The information content of nudity

I just dashed off a reply to a comment on the post about Clothing and metaclothing. It dealt with something that hadn’t specifically occurred to me before, yet seems like it might be a fertile way to think about the issue.

So I’ll elevate the reply to a post here. It’s based on the mathematical theory of information. But don’t be intimidated by the terminology. The idea is pretty easy to understand. As you’ll see, the information content of being naked can be much more than zero. Here’s what I wrote (with a few additions):

Nudity can be measured in terms of information content. In information theory, the information content of a message is the amount of “surprise” the message carries. For instance, if you wear the same type of clothing every day – same style and color, for example – there is no surprise, and hence essentially no information contained in what you are wearing. But if one day you don’t wear any clothes there will be a great deal of surprise for anyone who doesn’t know you like being naked.

By the same token, if you live somewhere you can be naked every day, then nobody who knows you will be surprised if you’re also naked tomorrow. Then the information content of your nudity will be zero. But if you wear clothes tomorrow, the information content will be high. Perhaps it means you’re going somewhere clothing will be required. So the amount of information contained in either clothing or nudity can be any (nonnegative) number, depending on circumstances.

This leads to a further thought: An information content of zero can be rather boring – no surprises. There’s no novelty, hence no information, in being naked all the time, without additions of any kind (like jewelry or bodypaint). So if one doesn’t want to be considered a boring person, it may be necessary to find ways to vary one’s appearance from total nudity. On the other hand, if one always wears clothes, perhaps going naked will add a bit of pizzazz to one’s social profile. Something to think about.

To further expand on that, taking into account the information content of any clothing (or “metaclothing”) underscores the important point that any type of clothing, including especially nudity, communicates a very real message to other people. The information content of the message can vary but the message itself is very real, even if the message is “this person is naked”.

In our society, where nudity is very rare, the information content of being naked is therefore usually quite large. And so any laws that exist against nudity actually deprive people of the ability to exchange measurably large quantities of something – information.

In other words, anti-nudity laws amount to confiscation by the government of a valuable commodity.

This entry was posted in Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Political issues and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The information content of nudity

  1. Soo… society’s taboos against nudity protect us from information overload! Makes sense; many people seem to be extremely limited in their ability to acquire, absorb, process and make sense of information available. Hence: religious organizations and political parties which will do it for them!

  2. Pingback: The information content of nudity | simplenaturist

  3. Small Change says:

    I will grant that being nude as opposed to the norm of be dressed has a high information content. However, I must ask, what is the information that is being transmitted by sudden nudity? Of what value is that information?

    Perhaps I’m missing the point of this post. Further discussion, perhaps offline, would be appreciated. I’m interested in learning!


    • This is a good place to have that discussion.

      What is the information being transmitted? That depends on various factors. It might simply be that the individual who’s naked is open-minded, not a blind follower of conventions that seem unreasonable, or just discovered it’s pleasurable to be naked. If that seems out of character based on your previous knowledge of the individual, perhaps he/she has had a change of mind. What is the value of that information? Simply that you now know more about the person. Whether that’s useful or not depends on your relationship to the person. If it’s a friend, you will probably care, one way or the other. If it’s a person you don’t know, perhaps it’s someone you’d like to be friends with. Or maybe not.

      However, there might be other visible factors that suggest a different interpretation. For example, perhaps the person is drunk or high on drugs. There will probably be other indications if so. Such information is probably of significant value.

      In general, you may have to consider the context to interpret the information and decide on its value. Is it a clothing-optional beach or remote hiking trail? A private home? Or perhaps it’s someplace public where people could be upset to encounter nudity. Such details will help decide how to interpret it.

      In any case, it’s quite possible the person who’s naked wants to communicate something – and may be eager to have a conversation about it. That’s information itself. You could just ask about it if you want clarification.

      • Small Change says:

        I see your point now, however, such information would be very much subject to misinterpretation as each person “sees” through the prism their bias.

      • It’s still real information, real (attempted) communication, even if it’s “misinterpreted” by some people.

        In fact, a lot of people do have difficulty perceiving what other people are signaling in their nonverbal behavior, such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. It’s like some people are blind and/or deaf to such things. “Bias” is certainly one possible reason for misperception. It’s natural for people to misunderstand the point of view of others they disagree with. But sometimes the problem is even deeper. Some people just don’t perceive social cues very well at all. They are unaware that signals are even being sent.

        The information is still there, anyhow.

      • yden4466 says:

        Perhaps the problems with misreading non-verbal communication is because we’ve allowed ourselves to be encased in clothing whether it’s necessary or not and because of that cutting off of the skin-sensory-environmental input which renders us unable to fully understand one another.

      • An interesting possibility that nudity could help people improve their ability to understand non-verbal communication. I wonder whether there’s evidence for it. Perhaps others would like to comment on whether their personal experience supports this. From the frequency of squabbles and disagreements I’ve witnessed among nudists and naturists, I’m not sure nudity is a sure-fire means to the end of better understanding.

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