• Wayfarer
    5.7k
    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
    2.5k
    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
    5.7k
    that seems to be the main axiom. It seems plainly wrong to me but it seems widely accepted.
  • Noble Dust
    2.5k


    Ok. I guess we can wait for the oncoming barrage.
  • apokrisis
    3.5k
    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
    2.1k
    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
    638
    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
    5.7k
    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
    5.7k
    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
    638
    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
    2.5k
    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
    2.5k


    Is an idea physical?
  • MikeL
    638
    Concept - Transmission - Transmission is physical, concept not. No?
  • Cavacava
    2.3k
    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
    366
    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
    2.5k
    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
    5.7k
    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
    366
    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
    2.3k


    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.
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