I usually wimp out when it comes to learning hard mathematical stuff like what is required to have a working understanding of Information Theory. In this case, though, I am glad I let Christian convince me to give it a shot because it appears to be fundamental to things like how the brain works, intelligent design, statistical inference, cryptography, quantum computing and a ton of other stuff related to my work and/or are my avocational interests. I looked around for a decent introductory book that did not get so bogged down in the math that the big picture did not emerge. John R. Pierce’s book An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise seemed to be an almost universal choice to meet this criteria.

I am half way through the first chapter of the book. It has become abundantly clear that a full understanding of Information Theory is not really possible without an engagement with the math at a deep level. Nevertheless, a review at Amazon made the following observation about the book that makes me think I am on the right path. I might need to read one or more additional books to arrive at the working understanding I want, but this will definitely get me started at a level that does not discourage me from taking the next steps. Here is an excerpt from the review:

The book is geared towards non-mathematicians, but it is not just a tour. Pierce tackles the main ideas just not all the techniques and special cases. Perfect for: anyone in science, linguistics, or engineering.

Another thing that is abundantly clear is that Christian, in his current position with his current major professor and research sponsor, has an exceptional opportunity to get a strong grounding in the area of Information Theory and that such a grounding will serve him very well whether in whatever technical research pursuit he chooses when he finishes this degree. His first research project is the solution of a difficult problem that engages specifically with the material about which I am reading, but with mathematical rigor beyond the scope of the book.

If the material is not too tedious for a general blog like this, I plan to write about it more because it is so interesting. I am early in the book and engaged with topic of entropy as it is used in the field of Information Theory. Entropy has a very specific definition in this context and is different from entropy as that word is used in thermodynamics or statistical mechanics. The bigger deal for me is that I can see it has important ramifications for even the work I do in my day job.

**Betty Blonde **#183 – 03/30/2009

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