A technician explains measurements whilst a scientist explains observations.

There is no information without representation

Information is one of the most poorly defined terms in philosophy but it is a well defined concept in physical theory. How can it be that a clear idea in one branch of knowledge can be murky in another?

The physical meaning of information is succinctly summarised in the Wikibook on "Consciousness Studies":

"The number of distinguishable states that a system can possess is the amount of information that can be encoded by the system."

In most cases a "state of a system" boils down to arrangements of objects, either material objects laid out in the world or sequences of objects such as the succession of signals in a telephone line. So information is represented by physical things laid out in space and time. There is no information without this representation as an arrangement of physical objects.

Information can be processed by machines. As an example, computers use the "distinguishable states" of charge in electrical components to perform a host of useful tasks. They use the state of electrical charge in electronic components because charge can be manipulated rapidly and can be impressed on tiny components, however, computers could use the states of steel balls in boxes or carrots flowing on conveyor belts to achieve the same effect, albeit more slowly. There is nothing special about electronic computers beyond their speed, complexity and compactness. They are just machines that contain three dimensional arrangements of matter.

Philosophers use information in a much less well-defined fashion. Philosophical information is far more fuzzy and involves the quality of things such as hardness or blueness. So how does philosophical blueness differ from a physical information state?

Physical information about the world is a generalised state change that is related to particular events in the world and could be impressed on any substrate such as steel balls etc.. This allows information to be transmitted from place to place. As an example, a heat sensor in England could trigger a switch that opens a trapdoor that drops a ball that is monitored on a camera that causes changes in charge patterns in a computer that are transmitted as sounds on a radio in the USA. If the sound on the radio makes a cat jump and knock over a vase then it is probably valid to look at the vase and say "its hot in England". So physical information is related to its source by the causal chain of preceding steps. Notice that each of these steps is a physical event so there is no information without representation as a state in the real world.

In the philosophical idea of information "hot" or "cold" are particular states in the mind. Our mental states are not uniquely related to the state of the world outside our bodies. As an example, human heat sensors are fickle so a blindfolded person might contain the state called "cold" when their hand is placed in water at 60 degrees or ice water at zero degrees. Our "cold" is subjective and does not have a fixed reference point in the world. Our own information is a particular state that could be induced by a variety of events in the world whereas physical information can be a variety of states triggered by a particular event in the world.

To summarise, information in physics is a state change in any substrate. It can be related to the state change in another substrate if a causal chain exists between the two substrates. Information in the mind is the state of the particular substrate that forms your particular mind.

Your mind is a state of a particular substrate but a "state" is an arrangement of events. The crucial questions for the scientist are "what events?" and "how many independent directions can be used for arranging these events?". We can tell from our experience that at least four independent axes (or "dimensions") are involved.


Note

The fact that there is no information without representation of the information as a physical state means that peculiar non-physical claims such as Cartesian Dualism and Dennett's "logical space" are not credible.

Daniel C Dennett. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Little, Brown & Co. USA. Available as a Penguin Book.

Dennett says: "So we do have a way of making sense of the idea of phenomenal space - as a logical space. This is a space into which or in which nothing is literally projected; its properties are simply constituted by the beliefs of the (heterophenomenological) subject." Dennett is wrong because if the space contains information then it must be instantiated as a physical entity, if it is not instantiated then it does not exist and Dennett is simply denying the experience that we all share to avoid explaining it. Either we have simultaneous events or are just a single point, if we have simultaneous events the space of our experience exists.

11 comments:

  1. Here is my definition of information:

    Information is any property of any object, event, or situation that can be detected, classified, measured, or described in any way.

    1. The existence of information implies the existence of a complex
physical system consisting of (a) a source with some kind of structured
content (S), (b) a mechanism that systematically encodes the structure of
S, ( c ) a channel that selectively directs the encoding of S, (d) a
mechanism that selectively receives and decodes the encoding of S.

    2. A distinction should be drawn between latent information and what
might be called kinetic information. All structured physical objects
contain latent information. This is as true for undetected distant
 galaxies as it is for the magnetic pattern on a hard disc or the ink
marks on the page of a book. Without an effective encoder, channel, and
 decoder, latent information never becomes kinetic information. Kinetic
information is important because it enables systematic responses with
respect to the source (S) or to what S signifies. None of this implies
consciousness.

    3. A distinction should be drawn between kinetic information and
manifest information. Manifest information is what is contained in our
phenomenal experience. It is conceivable that some state-of-the-art
photo—>digital translation system could output equivalent kinetic
information on reading English and Russian versions of War and Peace,
but a Russian printing of the book provides me no manifest information
about the story, while an English version of the book allows me to
experience the story. The explanatory gap is in the causal connection
between kinetic information and manifest information.

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  2. We seem to be using different language to describe the same things.

    In (2) you describe "latent information" becoming "kinetic information". I agree that information can be processed by information processors. A processor has instructions in the form of a "program" and as it operates the processor creates a four dimensional set of information. All machines can be regarded as information processors and I agree that "none of this implies consciousness".

    In (3) you say that "The explanatory gap is in the causal connection
between kinetic information and manifest information. ". I would broadly agree with this but would emphasise the fact that my experience is kinetic information that arranges a very particular substrate in my brain.

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  3. I said: "The explanatory gap is in the causal connection
between kinetic information and manifest information."

    You said: "I would broadly agree with this but would emphasise the fact that my experience is kinetic information that arranges a very particular substrate in my brain."

    I think we agree that your phenomenal (manifest) experience (and mine) is constituted by a special kind of activation/arrangement of kinetic information in a particular kind of brain mechanism. In terms of dual aspect monism, from the objective 3rd-person perspective, we might experience the kinetics of this mechanism from the outside as a special pattern of neuronal activity in a brain; from the subjective 1st-person perspective, we experience the activity of this special mechanism from the inside as manifest information. As you know, I have proposed that the brain mechanism that gives us subjectivity -- manifest information -- is the putative retinoid system.

    I have conducted an experiment (Seeing-More-Than-is-There (SMTT)) that I think offers crucial evidence for the real existence of retinoid mechanisms in creatures that enjoy manifest information. A summary of the experiment is presented here:

    http://people.umass.edu/trehub/YCCOG828%20copy.pdf

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  4. Hi Arnold, its good to see you are still joining the fray. I agree with your part statement that: "..from the objective 3rd-person perspective, we might experience the kinetics of this mechanism from the outside as a special pattern of neuronal activity in a brain; from the subjective 1st-person perspective, we experience the activity of this special mechanism from the inside as manifest information."

    I also think that your Retinoid System is a good stab at explaining the information processing (and it might well explain SMTT).

    In the article above I tried to pin down the way that "manifest information" is an arrangement of a substrate. Most of the other articles on this site deal with the way that "manifest information" cannot be a simple 3D arrangement but entails whole durations of the output of the information processing of the brain (what you have called "kinetic information" but interconnected through spacetime).

    Getting back to the "retinoid System", given that information must be represented as an arrangement of a physical substrate, what is the substrate? If it is indeed a few million neurons arranged as a retinoid system my first inclination is to suggest the changing membrane potentials as the data that is being arranged. The way that there are no gaps within the data elements suggests some sort of "affine" geometry in which the data elements become adjacent, the space between them playing no role. If there were gaps, in the same way as there are gaps between neurons, then our experience should be like a Pollack version of a pointillist painting with strings of colour on a background. The differences between the qualia themselves might be due to differing frequencies of neural activity arranged along the time axis.

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  5. I don't think that we can tease apart the ionic changes in the neuronal substrate of the active retinoid system and the complex electromagnetic wave patterns that these ion fluxes induce. I think the best we can do in an empirical test of a theoretically predicted relationship between observed brain activity (3rd pp) and phenomenal experience (1st pp) is to adopt the bridging principle that for any instance of conscious content there is a corresponding analog in the biophysical state of the brain. I bet on a spatiotopic arrangement of bioelectric events with short-term persistence in egocentric retinoid space as the source of conscious content. There might be gaps between neurons and between charged particles, but there would be no gaps in the changing arrangements of the electromagnetic fields that they generate.

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  6. It is a pleasure to correspond with someone who also believes the problem to be physical but outside current physical knowledge. The big problem is devising a good, testable theory. EM fields certainly look like prime candidates for the substrate of mind. It is interesting that they can preserve coherence in an aqueous environment for relatively long periods. Here is an interesting article on optical coherence in biological tissues:

    http://www.stealthskater.com/Documents/Consciousness_31.pdf

    Longer photon coherence times are likely for the longer em wavelengths that accompany action potentials. If time exists then this em radiation can be at a spacetime point as well as distributed.

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  7. I should stress that at this time it is most important to describe our experience in terms that can be used in developing a scientific theory rather than jumping the gun into pseudoscience.

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  8. Here's a phenomenal experience that provides direct empirical support to a particular scientific theory of consciousness.

    The neuronal structure and dynamics of the brain's putative retinoid system successfully predicted that if you look through a triangular aperture in an occluding screen, behind which there is a *circular* object in lateral reciprocal motion, you will have the conscious experience of an *egg-shaped* object swinging like a pendulum, pivoting from the vertex of the triangular aperture. See *The Cognitive Brain*, Ch. 14, pp. 239-242 here:

    http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/thecognitivebrain/chapter14.pdf

    If we want to understand the neuronal foundation of phenomenal representation we need to specify the operational details of relevant brain mechanisms and systems.

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  9. Information - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press).

    http://www.amazon.com/Information-Very-Short-Introduction-Introductions/dp/0199551375/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

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  10. "So information is represented by physical things laid out in space and time."

    Why would physical things 'represent' anything though? Without some sensory interpretation that groups such things together so that they appear "laid out in space and time", who is to say that there could be any 'informing' going on?

    "computers use the "distinguishable states" of charge in electrical components to perform a host of useful tasks."

    Useful to whom? The beads of an abacus can be manipulated into states which are distinguishable by the user, but there is no reason to assume that this informs the beads, or the physical material that the beads are made of. Computers do not compute to serve their own sense or motives, they are blind, low level reflectors of extrinsically introduced conditions.

    "Your mind is a state of a particular substrate but a "state" is an arrangement of events. "

    States and arrangements are not physical because they require a mode of interpretation which is qualitative and aesthetic. Just as there can be no disembodied information, there can be no 'states' or 'arrangements' which are disentangled from the the totality of sensible relations, and from specific participatory subsets therein. Information is a ghost - an impostor which reflects this totality in a narrow quantitative sense which is eternal but metaphysical, and a physical sense which is tangible and present but in which all aesthetic qualities are reduced to a one dimensional schema of coordinate permutation. Neither information nor physics can relate to each other or represent anything by themselves. It is my view that we should flip the entire assumption of forms and functions as primitively real around, so that they are instead derived from a more fundamental capacity to appreciate sensory affects and participate in motivated effects. The primordial character of the universe can only be, in my view metaphenomenal, with physics, information, and subjectivity as sensible partitions of the whole.



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    Replies
    1. Information is represented. One set of physical things creates a pattern in another set of physical things. The meaning arises from the extension of things in time. See posts on "meaning".

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