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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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III. Ecosmos: A Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet Lifescape

C. The Information Computation Turn

Brenner, Joseph. Information: A Personal Synthesis. Information. 5/1, 2014. A Chemin du College, International Center for Transdisciplinary Research, scholar on this subject assesses a current array of approaches and theories. After alluding to blind men and an elephant, these include among others, mathematical-categorical(Burgin), metaphilosophy (Floridi), computational, (Dodig-Crnkovic, Tegmark) integrative systems and emergence (Hofkirchner), biological scientomics (Marijuan), cybersemiotics, (Brier), humanistic informatics (Kolin, Li), and angeletics (Capurro). All told, a cogent survey of endeavors to express a deep literal, communicative quality as a primary essence of cosmos, evolution, and our novel ability to retrospectively inquire. A tentative synthesis is broached, which once again draws upon John Archibald Wheeler’s version of program and people.

Any answer thus requires, as a minimum, a more complete statement of at least three opposing positions and of the definitions of information corresponding to them. I give here only my preferred position which I refer to as It-and-Bit: (1). Energy and information are the most fundamental entities in the universe, but neither is ontologically prior to the other. (2). Information and energy emerge together from, or are different aspects of, an as yet undefined primordial substrate more fundamental than either. (149)

The position developed recently by Diaz Nafria and Zimmermann (search) suggests that both matter-energy and information are two different, associated aspects of the same underlying and still unknown primordial structure of the world. The best picture is that they emerge together from this substrate: the concepts of energy and information are always present in fundamental physics. The authors refer to Smolin’s view that a theory of cosmology must, in order to be self-consistent, be a theory of the self-organization of the universe and “the very aspect of organization entails a concept of information on an equal footing with the concept of energy”. (149)

In conclusion, I see this article as a contribution to the process that Hofkirchner calls “informationalization” and Wu calls “informational scientification”, operating on world society to, if possible, raise the level of collective intelligence to be able to cope with the problems arising from its own development. In my opinion, however, the focus must not only be on problem-solving, but achieving a minimum increase in the capacity of the society to understand itself. The effort to understand information will then have its real justification. (166-167)

Brier, Soren. Cybersemiotics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. A Copenhagen Business School philosopher argues that cybernetic and communication studies have long suffered as mechanistic reductions. Rather a ‘second-order cybernetics’ akin to biological systems, drawn from semiotics founder Charles Peirce, and melded with the autopoiesis theory of Francisco Varela and Niklas Luhmann, is advanced to illume the self-organization of knowledge. Such an evolution occurs in five phases from quantum fields to thermodynamics, chemical phenomena, multicellular life, and human self-consciousness. These stages spring from Pierce’s scheme of First, Second, and Third-ness, and, I add, track Terence Deacon’s model of First, Second, and Third Order Emergence. But these abstractions seem an end in themselves, sans any consideration that a greater natural genesis is being described and discovered.

Bub, Jeffery. Quantum Mechanics is About Quantum Information. Foundations of Physics. 35/4, 2005. A review of QM history points out that while certain theories gain ascendancy, such as those of Niels Bohr, other versions such as David Bohm’s, could apply just as well. In this regard, a readjustment is merited today whereof information becomes a primary principle on its own.

I argue that quantum mechanics is fundamentally a theory about the representation and manipulation of information, not a theory about the mechanics of nonclassical waves or particles. (541)

Bub, Jeffery. Why the Quantum? Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. 35B/2, 2004. Further thoughts on the CBH formulation of an informational reason, which is seen as “…a major revolution in the aim and practice of physics.” (A news item on p. 1896 of the June 25, 2004 issue of Science comments on this conceptual shift.)

….a quantum theory is fundamentally a theory about the possibilities and impossibilities of information transfer in our world, given certain constraints on the acquisition, representation, and communication of information, not a theory about the mechanics of nonclassical waves and particles. (263)

Budd, John. Re-Conceiving Information Studies: A Quantum Approach. Journal of Documentation. 69/4, 2013. Akin to David Bawden’s work, a University of Missouri, School of Information Science & Learning Technologies, professor contends that this expansive integration can provide a beneficial appreciation of and better access to knowledge content and its communication.

Burgin, Mark. Evolutionary Information Theory. Information. Online April, 2013. The Russian-American, UCLA mathematician engages a cross-fertilization between life’s complex emergence as a computational process, and a continuance of these natural formative principles onto an evolving electronic intelligences. By this view, a “pancomputational” universe accrues, which may then be seen lately passing, as intended, to its human continuance and enhancement.

Evolutionary information theory is a constructive approach that studies information in the context of evolutionary processes, which are ubiquitous in nature and society. In this paper, we develop foundations of evolutionary information theory, building several measures of evolutionary information and obtaining their properties. These measures are based on mathematical models of evolutionary computations, machines and automata. To measure evolutionary information in an invariant form, we construct and study universal evolutionary machines and automata, which form the base for evolutionary information theory. In particular, it is proved that there is an invariant and optimal evolutionary information size relative to different classes of evolutionary machines. To give an example of applications, we briefly describe a possibility of modeling physical evolution with evolutionary machines to demonstrate applicability of evolutionary information theory to all material processes. (Abstract excerpts)

Evolutionary information reflects aspects and properties of information related to evolutionary processes. Many information processes, such as software development or computer information processing, have evolutionary nature. Evolutionary approach explicates important properties of information, connecting it to natural computations and biological systems. At the same time, in the context of pancomputationalism or digital physics, the universe is considered as a huge computational structure or a network of computational processes, which following fundamental physical laws, compute (dynamically develop) its own next state from the current one. As a result, the universe or reality is essentially informational, while all information flows in the universe are carried out by computational processes, while all evolutionary processes are performed by evolutionary automata. There are several computational models, such as natural computing, that are suitable for the idea of pancomputationalism. Thus, from the perspective of pancomputationalism, the algorithmic approach to evolutionary information theory is the most encompassing methodology in dealing with information processes going on in the universe. (126)

Calude, Cristian, et al. Preface to the Special Issue on Physics and Computation: Towards a Computational Interpretation of Physical Theories. Applied Mathematics and Computation. 219/1, 2012. The Proceedings of the Third International Workshop on the subject, September 2010, held on a Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan. The First landmark workshop occurred in 1982, whose papers are in the International Journal of Theoretical Physics (21/3-4). A contribution by Arturo Carsetti is cited in Current Vistas.

For the third edition of the workshop, original papers were submitted via EasyChair in diverse areas of Physica and Computation (and related fields), such as analogue computation, axiomiatization of physics (completeness, decidability), Church-Turing thesis, computing beyond the Turing barrier, philosophy of computation, quantum computation (digital, analogue), quantum logics, relativity (spacetimes, computation, time travel, speedup) and theories of complexity. (1)

Cartwright, Julyan and Alan Mackay. Beyond Crystals: The Dialectic of Materials and Information. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 370/2807, 2012. This lead paper in a Festschrift for Mackay (search), an eminent British crystallographer, is a good synopsis of his project, now with a widening cast, to show that supposed “inorganic” matter actually is graced by life-like properties. An informational aspect akin to a genetic code, quantum computations, and self-organizing dynamics are evident by this view. With regard to his mentor J. D. Bernal, a half-century later a physical basis for life and mind is joined. Typical papers are Decoding the Energy Landscape: Extracting Structure, Dynamics and Thermodynamics by David Wales, DNA, Dichotomic Classes and Frame Synchronization, Simone Giannerini, et al, and DNA Information: From Digital Code to Analogue Structure by A. A. Travers, et al (search). See also in 2015 The Physics of Information from the Materials Genomics of Aperiodic Crystals & Water to Molecular Information Catalysts & Life by Dowman Varn and Jim Crutchfield (search, 1510.02778).

We argue for a convergence of crystallography, materials science and biology, that will come about through asking materials questions about biology and biological questions about materials, illuminated by considerations of information. The complex structures now being studied in biology and produced in nanotechnology have outstripped the framework of classical crystallography, and a variety of organizing concepts are now taking shape into a more modern and dynamic science of structure, form and function. The fundamental level is that of atoms. As smaller and smaller groups of atoms are used for their physical properties, quantum effects become important; already we see quantum computation taking shape. Concepts move towards those in life with the emergence of specifically informational structures. We must integrate unifying concepts from dynamical systems and information theory to form a coherent language and science of shape and structure beyond crystals. To this end, we discuss the idea of categorizing structures based on information according to the algorithmic complexity of their assembly. (Abstract excerpts)

Living organisms are thus seen to have structures where information is concentrated, but both DNA and proteins are made of the same atoms following the same laws of chemistry, all based in turn upon physics. But information may be seen also to be distributed in all structures. In biology, we find hierarchies of structure upon structure from the atomic to the
human scale. (2808) We thus have three parallel worlds: the biological (living processes and their manipulation and synthetic development), the inorganic (materials and their controlled synthesis) and the informatic (the computer world and information processing, including the necessary mathematics and algorithms for this end.) (2809)

https://ufrj.academia.edu/GregoryChaitin.. A new 2014 Academia site for his many papers, presentations, book links, and more of unique mathematical frontiers. Such works as Life as Evolving Software, Metabiology, Meta Math, and many others can be found and downloadable here. Chaitin’s previous site at http://www.umcs.maine.edu/~chaitin/ is being kept as is with similar hits, and a portal for older Springer books. With colleague Stephen Wolfram, Seth Lloyd, and digital, computational universe theorists, a view that nature’s emergent complexity of life, mind and people springs from and exemplifies a realm of intrinsic algorithmic, informational programs.

METABIOLOGY: a field parallel to biology, dealing with the random evolution of artificial software (computer programs) rather than natural software (DNA), and simple enough that it is possible to prove rigorous theorems or formulate heuristic arguments at the same high level of precision that is common in theoretical physics.

Chaitin, Gregory. The Unknowable. Singapore: Springer, 1999. An earlier work by the philosophical mathematician that contends information is the primary essence of a discrete universe, with matter secondary.

Consciousness does not seem to be material and information is certainly immaterial, so perhaps consciousness and perhaps even the soul, is sculpted in information, not matter. (106)

Chaitin, Gregory, et al. Godel’s Way: Exploits into an Undecidable World. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2011. A unique, engaging dialogue between Argentine-American polymath Chaitin, Brazilian logician Newton da Costa, and Brazilian physicist Francisco Antonio Doria serves to join the incompleteness theorems of Austrian-American Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), a premier 20th century mathematician, with current information-computation and chaotic complexity paradigms. The result, along with books and papers documented herein, could be seen as a crossover from a lumpen machine to an organic genesis by reaffirming this once and future doubleness, herewith akin to software and hardware. The text quotes are from Chaitin’s chapters 2 and 6. From his own website http://cs.umaine.edu/~chaitin can be accessed a plethora of books, video lectures, and papers.

The Gödel incompleteness theorem - one cannot prove nor disprove all true mathematical sentences in the usual formal mathematical systems - is frequently presented in textbooks as something that happens in the rarefied realm of mathematical logic, and that has nothing to do with the real world. Practice shows the contrary though; one can demonstrate the validity of the phenomenon in various areas, ranging from chaos theory and physics to economics and even ecology. In this lively treatise, based on Chaitin’s groundbreaking work and on the da Costa-Doria results in physics, ecology, economics and computer science, the authors show that the Gödel incompleteness phenomenon can directly bear on the practice of science and perhaps on our everyday life. (Publisher)

Furthermore, there are many tantalizing analogies between DNA and large, old pieces of software. Remember bricolage, that Nature is a cobbler, a tinkerer? In fact, a human being is just a very large piece of software, one that is 3 X 109 bases = 6 X 109 bits ~ one gigabyte of software that has been patched and modified for more than a billion years: a tremendous mess, in fact, with bits and pieces of fish and amphibian design mixed in with that for a mammal. (Complexity, Randomness, 51)

Is the world built out of information? Is everything software? Let’s now turn to ontology: What is the world built out of, made out of? Fundamental physics is currently in the doldrums. There is no pressing, unexpected, new experimental data — or if there is, we can’t see that it is! So we are witnessing a return to pre-Socratic philosophy with its emphasis on ontology rather than epistemology. We are witnessing a return to metaphysics. Metaphysics may be dead in contemporary philosophy, but amazingly enough it is alive and well in contemporary fundamental physics and cosmology. (Forays into Uncharted Landscapes, 111)

Cooper, S. Barry and Jan van Leeuwen, eds. Alan Turing: His Work and Impact. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2013. The hundredth anniversary of the British polymath genius in 2012 has occasioned this major retrospect of his contributions from foundational computer logic and encryption to the nature of organic form, along with his 1930’s and 1940’s times. From our 21st century, Turing is then placed in a long train from Gottfried Leibniz, to Stephen Wolfram today (several pieces herein) and many who now advocate a mathematical, program-like source that in some way “computes” universe, life, and human into regnant presence. The 900 page compendium ranges widely over computation principles, information, complexity, languages, evolution of mind, artificial intelligence, and emergent morphogenesis, which AT set on course.

But the volume can also be seen in contrast to the vested paradigm that no such generative domain exists, random natural selection is still the only cause. British biologist Peter Saunders writes (753) that decades ago AT explained how biological pattern and metabolism could be traced, via informative algorithms, to physical and chemical processes. His prescience is just now being verified as statistical mechanics and complexity theories join forces (see Active Matter). Philosopher Aaron Sloman follows up by citing a “meta-morphogenesis” and “computational emergence” whose “information-processing” drives major evolutionary transitions. Again, as this site broaches and reports, it just seems that everyone is trying to articulate and describe nature’s own immanent, teleological genetic code.

The concept of Darwinian evolution one to assume that whatever processes now give rise to the forms we see in biological systems, they must have been carefully shaped by natural selection. But the surprising observation that I have made in at least several cases is that instead – in the computational universe of all possible underlying rules – it seems that biology in effect just samples essentially all possibilities, distributing the results among the species of the Earth. In the abstract, one might think that there could never be any real theory in biology, and that instead all features of current organisms must just be the result of endless historical accidents. But instead it increasingly seems that just by knowing the abstract structure of the computational universe, one can understand the different forms that occur across the biological world. (Wolfram, 757)

Thus it was the integration of the parts that was as crucial to the understanding of embryological development as the parts themselves – patterns emerged or self-organized as a result of the individual parts interaction. To see how far ahead of his time he was, one has to note that it is only now in the post-genomic era of systems biology that the majority of the scientific community has arrived at the conclusion he came to some 60 years ago. (Philip Maini, 684-685)

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