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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

Linson, Adam, et al. The Active Inference Approach to Ecological Perception: General Information Dynamics for Natural and Artificial Embodied Cognition. Frontiers in Robotics and AI. Online March, 2018. In this paper with many views, senior British neuroscientists and philosophers Linson, Andy Clark, Subramanian Ramamoorthy and Karl Friston continue to voice their future oriented, anticipatory model of neural activity. In other words, our brains are most occupied with and distinguished by trying to figure out what happens next, and by referral to prior memory how to respond. The technical paper courses through physical thermodynamics, self-organizing systems, embodiment, adaptations, and onto complex spatial/temporal integration so to express a universe to human evolution which seems to be engaged with and bent on its own successful recognition. OK

The emerging neurocomputational vision of humans as embodied, ecologically embedded, social agents who shape and are shaped by their environment offers an opportunity to revisit ideas about the physical and information-theoretic underpinnings of life, mind, and consciousness itself. In particular, the active inference framework (AIF) makes it possible to bridge connections from computational neuroscience and robotics/AI to ecological psychology and phenomenology, revealing common underpinnings and overcoming limitations. AIF opposes the mechanistic and reductive, while staying grounded in a naturalistic and information-theoretic foundation, using the principle of free energy minimization. This approach allows a unified treatment of particles, organisms, and interactive machines, spanning from the inorganic to organic, non-life to life, and natural to artificial agents. (Abstract edits)

Lizier, Joseph. JIDT: An Information-Theoretic Toolkit for Studying the Dynamics of Complex Systems. arXiv:1408.3270. We note this contribution by the University of Sydney researcher because it describes these ubiquitous nonlinear networks as most distinguished by their conveyance of an informational content. By such an attribution, nature’s universal self-organizational propensities seem to take on a genetic identity.

Complex systems are increasingly being viewed as distributed information processing systems, particularly in the domains of computational neuroscience, bioinformatics and Artificial Life. This trend has resulted in a strong uptake in the use of (Shannon) information-theoretic measures to analyse the dynamics of complex systems in these fields. We introduce the Java Information Dynamics Toolkit (JIDT): a Google code project which provides a standalone, (GNU GPL v3 licensed) open-source code implementation for empirical estimation of information-theoretic measures from time-series data. While the toolkit provides classic information-theoretic measures (e.g. entropy, mutual information, conditional mutual information), it ultimately focusses on implementing higher-level measures for information dynamics. (Abstract excerpt)

Lloyd, Seth. Programming the Universe. New York: Knopf, 2006. The MIT ‘quantum mechanic’ writes his book, which illustrates a deep dichotomy in physics. The main difference pertains to the presence and activity of information. As opposed to approaches such as string theory or loop quantum gravity which do not include information as a prime actor, Lloyd could be placed in the digital universe camp, populated by Stephen Wolfram, Gregory Chaitin and others, who hold that an original and constant algorithmic program is at work to generate an increasing, animate complexity. (One could also mention Eric Baum and Richard Watson.) This view adds another aspect akin to an elemental software which applies over and over as the cosmos computes itself.

But a philosophical lapse boggles all these takes, for this is not the scientist’s issue. Life is still a “quantum accident,” people have no special place or purpose, we are “computational clay.” We are also in a quandary. The pursuit of natural philosophy is given up because postmodernism has concluded there is no extant nature to philosophize about. An obvious need exists to sort all this out. In this website, we propose a bicameral humankind, with a feminine vista, to figure out what kind of universe this is and who we are. In translation, we are each trying to explain the genotype and phenotype of a cosmic genesis.

This book advocates a new paradigm, an extension of the powerful mechanistic paradigm: I suggest thinking about the world not simply as a machine, but as a machine that processes information. In this paradigm, there are two primary quantities, energy and information, standing on an equal footing and playing off each other. (169) The primary consequence of the computational nature of the universe is that the universe naturally generates complex systems, such as life. Although the basic laws of physics are comparatively simple in form, they give rise, because they are computationally universal, to systems of enormous complexity. (176)

Lloyd, Seth. The Digital Universe. Physics World. November, 2008. Reviewed at length in Quantum Cosmology as a synopsis of this computational school.

Loewenstein, Werner. Physics in Mind: A Quantum View of the Brain. New York: Basic Books, 2013. The emeritus Columbia University physiologist, biophysicist and philosopher follows up his the Touchstone of Life (2000, search) with an expansive cosmic scenario defined by the temporal flight of an informational vector. A “first arrow” is shot from the big bang by way of atomic, chemical matter. Then a “second information arrow” flies as life evolves, quickens and awakens via complexity and consciousness – “an evolutionary process that generates its own information repository to progressively reduce the element of chance.” An order emerges from a relative, contingent randomness to developing macroscopic realms of intentional sentience. One man’s technical take, as if trying to describe a cosmic elephant, but once again it reflects a regnant genetic genesis is extolled from universe to human.

So heaven’s vault is crisscrossed with information arrows. The arrows hailing from out there are long – some have been on the fly for nearly 14 billion years. Those are the lines of information issuing from the primordial kernel, the initial state of information in the universe. Eventually that initial state led, in the course of the universe’s expansion, to the condensation of matter locally and the formation of galaxies, as we have seen: as those vast structures evolved, more and more structures – stars, planets, moons, etc. – formed inside them. From our perch in the universe, we ordinarily get to glimpse only segments of the arrows, - local arrowlets, we might say. We therefore easily lose sight of the continuity. But as we wing ourselves high enough, we see that those arrowlets get handed down from system to system: from galaxy to stars to planets…to us. (21)

This is a much broader perspective than we ever had before – a view from the physics bottom – showing us that it is the totality of the information flows mentioned above, not just the flow between (computing protein) molecules, that propels the Information Arrow and hence the evolution of all organization on Earth. It is a view wherein the evolutions of inanimate and living matter are part of one and the same information landscape. (266)

Loewenstein, Werner. The Touchstone of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A veteran biochemist contends that information and its communicative flow is the fundamental essence of life as it evolves from molecules to sentient mind. In an expansive survey, the book describes recursive circles in internal cellular communication, external intercellular networks, and in neuronal webs which are seen to foster an informed consciousness. Such content evolves by a principle of information economy on a path of least cost.

Information means something different in science from what it does in everyday language - something deeper. It connotes a cosmic principle of organization and order… (xvi) And this, the principle of information economy of self-developing systems, I submit, is the guiding principle of biological evolution. (xvii) …there is the trend of ever-increasing information as life climbs the phylogenetic rungs - what actually evolves is information in all its forms and transforms. (94)

Lutz, Eric and Sergio Ciliberto. Information: From Maxwell’s Demon to Landauer’s Eraser. Physics Today. September, 2015. In a historic 1991 paper, physicist Rolf Landauer (search) theorized that in some deep way physical materiality is suffused with an active information content. This paper by a German and a French physicist reviews the original conception and the latest proofs of its actual veracity.

Mackay, Alan. Generalized Crystallography. Journal of Molecular Structure: Theoretical Chemistry. 336/293, 1995. We cite this pithy paper among many by the leading British crystallographer, born in 1926 and still prolific at 89 in 2015. His academic career was at Birkbeck College, London, the home of polymath J. D. Bernal’s (1901-1971) liberal science, who was Mackay’s doctoral advisor. It could be situated between a long prior phase of a classical inorganic determinism, which is described, and his 2012 article with Julyan Cartwright (search) which extols an organic, self-organizing materiality. A distinction of this biological revolution is Mackay’s allusion to a genetic equivalent at work in heretofore passive matter. His 1999 paper, From “The Dialectics of Nature” to the Inorganic Gene, leads off the first journal issue of Foundations of Chemistry, and continues this synthesis of “natural selection with innate genetic algorithms.”

Mainzer, Klaus. The Digital and the Real Universe: Foundations of Natural Philosophy and Computational Physics. Philosophies. 4/1, 2019. A paper for a Contemporary Natural Philosophy collection by the Technical University of Munich “emeritus of excellence” scholar (search) which describes how our viable, developmental cosmos seems to be running some manner of informative program which serves to generate life’s long course from origins to humanities.

In the age of digitization, the world seems to be reducible to a digital computer. However, mathematically, modern quantum field theories do not only depend on discrete, but also continuous concepts. Ancient debates in natural philosophy on atomism versus the continuum are deeply involved in modern research on digital and computational physics. This example underlines that modern physics, in the tradition of Newton’s Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis, is a further development of natural philosophy with the rigorous methods of mathematics, measuring, and computing. We consider fundamental concepts of natural philosophy with mathematical and computational methods and ask for their ontological and epistemic status. The following article refers to the author’s new book, The Digital and the Real World: Computational Foundations of Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Philosophy (World Scientific, February 2019). (Abstract)

Mainzer, Klaus and Leon Chua. The Universe as Automaton. Berlin: Springer, 2012. The title is misleading, in the text it is The Universe as (Cellular) Automaton. For the Technical University of Munich philosopher physicist and University of California, Berkeley computer engineer broach a full apply and extrapolation of Stephan Wolfram’s cellular automata theories to the lineaments of cosmic nature. And how simple a shift to read as “genetic.”

Historically, in science and philosophy people believed in a sharp difference between “dead” and “living” matter. Aristotle interpreted life as the power of self-organization (entelechy) driving the growth of plants and animals to their final form. A living system is able to reproduce itself and to move by itself, while a dead system can only be copied and moved from outside. Life was explained by teleology, i.e., by non-causal (vital) forces aiming as some goals in nature. In the eighteenth century Kant showed that self-organization of living organisms cannot be explained by a mechanical system of Newtonian physics. The concept of cellular automata was the first mathematical model to prove that self-reproduction and self-organization of complex patterns from simple rules are universal features of dynamical systems. (87)

Summing up all these insights, we are on the way to conceiving quantum systems as Quantum Cellular Automata. (105) This booklet has shown that many basic principles of the expanding universe and the evolution of life and brain can be illustrated with cellular automata. The emergence of new structures and patterns depends on phase transitions of complex dynamical systems in the quantum, molecular, cellular, organic, ecological, and societal worlds. (105)

Manca, Vincenzo. Infobiotics: Information in Biotic Systems. Berlin: Springer, 2013. A volume in Springer’s Emergence, Complexity and Computation series by a University of Verona professor of computer science. In its Preface, it is advised that we quite need in this 21st century, as others aver, to fulfill Erwin Schrodinger’s 1940s project of truly understanding life by way of grounding in physical and informational perspectives. In regard today, the natural evolutionary universe is becoming more characterized and described in terms of essential, prescriptive programs. With chapters such as Strings and Genomes, Algorithms and Biorhythms, and Languages and Grammars, the book proceeds to scope out a current, physics = life, reconception.

The book presents topics in discrete biomathematics. Mathematics has been widely used in modeling biological phenomena. However, the molecular and discrete nature of basic life processes suggests that their logic follow principles that are intrinsically based on discrete and informational mechanisms. The ultimate reason of polymers, as key element of life, is directly based on the computational power of strings, and the intrinsic necessity of metabolism is related to the mathematical notion of multiset. The volume is organized in seven chapters. The first part is devoted to research topics (Discrete information and life, Strings and genomes, Algorithms and Biorhythms, Life Strategies), the second one to mathematical backgrounds (Numbers and Measures, Languages and Grammars, Combinations and Chances). (Publisher)

If we want to disclose the deep logic of basic mechanisms of life, we need new scientific theories, and therefore new conceptual frameworks. Discrete mathematics, algorithms, and computational approaches are good candidates for introducing new scientific ideas in life sciences. For this reason the discipline evoked by the title of this text, Infobiotics, is viewed as the reverse side of Bioinformatics. The two roots “info” and “bio” are inverted in these words. In bioinformatics the biologists ask computer scientists to assist them in elaborating the data they obtain. Conversely, in infobiotics computer scientists and mathematicians provide biologists with explanations and theories which biologists need to verify by means of specific experiments. (Preface)

Marijuan, Pedro. Bioinformation: Untangling the Networks of Life. BioSystems. 64/1-4, 2002. An insightful paper on the persistent, dynamic role of informative templates in organic development.

Life is knowledge-bearing matter…the story is about genes or Darwinian replicators that embody knowledge about their niche, laws of nature included, causing the niche to keep that knowledge in existence. (112) We may argue, following Gell-Mann, that from the point of view of information, this organization of the living cell represents the emergence of a very special ‘complex adaptive system’: it is a quasi-universal problem solver based on the cytoplasm-genome representation interrelationship. (114)

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