Chris Fields Research
Research questions, recent publications ...
Sonoma, CA, USA
Caunes Minervois, France
Photo: Kym Yorke
What is information?
What does it mean to have some information? What does it mean to get some information? We open our eyes and instantly get new information about what's going on around us. How? What happens when we open our eyes? What about us changes when we get new information? Photons hit our eyes, rhodopsin molecules are activated, neurons fire ... but where's the information?
What makes information meaningful?
Information theory as developed by Shannon and colleagues in the mid-20th century tell us how to measure the amount of information in a signal. It tells us nothing about what that information means. So what's going on when we look at a page and see a bunch of little squiggles that mean something? What's going on when you read this sentence - what makes it more than just squiggles? What's happening when you look at a friend's face and see happiness? How do you recognize your friend's face at all? When you're driving and see a light turn red, what tells you to stop?
What is memory?
All of this has something to do with memory. But what? What does it mean to record some information somewhere and then be able to find it later? When you find something in memory, how do you know it's the same information you recorded? Could you tell if it's changed? Think about what you did yesterday. How do you know any of that happened?
What are objects?
We see the world as made up of more-or-less separate things that we can manipulate individually. How does that work? What's going on when an infant figures out that the moving thing she's watching is her own hand? Suppose you pick up a coffee cup. What else happens in the world as a result? Nothing? How do you know? How would you go about finding out?
What is time? What is space? What is causation?
These are traditionally regarded as philosophical questions, but they are also questions with practical importance to physics, computer science, biology, cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology. As an interdisciplinary information scientist, I mainly work on these questions from a scientific perspective, with the aim of developing predictions precise enough to be tested experimentally. It seems to me that all of these questions revolve around the single question: "what is a boundary?" Hence all of my work, even my recent investigation of the boundaries of scientific disciplines, attempts to understand how boundaries are drawn and what they look like. I mainly work on these questions from the perspectives of physics (some background on the physics of boundaries) and cognitive neuroscience (some background on the cognitive neuroscience of boundaries). I've also explored this question of boundaries using visual art.