Information, Noise and Media in Michel Serres
Michel Serres’ philosophy of communication helps us understand how problems of mediation in information systems are mirrored in our relation to nature, to others and even to our image of mind and reason. In this paper I develop these themes through a discussion of Serres’ theories of the productive role of noise in the evolution of information systems.
In our usual notions of communication, noise is an unwanted third thing that interferes in what would other wise be a clear connection between a sender and a receiver. On closer reflection, though, noise is more complex. To being with, it always indicates the wider context, or milieu in which communication takes place. Any given message must pass through a medium. The medium generates effects that attach to the message. Noise, therefore, is an ineradicable feature of any communication. Noise is the presence of the medium through which the message must pass. The desire for immediacy that has driven the history of technology is a desire to eliminate the noisy presence of the medium. Each attempt to eliminate noise by filtering it through a new medium, however, in turn generates new kinds of noise. In other words, each new innovation in media promises to minimize noise. But because it has to instate a new kind of medium, it ends up generating a new kind of noise. This battle with the medium is never fully successful because we can never eliminate the space of transmission. There is always a context of communication, an environment and so there is always a noisy third term.
Keywords: Information theory, Mediation, embodiment, noise, Michel Serres
Associate Professor, Sociology and Humanities, Memorial University of Newfoundland