Re: [OPE] intermission: value of knowledge

From: wpc <>
Date: Thu Dec 10 2009 - 10:07:50 EST

Paula wrote:
> Dave wrote:
> "Apart from the sub-field of lossy source coding, modern information
> theory does not consider the utility of the information because that
> is agent-dependent. But this approach has enabled and sustained the
> development of communication and information technologies since the
> 1950s. Name any industrial product and you can find how information
> theory has improved it in some way."
> I don't doubt that information theory has made a contribution. But I
> hope you'll agree that it hasn't produced those industrial products
> all by itself. Human agents - aka workers, consumers, etc - have also
> played a part. It seems to me that a complete theory of information,
> if such a thing is possible, would have to incorporate all the moments
> in the cycle, perhaps starting with information in nature, the
> evolution of the mind, etc; then looking at how human beings extract
> and/or produce information, sometimes in the form of material
> products, sometimes in other forms; then at how that information is
> decoded or consumed, used in further processes, etc. The theory that
> you refer to considers only one aspect or (or moment) of this process;
> but the agent-dependent aspects should be included if we are to have a
> full - and humanistic - theory.
> In any case, once we had such a theory, would we be any closer
> to knowing whether 'knowledge labor' produces value? We already have a
> theory of value, which rests on a distinction between concrete and
> abstract labor. This seems to me the place to start.
 The question that may be worth considering is why labour creates value,
and how we should understand
abstract labour in that context.

In Marx we get abstract labour identified with energy: abstract
expenditure of human labour power over time. To the extent that in the
past human muscles were the main source of energy, and that labour was
predominantly hard physical effort, this is realistic. But it raises
problems when we characterise abstract

why for example did the hard effort put in by horses and oxen not create
value, or did it in fact do so in times past?

why did Watt's tireless steam engine not create value with the effort it
put in?

My take on this is that horses and steam engines are not universal. They
can not do any
type of work, only specific types. The steam engine actually turned out
to be applicable to
a very large range of tasks , but its adaptability was nothing compared
to that of a person.

Why are people so adaptable?

Because we can both pass on to others information we have discovered,
and also because they
can learn new skills by either watching and imitating, or by listening
to or reading instructions.
Individual humans thus become the bearers of and operatives for,
socially produced information.
It is because we have passed a certain threshold in information
processing capacity - that required
to use language - that we have this universality.

It is this universal potential of people that makes their time the
ultimate resource available to
society and, in turn, makes their time the source of value.
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Received on Thu Dec 10 10:16:08 2009

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