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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

Hidalgo, Cesar. Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies. New York: Basic Books, 2015. The Chilean-American physicist directs the MIT Media Lab Macro Connections group. His doctorate was earned at Notre Dame with Laszlo Barabasi. From our late global vista, in order to empower successful 21st century economic societies it serves to perceive and define them in terms of a cosmic informational vector. A far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics is seen to counter entropy as it forms local, organic concentrations of shared knowledge. By this wide perspective, physical matter is a process that computes itself, an effective society is one that employs and enhances this learning process.

Hoffmeyer, Jesper. A Biosemiotic Approach to the Question of Meaning. Zygon. 45/2, 2010. In a topical section on “God and the World of Signs: Semiotics and the Emergence of Life,” the University of Copenhagen biologist continues his elucidation of life’s increasingly free ability to articulate and express itself. This evolutionary progression occurs by way of enhanced personal “relative being” beyond isolate objects. But per the second quote, although closer to truth, whence can an indispensible, essential “meaning” be found? (Also in the issue are papers by Andrew Robinson, Christopher Southgate, Bruce Weber, Robert Ulanowicz, and Terrence Deacon.)

The biosemiotic approach to the study of living systems is a logical consequence of the profound trend toward a semiotization of nature that characterized biology up through the twentieth century. (369) Let me confess outright that I do not believe (and Christian thinkers need no more believe) that the world is a fundamentally lawful place. I find it to be more consonant with modern scientific conceptions – building on nonequilibrium thermodynamics or nonlinear systems dynamics, complexity theory, and biosemiotics – that the world was indeterminate in the beginning and that the orderliness we find is the result of an ongoing process of emergence that has been operative through several billions of years. (385)

Hoffmeyer, Jesper and Frederik Stjernfelt. The Great Chain of Semiosis. Biosemiotics. Online September, 2015. It is curious that while this historic concept of an evolutionary scale from molecules to minds is denounced in the US and UK, in continental Europe, such as France (Vic Norris, e.g.), Hungary (Eors Szathmary), and here from Denmark, a teleological sequence can readily be allowed and availed. University of Copenhagen philosophical biolinguists profess a theory of life’s prime distinction as an increasing sapient content of instructive knowledge, a vectorial “semiotic freedom.” Akin to new work which views evolution as a neural net learning process (Richard Watson), by this insight a progression of individual agency, stored representations, relative knowledge, a quickening sentience, and regnant selfhood from biochemicals to human cultures is evident. Nature’s organic development thus involves and proceeds by an “active information gathering.” Here is one more inkling of an imminent cosmic Copernican revolution from silence to sensibility.

Previous attempts at finding progressive trends in evolution that might justify a scaling of species from primitive to advanced levels have not met with much success, but when evolution is considered in the light of semiosis such a scaling immediately catches the eye. The main purpose of this paper is to suggest a scaling of this progression in semiotic freedom into a series of distinct steps. The eleven steps suggested are: 1) molecular recognition, 2) prokaryote-eukaryote transformation (privatization of the genome), 3) division of labor in multicellular organisms (endosemiosis), 4) from irritability to phenotypic plasticity, 5) sense perception, 6) behavioral choice, 7) active information gathering, 8) collaboration, deception, 9) learning and social intelligence, 10) sentience, 11) consciousness. In light of this, the paper finally discusses the conceptual framework for biosemiotic evolution. (Abstract excerpt)

Our idea is that the evolution of nervous tissue and its organization into CNSs served to facilitate simpler semiotic-cognitive processes that were already there. Indeed, each single link of such processes will run according to simple causal dynamics and, yet, the overall cyclic, self-sustaining structure of metabolism in which they partake cannot be reduced to such simple dynamics. The ongoing self-organization of that process makes it prone to cognition: to find the means to get to crucial nutrients, escape predators, find shelter etc. is needed to uphold the process. Self-organizing structures best able to achieve this end would have an obvious selective advantage over less successful self-organizing structures thus favoring the evolution of systems, organisms, equipped with a basic intention, that of self-preservation. Long before the appearance of mental life, organisms and their behavior display this intentional structure, which is why such entities are selectable and evolvable in the first place. (4)

Hofkirchner, W., ed. The Quest for a Unified Theory of Information. Amsterdam: Gordon & Breach, 1999. Scholars from information and computer science, semiotics, complex systems, evolutionary theory, physics, biology, psychology, consciousness research, sociology, and technology studies explore and expand the concept of information to bridge the gap between "hard" and "soft" sciences.

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang. Does Computing Embrace Self-Organization? Dodig-Crnkovic, Gordana and Mark Burgin, eds. Information and Computation. Singapore: World Scientific, 2010. A University of Salzburg internet philosopher works at setting aside the Newtonian clockwork machine in favor of a broadly algorithmic model, here made additionally credible and complete by this spontaneously generative agency.

Actually, with the paradigm shift from the mechanistic worldview cognizant of objects only towards a more inclusive view of a less-than strict, emergent, and even creative universe inhabited by subjects too, we have got everything required to connect the notion of information to the idea of self-organisation.

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang. Emergent Information: An Outline Unified Theory of Information. Singapore: World Scientific, 2013. The Vienna University of Technology information theorist provides a book length treatment of his novel cross-integration of self-organized, complex network phenomena with this communicative quality that serves to express the prescriptive content such systems carry and convey. A good review, to which the author refers, is A New Paradigm for the Information Age by Soren Brier and Zhou Liqian in Cybernetics and Human Knowing (21/3, 2014).

At the dawn of the information age, a proper understanding of information and how it relates to matter and energy is of utmost importance for the survival of civilisation. Yet, attempts to reconcile information concepts underlying science and technology with those en vogue in social science, humanities, and arts are rather rare. To be able to succeed in an ambitious task like this, the book advocates the application of complex systems theory and its philosophical underpinnings. Information needs to be interpreted in terms of self-organisation to do justice to the richness of its manifestations. The way the book does so will provide the reader with a deep insight into a basic feature of our world.

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang. Emergent Information: When a Difference Makes a Difference. TripleC. 11/1, 2013. In this Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, a synopsis by the Vienna University of Technology scholar of his project to join nonlinear, complex network phenomena with this differential venue that represents the content that complex adaptive systems contain and transmit. The paper draws upon Gregory Bateson’s especial insights to set up a contrast, as the Abstract explains. For a longer treatment, see Emergent Information: An Outline Unified Theory of Information Framework, noted herein.

Gregory Bateson’s famous saying about information can be looked upon as a good foundation of a Unified Theory of Information (UTI). Section one discusses the hard and the soft science approaches to information. It will be argued that a UTI approach needs to overcome the divide between these approaches and can do so by adopting an historical and logical account of information. Section two gives a system theoretical sketch of such an information concept. It is based upon assuming a co-extension of self-organisation and information. Information is defined as a tripartite relation such that (1) Bateson’s “making a difference” is the build-up of the self-organised order; (2) Bateson’s “difference” that makes the difference is the perturbation that triggers the build-up; (3) Bateson’s difference that is made is made to the system because the perturbation serves a function for the system’s self-organisation. In semiotic terms, (1) a sign (= the self-organised order) relates (2) a signified (= the perturbation) (3) to a signmaker (= the system). In a third section, consequences of this concept for the knowledge about techno-social information processes and information structures will be focused on. (Abstract)

A Unified Theory of Information (UTI) as proposed here is a system theoretical concretisation of the integrative view developed above in philosophy-of-science terms. The core of it is the assumption that the process of self-organisation coincides with the process of information-generation (signproduction). The respective results (self-organised order and information or sign) also coincide. (8) Self-organisation is the spontaneous build-up of order of, or in, complex systems far from thermodynamical or chemical equilibrium. Self-organisation is the way systems come into existence or change their structure, state or behaviour and the way they maintain themselves (their structure, state or behaviour). Self-organising systems are complex systems in between cosmos and chaos, that is, self-organising systems find their way between determined order and indeterminate disorder to exhibit a behaviour that is the most flexible, adaptable and creative. (8)

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang. How to Design the Infosphere: the Fourth Revolution, the Management of the Life Cycle of Information, and Information Ethics as a Macroethics. Knowledge, Technology & Policy. 23/1-2, 2010. In a special issue on Luciano Floridi’s semantic theories, the Viennese philosopher finds this global burst of communication and content as the fulfillment of Vladimir Vernadsky, and others, planetary sensorium, a Noosphere. Search here and the author’s website for his further writings and insights.

(This paper) …contends that the information age is rather conceivable as a critical stage in which human evolution as a whole is at stake. The mastering of this crisis depends on an appropriate shaping of Information and Communication Technologies which requires ethical considerations. In this respect, Floridi’s notion of the fourth revolution, his assumption of the management of the life cycle of information, and his ontocentric macroethics will be discussed in the light of the term “scientific-technological revolution”, the idea of a noogenesis, a new way of thinking and new weltanschauung, the concept of friction in social and physical aspects, the concept of collective intelligence and its application to the Internet and last, but not least, the vision of a Global Sustainable Information Society. (Abstract, 177)

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang. Twenty Questions about a Unified Theory of Information: A Short Exploration into Information from a Complex Systems View. Litchfield Park, AZ: ICSE Publications, 2010. Incipient efforts around the world are trying to better approach and comprehend this apparent software-like, content-rich quality, so as to include it as a prime creative agency, along with matter and energy. Prepared at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute in Barcelona, this essay was meant as a working guide for a “Towards a New Science of Information” held in Beijing, August 2010. But the broader effort seems to remain fixated in its machine mindset, getting closer, yet stymied from realizing that what everyone is trying to explain is a “cosmic genetic code.”

Q8. Is information possible in a mechanistic universe? Q9. What Can We Learn From the New Paradigm of Complexity Q17. What are the physico-chemical origins of cognition, communication and cooperation? Q20. Why do we need collective intelligence on a planetary scale?

With the transition form Systems Theory I to systems Theory II, as with the change from Cybernetics I to Cybernetics II and the increased slope of the theory of Evolution which overcomes the restrictions of the Darwinian model, we can see a theory of open, non-linear, complex, dynamic, self-organizing (in short: evolutionary) systems approaching. This theory no longer deals merely with mechanism, strategies and controls for achieving/maintaining homeostasis and the development of species. It concerns the rise and fall of real-world systems. The concepts of dissipative structures, synergetics, hyper-cycles, autopoesis and self-referentiality are the most prominent predecessors of a theory of evolutionary systems (53-54)

Actually, with the paradigm shift from the mechanistic worldview, that knows only objects towards a more inclusive view of a less-than- strict, emergent, and even creative universe inhabited by subjects too, we have got everything required to connect the notion of information to the idea of self-organization. (61).

Hofkirchner, Wolfgang, et al. Towards a New Science of Information. TripleC. 9/2, 2011. In this online journal of “Cognition, Communication, Cooperation,” an Introduction with Zong-Rong Li, Pedro Marijuan, and Kang Ouyang to the Proceedings of an International Conference on the Foundations of Information Science, held in Beijing, August 2010. The import of the 29 papers posted across every aspect from autopoiesis and bacilli to social informatics is a realization, after centuries of matter and energy, that natural reality is most distinguished by staying on its innate procreative message.

Hogan, Craig. Information from the Beginning. Sanchez, Norma and Yuri Parijskij, eds. The Early Universe and the Cosmic Microwave Background. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 2003. The quantum-gravity discreteness of the initial background radiation of a holographic cosmos can illuminate its informational properties.

To put the same point more poetically: when the letters of the writing on the sky are known, the pattern will no longer appear as a meaningless jumble of random noise, and the significance of the whole pattern will be interpreted completely and transparently in terms of these letters – the eigenmodes of the inflationary system in fundamental theory….All we have done here is estimate how many letters there are. (45)

Horsman, Dominic, et al. Abstraction and Representation in Living Organisms: When does a Biological System Compute? Dodig-Crnkovic, Gordana and Raffaela Giovagnoli, e. Representation and Reality in Humans, Other Living Organisms and Intelligent Machines. International: Springer, 2012. Within this endeavor to comprehend a greater nature which seems to run and evolve via generative algorithmic programs, a chapter by the computer scientist team of Horsman and Vivien Kendon, University of Durham, along with Susan Stepney and J. P. W. Young, University of York, UK traces an iterative course by way of abstract information as it is manifestly represented. Photosynthesis, the process by which flora and fauna convert sunlight into chemical energy, is given as an example. They then conclude with allusions to a cosmos to consciousness evolutionary pathway of progressive self-representation. See by the authors When does a Physical System Compute? at arXiv:1309.7979 for a technical basis and The Natural Science of Computing in ACM Communications (August 2017) for a popular review.

Even the simplest known living organisms are complex chemical processing systems. But how sophisticated is the behaviour that arises from this? We present a framework in which even bacteria can be identified as capable of representing information in arbitrary signal molecules, to facilitate altering their behaviour to optimise their food supplies, for example. Known as Abstraction/Representation theory (AR theory), this framework makes precise the relationship between physical systems and abstract concepts. Originally developed to answer the question of when a physical system is computing, AR theory naturally extends to the realm of biological systems to bring clarity to questions of computation at the cellular level. (Abstract)

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