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Information Theory and Listening

Information Theory and Listening

Information theory grew out of scientists' interest in electronic communication systems. In 1948, MIT's Norbert Wiener published Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Wiener said information didn't go “down” or “out,” but “through” a cyclic system and back again. To help explain his ideas, he coined a term well known to trainers: feedback.

As mathematicians and engineers developed information theory (also called “communication theory”), it came to be applied to nonelectronic systems, including those for “human information processing.” Listening is now described as one activity in a relational process; speaking is the other. Together they make a dyadic (two-part) system. “Speech,” as described by Norbert Wiener in The Human Use of Human Beings—Cybernetics and Society, “is a joint game between the talker and the listener against the forces of confusion.”


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