I am learning quantum computing and as a background study, I am currently learning fundamentals of classical information theory. I thought it best to ask my doubts here. In Nielsen and Chuang, it is stated that mutual information I(X:Y) of two random variables X and Y is the information they have in common while in some books, it is written that mutual information I(X:Y) is the information one variable(say X) has about the other(say Y). I can't understand it intuitively how the two definitions are equivalent. Also, the symmetric property of mutual information,i.e., I(X:Y)=I(Y:X) is obvious to me from the first definition but not from the second one.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see any definitions in your post. The mutual information between two random variables is given by a formula. Your "definitions" are just interpretations of this formula. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ What is the motivation behind the formula? Also, how are these two "interpretations" equivalent? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ You can read Shannon’s 1948 paper, where he introduces mutual information. It is the right quantity to consider in some contexts. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 6:26
  • $\begingroup$ How do I prove that S(X)-S(X|Y) = S(Y)-S(Y|X)? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


You can define the mutual information as $I(X;Y) = H(X) - H(X|Y)$. This definition is symmetric in $X,Y$ since $$ H(X)-H(X|Y) = H(X) - \sum_y \Pr[Y=y] H(X|Y=y) = \\ \sum_x \Pr[X=x] \log \frac{1}{\Pr[X=x]} - \sum_y \Pr[Y=y] \sum_x \Pr[X=x|Y=y] \log \frac{1}{\Pr[X=x|Y=y]} = \\ \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x,Y=y] \log \frac{1}{\Pr[X=x]} - \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x,Y=y] \log \frac{\Pr[Y=y]}{\Pr[X=x,Y=y]} = \\ \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x,Y=y] \log \frac{\Pr[X=x,Y=y]}{\Pr[X=x]\Pr[Y=y]}, $$ and this expression is symmetric in $X,Y$.

This calculation also shows that if $X,Y$ are independent then $I(X;Y) = 0$, since then $\Pr[X=x,Y=y] = \Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y]$.

Moreover, if we write $$ I(X;Y) = \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y] \frac{\Pr[X=x,Y=y]}{\Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y]} \log \frac{\Pr[X=x,Y=y]}{\Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y]}, $$ then the convexity of $z\log z$ implies that $I(X;Y) \geq z\log z$, where $$ z = \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y] \frac{\Pr[X=x,Y=y]}{\Pr[X=x] \Pr[Y=y]} = \sum_{x,y} \Pr[X=x,Y=y] = 1. $$ Thus $I(X;Y) \geq 0$.


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