Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The World as Information

Here's an abstract of an article by Carlos Gershenson on information in the biosphere. It's interesting that, though Gershenson is not, as far as I know, sympathetic to Intelligent Design, he finds it much easier to think of the world as information than as matter. Yet information (specified complexity) is invariably in our experience produced by minds, not physical forces.

ABSTRACT: This philosophical paper discusses the benefits of describing the world as information, especially in the study of the evolution of life and cognition. Traditional studies encounter difficulties because it is difficult to describe life and cognition in terms of matter and energy, falling into a dualist trap. However, if matter and energy, as well as life and cognition, are described in terms of information, evolution can be described consistently as information becoming more complex. Moreover, information theory is already well established and formalized. The paper presents five tentative laws of information, which are generalizations of Darwinian, cybernetic, thermodynamic, and complexity principles. These are further used to discuss the notions of life and cognition, including their origins and evolution.

Having in mind that we are using metaphors, this paper proposes to extend the concept of information to describe the world: from elementary particles to galaxies, with everything in between, particularly life and cognition. There is no suggestion on the nature of reality as information. This work only explores the advantages of describing the world as information.

He goes on to say in his paper that:

...the difference between biological and physical systems is given by the meaningful information content of the former ones. Not that information is not present in physical systems, but...information is passive in physics and active in biology. However, it becomes complicated to describe how this information came to be in terms of the physical laws of matter and energy. In other words, it is not obvious to describe information in terms of physics, as it requires an interpreter to "decode" the information.

...if we cannot relate properly matter and energy with life and cognition, we are forced to see these as separate categories. Once this breach is made, there is no clear way of studying or understanding how systems with life and cognition evolved from those without it. If we see matter and energy as particular, simple cases of information, the dualist trap is avoided by following a continuum in the evolution of the universe.

Unfortunately, the author defines information as any stimulus detected by any entity. Thus the negative charge of an electron is information when it is reacted to by another electron. Thus everything is information, and if everything is information then nothing is.

Even so, the important point in all this is to note that materialists are finding it more and more difficult to account for the world solely in terms of matter. The world has the aspect of that which is produced by minds even if the materialist recoils from so blunt a concession and even if he resists following the implications to their logical conclusion in a creative mind.

HT: Uncommon Descent


An IPod in Every Pot

The Detroit News doesn't think that the state Democrats' plan to buy every kid in Michigan his/her own ipod while the state faces a $1 billion deficit is such a good idea:

We have come to the conclusion that the crisis Michigan faces is not a shortage of revenue, but an excess of idiocy. Facing a budget deficit that has passed the $1 billion mark, House Democrats Thursday offered a spending plan that would buy a MP3 player or iPod for every school child in Michigan.

No cost estimate was attached to their hare-brained idea to "invest" in education. Details, we are promised, will follow.

The Democrats, led by their increasingly erratic speaker Andy Dillon of Redford Township, also pledge $100 million to make better downtowns. Their plan goes beyond cluelessness. Democrats are either entirely indifferent to the idea that extreme hard times demand extreme belt tightening, or they are bone stupid. We lean toward the latter.

We say that because the House plan also keeps alive, again without specifics, the promise of tax hikes.

We wonder how financially strained Michigan residents will feel about paying higher taxes to buy someone else's kid an iPod.

This is actually mild rhetoric compared to the title of the column which you can see at the link. Even so, it's hard to disagree with the paper's assessment of the foolishness of the state legislators' proposal.


More on Imus

Yesterday I wrote about the Don Imus imbroglio (see below), and I thought I should explain that the purpose of that post was to point out the disparity in treatment between Imus's suspension and the punishment meted out to others whose offenses were far less racially offensive than was his.

Having said that, I want also to point out that I don't think Imus, for whom I have no sympathy, said anything in the present episode that was racist or malicious (although his producer, I think it was, uses a racist epithet that should have gotten him fired). Imus's remark was racial, to be sure, but not racist, and much of the commentary that I've heard on this incident, by mistakenly focussing on it's alleged racism, misses the really outrageous aspect of it.

Watching the video of Imus it's clear that he was, in his mind, actually praising the girls on the Rutgers basketball team. He was using what he doubtless thought was black street-slang in order to compliment their prowess on the court. This is what I think the media is missing, and what is so despicable about the incident.

It is only in a degenerate culture that someone of Imus's stature, much less the millions of young people who use language like he used, could think that he was being complimentary by calling these young women "whores."

We have feted and celebrated rap culture to the point now where millions of people think that it is high praise to call a young woman a whore and a lot of young women are no doubt flattered by being called one. "Artists" in this culture dehumanize women by treating them as little more than receptacles for male libido and then the larger pop culture treats the artists as though they are some sort of prophet.

The depressing thing about the Imus incident is that the media, missing the point as usual, is trying to turn Imus's words into a manifestation of racism when in fact they're nothing of the kind. It's really an instance of the language of a sleazy, depauperate American popular culture bubbling to the surface.

Imus should indeed be censured by his employers, but not, in this instance, for being racist or racially hateful, but for perpetuating the demeaning, degrading, dehumanizing view of women rampant in a sub-culture that the media itself has helped spawn.