Upright Biped Replies to Dr. Moran on “Information”
|December 13, 2011||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
Dr Moran, sorry for the delay. Other responsibilities intervened for a bit.
Certainly the sequence in DNA is driving reactions. (And there are many varieties)
In your comments you refer to the use of the term “information” within nucleic sequences as a useful analogy, and you say that there is no expectations that it should “conform to the meanings of “information” in other disciplines.” I certainly agree with you that it conforming to other meanings would be a telling turn of events. And I assume your comment suggests that the nucleotide sequence isn’t expected to share any of the same physical characteristics as other forms of information – given that we live in a physical universe where information has physical effects. Ones which we can observe.
I think it makes an interesting comparison; the comparison between the physical characteristics of information transfer in the genome, versus information transfer in other forms. Just recently on this forum we were having a conversation about recorded information, and a question arose if a music box cylinder ‘contained information’. Speaking to its physical characteristics, the answer I gave was “yes”. Just like any other form of recorded information, the pins on a music box are an arrangement of matter to act as a representation within a system. No differently than ink on paper, or the state of a microprocessor, or the lines left on a recording tape, or an ant’s pheromones, or the tone of vibrations we make when we speak; they are all matter/energy arranged in order to represent an effect within a system.
It was also pointed out that a physical arrangement of matter (like the pins on a music box cylinder) cannot by themselves convey information – they require a second coordinated physical object. This second object is easily referred to as a protocol, but physically its is a rule (a protocol) established in a material object. The necessity of this physical protocol is something easily understood; for one thing to represent another thing within a system, it must be separate from it, and if it is truly a separate thing, then there must be something to establish the relationship that exist between the representation and the effect it is to represent (within that system). That is what the second physical object accomplishes, it establishes the relationship between a representation and the effect it represents, which is a relationship that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
There have been examples of this dynamic given in previous conversations. For instance, an apple is an apple, but the word “apple” is a separate thing altogether. Being a separate thing from the apple, there must be something that establishes the relationship between the two. In the case of the word “apple” we as humans have learned the protocols of our individual languages, and they physically exist as neural patterns within our brains. These neural patterns are material things, and they establish the immaterial relationship between a physical representation and its physical effect. This same dynamic is found in all other cases of recorded information. I have previously used the example of a bee’s dance; a bee dancing in a particular way during flight is a separate thing than having the other bees fly off in a particular direction, and the relationship between the two is brought about by a protocol which physically exist in the sensory system of the bee.
In the dynamics of information transfer, the operative observation is that each of these physical things (the representations, the protocols, and their resulting effects) always remains discrete. This is one of the key observations that allows information to exist at all. The input of information is always discrete from the output effect, and the protocol that establishes the relationship between the two, remains discrete as well. They are three completely independent physical realities which share a relationship, with the protocol establishing the relationship between the representation and its effect within the system. In no case does the representation (or the protocol) ever become the effect.
This same dynamic is found in all forms of recorded information; including those used in the information processing systems created by intelligence. As an example, the first automated fabric looms used an arrangement of holes punched into paper cards (which acted as physical representations of the resulting effects within the fabric). Sensors and pins within the machine would sense where the holes were punched, and it would use that information to change and control the colors of threads being woven. In this instance, the configuration of holes served as the representation, and the configuration of sensors served as the protocol, leading to the specified effects. Each of these is physically discrete, while sharing the immaterial relationship established by the protocol.
So here we have a series of observations regarding the physicality of recorded information which repeat themselves throughout every form – no matter whether that information is bound to humans, or human intelligence, or other living things, or non-living machines. There is a list of physical entailments of recorded information that can therefore be generalized and compiled without regard to the source of the information. In other words, the list is only about the physical entailments of the information, not its source. I am using the word “entailment” in the standard sense – to impose as a necessary result (Merriam-Webster). These physical entailments are a necessary result of the existence of recorded information transfer. And they are observable.
That list includes the four material observations as discussed in the previous paragraphs: a) the existence of an arrangement of matter acting as a physical representation, b) the existence of an arrangement of matter to establish the relationship between a representation and the effect it represents within a system (the protocol), c) the existence of physical effects being driven by the input of the representations, and d) the dynamic property that they each remain discrete. Observations of systems that satisfy these four requirements confirms the existence of actual (not analogous) information transfer.
These same entailments are is found in the transfer of information from a nucleic sequence. During protein synthesis a selected sequence of nucleotides are copied, and the representations contained within that copy are fed into a ribosome. The output of that ribosome is a chain of amino acids which will then become the protein being prescribed by the input sequence. The input of information is therefore driving the output production. But the input and the output are physically discrete, as evidenced by the fact that the don’t directly interact, and that the material output is not assembled from the material input.
The exchange of information (from input to output) is facilitated by a set of special physical objects – the protocols – tRNA and its entourage of aminoacyl synthetase. Acting together they make it possible for the input to alter the output, and they do so by allowing them to remain separate. The tRNA physically bridges the gap between the input and the output, acting as a passive carrier of the physical protocol. It accomplishes this by being charged with the correct amino acid by the synthetases (the only molecules in biology which actually hold the rules to the genetic code). The synthetases accomplish their tasks by being able to physically recognize both the tRNAs and the amino acids. They charge the tRNAs with their correct amino acids before they ever enter the ribosome. The actions of the synthetases are therefore completely isolated from both the input and output. In other words, the only molecules in biology that can set the rule that “this maps to that” are physically isolated from both the input and output, while the input and output remain isolated themselves.
These observations establish that the entailed objects (and dynamic relationships) exist the same in the translation of genetic information as they do in any other type of recorded information (in every example from human language, to computer and machine code, to a bee’s dance). These observations have been attacked as being as a misuse of the definition of words (a semantic word game, as you call it). But I have already produced the definitions of the words from a standard dictionary; I’ve restated the observations using those definitions in place of the words themselves; and I have asked the question: “If in one instance we have a thing that actually is a symbolic representation, and in another we have something that just acts like a symbolic representation – then someone can surely look at the physical evidence and point to the distinction between the two. There is also the simple fact that there is nothing about the attachment of cytosine to thymine to adenine that intrinsically means “bind leucine to a nearby polypeptide” as an inherent property of its matter. That is a quality beyond its mere materiality, one it takes on by being in a system with the correct protocol to cause that effect from that arrangement of matter.
There has also been the profoundly illogical objection that because these things follow physical law (and can be understood), they cannot be considered symbols or symbolic representations. Not only does this deny the existence of any symbol in the extreme, it fails for the obvious reason that everything follows physical law. If something can’t be true because it follows the same laws as everything else, then we have entered the Twilight Zone.
So going back to your comment, a fair reading suggests that the information transfer in the genome shouldn’t be expected to adhere to the qualities of other forms of information transfer. But as it turns out, it faithfully follows the same physical dynamics as any other form of recorded information. As for “disciplines”, you will notice that these observations are very much in the domain of semiotics. Demonstrating a system that satisfies the entailments (physical consequences) of recorded information, also confirms the existence of a semiotic state. It does so observationally. Yet, the descriptions of these entailments makes no reference to a mind. Certainly a living being with a mind can be tied to the observations of information transfer, but so can other living things and non-living machinery. It must be acknowledged, human beings did not invent iterative representative systems, or recorded information. We came along later and discovered they already existed.
Therefore, the search for an answer to the rise of the recorded information in the genome needs to focus on mechanisms that can give rise to a semiotic state, since that is the way we find it. We need a mechanism that can cause an arrangement of matter to serve as a physical representation. We need a mechanism that can establish within a physical object a relationship between two discrete things. To explain the existence of recorded information, we need a mechanism to satisfy the observed physical consequences of recorded information
Do you agree, or do you have evidence that attaching adenine to thymine to guanine is mapped to “start a new protein” in any physical context?