Bill Dembski: Is information a primitive concept, on a par with matter and energy?
|June 10, 2012||Posted by News under Genomics, Informatics|
Continuing with James Barham’s The Best Schools interview with design theorist Bill Dembski – who founded this blog – this time on whether Wheeler was right.
TBS: Here is our other question regarding information. There are quite a few physicists out there—of whom John Archibald Wheeler is perhaps the best known—who regard information as a primitive concept, meaning that the entity to which the term refers is on an ontological par with matter and energy, or particles and fields, or whatever else one takes to be the absolutely basic building blocks of the universe. Do you agree with this? If you do, how do you feel about the company you are keeping? If you don’t, then what sort of more synthetic account would you give of information?
WD: Yes, I remember reading in Wheeler’s biography that he had his particle stage (everything is particles), then his fields stage (everything is fields), and then his information stage (everything is information). I remember Stanford’s Keith Devlin also making a similar point twenty years ago about information possibly being a fundamental entity (he subsequently backed away from this).
I would agree that information is fundamental entity and am happy to put myself in this company. Perhaps it’s easier to take this view nowadays than in previous generations. We are awash with information. This is an information age. Moreover, we all know about information going through multiple transformations and embodiments.
When you send an email, your fingers type at a keyboard, producing ASCII text. This is then transformed into some other symbol string so that it can be moved across the Internet without error (using error-correcting codes). Then, that information needs to be reconstituted at the other end.
The same sorts of processes are going on in life. Information is transmitted from DNA to RNA to amino-acid sequences. It’s not just that we see alphanumeric-type items arranged sequentially in biology, but that we see transformation from one such sequence to another. Although it no longer surprises us, it should surprise us that there is such a thing as a genetic CODE.
Think about it—to code something is to take a character string in one form and transform it into another character string, where it can be useful in a way it wasn’t before the transformation. Alan Turing, Claude Shannon (left), and others were dealing with and developing the mathematics for such codes in the 1940s, and then, lo, in the 1950s we find that such codes are in all our cells. This is remarkable.
I think we’re just scratching the surface of information in nature. I’ve got a massive, one-volume encyclopedia of physics on my shelf with publication date 1992. Neither among the main entries nor in the extensive index does the word “information” appear. Since then, it’s been gaining momentum. I predict that information will play an increasingly dominant role throughout the natural sciences in coming years.
Next: What would a school lesson plan of ID consist of? How many lessons or hours would be required to study and understand the theory?
See also: Is there any such thing as information in the abstract or is it always information for an agent?
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