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Thursday, July 21, 2011

"It from bit"

So said John Wheeler 1.
What is a Bit?
Bit is a piece of information. It is a message. It is a code.
In this age of computer, internet and information, I need to be careful and define “information”.
To Claude Shannon and the information scientists2, the physics of communication is the focus.
To them, it is about sending a message from here to there.
The contents did not matter. Emotions involved in the message did not matter. Not even the purpose.
My focus is on the content and its purpose.
The root verb for the word information is in forme which means to form, to shape.
Information in biology is a message, a code for a “purpose”.
A message (information) is carried on physical agents, by physical agents.
Therefore, it can be or is an attribute of a physical agent and inherent in it.
Like ghee in milk; like life in this planet.
Information is a fundamental unit of nature, like matter and energy. Not being a physicist, I am not sure about this.
Information in the form of codes is certainly the basis for life and consciousness.
Being a physician and a biologist and as one who has delved deep into meditation, I am sure about this.
Information (message) in life sciences is a code for a potential future event.
I used the words, potential and future.
For information to unfold, for the potential to come into being, causes and conditions have to be in place.
The information, the code, the message can be accessed only in the future.
It can be accessed any number of times without depleting the source.
It can be accessed from far or near. But it needs time to unfold.
Thus, information is tied intimately with time.
Unfolding of information is what gives the sense of time and its unidirectionality.
Emergent properties of atoms and molecules and compounds and cells are due to inherent information unfolding over time.
Past events can be inferred from the unfolded information. Milk can be inferred from ghee.
But the source cannot be reconstituted from the effect.
Milk can become ghee; but ghee cannot become milk.
You cannot put the chicken back into the egg; the tree into its seed.
That is because, Time in unidirectional. Information unfolding makes it so.
Information can point to the source. But it is not the source. It is an attribute of the source.

References: 1. Wheeler, J A and Ford K. Geon, Black Holes and Quantum foam: A Life in Physics. New York: Norton, 1998.
2. Gleick J. The Information. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011.

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