication actually is has been established over many thousands of years and been impacted on different levels by those who were both fascinated by its content and dedicated to understanding its complex intricacies. Two such individuals that acquired a thirst for the exposition of communication were Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver.
In 1949, when the telephone had already been invented (1876) and digital computers had recently been developed (tools for digital messaging), Shannon, an electrical engineer and Weaver, a mathematician, formulated what is know today as Information Theory in response to the technological advance by researching fundamental limits on signal processing operations. The result, a published work titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” (1963) dealt with the issue of noise influence on how much of a message arrived at its intended destination. More specifically, Shannon and Weaver sought to address communication problems on three different levels.
Level A: “How accurately can the symbols of communication be transmitted?” Level B: “How precisely do the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning?” Level C: “How effectively does the received meaning affect conduct in the desired way?” (Shannon, Ch.1) While Shannon focused more on the engineering and mathematical implications of the theory in relation to technology, it was Weaver who offered philosophical insight into the more practical area of interpersonal communication.
It is Shannon and Weavers Information Theory that this composition will research in an attempt to explain, give credence to by appropriate, real-life application and critique so as to identify the effect this particular aspect of communication has had on the field as a whole. Furthermore this research article will include personal insight and interpretation of the theory as it applies to the authors experience in life.
Information Theory has been dubbed the mother theory of communication and rightly so; almost every communication theory operates under the assumed umbrella of Shannon and Weavers mathematical model. The model, shown in Figure 1, illustrates the linear perspective of communication that Information theory personifies. Information begins at one end of the spectrum, travels through a number of processing centers and eventually arrives at its destination, all the while, noise inhibiting this process. To understand the effects of noise on a message, Shannon came up with the concept of entropy; a measure of uncertainty associated with the contents of a message. This concept represents the best possible procured message after having traveled through the various processing centers; that is the closest a message can be to its original content and context...