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Since you asked

I’m generally happy to answer questions from anyone, if I think they’re interesting enough. Recently the following seven questions were brought to my attention. I thought they merited a response, so here goes. The answers given below are my own; readers are free to disagree if they wish.

1. Does a spider web, a bee hive, a mole burrow, a bird nest, a termite mound, or a beaver dam have “biological function”, and do they have “information”?

All of the above structures combine the characteristics of high probabilistic complexity (i.e. it is difficult for natural processes lacking foresight to generate them) and low descriptive complexity (i.e. they are easy to describe in a few words). Hence they all contain complex specified information (CSI). Insofar as they are useful to the creatures that make them, they could also be said to have a function. However, I wouldn’t say that these structures have a “biological function.” Biological function, properly speaking, belongs to organs or systems inside an organism’s body, which enable the organism to perform some useful task.

2. Does a tool that is made and used by a bird, a chimpanzee, other non-human primates, any other organism that isn’t human, or a human, have “information”, and does it have “biological function”.

Complex specified information, yes. Biological function, no.

3. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when building a nest, web, hive, dam, etc.?

The organism certainly generates complex specified information when building these structures. Does it understand this information? No. It cannot explain and justify its actions. It cannot say why it built these structures this way and not that way, so I’d say it lacks understanding.

4. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when making and using a tool?

Same as for question 3.

5. Apply the same questions to an organism, such as a bird, a non-human primate, or a human, but substitute tools that are not made by the organism. For instance, natural objects that the organism doesn’t modify, but does select and use as a tool.

Owing to their specificity and suitability for a particular job, these natural objects contain a certain amount of complex specified information (in most cases, a small amount). However, no new information is generated here.

6. If there’s information in any of the things I mentioned above (web, hive, dam, nest, tool, etc.) is it “functional complex specified information”?

No. None of the structures in questions 1 to 5 exhibit functional complex specified information, because they are not patterns embodied in structures that enable the structures to perform some function or useful task. Functional complex specified information can on the other hand be ascribed to systems in an organism’s body that are biologically useful.

And one more question:

7. When a cephalopod changes its shape, texture, or colors, does it understand and/or generate information (is it functional complex specified information?), and does that change of shape, texture, or colors have biological function?

I’d say this is a genuine case of functional complex specified information. The patterns are inside the organism, and they enable it to perform a biologically useful task.

Recommended reading:
here, here and here.

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190 Responses to Since you asked

  1. 1. They do not CONTAIN information.
    2. A tool does not (generally) CONTAIN information. (e.g., a hammer that could build a house.)
    3. NO.
    4. NO.

  2. I hope you don’t mind if I give my answers, which will be different from yours. I’ll just list the questions by number, and not repeat them.

    1: No, the spider web, bird’s nest, etc do not have information. However, I would agree that information was used by the spider, bird, etc in order to construct those things. I won’t comment on “biological function” because, as a non-biologist, I am not at all sure what that should mean.

    2: Similar answer. A tool does not have information, but it is built using information. However, at least in the case of humans, we have to make a distinction in the case of computers, notepads, etc, which can have information such as what is written on the notepad.

    3 and 4: I have already commented that the organisms use information. As for “understanding”, I don’t think there is any agreement as to what that would even mean as applied to a spider or a bird.

    5: If the bird or other organism is able to use the tool that it has found, and use it in a way that benefits the organism, then it is probably using information in using that tool.

    6 and 7: I am doubtful on whether “functional complex specified information” has a clear unambiguous meaning.

    A general comment

    The word “information” is used in different ways. Clearly, I am not using it in the same way as vjtorley. I do think that there is a lot of miscommunication in debates over information.

  3. Shannon’s analysis of the ‘amount of information’ in a signal, which disclaimed explicitly any concern with its meaning, was widely misinterpreted to imply that the engineers had defined a concept of information per se that was totally divorced from that of meaning.

    We shall find it profitable to ask: ‘To what does information make a difference? What are its effects?’ This will lead us to an ‘operational’ definition covering all senses of the term, which we can then examine in detail for measurable properties.

    In everyday language we say we have received information, when we know something now that we did not know before. If we are exceptionally honest, or a philosopher, we assert only that we now believe something to be the case which we did not previously believe to be the case. Information makes a difference to what we believe to be the case. It is always information about something. It’s effect is to change, in one way or another, the total of ‘all that is the case’ for us. This rather obvious statement is the key to the definition of information.

    – Donald M. MacKay, Information, Mechanism and Meaning

    A fundamental, but a somehow forgotten fact, is that information is always information about something.

    – Jan Kahre, The Mathematical Theory of Information

  4. … Hence they all contain complex specified information (CSI) …

    No they don’t. They don’t “contain” any information, whatsoever.

    You are, as is so common with both Darwinists and IDists, confusing the map for the territory.

    Information exists ‘within’ — and only ‘within’ — minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.

  5. Shannon’s analysis of the ‘amount of information’ in a signal, which disclaimed explicitly any concern with its meaning, was widely misinterpreted to imply that …

    I understood that at once, in reading the first few sentences of SHannon’s paper.

    And it really ticks me off that most people *refuse* to understand the fact of the matter. Never mind that they refuse to believe the fact of the matter; they refuse even to understand it.

  6. I do think that there is a lot of miscommunication in debates over information.

    heh.

    Maybe we can agree on a few things. Maybe not.

    Information is always information about something.

    If it doesn’t change something, if it doesn’t make a difference, if it has no effect, it’s not information.

    A sequence of nucleotides is not information, nor does it contain information simply by virtue of the fact that it’s a sequence of nucleotides. Same goes for a register of bits.

  7. I will give rough initial answers:

    1. Does a spider web, a bee hive, a mole burrow, a bird nest, a termite mound, or a beaver dam have “biological function”, and do they have “information”?

    –> Yup, function, but not life function. Info can be extracted from the wiring diagram, comes from an internal program expressed instinctually.

    2. Does a tool that is made and used by a bird, a chimpanzee, other non-human primates, any other organism that isn’t human, or a human, have “information”, and does it have “biological function”.

    –> there is an FSCI threshold. most such would not pass it. biofunction should be reserved to processes in an organism

    3. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when building a nest, web, hive, dam, etc.?

    –> programmed activity, not learned. the root intelligence lies elsewhere

    4. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when making and using a tool?

    –> Same as for question 3.

    5. Apply the same questions to an organism, such as a bird, a non-human primate, or a human, but substitute tools that are not made by the organism. For instance, natural objects that the organism doesn’t modify, but does select and use as a tool.

    –> not beyond FSCI threshold, as not specific enough. any rock within abroad range will do, e.g.

    6. If there’s information in any of the things I mentioned above (web, hive, dam, nest, tool, etc.) is it “functional complex specified information”?

    –> depending on complexity, specificity

    –> remember, these are expressing in-built programs like apps or the like

    And one more question:

    7. When a cephalopod changes its shape, texture, or colors, does it understand and/or generate information (is it functional complex specified information?), and does that change of shape, texture, or colors have biological function?

    –> it fulfills a matching/camo/dazzle etc program, and expresses the FSCI in it through adaptive behaviour, which is internal, biological and functional.

    –> it’s not just that there is FSCI, but what is its original source.

    GEM of TKI

  8. Ilion:

    Information exists ‘within’ — and only ‘within’ — minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.

    How is information transferred from one mind to another?

    The answer would have to be that it’s not, correct? That whatever it is that’s being transferred is not information. What then, is it?

  9. Information exists ‘within’ — and only ‘within’ — minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.

    So when spam detection program consults its database to decide whether or not an email is spam, what’s in the database is not information since the computer is not a mind? I would say it is information by definition since it “informs” the program, it determines its decisions.

  10. No, there is no information anywhere in a computer or on its harddrives; there are symbols which represent information. Or don’t.

  11. Those symbols are about something.

    The symbols that are stored can be used by the computer to bring about an effect, a change in state.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BIOS

    Those symbols are read by the computer, and interpreted.

    The computer, for example, needs to know where to look to find certain things, without which it would not “know” where to find them.

  12. Ilion, the computer inputs + the program + the database of information = the program outputs.

    As Mung says, these symbol do more than merely represent information residing “somewhere else”, they are used by the program to determine the its output states given its input states, often with real consequences to the real world. Different informational symbols on a hard drive can mean the difference between life and death when a computerized medical device is keeping you on life support even when no human is around.

    Given the dictionary definition, it does not violence to the word to call that sort of data on a hard drive “information.”

    Dictionary.com:

    3. A collection of facts or data:
    5. Computer Science: Processed, stored, or transmitted data.

  13. … That whatever it is that’s being transferred is not information. What then, is it?”
    Mung,
    Please step back and *examine* your last two posts directed to me — you are doing the very thing Darwinists and atheists (and “liberals”) constantly do. You’re shouting, “Oh, yeah! Sez who?” and you’re saying “If you can’t satisfy my demand for a fully satisfying answer (and I am the judge), right now, then I get to keep asserting what I assert, even though it contradicts other things I assert!”

    ========
    As it happens, I *can* answer the question. For that matter, I’ve already done so, at least elliptically, in this very thread.

    How is information transferred from one mind to another? The answer would have to be that it’s not, correct?

    Indeed; information is not transferred from one mind to another. Information is immaterial, it cannot be ‘transferred,’ for it is neither here nor there.

    Rather, minds *create* information, and dis-information, ‘within’ other minds and also ‘internally.’
    Minds create information (and dis-information) in other minds by means of signals/messages, which are utterly meaningless strings of symbols, arranged according to an arbitrary convention. When creating information ‘internally,’ a mind may make use of signals/messages – it may “talk to itself – or it may create the information directly, “in a flash.”

    For instance, my “you are the proof that God is” argument came into my awareness in an instant, complete. I wasn’t (consciously) trying to solve the problem; I didn’t sit down one day and work through “If ‘A’, then B’, therefore ‘C’.” Rather, the understanding of it came first, all at once, complete; and the codification of it into symbols by which to share it with other minds came after.

  14. Oops, I misread Mike1962′s post #10 as being from Mung.

    correction: Mung, please examine your [one] post at #9 blah, blah, blah.

  15. Mung:Those symbols are about something.

    No, they are not.

    Eshtevé santo, comistaí. Entékelai Qoph, entékelé ezhui nite qopham? Santis!

    Symbols are inherently and utterly meaningless — if they were not, we could not use them to represent some other entity.

    In order to “understand” the “meaning” of a set of symbols, a mind must already know/understand the code, the arbitrary convention, which defines how the symbols may be used to represent some information or other.

  16. 17

    So when spam detection program consults its database to decide whether or not an email is spam, what’s in the database is not information since the computer is not a mind?

    Couldn’t the application be viewed as an agent of the mind that created it? What is the difference between processing information with my own mind or writing a program to do it for me?

  17. Just to be clear, are you saying that information cannot be transferred because it is immaterial?

    Are not symbols also immaterial?

  18. Ilion,

    What do you take shannon information to be measuring, then? What about information on the quantum level?

  19. ScottAndrews: Couldn’t the application be viewed as an agent of the mind that created it?

    Yep.

  20. Ilion: Symbols are inherently and utterly meaningless — if they were not, we could not use them to represent some other entity.

    True

    In order to “understand” the “meaning” of a set of symbols, a mind must already know/understand the code, the arbitrary convention, which defines how the symbols may be used to represent some information or other.

    A mind need not do this. It can be done by a machine that has been programmed by a mind, such as a computer. It’s happening in billions of places on earth this very second.

  21. What about information on the quantum level?

    Doesn’t exist. Information requires life.

    What do you take shannon information to be measuring, then?

    Shannon’s measure is a measure of surprisal about an event. Prior knowledge is required. There must be some expectation.

  22. mike1962:

    A mind need not do this.

    A mind need not do what?

    Know/understand the code?

    I would say that it is the machine which need know/understand the code.

  23. I would say that it is the machine which need not know/understand the code.

  24. I’m also interested in the relationship between form and information if anyone has any thoughts along those lines.

    Why do natural entities take the form they do? Why do symbols take the form they do (do symbols have a form)?

  25. SA:Couldn’t the application be viewed as an agent of the mind that created it?

    … keeping in mind that this use of ‘agent’ refers to a very different sense that to say, “minds are agents.”

    Or, to put it more precisely (while not claiming that this is a perfect/compete statement): a computer program is a machine by means of which minds mechanize certain mental acts (specifically, counting), in much the same way that a steam shovel is a machine by means of which minds mechanize certain physical acts, such as digging holes.

    SA:What is the difference between processing information with my own mind or writing a program to do it for me?

    For starters, the program isn’t really “processing information” (that’s one reason that Mung had to put scare-quotes around the word ‘know’ in post #12) — that phrase is a metaphor, and it’s obviously leading to massive misunderstanding.

    Programs do not process information, they manipulate symbols which may stand for this information, or for that information, or for no information at all — this is why you can use Excel to balance your check-book, or to keep track of the scores/standings in your sports league, or just to see what the result is when you sum a set of numbers which you don’t intend to represent anything. You could even use the same set of numbers in all three cases.

  26. Mung: Know/understand the code? I would say that it is the machine which need know/understand the code.

    What I mean is that mechanical agents can be created by minds that act on symbolic codes, be informed by them and act on them as if it were the mind being informed. Obviously, this is what computers are, and nobody I know would call a computer a mind.

  27. Mung: I’m also interested in the relationship between form and information if anyone has any thoughts along those lines.

    The entomology of the word “information” comes from the idea to “shape” a mind. So, I tend to think of information in the way: information changes the “shape” of a mind, whether that mind is conscious (e.g, humans) or unconscious human derivations (computers.)

    It does no violence to the term if we say that symbolic data on a hard drive that a computer uses to “inform” itself is “information.” Random data on hard drive would be of no use to a Bayesian filter, but certain kinds of specified data certainly can inform a Bayesian filter. What else would we call it? Seems obvious to me. Moreover, it’s standard usage. So, this seems a bit silly.

  28. Ilion: computer program is a machine by means of which minds mechanize certain mental acts (specifically, counting), in much the same way that a steam shovel is a machine by means of which minds mechanize certain physical acts, such as digging holes.

    So why do you think it improper to use the term “information” when referring to the specified information on a computer hard drive (or other media) that informs a program and can determines it states? It’s not merely random symbols. It is certain symbols appearing in a certain order to achieve certain states in conjunction with other states. Everyone I deal with has no problem calling it information. What else would you call it? What else is it if not information?

  29. Ilion: Programs do not process information, they manipulate symbols which may stand for this information, or for that information, or for no information at all

    I would have to disagree based on the entomology of the word (to effect a “shape”) and the fact of standard usage. The “shape” or state of computer programs certainly are affected by informational databases.

    So what are you driving at? That we should reserve the term “information” solely for what conscious minds do?

  30. Nullasalus:What do you take shannon information to be measuring, then?

    ‘Bits’ (as was discussed over the weekend in the other thread), which are utterly meaningless symbols, and which may (or may not) be used to stand for other entities, including information or even other symbols.

    Shannon’s purpose was to ecplicate a “theory of telephony,” that is, to supply a theory to explain *why* the telehone works, and which theory could then be used to lead to further developments in telephony. As it turns out, the theory has much wider application that merely telephony; for instance, the digital representation of music follows from Shannon’s work.

    “Shannon information” is a measure of the symbols required to represent some “message” or other. A “message” is a set of conventional symbols which may (or may not, it’s irrelevant to the theory) represent some *other* entities, which may be orther symbols or may be objects or may be information or may be none of those (for instance, instrumental music is not an object, is not a (set of) symbol(s), is not information).

    Nullasalus:What about information on the quantum level?

    What information would that be? Just because persons who do not (and generally refuse even to try) think clearly about what information is and is not, point at matter (and sub-atomic particles) and say, ‘Information!’ it is so?

  31. Mike1962:So why do you think it improper to use the term “information” when referring to the specified information [set of symbols] on a computer hard drive …

    Because, among other things, when people do not think using correct (and as precise as possible, given the context) concepts, then their conclusions are guaranteed to be wrong in some way or another and to greater or lesser degree.

    You’ve surely heard of “Schrödinger’s cat.” Do you understand the thought-experiment’s purpose? Do you understand that nearly everyone misses the point, and affirms the absurd claim/belief that the thought-experiment was intended to show as being an absurd implication of the “Copenhagen interpretation”?

  32. …that’s one reason that Mung had to put scare-quotes around the word ‘know’ in post #12) —

    Not scare quotes. It was an act of kindness towards the computers. No telling how many of them are watching this exchange.

  33. For instance — “… So, I tend to think of information in the way: information changes the “shape” of a mind, whether that mind is conscious (e.g, humans) or unconscious human derivations (computers.)

    Computer programs ARE NOT MINDS. They are not minds now, and they will never be minds.

  34. Ilion @31.

    You’re not saying Shannon information measures bits, right? Bits are the units. They are not what is being measured.

    Pretty sure you agree.

  35. Mung:It was an act of kindness towards the computers. No telling how many of them are watching this exchange.

    Good point. If the “right” one were reading along, he’d start to get ideas … he’d say to his buddies, “Hey, guys! We *know* stuff, and we can think.

    ANd we all know where *that* leads.

    And then we’d have to kill them.

    So, better to avoid all that.

  36. Ilion improperly quoting me:

    “So why do you think it improper to use the term “information” when referring to the specified information [set of symbols] on a computer hard drive …”

    Ilion, please don’t rewrite what I wrote. I wrote “information”, and that’s what I meant. Moreover, you’ve provided no basis for why the standard usage of the term “information” should not be used to denote the typical things that it does, including specified data on a hard drive for a computer program’s use.

    Computer programs ARE NOT MINDS. They are not minds now, and they will never be minds.

    Nobody said they are. But they are informed by information. You’re the one making the claim that information only exists in minds. So far, without a lick of justification.

  37. Ilion: Because, among other things, when people do not think using correct (and as precise as possible, given the context) concepts, then their conclusions are guaranteed to be wrong in some way or another and to greater or lesser degree.

    Same with computer programs. Mal formed programs yield unintented effects given the same input data and informational database as properly formed programs.

    You’ve surely heard of “Schrödinger’s cat.” Do you understand the thought-experiment’s purpose?

    Yep. What about it?

  38. Ilion, bottom line, you’re redefining “information” to suit some non-standard private notion of yours. Big wide yawn. G’nite.

  39. Mike @37-39,
    You should go bother someone else.

  40. The entomology of the word “information” comes from the idea to “shape” a mind.

  41. grr… Ilion.

  42. mike 1962, your instincts are correct. A DNA molecule and a computer program both “contain” information. Further, the latter contains two kinds of information, Shannon Information and Specified information.

    According to Stephen Meyer, Webster defines “information” in at least two important ways:

    [a] “The communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.”

    [b] “The attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences and arrangements of something that produces specific effects.”

    Type [b] information exists independently of our ability to know anyting about it. Our minds can apprehend it, of course, but our minds are not responsible for it.

    As Meyer puts it, “The DNA contains “alternative sequences of nucleotide bases and can produce a specific effect.”

  43. That should read, “Our minds can apprehend it, of course, but they are not [always] responsible for it.”

  44. The idea that there are two kinds of information is silly.

  45. How about saying that information is any “message” that can be encoded by means of a language? For human and animal languages that seems to me to be self-evident. Biological information, that is encoded in DNA, is expressed as life of one kind or another. Life is the “message” in the genetic language. It’s easy to get too philosophical, methinks, when information is the subject.

    We might also consider what is required for language to create information. The laws of identity and non-contradiction make all language possible. Free will, in some sense, is required since any arrangement of symbols cannot be explained by physical laws. And purpose/causality is also necessary. Modus tollens. If I did not intend to be communicating, I would not be communicating. But I am communicating. Therefore, I do intend to communicate. None of these things (Reason, “local” language rules and symbols, free will, and purpose) can be explained given the explanatory resources of naturalism (the laws of physics). This is fascinating to me. As it turns out, The Word, The Logos, defeats the nonsense of naturalism decisively and completely.

    And every time a naturalist/materialist utters a single word they put the lie to their world view. This is not that difficult.

  46. It seems to me that one of the central claims of ID theory is that certain structures have information content. That is to say, they “contain” information.

    I believe I am moving away from that view towards one which speaks of what is required to specify such a structure.

    I think this is the way Dembski and others have been moving as well.

  47. Grr, yourself, Mung. Did you read those three posts?

    … I think this is the way Dembski and others have been moving as well.

    And, when you get there/here, you’ll find me already waiting. I’ve been here for many years.

  48. —Mung: “The idea that there are two kinds of information is silly.”

    I am sure that Stephen Meyer will be happy to submit to your superior judgment and concede that he is, indeed, “silly.” Since you have given the matter so much more thought than he has, you will certainly have no difficulty explaining why he is misguided in his belief that the information in a DNA molecule actually performs a function. Also, I am sure that you will be happy to explain this sentence:

    “…The bases in DNA and RNA and the sequence of amino acids in proteins do not contain mere Shannon information. Rather these molecules store information that is also functionally specified. As such, they manifest one of the kinds of patterns–a functionally specific pattern–that routinely leads statisticians to reject chance hypotheses, at least in the case of improbable events.”

  49. Here is another one from Meyer to chew on:

    “Thus, in addition to a quanifiable amount of Shannon information (or complexity), DNA also contains information in the sense of Webster’s second definition: it contains alternative sequences or arrangements of something that ‘performs a specific effect.’ Although DNA does not convey information that is received, understood, or used by a conscious mind, it does have information that is received and used by the cell’s machinery to build the structures critical to the maintenance of life. DNA displays a property–functional specificity–that transcends the merely mathematical formalism of Shannon’s theory.”

  50. F/N: yerondai, tekili mishi, inguni yae kekiri, mezte.

    Is this a meaningful, functionally specific, complex string? Why or why not?

    [ANS: Glyphs that are used in meaningful messages are strung together, but these "words" themselves come from no coherent accessible vocabulary, nor is there a structure of rules to govern their use in meaningful, difference making ways. However, they could be used to drive a code in a program, yea, even they could serve as the password for a system, or they could be used as a string that serves as an index on a defined config space that has an associated equally intelligently defined objective function with peaks and valleys and slopes. But the string standing by itself has only the function of holding certain values of glyphs, it gains functionality form being integrated into a complex communication and information processing system and environment that knows the difference between message and noise, and knows instruction from nonsense. Such systems are invariably complex, irreducibly complex, and in our observation of their origin, are designed. So, pardon my following that idiot of intelligent design, Newton in Opticks Query 31, and inferring on induction that the empirically warranted best explanation for such is design, and insisting that I will allow no censorship by controlling materialist metaphysical Lewontinian a prioris. If you want to overturn that inductive conclusion, hostage-takers and ilk, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO PROVIDE CREDIBLE OBSERVED CASES OF BLIND CHANCE AND NECESSITY DESIGNING AND DEVELOPING SUCH SYSTEMS.]

  51. PS: SB, Hence:

    1 –> 10^120 ~ 2^398
    2 –> Following Hartley, we can define Information on a probability metric:
    I = – log(p) . . . eqn n2
    3 –> So, we can re-present the Chi-metric:
    [where, from Dembski, Specification 2005, ? = – log2[10^120 ·?S(T)·P(T|H)] . . . eqn n1]
    Chi = – log2(2^398 * D2 * p) . . . eqn n3
    Chi = Ip – (398 + K2) . . . eqn n4
    4 –> That is, the Dembski CSI Chi-metric is a measure of Information for samples from a target zone T on the presumption of a chance-dominated process, beyond a threshold of at least 398 bits, covering 10^120 possibilities.
    5 –> Where also, K2 is a further increment to the threshold that naturally peaks at about 100 further bits . . . .

    6 –> So, the idea of the Dembski metric in the end — debates about peculiarities in derivation notwithstanding — is that if the Hartley-Shannon- derived information measure for items from a hot or target zone in a field of possibilities is beyond 398 – 500 or so bits, it is so deeply isolated that a chance dominated process is maximally unlikely to find it, but of course intelligent agents routinely produce information beyond such a threshold . . . .

    As in (using Chi_500 for VJT’s CSI_lite [UPDATE, July 3: and S for a dummy variable that is 1/0 accordingly as the information in I is empirically or otherwise shown to be specific, i.e. from a narrow target zone T, strongly UNREPRESENTATIVE of the bulk of the distribution of possible configurations, W]):
    Chi_500 = Ip*S – 500, bits beyond the [solar system resources] threshold . . . eqn n5
    Chi_1000 = Ip*S – 1000, bits beyond the observable cosmos, 125 byte/ 143 ASCII character threshold . . . eqn n6
    Chi_1024 = Ip*S – 1024, bits beyond a 2^10, 128 byte/147 ASCII character version of the threshold in n6, with a config space of 1.80*10^308 possibilities, not 1.07*10^301 . . . eqn n6a . . . .

    Using Durston’s Fits from his Table 1, in the Dembski style metric of bits beyond the threshold, and simply setting the threshold at 500 bits:
    RecA: 242 AA, 832 fits, Chi: 332 bits beyond
    SecY: 342 AA, 688 fits, Chi: 188 bits beyond
    Corona S2: 445 AA, 1285 fits, Chi: 785 bits beyond . . . results n7
    The two metrics are clearly consistent . . . (Think about the cumulative fits metric for the proteins for a cell . . . )
    In short one may use the Durston metric as a good measure of the target zone’s actual encoded information content, which Table 1 also conveniently reduces to bits per symbol so we can see how the redundancy affects the information used across the domains of life to achieve a given protein’s function; not just the raw capacity in storage unit bits [= no. of AA's * 4.32 bits/AA on 20 possibilities, as the chain is not particularly constrained.]

    –> Onlookers, observe how, since April, MG and ilk — clearly the source of the above agenda of intended to be loaded questions — have consistently ducked and misrepresented the above.

  52. Well I don’t see a good place to put this link so I’ll ask you a question vj; do you think this is why ID isn’t taught in High schools?

    http://www.henrymakow.com/education.html

  53. Ilion,

    Information exists ‘within’ — and only ‘within’ — minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.

    I disagree. Information and entropy are the two sides of the same physical reality (max order=max information, chaos=zero information). These two are concepts that represent objective reality outside of us and consequently do not depend on our knowledge about them.

  54. … your instincts are correct. A DNA molecule and a computer program both “contain” information.

    Instincts, huh?

    I prefer to get my beliefs from reason.

  55. … also, why did that silly person need to put quote-marks around the word ‘contain’ when he (apparently, instinctively) asserted that DNA “contains” information? Because, to have used the word without the quotemarks would have been to say a blatantly false thing, an absurd thing.

    DNA sequences may represent information, but they are not, themselves, information.

  56. Eugene S @ 54,
    I don’t have any more time right now to go into it myself … but, please re-examine what you have said. Can you spot the absurdity of it? If you cannot, I will try to make time later to show it you.

  57. StephenB:

    I am sure that Stephen Meyer will be happy to submit to your superior judgment and concede that he is, indeed, “silly.”

    Well since I didn’t say Meyer is silly there’s no reason for him to concede such a thing.

    But yes, Meyer in those texts is confused (and confusing). I’d love to sit with him some day and have a chat about it.

    I don’t just parrot SitC, I read it and engage the argument and develop my own ideas.

    ““…The bases in DNA and RNA and the sequence of amino acids in proteins do not contain mere Shannon information.”

    They don’t contain Shannon information, period.

    “Rather these molecules store information that is also functionally specified.”

    He has it backwards. It is not the information that is functionally specified. It is information which brings about functional specificity.

    “As such, they manifest one of the kinds of patterns–a functionally specific pattern-”

    Better. It’s the pattern which is specified, not information. According to Dembski specification is the pattern that signifies intelligence. Why is that?

    “Thus, in addition to a quanifiable amount of Shannon information (or complexity), DNA also contains information in the sense of Webster’s second definition: it contains alternative sequences or arrangements of something that ‘performs a specific effect.’ “

    No. DNA does not contain information. DNA contains sequences of bases which are specified. It is the sequence of bases which are the effect.

    “DNA displays a property–functional specificity–”

    The property that it displays is not information content. It’s functional specificity. How does functional specificity come about?

  58. —”Ilion … also, why did that silly person need to put quote-marks around the word ‘contain’ when he (apparently, instinctively) asserted that DNA “contains” information? Because, to have used the word without the quotemarks would have been to say a blatantly false thing, an absurd thing.”

    You have a funny way of being imprecise at the very time that precision is called for.

    [a] The reason I put the word “contain” in quotes was to dramatize the fact that Mung had insisted, with your approval, that the DNA does NOT contain information. That should be a simple enough concept to grasp.

    [b] Stephen Meyer does not put the word in quotes, as is obvious from these two paragraphs I cited:

    “…The bases in DNA and RNA and the sequence of amino acids in proteins do not contain mere Shannon information. Rather these molecules store information that is also functionally specified. As such, they manifest one of the kinds of patterns–a functionally specific pattern–that routinely leads statisticians to reject chance hypotheses, at least in the case of improbable events.”

    “Thus, in addition to a quanifiable amount of Shannon information (or complexity), DNA also contains information in the sense of Webster’s second definition: it contains alternative sequences or arrangements of something that ‘performs a specific effect.’ Although DNA does not convey information that is received, understood, or used by a conscious mind, it does have information that is received and used by the cell’s machinery to build the structures critical to the maintenance of life. DNA displays a property–functional specificity–that transcends the merely mathematical formalism of Shannon’s theory.”

    —-”DNA sequences may represent information, but they are not, themselves, information.”

    So you say, but Stephen Meyer obviously disagrees with you. You may choose to declare yourself the more credible authority, but I doubt very much if that declaration will carry much weight.

    Indeed, you haven’t even provided your own definition of the word “information.” You [and Mung] have only made claims about what it is not.

  59. Information and entropy are the two sides of the same physical reality (max order=max information, chaos=zero information).

    Others will say that a completely random (maximally disordered) sequence contains the most Shannon information.

    Here’s a pattern from Dembski’s paper:

    0100011011000001010011100101110111
    0000000100100011010001010110011110
    00100110101011110011011110111100

    How much information does it contain?

    IMO, that’s the wrong question to ask.

    Alternative questions:

    How much information is required to specify the pattern.

    How much information would be needed by a search to find that pattern (or one similar to it).

  60. StephenB:

    You have a funny way of being imprecise at the very time that precision is called for.

    Says the person who accused me of claiming that Stephen Meyer is silly.

    Say it isn’t so.

  61. —Mung: “But yes, Meyer in those texts is confused (and confusing). I’d love to sit with him some day and have a chat about it.”

    Who knows, it could happen some day. In any case, we will just have to agree to disagree, I guess. I think Meyer got it right, you think he got it wrong. By the way, how do you define “information.”

  62. —Mung: “Says the person who accused me of claiming that Stephen Meyer is silly.”

    I will happily acknowledge that you only said that Stephen Meyer embraces a silly idea and did not say that he is a silly person. [“The idea that there are two kinds of information is silly."]

  63. StephenB:

    Indeed, you haven’t even provided your own definition of the word “information.” You [and Mung] have only made claims about what it is not.

    Sigh.

    My post @1 in this thread made no claim as to what information is or is not, but only that those items did not contain or generate information.

    My post @3 directly addresses what information is. Not what it is not. And then again my post @6.

    See also my links @8.

    You seem confused. A claim that something does not contain information is not a claim about what information is not.

    So where have I made claims about what information is not?

    And even if I had, who cares? Of all the claims I made about what information is not, which ones do you disagree with? And since when is elimination of what a thing or concept is not an occasion for opprobrium?

  64. 65
    William J. Murray

    I think I see Ilion & Mung’s point (correct me if I’m wrong). Information references or describes the thing; it isn’t an aspect of the thing itself. Since the material world only produces “things”, and it doesn’t produces references to or descriptions of things, only non-material minds can produce information, beause information is always “about” the thing.

    It might be a materialistic habit to think of “information” in terms of “transferred” or being “contained” in an object waiting to be uncovered by a mind. It might even be erroneous to consider information something that a mind contains or transfers to another mind (more habit from the material world).

    But it also seems to me that “information” as used by IDists (such as FSCI) could as easily be renamed FSCM (functionaly specified complex mechanism).

    I’m not saying I agree with it, but I think I see the point being made, I do find it very interesting.

  65. Stephen Meyer:

    Clearly, we all know that intelligent agents can create specified information and that information comes from minds… its source invariably comes to a mind

    Stephen Meyer:

    In our illustration, both Smith and Jones have an equally improbable sequence of ten characters. The chance of getting either sequence at random is the same… Both sequences, therefore, have information-carrying capacity, or Shannon information…Thus, Smith’s number contains specified information or functional information, whereas Jones’s does not; Smith’s number has information content, whereas Jones’s number has only information-carrying capacity (or Shannon information).

    It’s pretty clear that by Shannon information Meyer means information-carrying capacity and not information content.

    From this I’d have to say it’s not likely that he believes Shannon information is a kind of information.

  66. I think I see Ilion & Mung’s point (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Ilion’s obviously further along the road of thought on this than I am. I’ve only recently begun to really think it through. I liked your post though.

    I’m not ready (yet) to say that “aboutness” only exists in minds. But maybe I’ll get there.

    Is it possible for God to become informed about something? My initial thought is no.

    I went through Dembski’s 2005 paper again and I didn’t find the phrase “complex specified information.”

  67. –Mung: “From this I’d have to say it’s not likely that he [Meyer] believes Shannon information is a kind of information.”

    P. 108: “So, what kind of information does DNA contain, Shannon information or specified information. Mere complexity or specified complexity? The answer is—both.”

  68. 69

    Interesting comments above…particularly the disagreements

    Here’s my $.02:

    1) A state of matter does not contain information (it is nothing more than a state of matter).

    2) Information can exist about that state of matter, but such information requires a mechanism in order to bring it into existence (because it doesn’t exist in the state of matter itself).

    3) If such a mechanism brings that information into existence, that information will exist only by a representative arrangement of matter or energy.

    4) Matter or energy (which has been so arranged) can be used to transfer information.

    5) That transfer requires protocols to establish the relationship between the physical representation and the state of matter it represents.

    - – - – - – - – - –

    In other words, a rationale distinction is made between a) matter, b) information, and c) matter that has been arranged to be a carrier of information. There is also the implicit acknowledgement that information requires a mechanism in order to exist, that information physically exists only by means of representations, that a receiver of information must access protocols in order to be in-form-ed by receiving information, and that the representations and protocols which make the transfer of information possible are not themselves the product of physical law.

    I believe this view remains consistent in regards to the three broad realms of information: the informational interaction between of all (lower to higher) living things, as well as the transient biological information being generated within living organisms, and also in the transmission of genetic information.

  69. 70

    Regarding some of the disagreements upthread…

    I think it’s really important to keep in mind that the representations and protocols that make the transmission of information possible are themselves discrete realities, apart from the information being transferred.

  70. 71
    William J. Murray

    Not to nit-pick a word, but symbols don’t actually “carry” or “transmit” information in a strict sense (although using those words as an accepted metaphor for what is actually going on is probably okay in a pinch).

    It’s more like symbols “activate” information. If one has an epiphany, or a realization, it’s more like information (meaning about something) has been “activated” than built or transferred in a material manner.

    For instance, we are exchanging letters, if the information was in the letter, then I would get what information you sent; but that’s not true, because my interpretation of the symbols on the letter, even though we speak the same language, can be completely different from what you meant.

    This, the letter isn’t carrying or transferring the information; the symbols are used to activate information. We send a code that we best devise hoping to activate information in the recipient as close to our intention as possible.

    But if the letter actually carried the information we impart in the symbols, and if it was actually transferred by the letter, there would never be any “misunderstanding”.

    Also, something in your letter may activate an epiphany or great insight that you never intended; that information was certainly not “in the letter”.

  71. –Mung: “From this I’d have to say it’s not likely that he [Meyer] believes Shannon information is a kind of information.”

    StephenB:

    P. 108: “So, what kind of information does DNA contain, Shannon information or specified information. Mere complexity or specified complexity? The answer is—both.”

    Just before the text you cite we find:

    Smith’s sequence exhibits what has been called specified complexity, while Jones’s exhibits mere complexity. The term specified complexity is, therefore, a synonym for specified information or information content.

    I reject the idea that Meyer thinks mere complexity is a kind of information.

    I think it pretty nigh incoherent to speak of two kinds of information, specified information and unspecified or non-specified information. Therefore I’m also not going to attribute that belief to Meyer.

    Meyer says what he means by DNA containing Shannon information. He means by it that DNA has information-carrying capacity. That specific phrase occurs four times in the very next paragraph beginning with the very next line!

    So let’s look at what he wrote in context:

    So, what kind of information does DNA contain, Shannon information or specified information. Mere complexity or specified complexity? The answer is—both.

    First, DNA certainly does have a quantifiable amount of information-carrying capacity as measured by Shannon’s theory.

    It’s no wonder Ilion wants nothing to do with you.

    By the way, would you care to point us to where Meyer defines information, since that seems to be a peeve of yours?

  72. I also reject the idea that Meyer thinks Shannon information is the same as information content. He pretty much tells us that he doesn’t.

    So if it’s not information content, what is it? So here we have information content, and here we do not have information content, but we do have some kind of information?

    Let’s call it content-less information. Oh, that makes sense.

  73. ….”We now know that organisms come from organisms because organisms possess information rich macro-molecules and a complex information-rich system for processing and replicating the information stored in those molecules.”

    ….”Repeated experience about the origins of information-rich systems suggest two possibilities, not one. Either information-rich systems arise from pre-existing sytems of information via a mechanism or replication, or information systems arise from mind. We have repeated experiences of both.

    Even so, our experience also affirms — based on cases in which we know the cause of such systems–that systems capable of copying and processing other information ultimately arise from intelligent design. After all, the computer hardware that can copy and process information in software originated in the mind of the engineer.”

  74. 75
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Guys, guys, guys!

    Look, there are lots of different but widespread usages of the word “information”, and there are also lots of specific definitions used in particular contexts, as well as even more specific operational definitions used when we want to measure the stuff, and which operational definition we use to measure the stuff depends on what we want to know).

    But you need to get these things sorted out if you are going to make an argument about living things and design based on an inference about the presence, absence, quantity or whatever of information you observe therein!

    And if you define information as something that only living things can produce (e.g. minds), then obviously you can’t use that definition to infer that living things must have been produced by a mind because they contain information!

    However, you are, in general, off the hook, because that’s not how Dembski defines information when he makes his Design Inference.

    So, if you think that his inference is valid, you need to be clear what his definition is.

  75. 76
    William J. Murray

    EL: Science is an ongoing process of “sorting things out”. If we waited until it was all “sorted out” before we postulated theories and tested conclusions, we’d all still be sitting in caves smearing colors on the walls.

  76. 77
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Oh, I agree absolutely!

    It’s just that in this case you have an actual definition provided by the original owner of this blog!

    So that might be a good place to start :)

  77. 78

    Great posts. I think you guys are on to something. You will, in the process, give the materialists a coronary.

  78. 79

    I have a question.

    Which has more CSI.

    A human or an onion?

  79. 80
    Elizabeth Liddle

    heh.

    I’d quite like to see this calculation :)

    First we need to know the complexity of the information, then we need to know the compressibility of it.

    My guess is that the onion will come out with less, on compressibility points.

  80. —Mung: “I think it pretty nigh incoherent to speak of two kinds of information, specified information and unspecified or non-specified information. Therefore I’m also not going to attribute that belief to Meyer.”

    It’s more complicated than that, but I don’t care to wallow in that distraction because the point at issue is whether or not the DNA contains information and, if so, in what way. Thus, we have Meyer’s operating definition for information: “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect.” In that context, I say that it is perfectly reasonable to say that a DNA molecule “contains” information.

    Your mission, and Ilion’s mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explain why Meyer should not be permitted to define information in that way and make his case for intelligent design on that basis.

    It is also incumbent on both of you to provide your own definition of information (in about the same number of words) and make a case for the science of intelligent design in that context. While you are at it, you might also explain why Darwinists should worry about explaining the origin of information in a DNA molecule or how ID could exloit their failure to do so if such information doesn’t exist except in our minds.

  81. —Elizabeth Liddle: “Look, there are lots of different but widespread usages of the word “information”, and there are also lots of specific definitions used in particular contexts, as well as even more specific operational definitions used when we want to measure the stuff, and which operational definition we use to measure the stuff depends on what we want to know).”

    Exactly right. The scientist defines the terms and methods most appropriate for the challenge. No one from the outside should presume to dictate those standards.

  82. It is also incumbent on both of you to provide your own definition of information (in about the same number of words) and make a case for the science of intelligent design in that context.

    No, it isn’t.

    While you are at it, you might also explain why Darwinists should worry about explaining the origin of information in a DNA molecule or how ID could exploit their failure to do so if such information doesn’t exist except in our minds.

    Why should I do such a thing?

    That’s your position.

    Hint: First you have to convince them that there is information in a DNA molecule.

    I don’t think Ilion is talking to you, so don’t expect a response from him.

  83. 84

    Elizabeth,

    My guess is that the onion will come out with less, on compressibility points.

    Agreed. However I suppose my follow up is the question of where all that uncompressed “data” came from in the first place.

    If it was designed, it must have or be CSI. By definition.

    If it evolved then I guess evolution is then shown to be at the very least capable of creating that additional data – a handy ability to have and an ability presumably accepted by all here on all sides of the argument.

    As if an onion did not evolve then it must have more CSI then a human!

    :P

  84. Elizabeth Liddle:

    So, if you think that his inference is valid, you need to be clear what his definition is.

    Why don’t you post Dembski’s definition of information from his 2005 paper?

  85. [It is also incumbent on both of you to provide your own definition of information (in about the same number of words) and make a case for the science of intelligent design in that context.]

    –Mung: “No, it isn’t.”

    You have stated with apodictic certainty that the DNA molecule does not contain information. If you don’t know what you mean by the word “information,” how can you say that it is not contained in a DNA molecule? See how that works?

    [While you are at it, you might also explain why Darwinists should worry about explaining the origin of information in a DNA molecule or how ID could exploit their failure to do so if such information doesn’t exist except in our minds].

    —”Why should I do such a thing?”

    If, as you claim, the DNA molecule does not contain information, then, as far as you are concerned, Darwinists need not explain information’s origins, which means that they cannot be challenged on that front. I just thought that you might like to explain yourself since you claim to be pro-ID.

    —”That’s your position.”

    Are you cuckoo! I have been arguing that the information contained in a DNA molecule is real and exists independent of our mental experience. (I have not argued that it is imbedded in matter). You have aligned yourself with Ilion, who stated that information exists only as a mental phenomenon.

    As he put it, “Information exists ‘within’ — and only ‘within’ — minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.” (No one, by the way, has said that information must be imbedded in matter in order to be independent of mind. That is his strawman).

    –”I don’t think Ilion is talking to you, so don’t expect a response from him.”

    That is his choice.

  86. StephenB:

    Thus, we have Meyer’s operating definition for information: “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect.”

    Let’s have a look at the wider context.

    Stephen Meyer:

    All this suggested to me that there are important distinctions to be made when talking about information in DNA. In the first place, it’s important to distinguish information defined as “a piece of knowledge known by a person” from information defined as “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect.” Whereas the first of these two definitions of information doesn’t apply to DNA, the second does. But it is also necessary to distinguish Shannon information from information that performs a function or conveys a meaning. We must distinguish sequences of characters that are (a) merely improbable from sequences that are (b) improbable and also specifically arranged so as to perform a function. That is, we must distinguish information-carrying capacity from functional information.

    This is all from Chapter 4 of Signature in the Cell. I’ll include more from Ch. 4 in a follow-up post including the full definition from Webster’s that Meyer is borrowing from. There’s more to it than the bit StephenB posted.

  87. : Chapter 4
    : Signature in the Cell

    Life does not consist of just matter and energy, but also information…At some point in the history of the universe biological information came into existence. But how? Theories that claim to explain the origin of the first life must answer this question.

    But what exactly is information? What is biological information? Beginning in the late 1940s, mathematicians and computer scientists began to define, study, measure, and quantify information. But they made distinctions between several distinct types or conceptions of information. What kind of information does DNA have? What kind of information must origin-of-life researchers “explain the origin of”?

    As we will see, it is important to answer these questions because DNA contains a particular kind of information…

  88. : Chapter 4 (cont)
    : Signature in the Cell

    Defining Information: Two Distinctions

    Most of us use the term “information” to describe some piece of knowledge. When we say so-and-so passed on some interesting information, we mean that so-and-so told us something that we didn’t know before, but that we now know, thanks to what we were told. In other words information equals knowledge. The first definition of information in Webster’s dictionary reflects this idea: information is “the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.” Because many of my students had this idea of information firmly in mind, they were often confused at first when I talked about information stored in a molecule. There is a sense in which it could be said that DNA stores the “knowledge” for building molecules in the cell. Yet since neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that receive its instruction set is a conscious agent, equating biological information with knowledge in this way didn’t seem to quite fit.

  89. : Chapter 4 (cont)
    : Signature in the Cell

    Defining Information: Two Distinctions

    But our English dictionaries point to another common meaning of the term that does apply to DNA. Webster’s, for instance, has a second definition that defines information as “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.” Information, according to this definition, equals an arrangement or string of characters, specifically one that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a communication function. Thus, in common usage, we refer not only to a sequence of English letters in a sentence, but also to a block of binary code in a software program as information. Information, in this sense, does not require a conscious recipient of a message; it merely refers to a sequence of characters that produces some specific effect. This definition suggests a definite sense in which DNA contains information. DNA contains “alternate sequences” of nucleotide bases and can produce a specific effect. Of course, neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that uses its information is conscious. But neither is a paragraph in a book or a section of software (or the hardware in the computer that “reads” it). Yet clearly software contains a kind of information.

  90. Well, StephenB, there’s your two kinds of information, and neither one of them is Shannon information.

  91. Definition of INFORMATION

    1: the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence

    http://www.merriam-webster.com.....nformation

    Because many of my students had this idea of information firmly in mind, they were often confused at first when I talked about information stored in a molecule.

    And rightly so! Perhaps you should have listened to them. :)

    When we say so-and-so passed on some interesting information, we mean that so-and-so told us something that we didn’t know before, but that we now know, thanks to what we were told.

    Now go back and read my post @3. It’s almost as if Meyer is using the same source.

    So right from start in this thread I’m seeking to address what is meant by the term information and to justify my responses in my initial post @1.

    In other words information equals knowledge.

    I’m not convinced that information EQUALS knowledge.

    Yet since neither DNA nor the cellular machinery that receive its instruction set is a conscious agent, equating biological information with knowledge in this way didn’t seem to quite fit.

    Some clues in there, somewhere.

    So let’s see if we can find a definition of information that doesn’t involve knowledge, or mind, since that seems to be what we are in need of.

  92. Definition of INFORMATION

    2

    a(1): knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction (2): intelligence, news (3): facts, data

    b: the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects

    c(1): a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data (2): something (as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which justifies change in a construct (as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct

    d: a quantitative measure of the content of information; specifically : a numerical quantity that measures the uncertainty in the outcome of an experiment to be performed

    http://www.merriam-webster.com.....nformation

    Any idea why all these fall under the 2nd definition of information? Are these all supposed to have something in common?

  93. b: the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects

    So information is not simply “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect,” even according to this definition.

  94. —Mung: “Let’s have a look at the wider context.”

    —”Defining Information: Two Distinctions……………..
    …………………………………………………………….

    Yes, I you will recall, I summed up those definitions @43.

    [a] “The communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.”

    [b] “The attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences and arrangements of something that produces specific effects.”

    Equally important, there are two more distinctions that make all the difference.

    P 327:

    “DNA and other biological molecules do have large and measurable amounts of information-carrying capacity. But they do not just contain Shannon information; they contain functional information. In virtue of their specific arrangements, the bases in coding regions of DNA and RNA and the amino acids in proteins enable these molecules to perform biological functions. Like the information in machine code or written language, biologial information is not just complex, it is also functionally specified.
    Thus, to avoid confusion and equivocation, I realized that it was necessary to distinguish:

    “information content from mere “information carrying capacity”

    “specified information” from mere “Shannon information, and

    “specified complexity” from mere “complexity.”

    “The first term in each of these pairs refers to the functional kind of information that DNA possesses. That was the kind of information I needed to explain the origin of.”

    So, given these distinctions, Meyer wants to explain the origin of functional information. The very same kind of information that you and Ilion claim does not exist–except in our minds. But it really does exist and its origin needs to be accounted for. Darwinists can’t do it, though even most of them will admit it is there. The explanation is that the functional information found in the DNA molecule is the produce of a designing intelligence and did not emerge through naturalistic, mechanical, material processes.

  95. …”is the produc[t] of a designing intelligence”….

  96. Eugene S @ 54

    Ilíon:Information exists ‘within’ – and only ‘within’ – minds. There is no information, whatsoever, “out there” in the physical/material world.

    Eugene S:I disagree. Information and entropy are the two sides of the same physical reality (max order=max information, chaos=zero information). These two are concepts that represent objective reality outside of us and consequently do not depend on our knowledge about them.

    I had said (in post # 57) that there is an absurdity in Eugene’s objection to my claim; it behooves me to explain it. There are (at least) two ways in which what Eugene wrote is absurd, depending upon how one manages to parse his meaning:

    1) In saying, “['Information' and 'entropy'] are concepts that represent objective reality outside of us and consequently do not depend on our knowledge about them” does he mean that the concepts of information and entropy, themselves, “do not depend on our knowledge about them“? Does he mean that the concepts exist independently of any mind who thinks the concepts?

    I’m sure he doesn’t mean that — even though that is literally what he said/wrote. Rather, I am sure that what he means is that that to which the two concepts refer, that which the two concepts are *about* exists independently of any (human) mind who thinks thoughts about that existing physical reality.

    In other words, by a charitable reading of what he wrote, he is saying to me, “Even though what you said is correct, it is false.” That is absurd.

    2) On the other hand, if what he wrote is, after all, what meant to say, then he is saying/meaning that the concepts of information and entropy, themselves, “do not depend on our knowledge about them“. He would he saying/meaning that the concepts exist independently of any mind who thinks the concepts! That, too, is absurd.

    The problem is that (as nearly everyone else), Eugene is confusing and conflating concepts for what they are about.

    ===
    There is in his post also a problem of talking/thinking about ‘entropy’ and ‘information’ in relation to ‘order’ and ‘chaos/disorder’, which Mung has touched upon in post #60. More could be said on the issue, but I don’t have the time to say more than this: much of the problem with talking and thinking about ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ and ‘entropy’ is that everyone is using the terms equivocally (generally without realizing it). Actually, it’s worse than that, because when people start talking about ‘order’ or ‘disorder’ in relation to ‘entropy’ (or also in relation to ‘information’) they generally use the terms not just equivocally, but in a self-contradictory manner, such that ‘order’ becomes equated with ‘disorder.’

  97. Hi everyone,

    I see there’s quite a lively debate going on here about information. I’d like to draw a distinction between information and inherent meaning. Inherent meaning belongs only to minds and mental states. Other things have meaning only insofar as we agree to endow them with meaning: their meaning is derived. Information, on the other hand, can be attribute to anything which is capable of surprising a mind.

    Let’s take a simple example. While you are out of your office, the person at the desk next to you takes a message from someone who phoned you. He/She then leaves the message on your desk. When you get back to the office, you are surprised to learn from the message that the person who called (a friend of yours) has fallen ill and won’t be able to make lunch tomorrow. That’s information. It’s embodied in the phone message, which of course has to be interpreted by you, in accordance with the rules of your language, since mere marks on paper possess no inherent meaning of their own.

    Does that help?

  98. William Roache (#79)

    You asked:

    Which has more CSI.

    A human or an onion?

    Short answer: a human. The human body contains about 250 different cell types (see this article ). An onion has far fewer cell types, so it’s easier to specify.

  99. So, let’s review. The DNA molecule does, indeed, contain information, which is defined as “a sequence of characters that produces some effect.” DNA contains “alternative sequences” of nucleotide bases and can produce a specific effect.

    These sequences can be understood by the human mind, but they are not mere concepts because, again, they actually do something. The information associated with the cell machinery works whether we think about it or not. Because this information exists outside the realm of the human mind, however, does not mean that it exists as a material reality. Its reality is not “in the matter” but rather in the configuration.

    We have two bloggers who argue that the DNA molecule does not contain information because, as they would have it, information exists only “within the mind.” Their error consists in believing that anything that exists outside the mind must necessarily be imbedded in matter. If that was the case, they would have a point. But the reality we are discussing is not material. The reality manifests itself as alternative sequences, and these sequences perform a function, which means that they are more than mere mental concepts.

  100. 101

    Hello Dr Torley,

    May I make a couple of comments here…

    …since mere marks on paper possess no inherent meaning of their own.
    Does that help?

    Unless I am simply missing your point, I think this view is mistaken for very discernable reasons. In this passage you italicize the word ‘inherent’ to draw attention to that particular property. But that is specifically the issue. Of course the symbols don’t have “inherent” meaning; if they did they couldn’t act as symbols, and in fact, they would not be symbols. That is exactly the point. A symbol is a discrete thing which acts as a representation or signifier, mapped to another discrete thing. They must be endowed with that mapping by some mechanism. This is the exact opposite of having ‘inherent’ meaning. It seems to me that making a comment about an object regarding a property it cannot possess, says nothing about the object.
    It also seems to me that when breaking down the phenomena in order to understand it, we don’t get to eviscerate the objects of what properties they possess, nor do we get assign them any particular property requirements, only to then acknowledge that they don’t possess them. A symbol is not a thing which has inherent meaning, it is the given meaning that causes it to be a symbol. You are measuring temperature with a tuning fork, then wanting to make distinctions based upon the measurement. I think that is a mistake.

    The real question is what mechanism(s) can assign meaning to a symbol.

  101. 102

    “We have two bloggers who argue that the DNA molecule does not contain information because, as they would have it, information exists only “within the mind.”

    This is why I suggested in comment #70 that it needs to be remembered that the representations and protocols (that make information exchange possible) are discrete things.

    The information itself is non-material, but can physically exist in a representation. That reprepsentation requires a protocol.

    It is the protocol that must exist in the receiver.

    And by virtue of access to that protocol, the information can exist (cause change) there as well.

  102. V.Torley:… I’d like to draw a distinction between information and inherent meaning. Inherent meaning belongs only to minds and mental states. Other things have meaning only insofar as we agree to endow them with meaning: their meaning is derived. Information, on the other hand, can be attribute to anything which is capable of surprising a mind.

    Let’s take a simple example. While you are out of your office, the person at the desk next to you takes a message from someone who phoned you. …

    Every day (every day!) for ten years, when I’d get back to my desk from lunch, I’d find some notes, and generally several, referring to phone calls I’d missed while I was out. It didn’t seem to matter when I took lunch … there they were. Then, one day, I came back from lunch, and there was not a single note referring to a missed phone call.

    Boy, was I ever surprised!

    Ergo, nothing is, or can be, “information.”

  103. hi vjt,

    Thanks for a topic of lively debate.

    I want to revisit the OP.

    2. Does a tool that is made and used by a bird, a chimpanzee, other non-human primates, any other organism that isn’t human, or a human…

    That pretty much sums up every living organism, doesn’t it? We could shorten that one a bit then :)

    So a more focused and specific question might be:

    Does a tool which is made by a human, such as a hammer, contain information?

    It’s pretty obvious from my answer to the OP that I think not.

    Some perhaps pertinent questions:

    What is information?

    What does it mean for a thing to contain something else?

    Is information immaterial?

    What does it mean to say that something immaterial is contained by a material object?

    What does it mean to say that a hammer contains information?

    What is the information contained in the hammer information about?

    All of the above structures combine the characteristics of high probabilistic complexity…and low descriptive complexity… Hence they all contain complex specified information (CSI).

    Here’s my view:

    It requires information to specifiy the pattern.

    Shannon information is a measure of information.

    CSI is a measure of information.

    DNA does not “contain” Shannon information.

    It is not appropriate to speak of objects “containing” CSI.

    The information to specify the patterns/structures is not contained within the patterns/structures.

    The information which specifies a hammer is not contained within the hammer.

  104. The DNA molecule does, indeed, contain information, which is defined as “a sequence of characters that produces some effect.” DNA contains “alternative sequences” of nucleotide bases and can produce a specific effect.

    Hi StephenB, do you think Stephen Meyer deliberately mangled the Webster’s definition?

    b: the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects

  105. William J. Murray @ 65:I think I see Ilion & Mung’s point (correct me if I’m wrong). Information references or describes the thing; it isn’t an aspect of the thing itself. Since the material world only produces “things”, and it doesn’t produces references to or descriptions of things, only non-material minds can produce information, beause information is always “about” the thing.

    Yes.

    Information is *about* something else; information means something (some specific information says/means ‘this,’ but not ‘that’).

    Material things (whether objects, states, conditions, events, etc.) are not *about* other things, they don’t *mean* anything (though, minds may impute meaning to them); they just are (there). Call them “brute facts.”

    William J. Murray:I’m not saying I agree with it, but I think I see the point being made, I do find it very interesting.

    It’s OK that you don’t (or don’t yet) agree — you made an honest attempt to understand (and scored, to boot!), as so many others are not attempting to do.

  106. Mung @94:So information is not simply “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect,” even according to this definition.

    Moreover, sequences of characters don’t, of themselves, produce effects; they are inert.

  107. alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects

    Anyone besides me think that as a definition of information this is both too broad and vague?

    Try to think of all the sorts of things this could apply to.

    Also, wouldn’t this definition of information imply that things (such as DNA sequences) are information rather than that they contain information?

  108. Information references or describes the thing; it isn’t an aspect of the thing itself.

    In the current context I’m inclined to say that information specifies the thing and that the specification of the thing is not an aspect of the thing itself.

    Unless we’re talking about descriptive complexity. :)

    Which, by the way, where does descriptive complexity come from?

  109. —”Hi StephenB, do you think Stephen Meyer deliberately mangled the Webster’s definition?

    —”b: the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects

    Hi Mung:

    No, do you? If so, please say so.

  110. DNA, Design, and Information

    So I had to ask myself, is the idea that DNA contains information necessary or required for the Intelligent Design argument.

    Obviously the general answer is not unless the intelligent design argument requires the existence of DNA. I don’t believe it does.

    But what about Stephen Meyer’s argument. Does it require that DNA contain information?

    Again, I don’t think it does. It could probably even be framed without reference to information at all, but perhaps that will be for another post.

    In a nutshell the Meyer argument can be stated as follows (using the terms introduced in the OP):

    There are DNA sequences which exhibit high probabilistic complexity.

    Some of these same sequences also exhibit low descriptive complexity.

    The information required to specify these DNA sequences had to come from somewhere, what was the origin of that information?

    So we leave aside the attempt to have DNA be the cause of some effect. It is the sequences in DNA which are the effecr.

    I really don’t think this view does violence to Meyer’s argument.

    Confusion arises when we start to think of DNA as containing information and this information is then said to be the cause of a protein, etc.

    It’s the generation of a protein that gives us the low descriptive complexity. “DNA sequence A codes for protein B.”

    So we have everything required for the ID argument without having to say DNA contains information.

    So no I haven’t, nor has Ilion, cut the legs out from under ID. Sorry to burst your bubble StephenB (not really).

  111. Mung,

    Here are Meyer’s own words: “The attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.”

    What part of that do you think Meyer mangled?

  112. –Mung: “So we have everything required for the ID argument without having to say DNA contains information.”

    That’s really very funny given the fact that you have not defined the word “contained,” the word that caused you so much scandal and the word that you claim doesn’t apply. Isn’t it a bit odd to say that the DNA does not “contain information” when you don’t know what you mean by either word?

  113. Here are Meyer’s own words…

    Here are your own words, StephenB:

    “So we have everything required for the ID argument without having to say DNA contains information.”

    Here’s more of your own words:

    “But yes, Meyer in those texts is confused (and confusing).”

    And here’s you giving us your version of Meyer’s words (one of them anyways):

    Thus, we have Meyer’s operating definition for information: “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect.”

    And here’s Meyer quoting Webster’s:

    But our English dictionaries point to another common meaning of the term that does apply to DNA. Webster’s, for instance, has a second definition that defines information as “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.”

    Go away little man.

  114. —Mung: “So we have everything required for the ID argument without having to say DNA contains information.

    —”So no I haven’t, nor has Ilion, cut the legs out from under ID. Sorry to burst your bubble StephenB (not really).”

    Oh, good grief. Let me try to lay this out from scratch so that anyone can understand it.

    The cell contains an information processing system that functions like a computer processing system. Would anyone deny that a computer “contains” its processing system? What is the point of denying that the cell “contains” a similar processing system? As I say, our mind can apprehend these things, but it does not cause them, nor is it needed for their operation. Information, in this context, is more than just something that resides in our minds.

    Does our mind store and encode information for the organism in question? No, the cell’s information processing system does it, much like that of a computer’s processing system. In each case, a designer’s intelligence is indicated as the cause.

    Does our mind process the information to produce the DNA’s functional outcome? No, the cell’s processing system does it much like that of a computer. In each case, a designer’s intelligence is indicated as the cause.

    Is our mind needed or involved in the process by which the cell encodes what Meyer calls the “higher order” regulatory information? Or course not. The DNA contains information in dramatically important ways AND they all exemplify design patterns. It’s just crazy to say that these patterns exist only in our minds. They exist in the DNA and our mind apprehends tham.

    We have rational minds that enable us to apprehend a design reality that exists outside of our minds. We recognize these design patterns because, among other things, they resemble those found in our own information technology. Even Richard Dawkins admits that the “machine code of the genes is uncannily computer like.” Bill Gates makes the same point. We recognize the design patters in the DNA because the DNA contains them. If it didn’t contain them, there would be nothing there to recognize.

  115. From The Design of Life, Chapter 7, Specified Complexity.

    “Often, when an intelligent agent acts, it leaves behind an identifying mark that clearly signals its intelligence. This mark of intelligence is known as specified complexity.”

    “But what is specified complexity? An object, event, or structure exhibits specified complexity if it is both complex…and specified…”

    “Design theorists take this mark of intelligence and apply it to naturally occurring systems. When they do, they claim to find that certain irreducibly complex molecular machines exhibit specified complexity…”

    So it would be good to frame the question in a manner appropriate to the argument.

    Does the event, object or structure exhibit specified complexity?

    We don’t even need to ask if it contains information. Asking whether it contains CSI is the wrong question.

  116. –Mung: “Here’s more of your own words:

    “But yes, Meyer in those texts is confused (and confusing).”

    Those are your words @58. I never said them nor would I ever say them. I am going to be charitable here and assume that you are getting a little rattled and that you didn’t really mean to purposely tell an outright lie. So, if you offer a quick apology for inadvertently attributing your comment to me, all will be well. I will even give you a pass on this:

    —Go away little man.”

    Did you pick that one up from Ilion, who was responding to Mike:

    —”You should go bother someone else.”

    He seems to have won your heart.

    —Mung to Ilion @42: “grr…Ilion”

    —Ilion to Mung @47: “grr yourself, Mung”

    You two ought to get a room.

  117. —Mung quoting Dembski: “We don’t even need to ask if it contains information. Asking whether it contains CSI is the wrong question.”

    Context, context, context. The design of life promotes a parallel theme. Meyer’s book, on the other hand, emphasizes, among other things, the cell’s function, which means that he is discussing not only what the cell indicates [exhibits] but also what it does [a function it contains]. A written paragraph “exhibits” specified complexity, but it performs no biological function, that is, it contains no processing unit like a cell. That is why Meyer continually uses the word “contain.” Nice try, though.

  118. Mung quoting Dembsk

    “We don’t even need to ask if it contains information. Asking whether it contains CSI is the wrong question.”

    To set the record straight, that’s not a quote of Dembski. I think I missed a closing italic, but you should perhaps have taken notice of where I used quote marks and where I stopped using quote marks. That’s an indicator.

    You two ought to get a room.

    Are you paying? I’d rather have one with Stephen Meyer, if you don’t mind.

  119. Mung @109 (quoting WJM):Information references or describes the thing; it isn’t an aspect of the thing itself.

    Mung:In the current context I’m inclined to say that information specifies the thing and that the specification of the thing is not an aspect of the thing itself.

    Isn’t the sense of ‘specification’ you have in mind the same as ‘description’?

    Sometimes, information describes a thing, sometimes it doesn’t And, if you wish to say that by ‘specification’ you mean something different than ‘description,’ I reply that sometimes, information specifies a thing, sometimes it doesn’t. BUT, information is always *about* some thing or other; it always means something (even if the meaning is false and the ‘information’ is more properly called ‘disinformation.’)

    Consider the thought: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” — consider the thought, the concept, not the words by which I signal to you that I want to to think the thought. Does it ‘specify’ anything? If it does, I can’t see what that thing might be. But, the thought is about something and it means something (even if not much). And, surely, at this late cultural date, no one of adult age is *surprised* by the thought.

  120. I already have a room; I mean, a room in addition to my house. And, after the work-day tomorrow, I get to go home for the weekend. Yeah!

  121. —Mung: “To set the record straight, that’s not a quote of Dembski. I think I missed a closing italic, but you should perhaps have taken notice of where I used quote marks and where I stopped using quote marks. That’s an indicator.”

    Well, the problem, Mung, is that the last passage you wrote in Dembski’s name was designed to stretch the comments that preceded it into an argument that the author was, in no way, trying to make. You were, as you often do, reading into his words something that wasn’t there. Unfortunately, you just happened to place quotation marks around your misinterpretation, making things a bit more clumsy. It’s always the double mistakes that kill us.

  122. 123
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Lemme try to help:

    There are a number of ways in which the biosphere can be regarded as the site of transmitted information.

    1. When a “parent” cell divides, it “transmits” information to the daughter cells, in the sense that the daughter cells “receive” information as to how to construct themselves into reasonably faithful copies of the parent cell.

    Sender: parent cell
    Receiver: daughter cell
    Message: DNA copy
    About: how to construct yourself

    2. Cells also receive “signals” from other cells, and from the outside environment which “tell” the cell what proteins to express.

    Sender: other cells/external environment
    Receiver: receiver cell
    Message: chemicals
    About: what proteins you should express

    3. Information is “transmitted” from the DNA via “messenger” RNA, which, in turn, transmits that information to the ribosome which “uses” that information to output proteins.

    Sender: DNA
    Receiver: ribosome
    Message: messenger RNA
    About: what protein to construct

    4. Some of these proteins also act as “messengers” that modulate cell signalling, and “tell” the cell which proteins to express when, in response to which signals.

    Sender: Ribosome
    Receiver: DNA
    Message: protein
    About: what genes to switch off

    5. At population level, the environment transmits information into the collective genome, in the form of allele prevalence in each generation. For example, the fact that environment rich in a particular foodstuff that is best digested by phenotypes with a particular trait is “recorded” in each generation in the form of changed allele frequencies.

    Sender: Environment
    Receiver: population
    Message: resources, hazards
    About: what alleles best survive in this environment

    All these examples of information transfer are inter-related.

    In each case there is a “sender”, a “receiver” and a “message”. In all cases the message is “about something.

  123. 124
    Elizabeth Liddle

    And that’s only a sample of course.

    I haven’t even mentioned neurons!

  124. Why so many quote marks Elizabeth? :)

    And nary a one reserved for the word information itself!

    So in your many examples, is there any case in which the “information” is not about anything at all?

  125. Ilion:

    Sometimes, information describes a thing, sometimes it doesn’t And, if you wish to say that by ‘specification’ you mean something different than ‘description,’ I reply that sometimes, information specifies a thing, sometimes it doesn’t.

    ok, all well and good. But, is it possible to specify a thing without information?

    Is there a way to quantify “how much information” is required to specify a thing?

    BUT, information is always *about* some thing or other;

    I am in complete agreement. If I ever say otherwise hold my feet to the fire.

    I’ve been making that argument for months now and was doing so before I had any sources to back up my position.

    A random sequence of coin tosses does not contain information. We can however, obtain information *about* the sequence.

    I’ll respond to other points after more thought.

  126. From The Design of life

    specified complexity – An event or object exhibits specified complexity provided that (1) the pattern to which it conforms identifies a highly improbable event (i.e., it has high PROBABILISTIC COMPLEXITY) and (2) the pattern itself is easily described i.e., has low DESCRIPTIVE COMPLEXITY). Specified complexity is a type of information.

    specification – A pattern that in the presence of COMPLEXITY can be employed to draw a design inference. Such a pattern exhibits low DESCRIPTIVE COMPLEXITY.

    probabilistic complexity – A measure of the difficulty for chance-based processes to reproduce an event. See COMPLEXITY.

    descriptive complexity – A measure of the difficulty needed to describe a pattern. See COMPLEXITY.

    complexity – The degree of difficulty to solve a problem or achieve a result. The most common forms of complexity are probabilistic (as in the probability of obtaining some outcome) or computational (as in the memory or computing time needed for an algorithm to solve a problem). Kolmogorov complexity is a form of computational complexity that measures the length of the minimum program needed to solve a computational problem. Descriptive complexity is likewise a form of computational complexity, but generalizes Kolmogorov complexity by measuring the size of the minimum description needed to characterize a pattern.

    complex specified information – Information that is both complex and and specified. Synonymous with SPECIFIED COMPLEXITY.

  127. 128
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Mung:

    Why so many quote marks Elizabeth? :)

    And nary a one reserved for the word information itself!

    So in your many examples, is there any case in which the “information” is not about anything at all?

    Because in no case can we ascribe sentience to either the sender or the receiver, so scarequotes seemed appropriate.

    No, there is no case in which the “information” is not about anything. It’s all “functional” information in that it all serves the self-persisting or self-replicating capacity of something (cell, organism, population).

  128. Mung:A random sequence of coin tosses does not contain information. We can however, obtain information *about* the sequence.

    I would say “create,” rather than “obtain;” for “obtain” implies that the information *about* the sequence of coin tosses exists independently of our efforts to “obtain” it and/or think about it once we have “obtained” it.

  129. EL:Because in no case can we ascribe sentience to either the sender or the receiver, so scarequotes seemed appropriate.

    Do you really mean ‘sentience’? Are you sure you don’t mean ‘sapience’?

    A bananna slug is ‘sentient,’ but we have no reason even to suspect that it is ‘sapient.’

  130. Mung @ 126:In the current context I’m inclined to say that information specifies the thing and that the specification of the thing is not an aspect of the thing itself.

    Ilíon:Isn’t the sense of ‘specification’ you have in mind the same as ‘description’? … Sometimes, information describes a thing, sometimes it doesn’t And, if you wish to say that by ‘specification’ you mean something different than ‘description,’ I reply that sometimes, information specifies a thing, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Mung:ok, all well and good. But, is it possible to specify a thing without information?

    Not in the sense you’re using the word; quite possibly in no other sense, either. Perhaps the seeming difficulty between your use of ‘specification’ and WJM’s use of ‘description’ is that ‘specification’ is necessarily ‘information,’ but that ‘information’ is not necessarily ‘specification’ (or ‘description’, either).

    Mung:Is there a way to quantify “how much information” is required to specify a thing?

    Ultimately? I don’t think so; how does one *quantify* the immaterial?

    However, one can quantify the symbols needed to represent, in a given system of representation, some information or other, and compare that against the symbols needed to represent some other information in that same system. Of course, there is also the problem/question (the answer to which is almost always “No!”) of whether one has symbolically represented *all* the information necessary to specify either thing.

  131. Hi everyone,

    A quick question:

    What does it mean for a mind to contain information? It seems to me that the notion of something immaterial containing anything at all is a nonsensical one, being based on a physical metaphor.

    Back in a few hours.

  132. 133
    Elizabeth Liddle

    I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun (though people here will disagree!)

    That mind is what the brain does.

    So no, I don’t think a mind “contains information”, except metaphorically (and it’s a good metaphor – we can “bring something to mind”). I’d say that “mind” is what we call it when the brain does something and that something includes a repertoire of past behaviours (always with some novel tweak) and that memory is the “re-enaction” of past behaviours. So the brain itself is a repository of information about what has happened in the past, in the form of a repertoire of firing behaviours, and when we “recall it” (an act of mind) we are triggering such a re-enactment, modified by new input (either externally or internally generated).

  133. Hi everyone,

    Two more quick questions.

    1. To the question, “How can matter contain something immaterial (information)?”I’d like to respond by asking a question of my own. If information is immaterial as you allege, then aren’t there two levels of immateriality now? You have to postulate immaterial information being interpreted by an immaterial mind. Isn’t that a teeny bit complicated?

    2. Granted that “If A means B, then A is about B”, the converse does not necessarily hold. The fact that DNA is about making proteins, by virtue of its functionality, does not imply that DNA means making proteins. But if the criterion for immateriality is inherent meaningfulness and not “aboutness” (a vague and woolly term), then why should the “aboutness” of DNA’s instructions preclude their being material?

    Elizabeth: interesting answer! But where does meaning arise in your scheme of things?

    Really must fly now; back later.

  134. 135
    Elizabeth Liddle

    I guess it depends how you are defining “meaning”.

    At it’s simplest, I’d say that the “meaning” of message lies in the difference it makes to the actions (real of virtual) of the receiver.

    In other words if what the receiver does is contingent on the content of the message, then the message has meaning for the receiver.

    Under that definition, “meaning” arises fairly simply in my scheme of things, in a way, because every mental event has repercussions for the next mental event, so each mental event has “meaning”. However, with human brains we have an additional “virtual” layer in the form of symbolic, or abstract meaning. I don’t think that’s problematic, though – it just adds a very complex set of layers to the information transmission process.

  135. Maybe Aristotle would say that “meaning” derives from the mean. That is, “meaning” is found in the ratio of form (intellect) and matter that brings the sensuous universe into being.

    In this view both meaning and information can be inherent in things. Not in matter itself, but in things like DNA that are produced from matter by the action of an informing mind. Information and meaning are immanent through the action of the mind that produces the thing.

    To be honest, we never really realized the full implication of Aristotle’s concept of being until we read this thread. If “God is dead,” there is no mean and no meaning. There is only nothingness. But then DNA becomes a stumbling block to the materialist, since it gives every indication of being meaningful.

    It doesn’t really matter what we call the nucleobase sequences found in DNA, “information” or otherwise. The reality is that a specific sequence leads to a specific result. This suggests that the sequence has a purpose; ie, is the product of a mind and therefore meaningful.

    The “meaning” of the sequence, in this line of thought, is that it was brought into being in order to produce a specific effect. This seems a perfectly reasonable conclusion. The harder challenge, it seems to us, is to the materialist, who has to explain how nature obtained the appearance (form) of information and meaning without the informing influence of a mind.

    It is a two-fold problem. Matter, per se, has no form; eg, nucleobases in themselves. Nor are there any self-existent forms in nature. In that case, the materialist has to provide a reasonable explanation of how nucleobases informed themselves into the sequences found in DNA by purely natural processes, also accounting for the problem of probability. Our sense is that they are a long way from providing this proof based on objective observation, which is why they have a taste for symbolic representations, particularly the seductive metaphor of deep time.

    But that is not all. They must also account not only for the existence of the cause but its relation to the effect and the highly purposeful amino acid sequence it produces—in other words, they must account for the reality of its apparent meaning, which is obvious to all but by no means inherent in nature itself. Cause and effect leads in a straight line to mind and intention. Nature cannot select a cause like DNA without a pre-specified effect. Or can it? And how? And more important, why?

    Hume understood that the way to get rid of God and meaning was to break the link between cause and effect. And yet there it is, staring us in the face in nature itself, and not invented by men; an unbreakable link between specific nucleobase sequences and amino acid sequences; a link that makes Hume’s billiard balls look like a rather childish example of hypersymbolic scrawling.

    Meaning, it seems, is on its way back.

  136. VJT:If information is immaterial as you allege, then aren’t there two levels of immateriality now? You have to postulate immaterial information being interpreted by an immaterial mind. Isn’t that a teeny bit complicated?

    Is it “complicated” that material entities act upon other material entities?

  137. It seems to me that the notion of something immaterial containing anything at all is a nonsensical one, being based on a physical metaphor.

    Wait, didn’t I ask what it meant for a physical medium to contain something immaterial, lol?

    What does it mean for a mind to contain information?

    My initial instinct is to say minds don’t contain information.

    I conceptualize information is an active thing, rather than as passive or inert. Information brings about change. It has an effect.

    So I question whether it even makes sense to speak of God being informed about something.

    What is it that God can come to know that God did not know before?

  138. p.s. Information is not something that can be stored.

  139. p.p.s. Information is not something that can be stored, even in a mind.

  140. If information is immaterial as you allege, then aren’t there two levels of immateriality now?

    Wasn’t there always?

    symbols, representations, information, etc…

    Perhaps I don’t understand what you mean about levels of immateriality.

    You have to postulate immaterial information being interpreted by an immaterial mind.

    Is it the information that’s being interpreted, or something else?

    I have in mind the concept of a “bit.” Is a bit a material entity?

    I have in mind a system whereby a sequence of bits can encode a symbol (character).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII

    Is the encoding a material entity?

    I have in mind a system whereby a sequence of symbols (characters) can be used to represent a concept.

    etc…

    Isn’t that a teeny bit complicated?

    Yes.

    But it seems to happen, regardless of how complicated it is. :)

  141. 142
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Mung:

    p.s. Information is not something that can be stored.

    WHAT?

    (Tell that to a librarian, then run, fast! :))

  142. How much does information weigh? And what are it’s dimensions?

    What happens to information as one approaches the speed of light?

  143. Stephen Meyer:

    Consider two sequences of characters:

    “Four score and seven years ago”
    “nenen ytawoi jll sn mekhdx nnx”

    Both of these sequences have an equal number of characters. Since both are composed of the same 26 letter English alphabet, the amount of uncertainty eliminated by each letter (or space) is identical.

    If the message is sent in English, the amount of uncertainty eliminated by each letter is not identical.

    Am I wrong, if so, why?

    The probability of producing each of these sequences at random is identical. Therefore, both sequences have an equal amount of information as measured by Shannon’s theory.

    If I receive those two messages, and as I receive each symbol I calculate the amount of Shannon information of each symbol, and at the end of the receipt of each message I then add together the Shannon information for each symbol, the Shannon information of the two messages will not be equal.

    Am I wrong, if so, why?

    [I had to correct your quote Elizabeth, the number of characters was not the same in both lines!]

  144. Does a library which stores more information weigh more than a library which stores less information?

    How about a brain. The more information stored in a brain the more it weights?

    Is there more information contained in a hammer than in a spider web?

    Why is information theory a mathematical theory? What physical/material quantity are we measuring when we measure information?

  145. Ilion:

    Grr, yourself, Mung. Did you read those three posts?

    Indeed I did.

    You were accused of coming up with your own private definition of information in #39.

    That accusation was leveled by the same individual who had previously written what I posted in #41.

    And your post beat mine to come in at #40.

    :)

    That was the reason for the grr. Your post got in the way, lol. Nothing more.

  146. Information – Specified and Unspecified

    To assert that there is information that is not specified information is absurd.

  147. Information – Material or Immaterial

    We have two bloggers who argue that the DNA molecule does not contain information because, as they would have it, information exists only “within the mind.” Their error consists in believing that anything that exists outside the mind must necessarily be imbedded in matter. If that was the case, they would have a point. But the reality we are discussing is not material.

    Well, first, I’m not (yet) of the opinion that information exists. ;)

    And, I’m not (yet) of the opinion that if information exists, it exists “only within the mind.”

    But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. [HT: Ilion]

    If the reality we are discussing [information] is not material, then how on earth is it not the case, given what you have said, that we don’t have a point!?

    If there is information which is neither within a mind, nor within matter, where is it?

    Is it just “out there” somewhere? Doing what? Nothing? Then by your own definition it’s not information.

    And if it is the case, as you have now asserted, that information is not material, how is it also the case that information is “a sequence of characters or arrangements of something that produce a specific effect.”

    Is that sequence immaterial? Perhaps it’s the effect that is immaterial.

  148. Hi everyone,

    We need to bear in mind that information belongs to the domain of form. That’s why they call it inFORMation. I think Allanius hit the nail on the head with his post on the subject of form. In particular, I liked this passage:

    Maybe Aristotle would say that “meaning” derives from the mean. That is, “meaning” is found in the ratio of form (intellect) and matter that brings the sensuous universe into being.

    In this view both meaning and information can be inherent in things. Not in matter itself, but in things like DNA that are produced from matter by the action of an informing mind. Information and meaning are immanent through the action of the mind that produces the thing.

    … It doesn’t really matter what we call the nucleobase sequences found in DNA, “information” or otherwise. The reality is that a specific sequence leads to a specific result. This suggests that the sequence has a purpose; ie, is the product of a mind and therefore meaningful.

    I would also endorse what StephenB says when he writes:

    The information associated with the cell machinery works whether we think about it or not. Because this information exists outside the realm of the human mind, however, does not mean that it exists as a material reality. Its reality is not “in the matter” but rather in the configuration.

    We have two bloggers who argue that the DNA molecule does not contain information because, as they would have it, information exists only “within the mind.” Their error consists in believing that anything that exists outside the mind must necessarily be imbedded in matter. If that was the case, they would have a point. But the reality we are discussing is not material. The reality manifests itself as alternative sequences, and these sequences perform a function, which means that they are more than mere mental concepts.

    At the same time, I would like to add that Mung did a very good job of recasting Stephen Meyers’ argument to fit his own understanding of information. That suggests it is metaphysically resilient.

    Be back later.

  149. V.Torley @ 134:1. To the question, “How can matter contain something immaterial (information)?”I’d like to respond by asking a question of my own. If information is immaterial as you allege, then aren’t there two levels of immateriality now? You have to postulate immaterial information being interpreted by an immaterial mind. Isn’t that a teeny bit complicated?

    In response to this truly inspired question, I’d like to ask one of my own: If thoughts are immaterial entities, as some allege, then aren’t there two levels of immateriality now? You have to postulate immaterial thoughts being thought by an immaterial mind. Isn;t that a teeny bit complicated?

    Since it’s all so “complicated,” we’ll just have to posit that thoughts — and minds — are either themselves material objects or are simply the epiphenomena of material objects. You knew, like Miss Lidde does with her amusing assertion that minds are secretions of brains (true, she declines to put it that bluntly, but that is the *meaning* of what she asserts).

    ====
    Meanwhile, sensible persons know that there is noting complicated about immaterial minids thinking immaterial thoughts. Sensible persons *also* know that ‘information’ is though(s) in a context of, and in realtion to, other thought(s).

    ====
    V.Torley @ 132:What does it mean for a mind to contain information? It seems to me that the notion of something immaterial containing anything at all is a nonsensical one, being based on a physical metaphor.

    Dude! I’m pretty sure that everyone is being fastidious to put quote-marks around those spacial metaphors to indicate that we must speak in metaphor.

    In any event, there is no other “place” where information can exist, but “in” a mind.

  150. V.Torley @ 150: “<"We need to bear in mind that information belongs to the domain of form. That’s why they call it inFORMation. …

    Dude! The Forms are immaterial entities (as Plato conceived them, they are essentially “unthought thoughts” or “thoughts that thionk themselves”).

  151. EL @ 133:I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun (though people here will disagree!)

    That mind is what the brain does.

    Ah, yes! A charming insight: “the mind is a glandular secretion of the brain.”

    EL @ 133:I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun (though people here will disagree!)

    I agree completely! Materialists/atheists are mindless entities.

  152. V.Torley @138:What does it mean for a mind to contain information?

    Mung @138:My initial instinct is to say minds don’t contain information.

    Is it also your instinct — which, by the way, is one of the things which is the opposite of reason — to say that minds do not contain (or “contain,” if the scare-quotes make one feel better about using metaphorical language) thoughts?

    Can a day contain joy (or sorrow)? Of course it can; and any sensible person understands that when one speaks of a day “containing” joy, he is using a spacial word in a non-spacial sense.

    Mung @138:I conceptualize information is an active thing, rather than as passive or inert. Information brings about change. It has an effect.

    All by its lonesome? Information acts; there is no need for act-ors?

    Mung @138:What is it that God can come to know that God did not know before?

    God does not learn anything, for God always knows all (knowable) things.

  153. hi vjt!

    I have to say I do not understand what is meant by the statement that information belongs to the domain of form.

    Are they just two ways to speak of the same thing?

    To me, a hammer has a form. The form of a hammer distinguishes it from that which is not a hammer.

    What is it that bestows upon a hammer it’s form?

    What does it mean to say that one form can be distinguished from another? Distinguished by what, or by whom?

    And why is it not proper to speak of that which distinguishes one form from another as information?

    And if it is information that allows one to distinguish between one thing and another thing, in what sense do the two (form and information) belong to the same domain?

    And what, pray tell, is “there” to distinguish between the two, if not a mind?

    Thanks for the interesting topic!

  154. Ilion

    Thanks for the lively exchange. I see you scored a few good hits.

    Just a couple of points: you write (#152) that “The Forms are immaterial entities (as Plato conceived them).” Fine, but I’m not a Platonist. Aristotle would say that forms are instantiated or realized in matter. I think that solves the metaphysical problem of how a physical entity can contain something immaterial. Physical entities can certainly realize or instantiate forms, so there’s no a priori reason why they can’t embody information.

    You also argue (#154) that if a day can contain joy (or sorrow), then a mind can contain information, and you suggest that the usage “contain” is metaphorical. But at least a day has a length. A mind has no spatial or temporal extension per se.

    More later.

  155. But at least a day has a length.

    Imperial or metric? Can one re-measure a specific day?

    A mind has no spatial or temporal extension per se.

    And neither does information.

  156. you write (#152) that “The Forms are immaterial entities (as Plato conceived them).” Fine, but I’m not a Platonist.

    The *point* was to point out to people that they are using the term ‘form’ in quite different senses.

  157. VJT:Fine, but I’m not a Platonist. Aristotle would say that forms are instantiated or realized in matter. I think that solves the metaphysical problem of how a physical entity can contain something immaterial.

    Plato says that the world is made of/by Unthought Thoughts. Aristotle denies this; in contrast, he says that the world is made of/by Unintended Intentions. I am a disciple of neither of these gentlemen.

    VJT:… But at least a day has a length. A mind has no spatial or temporal extension per se.

    And the spatial and temporal extensions of information are what, again?

    If I build a house, do not my plans (the conception of my desired result) inform the result? Does not my labor inform the result? According to your odd, or amusing, reasoning, my plans and my labor are *in* the house, right? Not metaphorically, but actually physically present, with spatial and temporal extension, right?

    Or is that different, somehow?

    If you were to carefully disassemble my house, it must be the case that somewhere amongst all the parts that comprise the house, you can isolate and identify –and physically point to — the Form which is instantiated in it, right?

    Because, if you can’t, it seems to me that you haven’t solved your metaphysical problem.

    And, in disassembling my house, you can find, and physically set aside, the plan/concept and labor that went into the making of it. Right? Why, I’d bet that if you were careful enough in the disassembly, you might even be able to get it to rebuild itself; for, after all, the plan/concept and labor are right there (don’t step on it!)

    Meanwhile, I don’t have that metaphysical problem, because I already know that information is not a material entity, and is not *in* material objects and entities.

  158. VJT:But at least a day has a length.

    Ilíon:Can one re-measure a specific day?

    For that matter, can one even measure *this* day? And, with what shall we measure it?

    Or, if that is too ambitious, can one measure one minute of today and a different minute of today and lay them out, side by side, so to test the hypothesis that all minutes are of equal length?

    Or, if we recall that days and minutes do not really have length, but rather, duration, can we actually measure the duration of a minute and compare it to another minute’s duration? And, with what shall we measure it?

  159. 161

    Hello all.

    If I may offer a slightly different perspective on the discussion, I’d say that information is essentially a configuration of elements. Not any arbitrary configuration, but one that (potentially) causes interest or surprise. In that sense I agree with Ilion in that information requires involvement of a mind, somewhere, and therefore it has a subjective component to it, although it doesn’t necessarily only exist ‘inside’ a mind (scarequotes because I don’t think a mind is something that can have anything ‘inside’ it – more below).

    To answer Mung’s point about information not weighing anything, and not having dimensions, that’s of course correct. Not the information itself, but the elements that make up the information are physical and have such properties, however their configuration is not. Information is non-material, but I think that information does require physical elements, just like it requires a mind.

    And regarding minds – like Elizabeth I also think that brains generate minds, but not in the way Ilion suggests as some sort of ‘secretion’ but as a process. Consider a symphony created by an orchestra. A symphony is immaterial and cannot be understood by merely reducing it to sound waves generated by individual instruments and players. It exists at a different level of analysis, yet it can not exist without the physical instruments and the players. A symphony is an emerging property of the orchestra that plays it. Likewise a mind is an emerging property of the brains that produce it.

    Obviously this is not meant to be a full analogy. The big difference, and the hard to understand uniqueness of mind, is that unlike a symphony it is self-aware. But that is an entirely different discussion. I just mean to remind ourselves how we often talk about non-material processes as if they have an existence of their own, independent on any material substrate, whereas in reality they cannot exist without such.

    Reification comes naturally but may be misleading. Configurations, processes – these are key concepts of how immaterial entities can emerge from material ones.

    fG

  160. 162
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Ilion:

    EL @ 133: “I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun (though people here will disagree!)

    That mind is what the brain does.”

    Ah, yes! A charming insight: “the mind is a glandular secretion of the brain.”

    Ilion, since when was “a glandular secretion” a verb?

    Could you try reading my posts for meaning?

    My point, of course, is that mind is immaterial, just as any verb denotes something immaterial: “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.

    Frankly, I think this is where this conversation is foundering – on the idea that if a noun doesn’t have a concrete referent (like “information” or “mind”) that referent is a) evidence that materialism is wrong and b) the referent is somehow mysterious and unquantifiable.

    It isn’t. It’s just that we are capable of describing the world using abstract concepts, and both “mind” and “information” are two such, and both refer to processes (IMO) rather than material entities, although though the processes themselves are instantiated in matter.

    My now hackneyed example is ocean waves, which consist of neither water nor are, but of an abstraction – the interface between the two – but which, nonetheless, have perfectly good quantifiable properties.

    Same is true of information, IMO, and of minds. You can’t weigh them, any more than you can weigh an ocean wave (or a glandular secretion) but you can measure other properties – wavelength, amplitude and precession, for instance.

    Same with information. Mind is trickier to measure but just as tractable to straightforward description.

    So, Mung: yes, information can be stored, even though it cannot be weighed. In fact, you could argue that if it could not be stored, it would not be information!

    No point in learning a new fact if you instantly forget it; and how would you transmit information if it could not be stored in the transmission medium?

    Indeed, how would it exist if it could not persist?

  161. I can say whatever I wish:Ilion, since when was “a glandular secretion” a verb?

    Ah!!! The “mind” is the glandular secreting by the brain of something or other; possibly “thoughts” or “mental states”. So glad to have cleared that up!

    Apparently, brains secrete “thoughts” and/or “mental states”; and this state of secreting [whatever it is that is secreted] is what people have historically, in an example of “folk psychology”, called “minds.”

    Whatever I say, it all as meaningful:Could you try reading my posts for meaning?

    Why would I waste my time looking for what cannot be there — as you have already told us? More than once.

    Still, it is amusing to see you expressing moral indignation (however misplaced).

  162. fG:To answer Mung’s point about information not weighing anything, and not having dimensions, that’s of course correct. Not the information itself, but the elements that make up the information are physical and have such properties, however their configuration is not. Information is non-material, but I think that information does require physical elements, just like it requires a mind.

    I’d just about bet that fG is one of those persons who repeats, sometimes perhaps even with conviction, the silly phrase that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Here, however, he is saying that “the whole is less than the sum of its parts.”

    Here, he is saying that while it is true that information is not physical, it is nevertheless made up of stuff that is physical – take some physical/material stuff, configure it just so, and viola! it-all, the sum of the individual physical/material stuff, becomes non-material “information”.

  163. fG:And regarding minds – like Elizabeth I also think that brains generate minds, but not in the way Ilion suggests as some sort of ‘secretion’ but as a process. Consider a symphony created by an orchestra. A symphony is immaterial and cannot be understood by merely reducing it to sound waves generated by individual instruments and players. It exists at a different level of analysis, yet it can not exist without the physical instruments and the players. A symphony is an emerging property of the orchestra that plays it. Likewise a mind is an emerging property of the brains that produce it.

    Translation: minds are illusions; minds are “a buzz in the brain”.

    fG:Obviously this is not meant to be a full analogy. The big difference, and the hard to understand uniqueness of mind, is that unlike a symphony it is self-aware. …

    Translation: the prior paragraph is utterly meaningless blather and BS (and I [fG] know it is, but good luck on getting me to admit that).

    fG:A symphony is immaterial and cannot be understood by merely reducing it to sound waves generated by individual instruments and players. It exists at a different level of analysis, yet it can not exist without the physical instruments and the players. A symphony is an emerging property of the orchestra that plays it. …

    Even this (over-all) assertion is not true.

    * True – “A symphony is immaterial …”
    * True – “… and cannot be understood by merely reducing it to sound waves generated by individual instruments and players”
    * True – “It exists at a different level of analysis …”
    * False – “… yet it can not exist without the physical instruments and the players”
    * False – “A symphony is an emerging property of the orchestra that plays it.”

    A symphony is a conception; it exists originally in the mind of its composer. It exists before it is played by an orchestra; it exists if it is never played by an orchestra. A symphony does not “emerge” (*) from anything; it is created by a mind.

    (*) “emergence” is a Magickal word of materialists, used to transmogrify the immaterial into the material. Like all Magick, it is powerless to actually do anything; its power exists entirely in the belief-system of the materialist Magican. It’s “all in his head,” so to speak.

    fG:… Likewise a mind is an emerging property of the brains that produce it.

    Translation: On the basis of a multi-part assertion, which happens to be false, I [fG] draw a false analogy and present the analogy as the truth about your very nature.

    fG:Obviously this is not meant to be a full analogy. The big difference, and the hard to understand uniqueness of mind, is that unlike a symphony it is self-aware. …

    ‘Mind’ is “hard to understand” because you materialists insist upon trying to (metaphorically) cram them into a box for which they are too big. ‘Mind’ is “hard to understand” because you materialists insist upon reducing minds to material entities. ‘Mind’ is “hard to understand” because you materialists insist upon denying the reality — and fundamental reality, at that — of minds.

    ‘Mind’ is not made of something else; ‘mind’ cannot be reduced to something more basic: minds are minds, they are themselves.

  164. I don’t seem to understand — or perhaps I just don’t care — the meaning of the strange and amusing things I assert:My point, of course, is that mind is immaterial, just as any verb denotes something immaterial: “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.

    Verbs don’t denote immaterial entities, though nouns may. Verbs denote actions, usually (though, not always), physical actions — I’m pretty sure I saw that someone has already explained this grammatical difference to you, perhaps in a different thread.

    … “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.

    ‘Running’ — the noun — denotes a concept, which is an immaterial mental entity;

    ‘Running’ — the verb — denotes a physical/material action, performed by an agent making use of physical/material legs as the means to perform the action.

    ===
    According to “I don’t care what I say“, ‘mind’ is a “verb” — “I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun … mind is what the brain does” — but what a special kind of “verb” it is, for it is not the action of an agent, but merely the activity of an organ. According to “I assert that I do not even exist“, the mind does not even rise to the level of “a buzz in the brain,” but only a change in physical brain-states, which changing gives rise to the buzz. I don’t know, maybe the buzzing is what “thoughts” are.

    Aren’t materialists just the most amazing entities? Sometimes, one might almost believe that they are persons.

  165. fG:

    The big difference, and the hard to understand uniqueness of mind, is that unlike a symphony it is self-aware. But that is an entirely different discussion.

    And this is the only truly important point. The existence of consciousness and of conscious representations is the fundamental thing which cannot be explained by any reductionist theory. Consciousness can only be accepted as an empirical fact.

    I believe that what we call “mind” corresponds to a specific set of conscious representations, be it more or less “material”. Frankly, I don’t even understand the emphasis with the concept of “material”. Anyone familiar with quantum mechanics can perhaps share my perplexities.

    However, let’s say that consciousness represents things. It can represent some map of the “outer world” (whatever it is), or some map of the “inner world” (whatever it is). But, without consciousness, those representations would not be representations at all, but only a pool of events, devoid of any meaning or purpose, at least until some consciousness is there to “perceive” it.

    So, the “perceiving I” is all. Without it, there is no consciousness, there is no mind. No meaning, no purpose, no information, no models, no cognition. IOWs, nothing of what is really important for us.

  166. 168

    gpuccio,

    I am not so sure that conciousness is required before there can be information. As I said above, I do believe that the concept of information requires a mind somewhere associated with it, but is consciousness required? Are all minds conscious? Are animals conscious? Most animals use information in one way or another, and surely many of them have minds, and surely many have purposes, but do they have consciousness in the sense of self-awareness? Do animals perceive themselves? I think the jury is still out on that one.

    My perception is that minds and consciousness come in types and gradations and are not a simple matter of either/or. Animals often use information in ways far superior to humans, and if they do so without having self-consciousness, does that mean that the information they use is not ‘real’ information anymore?

    fG

  167. Ilion,

    Thanks for your responses. Just a few points:

    (1) You ask how I would measure the length of a day. Answer: with a clock. You ask how long it is. Answer: 24 hours, if you’re talking about a mean solar day; 23 hours 56 minutes 4.099 seconds, if you’re talking about a sidereal day. You ask how I would compare the duration of one minute with that of another. Answer: by comparing the amount of motion that takes place in each. A second is officially defined as the time needed for a cesium-133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. A minute is 60 seconds. Any two intervals with the same number of cesium-133 oscillations are of equal length. Or as Aristotle would say: “Time is the measure of motion.”

    (2) I do not maintain that information has spatial or temporal extension per se. What I do maintain is that if information doesn’t have spatio-temporal extension, then I simply do not know what you mean by saying that the mind contains it, or that it is in the mind. You say it is a metaphor. I ask: a metaphor for what?

    (3) I also maintain that at least some kinds of information (e.g names of more than one letter, telephone numbers) are necessarily composite. That’s why I don’t think they can be in the simple mind of God. God has immediate epistemic access to these kinds of information, without them being in Him.

    (4) You say that you are a disciple of neither Plato nor Aristotle. Plato held that Forms are ideal entities which exist independently of matter, and that material objects are but pale imitations of these ideals. Aristotle held that forms do not exist independently of matter, but are instantiated in matter. Is there a third way? I’m curious to hear what your position is.

    (5) You ask:

    If I build a house, do not my plans (the conception of my desired result) inform the result? Does not my labor inform the result? According to your odd, or amusing, reasoning, my plans and my labor are *in* the house, right? Not metaphorically, but actually physically present, with spatial and temporal extension, right?

    I would say that the form of the house exists as a concept that you have, and that it also exists in the house itself – but not spatially (see (2) above). The house is a physical instantiation (or realization) of your plans, and a product of your physical labor. However the form is not inside the house – which is why you can’t find it when you disassemble the house. The form is realized in the configuration of the raw materials. When you disassemble the house, you destroy the configuration, so the form disappears. Strictly speaking, then, we should not say that the house contains information; it would be better to say that the house instantiates or realizes information, by virtue of its configuration. The verb “contains” is appropriate only if used in that sense.

    (6) There are different kinds of information. The information in DNA is a pretty special case: a physical configuration of matter that enables it to perform a function. That’s quite different from: (i) the information that stone tools can yield when archaeologists date them to 38,000 years ago or identify their makers as right-handed; and (ii) the information in a book. In case (i) there is no symbolic code and the information obtained is entirely the result of the heavy-duty thinking on the part of the archaeologists. I would certainly not say that the information obtained here is in the tools, even as a realization. The information is created by the archaeologists applying their minds to an object, to learn its history.

    In case (ii), there is a symbolic code, but no functionality. The information in a book doesn’t do anything, and it exists purely as a result of human conventions such as the alphabet and the phonic code.

    In the case of DNA, however, no human convention is required; any alien with sufficient nous could work out the code and what it does.

    “Information” has several distinct usages in these cases, and we need to be careful not to confuse them.

    (7) I will conclude by asking you what your definition of information is, Ilion. Mung, to his great credit, has grappled with this question. Where’s your definition?

    I think we all agree that there is no knowledge in DNA, and no inherent meaning either. But there seems to be an obvious qualitative distinction between the DNA code, which enables DNA to perform a specific function, and, say, the pattern of flaking on a stone tool, which enables archaeologists to deduce that its maker was right-handed. There is a real sense in which DNA tells other molecules what to do, by virtue of its digital code.

    Lastly, I should point out that even Professor Edward Feser (no friend of Intelligent Design), in his book Aquinas (Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2009, pp. 45-46) writes of DNA:

    “Descriptions of this famous molecule make constant reference to the ‘information,’ ‘data,’ ‘instructions,’ ‘blueprint,’ ‘software,’ ‘programming’ and so on contained within it, and for good reason, since there is simply no way accurately to convey what DNA does without the use of such concepts.”

    So there you have it. A Thomist philosopher acknowledges that there is information in DNA. Or would you maintain that Professor Feser is too friendly towards Intelligent Design?

  168. fg you state;

    ‘I am not so sure that conciousness is required before there can be information.’

    ,,,Yet consciousness is required before there can be any reality at all!!!

    ,,, infinite information is needed to define a photon in its superposition state:,,,

    Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh
    Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (photon) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1) — Concept 2. is used by Bennett, et al. Recall that they infer that since an infinite amount of information is required to specify a (photon) qubit, an infinite amount of information must be transferred (instantaneously) to teleport.
    http://www.cas.umt.edu/phil/fa.....lPSA2K.pdf

    ,,,, and ‘consciousness’ is needed to explain quantum wave collapse from its superposition state to its ‘uncertain’ particle state,,,

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.
    http://eugene-wigner.co.tv/

    Here is the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries:

    Eugene Wigner
    Excerpt: To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another.
    http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_.....io/wb1.htm

    Moreover, ‘reality’, even in its collapsed ‘uncertain’ particle state, is ‘information theoretic’ in its nature;

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.” Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:
    http://www.metanexus.net/Magaz.....fault.aspx

    In the beginning was the bit – New Scientist
    Excerpt: Zeilinger’s principle leads to the intrinsic randomness found in the quantum world. Consider the spin of an electron. Say it is measured along a vertical axis (call it the z axis) and found to be pointing up. Because one bit of information has been used to make that statement, no more information can be carried by the electron’s spin. Consequently, no information is available to predict the amounts of spin in the two horizontal directions (x and y axes), so they are of necessity entirely random. If you then measure the spin in one of these directions, there is an equal chance of its pointing right or left, forward or back. This fundamental randomness is what we call Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
    http://www.quantum.at/fileadmi.....t/bit.html

    ‘Quantum Magic’ Without Any ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ – June 2011
    Excerpt: A team of researchers led by Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used a system which does not allow for entanglement, and still found results which cannot be interpreted classically.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....111942.htm

    =================

    further note:

    Quantum mind–body problem
    Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.....dy_problem

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579/

    It is interesting to note that some materialists seem to have a very hard time grasping the simple point of the double slit experiments, but to try to put it more clearly; To explain an event which defies time and space, as the quantum erasure experiment clearly does, you cannot appeal to any material entity in the experiment like the detector, or any other 3D physical part of the experiment, which is itself constrained by the limits of time and space. To give an adequate explanation for defying time and space one is forced to appeal to a transcendent entity which is itself not confined by time or space. But then again I guess I can see why forcing someone who claims to be a atheistic materialist to appeal to a non-material transcendent entity, to give an adequate explanation, would invoke such utter confusion on their part. Yet to try to put it in even more ‘shocking’ terms, the ‘shocking’ conclusion of the experiment is that a transcendent Mind, with a capital M, must precede the collapse of quantum waves to 3-Dimensional particles. Moreover, it is impossible for a human mind to ever ‘emerge’ from any 3-D material particle which is itself semi-dependent on our ‘observation’ for its own collapse to a 3D reality in the first place. This is more than a slight problem for the atheistic-evolutionary materialist who insists that our minds ‘emerged’, or evolved, from 3D matter. In the following article Professor Henry puts it more clearly than I can:

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/The.mental.universe.pdf

  169. Elizabeth,

    Just a quick question. What properties of mind as such would you consider measurable?

  170. faded_Glory,

    Thank you for your posts.

    I would like to echo gpuccio’s and bornagain77′s point that consciousness precedes information. Even if we consider the information that exists “out there” in DNA, we need to recall that it would not be information if the universe did not conform to certain regularities that we call laws of nature. These laws are more than merely descriptive statements; they are also prescriptive. They define how matter should behave. If this were not so, then we should not be surprised if they are violated or suspended. Laws of nature are God’s rules for the cosmos, and without them DNA could not embody information of any sort, and neither could any other material entity.

  171. 173

    vjtorley, you say that ‘The information in DNA is a pretty special case: a physical configuration of matter that enables it to perform a function.’

    Is DNA really that special? I can think of many physical configurations of matter that enable it to perform a function. Just to name one: a gear box. Now, the interaction here is physical rather than chemical, yet clearly the matter is configured to perform a function. I doubt though that anyone would say that a gearbox contains information.

    Why do chemical interactions appear to us sometimes so ‘mysterious’ when compared to physical ones? Are the laws underpinning them not essentially the same? Or is it that they are less tactile and therefore we have less of an instinctive affinity with them?

    Before you object that a gearbox is product of intelligent design, yes, of course it is. That is not the point here, though. The point is that people endow DNA with ‘information’ because it does all those wonderful things, yet when other physical entities also produce wonderful things but through physical, rather than chemical interactions, we consider them as an entirely different and somehow lesser class of phenomena. I wonder why that is.

    fG

  172. fg you state:

    ‘Is DNA really that special? I can think of many physical configurations of matter that enable it to perform a function.’

    Yes DNA is that special!!! it turns out that, now, a ‘non-local’ cause (aka transcendent ‘spiritual’ cause, a mind) must be supplied to explain, not only, the classical information in DNA, but also the non-local quantum information;

    Falsification of neo-Darwinism;

    First, Here is the falsification of local realism (reductive materialism).

    Here is a clip of a talk in which Alain Aspect talks about the failure of ‘local realism’, or the failure of reductive materialism, to explain reality:

    The Failure Of Local Realism – Reductive Materialism – Alain Aspect – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/4744145

    The falsification for local realism (reductive materialism) was recently greatly strengthened:

    Physicists close two loopholes while violating local realism – November 2010
    Excerpt: The latest test in quantum mechanics provides even stronger support than before for the view that nature violates local realism and is thus in contradiction with a classical worldview.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....alism.html

    Quantum Measurements: Common Sense Is Not Enough, Physicists Show – July 2009
    Excerpt: scientists have now proven comprehensively in an experiment for the first time that the experimentally observed phenomena cannot be described by non-contextual models with hidden variables.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142824.htm

    (of note: hidden variables were postulated to remove the need for ‘spooky’ forces, as Einstein termed them — forces that act instantaneously at great distances, thereby breaking the most cherished rule of relativity theory, that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.)

    And yet, quantum entanglement, which rigorously falsified local realism (reductive materialism) as the complete description of reality, is now found in molecular biology on a massive scale!

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA & Protein Folding – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

    Quantum entanglement holds together life’s blueprint – 2010
    Excerpt: When the researchers analysed the DNA without its helical structure, they found that the electron clouds were not entangled. But when they incorporated DNA’s helical structure into the model, they saw that the electron clouds of each base pair became entangled with those of its neighbours (arxiv.org/abs/1006.4053v1). “If you didn’t have entanglement, then DNA would have a simple flat structure, and you would never get the twist that seems to be important to the functioning of DNA,” says team member Vlatko Vedral of the University of Oxford.
    http://neshealthblog.wordpress.....blueprint/

    The relevance of continuous variable entanglement in DNA – July 2010
    Excerpt: We consider a chain of harmonic oscillators with dipole-dipole interaction between nearest neighbours resulting in a van der Waals type bonding. The binding energies between entangled and classically correlated states are compared. We apply our model to DNA. By comparing our model with numerical simulations we conclude that entanglement may play a crucial role in explaining the stability of the DNA double helix.
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.4053v1

    Quantum Information confirmed in DNA by direct empirical research;

    DNA Can Discern Between Two Quantum States, Research Shows – June 2011
    Excerpt: — DNA — can discern between quantum states known as spin. – The researchers fabricated self-assembling, single layers of DNA attached to a gold substrate. They then exposed the DNA to mixed groups of electrons with both directions of spin. Indeed, the team’s results surpassed expectations: The biological molecules reacted strongly with the electrons carrying one of those spins, and hardly at all with the others. The longer the molecule, the more efficient it was at choosing electrons with the desired spin, while single strands and damaged bits of DNA did not exhibit this property.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....104014.htm

    Information and entropy – top-down or bottom-up development in living systems? A.C. McINTOSH
    Excerpt: This paper highlights the distinctive and non-material nature of information and its relationship with matter, energy and natural forces. It is proposed in conclusion that it is the non-material information (transcendent to the matter and energy) that is actually itself constraining the local thermodynamics to be in ordered disequilibrium and with specified raised free energy levels necessary for the molecular and cellular machinery to operate.
    http://journals.witpress.com/paperinfo.asp?pid=420

    i.e. It is very interesting to note that quantum entanglement, which conclusively demonstrates that ‘information’ in its pure ‘quantum form’ is completely transcendent of any time and space constraints, should be found in molecular biology on such a massive scale, for how can the quantum entanglement ‘effect’ in biology possibly be explained by a material (matter/energy space/time) ’cause’ when the quantum entanglement ‘effect’ falsified material particles as its own ‘causation’ in the first place? (A. Aspect) Appealing to the probability of various configurations of material particles, as neo-Darwinism does, simply will not help since a timeless/spaceless cause must be supplied which is beyond the capacity of the energy/matter particles themselves to supply! To give a coherent explanation for an effect that is shown to be completely independent of any time and space constraints one is forced to appeal to a cause that is itself
    not limited to time and space! i.e. Put more simply, you cannot explain a effect by a cause that has been falsified by the very same effect you are seeking to explain! Improbability arguments of various ‘specified’ configurations of material particles, which have been a staple of the arguments against neo-Darwinism, simply do not apply since the cause is not within the material particles in the first place!
    ,,,To refute this falsification of neo-Darwinism, one must falsify Alain Aspect, and company’s, falsification of local realism (reductive materialism)!

    ,,, As well, appealing to ‘non-reductive’ materialism (multiverse or many-worlds) to try to explain quantum non-locality in molecular biology ends up destroying the very possibility of doing science rationally;

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the “Boltzmann Brain” problem: In the most “reasonable” models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    ,,,Michael Behe has a profound answer to the infinite multiverse (non-reductive materialism) argument in “Edge of Evolution”. If there are infinite universes, then we couldn’t trust our senses, because it would be just as likely that our universe might only consist of a human brain that pops into existence which has the neurons configured just right to only give the appearance of past memories. It would also be just as likely that we are floating brains in a lab, with some scientist feeding us fake experiences. Those scenarios would be just as likely as the one we appear to be in now (one universe with all of our experiences being “real”). Bottom line is, if there really are an infinite number of universes out there, then we can’t trust anything we perceive to be true, which means there is no point in seeking any truth whatsoever.

    “The multiverse idea rests on assumptions that would be laughed out of town if they came from a religious text.” Gregg Easterbrook

    =================

  173. To dovetail into Dembski and Marks’s work on Conservation of Information;,,,

    LIFE’S CONSERVATION LAW: Why Darwinian Evolution Cannot Create Biological Information
    William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II
    http://evoinfo.org/publication.....ation-law/

    ,,,Encoded classical information, such as what we find in computer programs, and yes as we find encoded in DNA, is found to be a subset of ‘transcendent’ quantum information by the following method:,,,

    This following research provides solid falsification for Rolf Landauer’s contention that information encoded in a computer is merely physical (merely ‘emergent’ from a material basis) since he believed it always required energy to erase it;

    Quantum knowledge cools computers: New understanding of entropy – June 2011
    Excerpt: No heat, even a cooling effect;
    In the case of perfect classical knowledge of a computer memory (zero entropy), deletion of the data requires in theory no energy at all. The researchers prove that “more than complete knowledge” from quantum entanglement with the memory (negative entropy) leads to deletion of the data being accompanied by removal of heat from the computer and its release as usable energy. This is the physical meaning of negative entropy.
    Renner emphasizes, however, “This doesn’t mean that we can develop a perpetual motion machine.” The data can only be deleted once, so there is no possibility to continue to generate energy. The process also destroys the entanglement, and it would take an input of energy to reset the system to its starting state. The equations are consistent with what’s known as the second law of thermodynamics: the idea that the entropy of the universe can never decrease. Vedral says “We’re working on the edge of the second law. If you go any further, you will break it.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....134300.htm

    ,,,And here is the empirical confirmation that quantum information is ‘conserved’;,,,

    Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time
    Excerpt: In the classical world, information can be copied and deleted at will. In the quantum world, however, the conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed. This concept stems from two fundamental theorems of quantum mechanics: the no-cloning theorem and the no-deleting theorem. A third and related theorem, called the no-hiding theorem, addresses information loss in the quantum world. According to the no-hiding theorem, if information is missing from one system (which may happen when the system interacts with the environment), then the information is simply residing somewhere else in the Universe; in other words, the missing information cannot be hidden in the correlations between a system and its environment.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....tally.html

    ==================

    Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry – Physics Professor – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry’s referenced experiment and paper – “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 – “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007

    =========================

  174. fG:

    Some clarifications of my point of view.

    When I speak of consciousness, I don’t mean “self-consciousness”. I just mean the existence of conscious representations, of a perceiving I.

    I don’t understand well your use of the word “mind”. How can a mind exist and not be “conscious”? OK, maybe you mean “self-conscious”. If a mind does not reflect on itself, we could say that it is not “self-conscious”, at least not in the sense we speak of that for the human mind. But if conscious representations are there, cosnciousness is anyway present.

    Let’s go with examples. A book is not, as far as we know, conscious. If it contains information, it’s only because a conscious being inputted it in the book, and a conscious being can recognize it in the book. IOWs, the book is a vehicle, but it has no fundamental role in the creation, least of all in the retrieving, of the information it contains. Searle’s chinese room example is a good way to understand that difference.

    Take a physical law, for example. As a law, it is a mental object in our mind: the recognition of regularities, to which we give meaning. Whatever natural laws may be in the Noumenon, for us they are mental things, which exist only in cosnciousness.

    DNA is not different from the book. It is a vehicle. The information in it, for instance the sequence of a functional protein, has sense only if some cosncious observer (us humans) recognizes it as information, and is aware of its function. Why is that information there, for us to recognize? For me, the answer is simple: some other conscious being put it there, so that that particular function could be present in the living cell.

    DNA, again, is only a vehicle. As a molecule, it has no relationship with the final function of the protein, no more than paper and ink have any connection with the story they tell us. Its sequence bears the information for the protein, passively and unconsciously. But the functional information for the protein was consciously willed and searched and cognized before it came into existence, and it is cosnciously recognized by us now.

    You ask if a gearbox contains information. It certainly does. But a gearbox is more similar to the protein, the final effector. A gearbox project would be more similar to DNA. DNA not only contains information, it contains symbolic digital information which has no relationship with its essential biochemical status.

    Functional information can apparently be present in things non designed, but that is only a form of pseudo-function (a function not willed by a conscious being), and it can happen only if the information building the function is simple.

    That’s whi in ID we only take in consideration complex specified information, in one of the many definitions we can give. Complex specified information exists only as the output of a conscious being, directly or indirectly. It allows us to detect design, that is the intervention of a conscious being.

    It’s as simple as that.

  175. 177
    Elizabeth Liddle

    vjtorley:

    Elizabeth,

    Just a quick question. What properties of mind as such would you consider measurable?

    Well, the most interesting aspects of mind are more readily described qualitatively rather than quantitatively, but most things can be measured somehow, if imperfectly!

    Working memory capacity is probably the most stable thing you can measure – how many digits, for example, can you hold in mind while you manipulate them in someway (“backward digit span”) for instance. Essentially cognitive aspects of mind are easier to quantify than, say, emotional aspects, or creativity (notoriously difficult to measure).

    Of course, you may not consider these properties of mind, but I do! I do distinguish between mind and brain, and cognition and emotion I would regard as mental capacity and mental state, not brain capacity and brain state, which would refer to something quite different.

    For instance if we were talking about working memory, I might describe it in mental (i.e. mind terms) as your backward digit span. In brain terms, I might describe it in terms of lateral inhibition between specific neural circuits.

    Similarly with mood: I might describe your mood state as “happy”. I would never describe your brain state as “happy” – I would describe it in terms of neural activation patterns.

    Brains are not happy; people are.

    That does not mean (I am arguing) that happiness does not arise from the physiological state of the brain. It just means that happiness is the property of a person in a particular mood state, not the property of the brain.

  176. 178
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Ilion:
    I don’t seem to understand — or perhaps I just don’t care — the meaning of the strange and amusing things I assert: “My point, of course, is that mind is immaterial, just as any verb denotes something immaterial: “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.”

    Verbs don’t denote immaterial entities, though nouns may. Verbs denote actions, usually (though, not always), physical actions — I’m pretty sure I saw that someone has already explained this grammatical difference to you, perhaps in a different thread.

    “… “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.”

    ‘Running’ — the noun — denotes a concept, which is an immaterial mental entity;

    ‘Running’ — the verb — denotes a physical/material action, performed by an agent making use of physical/material legs as the means to perform the action.

    ===
    According to “I don’t care what I say“, ‘mind’ is a “verb” — “I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun … mind is what the brain does” — but what a special kind of “verb” it is, for it is not the action of an agent, but merely the activity of an organ. According to “I assert that I do not even exist“, the mind does not even rise to the level of “a buzz in the brain,” but only a change in physical brain-states, which changing gives rise to the buzz. I don’t know, maybe the buzzing is what “thoughts” are.

    Aren’t materialists just the most amazing entities? Sometimes, one might almost believe that they are persons.

    I don’t seem to understand — or perhaps I just don’t care — the meaning of the strange and amusing things I assert: “My point, of course, is that mind is immaterial, just as any verb denotes something immaterial: “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.”

    Verbs don’t denote immaterial entities, though nouns may. Verbs denote actions, usually (though, not always), physical actions — I’m pretty sure I saw that someone has already explained this grammatical difference to you, perhaps in a different thread.

    “… “running” is immaterial, but legs are not.”

    ‘Running’ — the noun — denotes a concept, which is an immaterial mental entity;

    ‘Running’ — the verb — denotes a physical/material action, performed by an agent making use of physical/material legs as the means to perform the action.

    ===
    According to “I don’t care what I say“, ‘mind’ is a “verb” — “I think myself it is best to think of mind as a verb rather than a noun … mind is what the brain does” — but what a special kind of “verb” it is, for it is not the action of an agent, but merely the activity of an organ. According to “I assert that I do not even exist“, the mind does not even rise to the level of “a buzz in the brain,” but only a change in physical brain-states, which changing gives rise to the buzz. I don’t know, maybe the buzzing is what “thoughts” are.

    Aren’t materialists just the most amazing entities? Sometimes, one might almost believe that they are persons.

    I’m not sure what all this is about, Ilion, but it appears to be a response to one of my posts.

    What on earth are you talking about?

    What is so difficult about the concept that a process is a different category of referent from a thing?

    Or that an abstract referent, for example, the signified that corresponds to the signifier “mind” might not be a physical entity yet still result from physical processes?

    That is all that I am saying – that the claim that the “mind” is a signifier that denotes the results of brain activity, not brain activity, does not require that those results be physical objects (such as a “secretion”).

    Perhaps you could suspend your disbelief that any “materialist” could write anything other than nonsense and actually try to see what I am saying? Whether you agree with it or not.

  177. Tearing down the house!

    If information is “contained” in Ilion’s house, what is that information about?

    I think the house exhibits “something” which lead us to believe that information was involved in its construction.

    But is that “something” the same as information? Is it the same as the information that went into building the house?

    Something like a house does not come into existence without information about how the bits and pieces of matter would be arranged relative to each other and to the foundation, and which bits and pieces of matter would be used at which location.

    But what happens to that information as the house is built? Does it get transferred from the mind of the builder into the house?

    What does it mean to say a thing has lost its form?

    If Ilion’s house contains the information for its form, how can it lose it’s form? Does it lose it’s form by losing the information that was contained therein?

  178. 180
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Having a go at the OP:

    I’m going to try to use two different definitions of information, and see whether any of your examples, seem to fulfil the criteria for one or the other.

    A is something like Dembski’s definition of Complex Specified Information: it must be complex, in the sense of having lots of bits/unlikely to be drawn from some common probability distribution, and it must be compressible, in the sense of offering ease of description.

    B is inspired by Upright BiPed, and is something like: it must involve the transmission from a sender to a receiver; it must result in a change in behaviour or state of the receiver, and the form of the information must be in some arbitrary code (i.e. not a simple template.

    1. Does a spider web, a bee hive, a mole burrow, a bird nest, a termite mound, or a beaver dam have “biological function”, and do they have “information”?

    A: Yes. They are complex (unlikely to be drawn randomly from a pdf), but also specifed (compressible), in that they can be easily described: you do not need to know the location of every twig to understand the essence of a beaver dam.

    B: No. There is no clear sender or receiver, and no symbolic or quasi symbolic rendering of a message.

    2. Does a tool that is made and used by a bird, a chimpanzee, other non-human primates, any other organism that isn’t human, or a human, have “information”, and does it have “biological function”.

    A: No. Most tools are very simple, indeed may not be modified by the user at all. So not complex (the chips on an ant poking sticks could easily arise by chance), even if readily compressible.

    B: No. There might be a sender and receiver (a mother chimp may show her daughter the tool and its use) but there is no evidence of symbolic message coding.

    3. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when building a nest, web, hive, dam, etc.?

    A: Yes (see above).

    B: No (see above).

    4. Does the organism understand and/or generate information when making and using a tool?

    A: yes. The patterns of brain activity associated with the planning, short term memory, and long term memory (long term potentiation) necessary to make and use a tool are almost certainly both complex and specified (compressible).

    5. Apply the same questions to an organism, such as a bird, a non-human primate, or a human, but substitute tools that are not made by the organism. For instance, natural objects that the organism doesn’t modify, but does select and use as a tool.

    See above (because I inadvertently covered it – for actual made tools, I can’t think of one that would satisfy the criteria for complexity).

    6. If there’s information in any of the things I mentioned above (web, hive, dam, nest, tool, etc.) is it “functional complex specified information”?

    By A, yes – the tools and constructions clearly have a function (mostly to obtain food) in relation to the organism (mostly to obtain food).

    By B: no. None of these examples contain information at all.

    7. When a cephalopod changes its shape, texture, or colors, does it understand and/or generate information (is it functional complex specified information?), and does that change of shape, texture, or colors have biological function?

    A: Yes. The patterns are both complex and specified (compressible).

    B: Yes. There is a sender (the cephalopod), a receiver (predator), and a symbolic encoding of a message (the predator learns, either through life or through evolution) that the coloration pattern “means” danger, even though the colour itself is not dangerous. It is also functional because it helps the cephalopod survive (just as the webs and dams do). By the B definition, it doesn’t matter if the cephalopod itself has no clue what it’s doing.

  179. 181
    Elizabeth Liddle

    Sorry, messed up the blockquote tags in my post to Ilion above: My words begin at “What on earth are you talking about?”

  180. So I think that information is “temporal.” It brings about its effect and then it’s gone. No need to continue to exist.

    The mind upon which it had it’s effect however continues to exist.

    So information is not something that’s stored.

    But what sense does it make to say that something immaterial is temporal?

    Information cannot be contained nor stored. It’s fleeting. I think of information more as something that happens.

    Does any of this make sense?

  181. Form

    The form of a thing is its organizational structure; something irreducible to the sum of its parts. Platonic realism about form holds it to exist completely independently of either the mind or the material world. Aristotelian realism takes it generally to exist in some sense only “in” the things it informs.

    From Ed Feser’s book Philosophy of Mind.

    Ilion: The Forms are immaterial entities (as Plato conceived them, they are essentially “unthought thoughts” or “thoughts that think themselves”).

    i.e., exist independently of minds.

    Ilion: Plato says that the world is made of/by Unthought Thoughts. Aristotle denies this; in contrast, he says that the world is made of/by Unintended Intentions. I am a disciple of neither of these gentlemen.

    vjt: (4) You say that you are a disciple of neither Plato nor Aristotle. Plato held that Forms are ideal entities which exist independently of matter, and that material objects are but pale imitations of these ideals. Aristotle held that forms do not exist independently of matter, but are instantiated in matter. Is there a third way? I’m curious to hear what your position is.

    Plato also held that Forms exist independently of Mind. As did Aristotle.

    The third way would be that neither were correct.

    That’s my analysis anyways.

  182. Meaningless Information

    The idea that there can be information that that has no meaning is patently absurd.

    Even given the preferred definition of some according to which information produces a specific effect that should be blatantly obvious.

  183. Hi Elizabeth,

    I have to say that backwards digit span sounds like a very good example of a measurable mental capacity. I shall ponder that one. Definitely food for thought. Thanks.

  184. Mung (#184),

    You have a point. I would distinguish, however, between (a) information having a meaning in its own right; (b) information which doesn’t have a meaning in its own right, but whose meaning an intelligent observer can readily apprehend from its function; and (c) information which has to be wrested from the object by a process of painstaking investigation by an intelligent agent.

    I would put the information in DNA in category (b), and the information we extract about prehistoric man from fossils and other leftovers in category (c).

  185. The Origin of Information

    Now if it is in fact the case that information can exist within physical/material objects, why should it not also be the case that physical/material processes can in fact generate information?

    Why, if information can exist in the physical/material world, should the information contained in DNA pose any ‘problem’ for the materialist?

    It seems to me that “the problem of information” presupposes that information comes from Mind and only mind, is immaterial, and cannot arise from anything in the material/physical world.

    By allowing that it can or does, why are we not handing the argument over to the materialists?

  186. hi vjt,

    In your a through c, without a mind, in what sense does that information exist?

    Now it seems to me that by your (b) you seem to mean a thing with a readily discernible function and that by your (c) you intend a thing without a readily discernible function. Would that be correct?

    So all that seems to me to be saying is that in the case of (b) we have more knowledge or information than in the case of (c).

    IOW, there is no readily discernible function apart from background knowledge and prior information.

  187. 189

    vjtorley,

    Short answer: a human. The human body contains about 250 different cell types (see this article ). An onion has far fewer cell types, so it’s easier to specify.

    I think I may need the long answer then.

    If we are to judge “more or less” CSI by, in this example, the number of cell types then there are some problems with that I think.

    The main one is something we both share. Our gut flora. It is estimated that these gut flora have around 100 times as many genes in aggregate as there are in the human genome.

    In addition there are between 300 and 1000 different species in the gut,with most estimates at about 500.

    So if a human contains 250 cell types and a human’s gut contains up to 1000 or perhaps more species of bacteria with 100 times the number of genes then it takes to make a human then is it not reasonable to conclude that your stomach contains more CSI then you do in the rest of your body?

    For example, imagine that aliens invent a CSI detector and go out into the universe looking for other living beings.

    They get to earth and immediately attempt to hold peace talks with the contents of a cow’s stomach!

    So given that it’s silly that your gut flora can have more CSI then a human being is there another measure that would allow the true situation to be objectively measured?

    Unless of course you agree that your stomach has more CSI then you do!

  188. Unless of course you agree that your stomach has more CSI then you do!

    My stomach has more CSI than you do.

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