Information about Infermation

Alas, it turns out that I (and my Bangalore colleague) may not be able to claim coinage of the term “infermation” as introduced in a recent post.  The term shows up in 2004 in LexiconWiki, a wiki for playing a variant of the Lexicon Game.  The initial definition there is different from ours:

Infermation is what we can know about something from reports of that thing.

since our definition distinguished three categories: (1)  information derived from experience,  (2) information derived from the experience of others (and reported to us and taken as the case because of trust in the provenance), and finally, (3) that which can be inferred from either of these by the application of some sort of logic — infermation

But they add an interesting twist as their definition continues:

Infermation is most commonly available about long lost texts, and the pattern of human history means that many sources of Infermation are several generations removed from the thing under examination.

You may rightly be getting suspicious of this source as it is starting to sound odd (and it gets odder), but, let’s do note that there are some things that would fit both definitions.  Two examples that come to mind are proto-languages and “ur-texts.”  For historical linguists, known languages and the logic of linguistics allow us to infer the existence of proto-indoeuropean, even though no examples have ever been found.  Similarly, we sometimes posit the existence of a never found “ur-text” that must have preceded some known text.  So far so good, but their definition starts to head off into other directions after this,  progressively verging on nonsense (in the conventional, not Wittgensteinian, sense):

Sources may, obviously, vary a great deal, ranging from direct assessments, both academic and popular, of the thing in question, to notes and references, index lists, bibliographies, catalogues and assorted general remarks. The acceptance of Infermation as valid and valuable has allowed academics to make many advances that would otherwise have been impossible. The Infermatic industry, which first flourished on Alphas, has grown throughout the academic community, promoting and assessing the use of Infermation and producing dedicated Infermatics for both academic and general consumption. [read more]

From there the 2004 source veers more and more off the road.  After intense scrutiny, my confidence in our (re-)coinage has returned.  Maybe I should have typed “infermation tm”

Author: Dan Ryan

I've been an Academic Program Director at, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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