Author Topic: "Information"?  (Read 368 times)

Offline Daniel

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"Information"?
« on: July 16, 2020, 11:32:09 AM »
What exactly is "information"? Do we have a good definition of it? What is its relationship to semantic content and to telos? I know the topic of "information" comes up a lot when discussing DNA and also the mind-body problem, but I'm not sure what to make of it.

One thing I'm kind of wondering is, what proof do we have that mind-independent "information" actually exists? I believe that I personally believe in it, but I don't know how you could even begin to argue its existence to a materialist...
« Last Edit: July 16, 2020, 11:34:17 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline cgraye

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2020, 12:28:32 AM »
What "information" means depends on the context.  In a classical philosophical sense, it refers basically to forms in an Aristotelian sense - the nature, essence, or pattern of a thing, which comes from its end or goal.  In that sense it is directly related to telos, and proving it exists essentially amounts to demonstrating the existence of formal and final causes.

"Information" came to mean something different in later empiricist philosophies, which basically tried to eliminate the notions of formal and final causes.  There it refers more to the stuff of the senses rather than its structure or form.

Then there is physical information, which is about describing the states of physical systems.  DNA, for example, can be in many different states, and we can look at these and say that different states are distinguished by different information.  We can draw quantitative conclusions about how many states are possible given how many distinguishing elements there are and so on, and we can do it without referring to anything like meaning or semantic content.  But to go further and establish that a certain state of DNA means something or describes a certain kind of organism really requires the notions of formal and final causation to be coherent.
 
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Offline james03

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2020, 02:43:49 PM »
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but I don't know how you could even begin to argue its existence to a materialist...

I don't think a materialist can even give you an existence theorem for information.  Ask them this:

"I take a piece of paper and sprinkle some sand on it and ask you what it is.  You'd say it is paper with some sand on it.  I take another piece of paper and sprinkle some carbon on it and ask you what it is.  You'd say it is a print-out of an email with directions to your house.  Explain that."
"But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn 3:18)."

"All sorrow leads to the foot of the Cross.  Weep for your sins."
 

Offline The Theosist

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2020, 08:11:29 AM »
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but I don't know how you could even begin to argue its existence to a materialist...

I don't think a materialist can even give you an existence theorem for information.  Ask them this:

"I take a piece of paper and sprinkle some sand on it and ask you what it is.  You'd say it is paper with some sand on it.  I take another piece of paper and sprinkle some carbon on it and ask you what it is.  You'd say it is a print-out of an email with directions to your house.  Explain that."

It's called mind and convention of meaning. Maybe a materialist cannot explain those, but explaining "information" like that doesn't require some kind of Platonic realism or such.
 

Offline The Theosist

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2020, 08:33:34 AM »
What exactly is "information"? Do we have a good definition of it? What is its relationship to semantic content and to telos? I know the topic of "information" comes up a lot when discussing DNA and also the mind-body problem, but I'm not sure what to make of it.

One thing I'm kind of wondering is, what proof do we have that mind-independent "information" actually exists? I believe that I personally believe in it, but I don't know how you could even begin to argue its existence to a materialist...

Here's a piano roll.



The piano, based on a mechanical process, plays notes according to the position of holes punched in a roll. Holes punched in paper. That can bring about something intended by the intelligence who designed the functions of this code. He sees the holes in the roll as "information". What does he mean by that? Am I for some reason obliged to adopt realism here because he can intentionally produce certain phenomena through a mechanical process by "encoding" in patterns of holes punched in paper particular actions related to particular musical notes? Am I Am I obliged by my use of the concept of notes? Or because I identify what's produced with a particular piece of music, when by that identity I mean their near equivalence in one aspect of their existence, a temporal sequence of notes? Even if I see some deeper relation of being in the two production of a piece, am I obliged to conceive of this in terms of realism and mind-independent "formal" and "final" cause?

 

Offline The Theosist

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2020, 08:45:19 AM »
Then there is physical information, which is about describing the states of physical systems.  DNA, for example, can be in many different states, and we can look at these and say that different states are distinguished by different information.  We can draw quantitative conclusions about how many states are possible given how many distinguishing elements there are and so on, and we can do it without referring to anything like meaning or semantic content.  But to go further and establish that a certain state of DNA means something or describes a certain kind of organism really requires the notions of formal and final causation to be coherent.

Not if I regard "kinds of organisms" as sets of some chosen rules of membership and DNA "meaning something" as generating some characteristics of organisms which qualify them for such membership. Or point out the incoherence.
 

Offline cgraye

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2020, 11:30:53 PM »
Not if I regard "kinds of organisms" as sets of some chosen rules of membership...

Such a pattern is exactly what a formal cause is.

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...and DNA "meaning something" as generating some characteristics of organisms which qualify them for such membership. Or point out the incoherence.

If a certain kind of DNA generates a certain kind of organism, that DNA is an efficient cause of that organism, which means that generating that kind of organism is the final cause of that kind of DNA.  That is just what a final cause is.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
 

Offline The Theosist

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2020, 03:10:25 AM »
Not if I regard "kinds of organisms" as sets of some chosen rules of membership...

Such a pattern is exactly what a formal cause is.

If that's the entirety of your definition of "formal cause", which implies nothing about their real existence nor anything about their having some sort of ontological responsibility for the existence of a thing. But that's not the case now, is it? That's not exactly what Aristotle and his successors meant by a "formal cause".

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If a certain kind of DNA generates a certain kind of organism, that DNA is an efficient cause of that organism,

Not if "generates" here doesn't imply whatever you intend by "efficient cause", and I think you're entirely aware of how a Humean-style analysis will look at the process of protein synthesis to deconstruct your assertion.

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which means that generating that kind of organism is the final cause of that kind of DNA.  That is just what a final cause is.

So your notion of "final cause" doesn't include purposefulness or even "causal power"? It's nothing but the ceteris paribus outcome of a mechanism?
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2020, 09:39:37 AM »
With regard to DNA, I often hear two analogies: one says that DNA is like computer data, while the other says that DNA is like computer software. Some people like to use both analogies interchangeably, which makes very little sense to me. I am wondering which analogy is correct? Is it software, or is it data, or is it some mix of both, or is it software which somehow doubles as data?


But bringing this back to the question of information, this all seems to be more of a conformity of the interpreter's mind to the designer's mind, rather than the existence of objective "information" contained in the string itself.

Strings are oftentimes ambiguous, so how do they contain information? (e.g. What is "FF0000" supposed to mean?)
« Last Edit: August 06, 2020, 09:42:14 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline cgraye

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2020, 11:18:27 AM »
If that's the entirety of your definition of "formal cause", which implies nothing about their real existence nor anything about their having some sort of ontological responsibility for the existence of a thing. But that's not the case now, is it? That's not exactly what Aristotle and his successors meant by a "formal cause".

What they meant by formal cause is what makes something the kind of thing that it is - its nature, essence, or pattern.  That should not be taken to mean the form has some sort of existence outside of the thing, as in Plato's Forms.  Forms exist in the things that instantiate them and, considered as abstractions, in intellects.  If there is no thing that instantiates it and no intellect that possesses it, the form does not exist.

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Not if "generates" here doesn't imply whatever you intend by "efficient cause", and I think you're entirely aware of how a Humean-style analysis will look at the process of protein synthesis to deconstruct your assertion.

An efficient cause is a prior condition that leads to the existence of something or a change in it, and "generates" definitely implies that.

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So your notion of "final cause" doesn't include purposefulness or even "causal power"? It's nothing but the ceteris paribus outcome of a mechanism?

You could talk about those things when talking about final causality, but the bare, core notion of a final cause is just that every agent acts for an end.  In other words, everything that acts tends toward some particular effect.  In that sense it is the flip side of efficient causality.  Efficient causes are the prior conditions, entities, etc., and final causes are the future conditions, entities, etc.  So if A is the efficient cause of B, generating B is the final cause of A.  And more than that, A causes B because generating B is the final cause of A.  It is the explanation for why each particular A brings about B as opposed to one of them bringing about C, one of them bringing about D, etc.
 

Offline cgraye

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2020, 11:35:42 AM »
With regard to DNA, I often hear two analogies: one says that DNA is like computer data, while the other says that DNA is like computer software. Some people like to use both analogies interchangeably, which makes very little sense to me. I am wondering which analogy is correct? Is it software, or is it data, or is it some mix of both, or is it software which somehow doubles as data?

Well, computer software is a specific type of computer data, so I don't see any real contradiction there.  It would depend on what represents the computer in the analogy, I think.

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But bringing this back to the question of information, this all seems to be more of a conformity of the interpreter's mind to the designer's mind, rather than the existence of objective "information" contained in the string itself.

Strings are oftentimes ambiguous, so how do they contain information? (e.g. What is "FF0000" supposed to mean?)

"FF0000" considered just as a string would require some kind of agreement between the designer and the interpreter to have meaning, yes.  But if some configuration of DNA leads to the generation of some kind of organism, then that is what it does, whether any mind is out there to think about it or not.  Of course, one could argue that it must first exist in a mind for that situation to even occur, for something to give things their natures according to which they operate in the first place.  But we don't need to make an explicit reference to that mind to observe the natures of those things.
 

Offline james03

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2020, 11:58:34 AM »
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Maybe a materialist cannot explain those,

They can't.  I just want an existence theory from them.

"But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn 3:18)."

"All sorrow leads to the foot of the Cross.  Weep for your sins."
 

Offline Alnitak

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Re: "Information"?
« Reply #12 on: Today at 05:50:48 AM »
Losee, R. M. (1997). A discipline independent definition of information. Journal of the American Society for information Science, 48(3), p.254
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Information may be defined as the characteristics of the output of a process, these being informative about the process and the input.
Madden, A. D. (2000, November). A definition of information. In Aslib Proceedings: new information perspectives (Vol. 52, No. 9, p. 348)
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a stimulus originating in one system that affects the interpretation by another system of either the second systemís relationship to the first or of the relationship the two systems share with a given environment
This section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Information might be of interest.
« Last Edit: Today at 06:00:41 AM by Alnitak »