Organised complexity, meaning and understanding

David Bawden (Department of Information Science, City University London, London, UK)

Aslib Proceedings

ISSN: 0001-253X

Publication date: 12 July 2007



The paper seeks to outline an approach to a unified framework for understanding the concept of “information” in the physical, biological and human domains, and to see what links and interactions may be found between them. It also aims to re‐examine the information science discipline, with a view to locating it in a larger context, so as to reflect on the possibility that information science may not only draw from these other disciplines, but that its insights may contribute to them.


The paper takes the form of an extensive literature review and analysis, loosely based on the approaches of Stonier, Madden and Bates, and including analysis of both scientific and library/information literature.


The paper identifies the concept of information as being identified with organised complexity in the physical domain, with meaning in context in the biological domain, and with Kvanvig's concept of understanding in the human domain. The linking thread is laws of emergent self‐organised complexity, applicable in all domains. Argues that a unified perspective for the information sciences, based on Popperian ontology, may be derived, with the possibility of not merely drawing insights from physical and biological science, but also of contributing to them. Based on Hirst's educational philosophy, derives a definition for the information sciences around two poles: information science and library/information management.


This is the only paper to approach the subject in this way.



Bawden, D. (2007), "Organised complexity, meaning and understanding", Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 59 No. 4/5, pp. 307-327.

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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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