Despite the existence of information theory, a firm definition of information of doesn’t seem to exist. Consider that information is still being investigated as a broader philosophical notion in the philosophy of information. And while I claim no special expertise in these areas, and no doubt should acquaint myself more fully with them, I’m going to start writing about information.
Over the course of writing posts on information I’m going to ponder whether information might be a fundamental property, similar to energy and matter. In this post I’m going to argue that for information to exist, something must exist to interpret it, and I’ll describe an example of interpretation at the most fundamental level–the genome.
To start, I’ll work from my understanding of the philosophical description of information credited to Luciano Floridi: information can exist as embodied information (information as something), descriptive information (information about something), abstract information (information in something) and instructional information (information for something). Without examples this is pretty vague, but what is worse, perhaps, is that some things fit multiple categories of information.
Take, for instance, a genome. As a collection of long molecule chains, it is a physical embodiment of “information”. We could imagine that with the right knowledge and analysis, we could get from it descriptive information about organisms with that genome. This descriptive information though, is an abstraction of certain patterns of repeating base pairs: the information is in the pattern. Lastly, the information in the genome is a set of instructions for the construction of an organism.
Where does interpretation come in? In our everyday lives, we often read and write, listen and talk, see and signal. When we do this we are interpreting incoming information and communicating in outputting information. This information can exist without an immediate recipient in recordings, e.g., books and blogs, audio messages and songs, and images and videos. However, if the information becomes corrupted–and ceases to be readable–the information is lost. Without the capability existing to interpret the information, it has no more meaning than random (or perhaps orderly) noise.
If we consider genomes as information, we should ask: what is interpreting that information? Complex molecular machinery physically interprets DNA in the replication process. However, because of the scale and fundamental nature of the atomic and molecular structures involved in the replication of DNA, the physical laws of our universe provide the basis of this interpretation. Our genomes are instructions, interpreted by enzymes operating under physical laws, to structure matter into living organisms.
Genomes are interpreted by molecules working in concert with the physical laws of matter and energy at the atomic scale. This information could, therefore, exist and be interpreted anywhere in the universe that these molecules exist and the physical laws are the same. In this way, life could be described as the process of the universe interpreting and creating information. This notion will be explored further and refined in future posts.
[Edit: clarifications and grammatical corrections. (24/12/2012)]