I don't think I am trying to make an especially deep metaphysical characterization of information, and it's certainly vague. It's closest to what you said before - differences that make a difference - or maybe just distinctions. Very vague, yes, but I think its just more being used as a kind of generic classificatory tool.
I think - in absence of any further possible way of explaining what phenomena exactly is or why - I am just saying that it is plausible to construe experiences as information. All I really know about my own experiences is that I am making or perceiving distinctions which are immediate to me.. which seems close to describing it in terms of information. Information seems to be one of the only property I can really ascribe to my experiences in a way that is articulable.
At the same time, the fact there seems to be a mapping or isomorphism to brain behavior suggests that if we can describe those brain interactions in terms of information or distinctions that brains can make about inputs, then phenomena seem to be what it is like
those distinctions internally
as it were. I do think though that the brains as we talk about them are still scientific constructs in our minds so I am not necessarily saying that there is an actual duality here between brains and phenomena. The duality is only in our models. This (lack of duality) can be naturally interpreted as panpsychism if one wants but personally this doesn't help me understand the world any further.
One thing I am dropping from my view is that reality - in whatever way you want to metaphysically theorize about it - is not like a set of objects that just permanently exist at one scale and can be arranged in different ways like marbles in a box.
Theoretical physics, from what I have read, seems to characterize particles and forces at the most fundamental level in terms of symmetries and invariances that possibly emerge and dissolve depending on the situation (maybe a good example in physics is that it is thought that during the development of the universe you had symmetry breaking where new forces, particles and even mass emerged where they did not exist before).
So maybe symmetries / invariances are fundamental.
However, symmetries are actually very generic concepts which can be applied to anything at all.
Symmetries can therefore be applied to any scale from small things in physics to brains and beyond; they would essentially emerge out of each other.
Interesting example here of someone applying it to perception:
(Some examples of use in biology: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/symmetry/special_issues/Making_Breaking_Symmetries_Mind_Life
Another interesting example suggesting invariances as a way of unifying many different types of theories. (Note, he has chosen to express this in terms of the price equation from evolution, but the choice is more or less preference afaik)
And what is said in these articles applies to information in terms of relative entropy and fisher information, interestingly. A quote from second article:
"All of the ‘information’ results in the prior section arose directly from the canonical Price equation’s description of conserved total probability. No notion or interpretation of ‘information’ is necessary. In many disciplines, information expressions arise in the analysis of the specific disciplinary problems. This sometimes leads to the idea that information must be a primary general concept that gives form to and explains the particular results. Here, the Price equation explains why those information expressions arise so often. Those expressions are simply the fundamental descriptions of force and change within the context of a conserved total quantity. In this case, the conserved total quantity is total probability."
So maybe what I am getting at here is that, if theoretical physics symmetries are fundamental, maybe all
types of symmetries that exist within the universe
are fundamental entities of the universe, at whatever scale. Those kinds of symmetries or invariances might also be a good way of characterizing what we mean when we say brains can distinguish things (or have information), because these distinctions are clearly on scales above elementary particles and instead at the level of organization of these systems as wholes in terms of neuronal activity. Brain perception therefore involves higher order symmetries (perhaps like in the article on perception above) which are themselves superimposed on lower symmetries such as those at the microscopic physics scale. But clearly, the emergence of these symmetries on top of each other is something that can naturally pulled out of the mathematical descriptions of these things (in principle) and isn't somehow unexpected or strange.
Our perceptions, our phenomena are then just what its like
to be these various higher order symmetries which are coalescing together I guess.
Now, I am not trying to solve the hard problem. I think experiences are irreducible. I don't think we can know anything about the world beyond our experiences (even if we were to say that everything in the universe is experiential - that doesn't give me any extra useful knowledge). When I am talking about symmetries, invariances, information, these are just tools for organizing my knowledge and conceptual schemes, knowledge which is enacted within my own experiences. So I am not trying to say that experiences are
the math that is being used to describe symmetries and invariances or anything like that. Those are observer-dependent constructs we use to predict things. I don't think I can in principle even imagine whats going on in the actual outside world, but talk of symmetries and fundamental entities is just helping me create a coherent model of reality. Experience is irreducible and metaphysical ontology is deeply inaccessible imo.
But by saying experiences are what it's like internally
to be some kind of symmetries, invariances, structure, information, distinction... whatever... I am just giving it a coherent connection to the rest of our physical models. I think this particular way makes the combination problem easier by making it easier for macro-experiences to just emerge. But again, I am not trying to give an explanation for particular phenomenal experiences. But if they are the internal what it's like
of symmetries or information in reality as I just described, then I kind of lean toward the view that there is just a brute fact that experiences have this kind of vivid discernibility to them as a reflection of the distinguishable degrees of freedom of systems as a whole - I would actually just call that vivid discernibility information - even if some immediate, subjective kind.
Now part of the whole rollercoaster of all this is I am trying to give an account of the objective world which I believe is absolutely fundamentally inaccessible, but also explicitly acknowledging that I am using descriptions that are fundamentally observer dependent.
So I think paradoxes and natural limits to what I am trying to describe are a given.
I cannot explain experiences but I think I can still coherently map it to information. Experiences are all I have access to but also, scientific models in physics, biology, computer science, etc. give me by far the best way of giving a good explanation of my reality in so far that I am capable of doing so under my own limits as an organism.
Again, what I have said is completely compatible with panpsychism imo or even idealism in the sense of saying everything is just experiences but seems there are still many open questions if you do that under this perspective.
Note: My perspective on symmetries as fundamental is not dissimilar from structural realists like James Ladyman (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/structural-realism/
) but I am not explicitly realist. Without realism, I think the need to explain phenomena with mathematical models becomes less acute; but at the same time, by not having a preferred scale for symmetries or invariances, then there is less combination problem issues. Symmetries and invariance may not be the only structural concepts but probably there is importance there. Structuralism seems to be just the latest generation of naturalist ideas and I'd say its probably not unfair to say it arose from the need to have looser conceptualizations of the natural world than physics, just as physicalism arose from the need for a looser conceptualization of the world than materials (thus superseding materialism). I'd say structural things in is about as poorly defined as physicalist ontology is. The vagueness of structure also makes me think that that notion has significant overlap with my notion of information which is just about distinctions. I also think the idea of invariances maybe overlaps with that too since invariance seems to entail the notion of regularity, patterns and perhaps how they are separable from other things and noise.