Entropy as a trope: Yuri Lotman’s general theory of communication as a case study in interdisciplinarity
This study considers the dialogue in the USSR between semiotics, cybernetics, and information theory, as a case study of the complexities of conceptual transfer between disciplines. Yuri Lotman’s use of the concept of entropy in literary criticism is especially telling. Information theory defines entropy in terms of a system’s complexity and predictability, while its metaphoric use outside that discipline connotes chaos and destruction. Lotman’s use of the term oscillates between these contradictory meanings and exemplifies both his development as a thinker leading towards his concept of the explosion, and his position as an intermediary figure (a mediator, to use his own term) between scientific and literary discourse. The tensions and the promise of a transient point of interdisciplinary encounter in 1960s Russia foreshadow current forays at dialogue between the sciences and the humanities, and illuminate, more generally, the gray area between literal and metaphorical uses of one discipline’s terminology in another disciplinary context.