The Medium is Not the Message
|March 21, 2010||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
March madness is upon us. In that vein, I ask you to consider the following sentence: “A basketball is round and orange.”
You read this sentence through a medium, probably a computer screen. This means I had an idea, and I wrote out on my computer screen a representation of the idea in symbols (Latin letters forming English words arranged together into a sentence using the rules of English grammar and syntax). I uploaded these symbols onto the uncommondescent.com website. You downloaded the symbols to your computer and deciphered them. Now a representation of the idea that was once in my head is in your head. When you read my sentence you thought about a round orange basketball.
Now consider this. My computer, the UD server, and your computer all have physical properties that can be measured. These properties include mass, charge, etc. But the information in the sentence “A basketball is round and orange” is quite independent of the physical properties of the medium on which it is placed. Indeed, none of the physical properties of your computer changed when you downloaded the information. The physical properties of your computer were rearranged, but they did not change. Your computer had the same mass, the same charge, the same specific gravity, etc. after you downloaded the sentence that it did before you downloaded it.
Think of it this way. Suppose I wrote the same sentence (“A basketball is round and orange”) on a piece of paper and handed it to you and asked you to read and memorize it. You proceed to memorize the sentence. I take the paper back and burn it. Then I ask you to repeat the sentence into a tape recorder. You dictate “A basketball is round and orange” into the tape recorder. What just happened? The information was in my head. Then it was on the paper. Then it was in your head, but not the paper. Now it is on the tape of the tape recorder.
What is the point of all this? The point is that information may be transmitted on a physical medium, but it is not reducible to the medium on which it is carried, and it is independent of the medium upon which it is carried. Information has no mass. It has no charge. Indeed, it has no property that can be measured by the same means we measure matter and energy. We conclude, therefore, that information is not reducible to matter, and it is not reducible to energy, and it is not reducible to a combination of matter and energy. Yet we know that information exists in the universe. Therefore, we must conclude that the universe is more than matter and energy, that it is more than mere particles in motion.
If the existence of information cannot be reduced to the properties of matter and energy, where did it come from? Where indeed?