What Is Information?

We live in the midst of the “Information Age,” surrounded by computers, the web, Facebook, Twitter, electronic medical records, Skype.  You would think we knew what information “is.”

The answer is surprisingly unclear.

What I want to do in this blog is present three views of information.  Even the last, which may be the best, is, I think, deeply inadequate.  Then I want to start with Erwin Schrodinger’s stunning insight in “What Is Life,” that life cannot be based on periodic crystals because they are too dull, but on aperiodic crystals that would “contain a mircocode for the organism.  He was right. The DNA molecule, with its arbitrary (with respect to forming a DNA double helix) sequences of A, T, C, and G constitute the famous genetic code.  I will ask “What was Schrodinger’s deep intuition and go from there.

Put briefly — and Schrodinger did not say so guessing his intuition is up to us — I think his intuition was that an aperiodic crystal breaks a lot of symmetries, therefore contains a lot of (micro) constraints that can enable an enormous diversity of real and organized processes to happen physically. This idea of organized processes seems to be hinted at in his statement that the aperiodic crystal would contain a microcode for (generating) the organism. I have inserted “generating”, and this is the set of specific processes aspect of information that I think we need to incorporate into our idea of what information IS.  I think Schrodinger is telling us both a deeper meaning of what information “is”, and part of how the universe got complex — by repeatedly breaking symmetries that enabled organized processes to happen that both provided new sources of free energy and enabled the breaking of further symmetries.

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