This is the third post in our series where we put a member of our society in the spotlight, and allow them to introduce themselves on the basis of a short interview.

Interview with Ken Herold

Q: The philosophy of information is a diverse field, and attracts people with very different backgrounds. Could you tell us a bit more about your academic background, and your current research?
A: I have a Master’s in Library and Information Studies from Berkeley (‘84) following my own diverse undergraduate study plan at Harvey Mudd College (sciences) and then San Francisco State University (humanities). I had been very fortunate to take the Mach-biographer, John Blackmore’s course on the Philosophical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Then the recently-founded Center for Process Studies at Claremont hosted a symposium attended by Bohm, Skinner, Pribram, Sperry, and others at which the principals insisted we students be invited to sit just behind the main discussion table. At a break I was introduced to Bohm and he essentially described the derivative nature of time, about which I had been obsessing (and still do). Later I took a course from Fritjof Capra, who dispelled my notions on general systems theory; and another with SETI-researcher and visionary Charles Seeger. Since the computer lab at Berkeley was still unfinished, my degree focussed on scholarly communications and information retrieval in an old school, theoretical sense. The next fork in the road was starting a family instead of PhD studies, but I kept up over the next 15 years post-grad reading and research on the philosophy of librarianship, such as it was, and the history of information retrieval. Along the way, Stewart Brand evangelized us in San Francisco on the coming online world. Then PI hit the scene for me in 2000, see the next question.

My current research looks to Turing 1936-37 for insight on his relation of intuition to computation, really the continuum from data to information. His mathematical philosophy is quite opaque, really like asides and almost self- commentary in the midst of that and following papers. I mine present research on cognition and memory for clues. My California life and academics has been particularly East-West laden, so my personal-professional study has been the Tibetan diaspora and resulting boon to the world of its treasury of philosophical and psychological texts. Robert Thurman at Columbia is a sterling advocate for its scholarly significance. It certainly informs my research and thoughts on a secular Buddhist information ethics.

Q: How did you learn about the philosophy of information? How does your research fit in, and what is the impact of PI on your research.
A: I avidly consumed Luciano Floridi’s 1999 monograph and recklessly asked him why chapter 4 regaled national libraries but ignored Library and Information Studies (LIS) as a source of theory! Yes, I am frequently blunt and rude! He was very kind at my impertinence and this prompted me to become an early pioneer for connecting PI and LIS. I began writing and attending the Computing and Philosophy conferences, later meeting Luciano, and I was in the audience for his stunning Open Questions lecture. I proposed an analogue set for LIS in a very loose manner, my writing is obtuse and arcane, I am afraid. Again in a blustering mood, I succeeded in proposing and delivering as editor the 2004 special issue of Library Trends on PI, needlessly cajoling authors in LIS to reply in some way to Floridi’s challenge to our turf. Fortunately, the volume was largely well-received and is employed in LIS programs, for which I am truly grateful and humbled. A reprise issue is in preparation at the moment for release in 2015. I also attended the first International Conference on PI in China at Xi’an last year and will resume my tentative work presented there soon.

Q: How do you envisage the future of PI within philosophy, within your own field, and as part of the information society?
A: LIS has continued to be challenged by a world ravenous for guidance on all areas of information study. I strongly believe PI is serving as a stimulus for uniting discussions globally–from Wu Kun in China, Hjorland, Brier, the FIS movement–and I hope including the new iSchool initiatives in LIS and our new networked society beyond. This philosophical discourse can clarify the multiple meanings of informational terminologies in each language, culture, profession and industry. This will elevate our efforts, not to a single, united information concept, but to a shared in-depth investigation of its richness. As far as PI in philosophy, we must persevere to overcome our fragmented academia to achieve an inclusive and opening environment for this new onlife generation.