• Wayfarer
    6.9k
    The title basically says it. I am questioning whether information, generally speaking, is physical. I do have an argument as to why it not be considered physical, but I have found there is an influential point of view, from a researcher by the name of Rolf Landauer, that information is physical. The reason he says that, is basically because:

    whenever we find information, we find it inscribed or encoded somehow in a physical medium of whatever kind.

    This is taken from this page which aggregates various articles about Landauer.

    It seems, on face value, that this is mistaken to me, but then, Landauer was the head of IBM Research Labs, and I'm just an amatuer. But I have nothing to lose, so I'll give it a shot.

    My argument for the sense in which information is NOT physical can be illustrated with respect to the following thought-experiment.

    There is a sentry in a watchtower, looking through a telescope. The watchtower stands on top of a headland which forms the northern entrance to a harbour. The sentry’s job is to keep a lookout.

    When the sentry sees a ship on the horizon, he sends a signal about the impending arrival. The signal is sent via a code - a semaphore, comprising a set of flags.

    One flag is for the number of masts the ship has, which provides an indication of the class, and size, of the vessel; another indicates its nationality; and the third indicates its expected time of arrival - before or after noon.

    When he has made this identification he hoists his flags, and then tugs on a rope which sounds a steam-horn. The horn alerts the shipping clerk who resides in an office on the dockside about a mile away. He comes out of his office and looks at the flags through his telescope. Then he writes down what they tell him - three-masted ship is on the horizon; Greek; arriving this afternoon.

    He goes back inside and transmits this piece of information to the harbourmaster’s cottage via Morse code, where it is written in a log-book by another shipping clerk, under ‘Arrivals’.

    In this transaction, a single item of information has been relayed by various means. First, by semaphore; second, by Morse code; and finally, in writing. The physical forms and the nature of the symbolic code is completely different in each step: the flags are visual, the morse code auditory, the log book entry written text. But the same information is represented in each step of the sequence.

    The question I want to explore is: in such a case, what stays the same, and what changes?

    It seems to me that whilst the representation is physical, the idea that is being transmitted is not physical, because it is totally separable from the physical form that the transmission takes. One could, after all, encode the same information in any number of languages, engrave it in stone, write it with pencil, etc. In each instance, the physical representation might be totally different, both in terms of linguistics and medium; but the information is the same.

    How, then, could the information be physical?
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k
    whenever we find information, we find it inscribed or encoded somehow in a physical medium of whatever kind.

    Is this actually the gist of his argument? Clearly, even within this actual sentence, information is distinctly demarcated from physical transmission. I'm a lazy bastard and didn't read through the subsequent link, maybe there's more there? But I trust that you pulled out a quote that gave the main argument?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    that seems to be the main axiom. It seems plainly wrong to me but it seems widely accepted.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k


    Ok. I guess we can wait for the oncoming barrage.
  • apokrisis
    4.5k
    How, then, could the information be physical?Wayfarer

    One little fact that should give pause for thought. When Shannon discovered the way to quantify the information content of a message, it turned out the equation was the same as the one Boltzmann had discovered for quantifying physical entropy.

    Spooky coincidence or....
  • unenlightened
    2.9k
    Most physicalists used to subscribe to some version of the stuff and structure ontology. There is stuff, and stuff is structured, but structure is not more stuff. The really hot physicists these days dispense with the stuff, and manage with just structure. So worse than information is physical, they claim that physicality is informational.
  • MikeL
    644
    Information transmission seems physical enough - the message though is conceptual. Is that what you're getting at?

    I'm not exactly sure which one of these two Landauer was referring to. Has he conflated them? The idea of transmission of anything seems physical.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    When Shannon discovered the way to quantify the information content of a message,apokrisis

    But Shannon's seminal paper was about something specific, namely, the transmission of information between sender and receiver, was it not?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    The idea of transmission of anything seems physical.MikeL

    'Seems physical' is a bit vague, isn't it? Read the flag/semaphore example again. When that information is transmitted, it goes through a number of transformations - flag, morse code, written text. All those representations are physical but the actual information is something different to that.
  • MikeL
    644
    All those representations are physical but the actual information is something different to that.Wayfarer

    That would be the conceptual component I mentioned wouldn't it?
    Physical is being used in the broadest sense to include everything from beating a drum to TV transmissions and telepathy.

    I don't think I quite get your point. Can you elaborate a little more?
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k
    Can you elaborate a little more?MikeL

    It seems simple enough; something is being transmitted reliably through various physical mediums. Something is being communicated.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k


    Is an idea physical?
  • MikeL
    644
    Concept - Transmission - Transmission is physical, concept not. No?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    I agree with @unenlightened on this.
    There is stuff, and stuff is structured, but structure is not more stuff.
    .

    The facticity of the world is the absence of reason for any reality, there is no ultimate ground for the existence of any being. The world is what it is, the structure we discern is not in the world as such, it is only in what we discern about the world.
  • Galuchat
    482
    Ok. I guess we can wait for the oncoming barrage. — Noble Dust

    More like: sharks smelling blood in the water, circling their prey, anticipating a feeding frenzy.

    The really hot physicists these days dispense with the stuff, and manage with just structure. So worse than information is physical, they claim that physicality is informational. — unenlightened

    Correct.
    John Archibald Wheeler writes:
    “It from bit”. Otherwise put, every “it” every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence (even if in some contexts indirectly) from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom a very deep bottom, in most instances an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.

    Wheeler, J.A.: Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information. In: Zureck, W.H. (ed.). Addison Wesley, Redwood City (1990).

    But instead of worse, even better: information can be physical and/or psychophysical.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k
    More like: sharks smelling blood in the water, circling their prey, anticipating a feeding frenzy.Galuchat

    >:O Give me a break.

    “It from bit”. Otherwise put, every “it” every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence (even if in some contexts indirectly) from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom a very deep bottom, in most instances an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a
    participatory universe.
    Galuchat

    The religious ecstasy is more than palpable.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    The world is what it is, the structure we discern is not in the world as such, it is only in what we discern about the world.Cavacava

    The problem with that, is that maths is predictive. See Eugene Wigner's The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.
  • Galuchat
    482
    The religious ecstasy is more than palpable.Noble Dust

    John Archibald Wheeler was a theoretical physicist. What does religious ecstasy have to do with his quote?
  • Cavacava
    2.4k


    Our understanding nature is not the same as nature, regardless of the predictive successes of any science, what is in-itself is not an obtainable point of view, stronger version it cannot even be thought. The world as it is, it could be otherwise.
  • Galuchat
    482


    Here's a quote from another religious fanatic you may find amusing:
    Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.

    Wiener, N.: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 2nd edn. MIT Press, Cambridge (1961)
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k


    Yes, hilarious >:O Thanks for that!
  • Galuchat
    482


    Wait. There's more:
    In both cases [Wheeler & Wiener], physics ends up endorsing an information-based description of nature. The universe is fundamentally composed of data, understood as dedomena, patterns or fields of differences, instead of matter or energy, with material objects as a complex secondary manifestation.

    Floridi, L. (2010). Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    So, now let's have a serious explanation of information from yourself.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k


    So, for clarity, to backtrack: I said to Wayfarer, lets wait for the barrage (presumably of adverse opinions). You volunteered a quip about sharks waiting for blood. I laughed it off. You posted a quote from Archibald without context in which reality is reduced to yes-no questions (if/then); a typical anthropomorphization. The ecstatic language, masked as scientific, was clearly espousing a deeply seated worldview, which I like to call religious, because it gets folks like you all up in arms. The religious impulse never dies, in other words. From there, you posted a few more quotes from your boys about your religious views.
  • Galuchat
    482
    You posted a quote from Archibald without context... — Noble Dust

    To be clearer: I posted quotes in response to unenlightened's statement regarding the claim of "physicist's these days." Re-read it if you must.

    For the record, you have no information regarding my worldview. It's a shame that you feel compelled to denigrate the reputation of the eminent scientists quoted (your reputation is undoubtedly greater than theirs). Are you really that insecure in your beliefs?

    I am still awaiting your explanation of information (if you have one), and genuinely hoping that it forms the basis of a worldview which is far superior to the one you suppose folks like me and my boys hold.

    But if all you have is ad hominem, you can go sit in the corner.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.5k
    The title basically says it. I am questioning whether information, generally speaking, is physical.Wayfarer
    The question is absurd. First of all, what does "physical" mean and how is it different from the "mental"? You start off on the wrong foot by assuming dualism.

    Can we please dispense with the use of these loaded, not clearly defined, terms? It would make it much easier. After all, it is this assumption of dualism that creates the problem you are trying to answer. We can simply talk about causation as we all know that the mind can influence the body or the world and vice versa. To separate these things is to create the problem you are trying to solve.

    Now, as for what information is and whether or not it exists independently of minds, I can answer that without using those terms.

    In your example, is there an actual ship that is three-masted, Greek and arriving this afternoon? And is this true even if there wasn't a sentry providing information to others that this is the case? The information stays the same because we are talking about the same cause. The form the information takes is what changes as the forms are the effects resulting from the cause - a three-masted Greek ship on the horizon.

    Let's use another example. Tree rings in a tree stump carry information about the age of the tree. The tree rings are formed as a result of how the tree grows throughout the year. The tree rings are the effect of the cause and therefore carry information about the cause. The tree rings would represent the age of the tree even if there weren't any minds to look at the tree rings. Information is mind independent. Minds are simply information processors. In a way, we could say that information is the actual relationship between a cause and it's effects. Every subsequent effect can point back to the original cause and be said to carry information about the original cause. This is why each new form the information takes in your example can all refer back to the original cause - a three-masted Greek ship on the horizon.
  • apokrisis
    4.5k
    This is taken from this page which aggregates various articles about Landauer.Wayfarer

    Landauer certainly gets a mention. But there is something hilarious about this being a librarian's view of the contributions that information services folk could make to this frontier debate.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k
    For the record, you have no information regarding my worldview. It's a shame that you feel compelled to denigrate the reputation of the eminent scientists quoted (your reputation is undoubtedly greater than theirs). Are you really that insecure in your beliefs?Galuchat

    More religious appeals. You have no info regarding my worldview either.

    I am still awaiting your explanation of information (if you have one),Galuchat

    Reference my responses to MikeL.

    nd genuinely hoping that it forms the basis of a worldview which is far superior to the one you suppose folks like me and my boys hold.Galuchat

    Is this sentiment genuine?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    How, then, could the information be physical?Wayfarer

    Sand in the beach is not information, nor are rings of a tree.

    However, patterns noticed in the sand or in the rings may be information if the mind can find similarities and differences. A singularity and a multiplicity are transformed into information by differentiated patterns. On their own they are as much information as the symbol 1 and 2, that is meaningless scribbles such as so :;+'"""*"'-&""':::;;;-"""&&.
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