• Wayfarer
    9.6k
    I have been reading and enjoying Paul Davies' recent book, Demon in the Machine. From the jacket blurb, 'Davies proposes a radical vision of biology which sees the underpinnings of life as similar to circuits and electronics, arguing that life as we know it should really be considered a phenomenon of information storage.'

    Just now I was watching a debate between Daniel Dennett and Keith Ward (who's basically a Christian Platonist.) In the intro to the debate, Dennett introduced himself and said that, whilst as a materialist he accepts that everything basically comes down to matter and energy, that information is also fundamental, referring to the well-known quote by Norbert Wiener, founder of cybernetics.

    Wiener said

    The mechanical brain does not secrete thought "as the liver does bile," as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity. Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day. — Computing Machines and the Nervous System. p. 132.

    First of all, I think all of this is quite true, so I'm not objecting to the basic principle. But what bothers me a bit, is the introduction of 'information' as a metaphysical simple - as a fundamental constituent, in the sense that atoms were once thought to be.

    And the reason that it bothers me, is that the word 'information' is polysemic. It has many meanings, depending on the context in which it is being used, and many connotations which are far from simple.

    Step back a little to the earliest formulations of atomism. All there is, said Democritus, are atoms and the void. Atoms are eternal, imperishable, and indivisible. But at the same time, by their being able to combine in countless ways, and by virtue of their variety, they can account for all the manifold phenomena in the world of appearance. The idea of the atom solved the problem of 'the many and the one', by granting to 'the many' the attributes of indivisibility, eternity and imperishability previously accorded to the One. This was the genius of atomism, and one of the main reasons it has had such enormous appeal and influence.

    Now, as Wiener says, I too believe that atomistic materialism is undermined by many discoveries in science, not least the properties of living organisms. So, as he says, the materialist chestnut that 'the brain secretes thought as the liver does bile' doesn't stand up in the light of the discoveries of both genetics and semiotics, which obey laws that operate on a different level to those of physics. Information, he's saying, is irreducible.

    But - what is it? It has nothing like the conceptual simplicity of the atom. And again, it means many things in many contexts. Frequently, Claude Shannon's work is rolled out in this context; but he was concerned with the transmission of signals across a medium, and what it takes to do that. Then there's the 'dogma' of genetics -'the central dogma of molecular biology describes the flow of genetic information in cells from DNA to messenger RNA (mRNA) to protein.' Which is a completely different subject to Shannon's data compression algorithms.

    So - I'm totally open to the notion that 'information is fundamental', but it seems to me to leave an awful lot of very large, open questions, about what 'information' is or means or where it originates.

    So when Dennett says, 'oh yes, I'm a materialist, all that exists is matter and energy - and information' - then is he still a materialist? It seems like a very large dodge to me.
  • StreetlightX
    5.3k
    Information is ... deviation from equiprobability (noise). In that sense it can never really be a 'simple', insofar as it is premised on that-which-is-or-is-not-equiprobable (leaving aside the thorny question of how to individuate a 'that-which'...). It is however, substrate-neutral, in the sense that both DNA and electrical pulses (and many other things beside) can both play the role of the physical carrier of information. It's hard to say in what sense information might be considered 'fundamental' - everything turns on what one might mean by 'fundamental'.

    Perhaps one generous way of looking at it is that all information attests to certain asymmetries (physical or otherwise), and that asymmetries are the basis of all generativity; e.g. if you had equal amounts of matter and anti-matter at the birth of the universe, it would have all fizzled out: you need an asymmetry, an imbalance, to start the process of cosmogony, otherwise it all cancels each other out and you get no universe. That asymmetry can be understood in informational terms, and is generalizable across all sorts of domains, not just cosmogony. Is that 'fundamental' enough? Depends what you want out of fundamentality I guess.

    Edit: I suppose one could accede to a kind of Platonism of information where there 'is' information (disembodied, ethereal) which gets instantiated/emboided in particular bio/physical arrangements, but that would be - like all Platonism - to put the cart before the horse.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k
    We can reduce everything to two fundamentals, matter, atoms, or particles (however you want to call them), and the relations which these have with each other. A monist will say that these two together are "information". But this perspective misses an important "fundamental", and that is the cause of these fundamental things existing in these specific relations.
  • Enrique
    204
    I think information is a term for the factual meanings contained in and produced by symbols such as those of a written language. The concept has been generalized so that whenever causality is systematic enough to seem instructional, such as in genetics or memory recall, these causes are rather imprecisely called information or data storage. The environments that cause these phenomena are then erroneously regarded by some as fundamental information. Perhaps analogy to the core, not substance.
  • Fluke
    27
    But this perspective misses an important "fundamental", and that is the cause of these fundamental things existing in these specific relations. Metaphysician Undercover
    Thanks for this, I think this touches on something I had been considering that had been bothering me but my head had been fuzzing around.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    Information is ... deviation from equiprobability (noise). In that sense it can never really be a 'simple', insofar as it is premised on that-which-is-or-is-not-equiprobable (leaving aside the thorny question of how to individuate a 'that-which'...). It is, however, substrate-neutral ...StreetlightX
    I very much agree. :up:

    All there is, said Democritus, are atoms and the void. Atoms are eternal, imperishable, and indivisible. But at the same time, by their being able to combine in countless ways, and by virtue of their variety, they can account for all the manifold phenomena in the world of appearance. The idea of the atom solved the problem of 'the many and the one', by granting to 'the many' the attributes of indivisibility, eternity and imperishability previously accorded to the One. This was the genius of atomism ...Wayfarer
    Yes. And I've always interpreted the combinatorial aspect of 'Swirling & Swerving-Atoms-In/(Of?)-Void' as information, or the 'physical measure' of the information content of whatever (i.e. comes-to-be, or continues-to-be, or ceases-to-be) happens.

    Pedantic (contra non-materialist, non-physicalist, non-naturalist) aside: democritean Atomism seems to emphasize voids that allow for combinatorial dynamics (i.e. nonequilibria, asymmetries) of atoms (molecular/micro), which is 'intuitively analogous' to field theories; whereas, however, subsequent lucretian Materialisms emphasize atoms (molar/macro) and their purported swerves, 'anticipating' statistical mechanics (i.e. compatibilist uncertainty, or "freedom").

    YMMV. :smirk:
  • h060tu
    124
    I do believe information is a thing. It's not material. Matter is created by information, and in fact, information, which is not material, transfers between so-called material beings.

    I'm not a materialist, or a dualist, I believe in Idealism, but I'm using matter for the sake of argument. I haven't yet seen a coherent definition of what "matter" even means, or is. To me, it's like talking about a Pulamorph or a Glorf, or a Puppersyndir. Meaningless.
  • h060tu
    124
    All there is, said Democritus, are atoms and the void. Atoms are eternal, imperishable, and indivisible. But at the same time, by their being able to combine in countless ways, and by virtue of their variety, they can account for all the manifold phenomena in the world of appearance. The idea of the atom solved the problem of 'the many and the one', by granting to 'the many' the attributes of indivisibility, eternity and imperishability previously accorded to the One. This was the genius of atomism ...Wayfarer

    Except Quantum Mechanics totally refuted atomism.
  • h060tu
    124
    Edit: I suppose one could accede to a kind of Platonism of information where there 'is' information (disembodied, ethereal) which gets instantiated/emboided in particular bio/physical arrangements, but that would be -like all Platonism materialism - to put the cart before the horse.StreetlightX

    Fixed that for you.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    Except Quantum Mechanics totally refuted atomism.h060tu
    How so?

    I do believe ... I believe in ...h060tu
    But do you think?
  • Razorback kitten
    74
    I don't think it's a dodge. When someone tells you all there is, is matter and energy. They are also showing how information is a part of both without needing to add it as an additional thing. The words you speak come from matter, travel as waves of sound and are converted to thought again. Information is just mixed up with matter and energy.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    They are also showing how information is a part of both without needing to add it as an additional thingRazorback kitten

    But the point is, information can’t be reduced to energy and matter, although I suspect that will be over your head. Otherwise, why would Norbert Wiener have made the point in the first place?
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Except Quantum Mechanics totally refuted atomism.
    — h060tu

    How so?
    180 Proof

    You’re not seriously asking that question are you? :worry:
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    if you had equal amounts of matter and anti-matter at the birth of the universe, it would have all fizzled out:StreetlightX

    Quite true! And indeed, scientists at CERN have already decided that the universe ought not to exist. But the fact that it comes into existence through an imperfection or asymmetry is, shall we say, mythologically resonant, at least.
  • Possibility
    1.3k
    But the point is, information can’t be reduced to energy and matter, although I suspect that will be over your head. Otherwise, why would Norbert Wiener have made the point in the first place?Wayfarer

    That’s because both matter and energy can be reduced to information. Information can manifest as matter or as energy, but it can also be neither.
  • StreetlightX
    5.3k
    Nah it's all bloody chaos. Although no doubt some shaman will mythologize that too.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Chaos only exists in relation to order.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    That’s because both matter and energy can be reduced to information. Information can manifest as matter or as energy, but it can also be neither.Possibility

    But then what is it? You can’t answer that question - which is the point of the OP.
  • StreetlightX
    5.3k
    Shamaning incoming!
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    Chaos only exists in relation to order.Wayfarer
    Order is only that 'bit' of chaos we happen to be interested in - can make use of - for some interval.
  • StreetlightX
    5.3k
    It would of course be stupid to say that deviation from equiprobability 'is' matter. That wouldn't make grammatical sense. But to try and squeeze blood from an ungrammatical stone to say 'ha, so materialism can't be true' is as stupid as saying that because we haven't found any flying pigs, the very idea of flying pigs cannot be made sense of. As usual, all religious and spiritual implications are grammar mistakes.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Order is only that 'bit' of chaos we happen to be interested in180 Proof

    Well, the bit of it that constitutes the alphabet is what makes communication possible, although of course the question remains moot as to whether //in this case it// serves any purpose. :roll:
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    And you didn’t answer my question.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    I'm waiting for the addressee of my question to answer. Then, maybe, I'll get back to you.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    Fair enough although I suspect we ought not hold our collective breath.
  • unenlightened
    4.7k
    Information increases as order decreases.

    For example:

    Imagine a square of 100 * 100 pixels each of which is either black or white.

    The complete information contained in this arrangement can be represented as a binary string reading left to right line by line top to bottom 10,000 bits.

    But if there is order, the information can be compressed, and the more order there is, the more it can be compressed.

    For instance:

    All the pixels on the left half are black, and all the ones on the right half are white. A program to generate this pattern can be written in very much less than 10,000 bits.

    To make it intuitive, to the extent there is order, there is repetition, and whenever there is a repetition, it can be abbreviated to 'and so on'.

    Repetition gives the same information twice. Repetition gives the same information twice.

    =

    Repetition gives the same information twice. *2

    Information density is the measure of disorder. Information in this example is not the pixels, but the arrangement of the pixels, not the things, but the arrangement of things.

    This why the same information can be pixels on my screen and completely different pixels on your screen.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k
    Information increases as order decreases.unenlightened

    This is completely subjective, because what constitutes "information" is dependent on the defining terms. If the arrangement is set up with the intent to deceive, then what you are reading as "information" is really disinformation. And the whole concept of "information", under this precept becomes completely unsupported because of the possibility that you are wrongly interpreting what is there.
  • Wayfarer
    9.6k
    there is order, the information can be compressed, and the more order there is, the more it can be compressed.unenlightened

    I think what you’re actually saying is that if there’s order, then it can be expressed in an algorithm, isn’t it?

    To use a more rustic example, if you have a pile of pebbles in no particular order, there is no way to represent that pile of pebbles because there’s no order. The most you could say is how many there are and how big they are (which would be expressive mathematically). If a pile of unevenly sized rocks was placed in an order, for example set in a row with the smallest on the left and largest on the right, then you could write an algorithm to express that order. But if all the rocks were precisely the same size and not ordered, then their arrangement contains no information because it’s by nature a disordered mass.
  • TheMadFool
    5.8k
    What is information?

    The meat and potatoes of information comes in the form of answers to the 6W's and 1H:
    1. What?
    2. Where?
    3. When?
    4. Which?
    5. Who?
    6. Why?
    7. How?

    This team of 7 queries constitute the overarching paradigm that captures the essence of the universe, quite possibly any universe, taken as consisting of things and phenomena (what happens to these things).

    Things and phenomena are what a universe is and so, since information is ultimately about things and phenomena in the form of answers to the 6W's and 1H, information must be as fundamental as things and phenomena themselves.
  • unenlightened
    4.7k
    This is completely subjective, because what constitutes "information" is dependent on the defining terms. If the arrangement is set up with the intent to deceive, then what you are reading as "information" is really disinformation. And the whole concept of "information", under this precept becomes completely unsupported because of the possibility that you are wrongly interpreting what is there.Metaphysician Undercover

    You are informing me of something, but you are wrong. What you offer as information is disinformation. But being wrong does not change the number of words you have written, any more than calling what I have written 'subjective' changes the information I have given.

    But what I have explained informally can be found with more rigour by those who are interested.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.1k
    You are informing me of something, but you are wrong. What you offer as information is disinformation. But being wrong does not change the number of words you have written, any more than calling what I have written 'subjective' changes the information I have given.unenlightened

    The point is that you have assumed the capacity to judge between information and disinformation with your assertion that "information increases as order decreases". The truth or falsity of this assertion depends on this capacity. If you cannot validate that capacity your claim is unjustified. Perhaps what you have interpreted as information is really disinformation, then the opposite of your assertion is what is really the case.
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