No one has ever found a single particle of dark matter. Yet theoretical physicists are certain it exists, helping hold the universe together.
One physicist now suggests that this “fifth state” of matter (the other four non-dark states are solid, liquid, gas, and plasma) might be information. But then information must be a physical thing.
We live and work with masses of information all the time. But we view it as immaterial.
For example, let’s assume that your password exists (you hope) only in your own mind. It can make things happen but not in quite the way a key fits a lock. That is, it doesn’t physically “make” things happen, the way a key physically turns the lock. Your mind directs your fingers to enter the password into an electronic system and then things start to happen.
But the password itself has no known material existence. It is likely associated with neurons in your brain. But numbers like “7” and letters like “h” are not material in themselves.
But if information does have mass, we are asked to consider that it could be the 27% of the universe that we just can’t “find,” the part we call “dark matter”:
Dr. Melvin Vopson of the University of Portsmouth, in the UK [pictured above], has a hypothesis he calls the mass-energy-information equivalence. It states that information is the fundamental building block of the universe, and it has mass. This accounts for the missing mass within galaxies, thus eliminating the hypothesis of dark matter entirely.Philip Perry, “There is no dark matter. Instead, information has mass, physicist says” at Big Think (January 21, 2020)
In principle, Vopson’s idea that information is fundamental to the organization of the universe is not new or different. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008) thought that “Everything is information.” What’s different is the idea that information is literally physical, that it could even be the long-sought “dark matter”:
Vopson takes this notion one step further. He says that not only is information the essential unit of the universe but also that it is energy and has mass. To support this claim, he unifies and coordinates special relativity with the Landauer Principle. The latter is named after Rolf Landauer. In 1961, he predicted that erasing even one bit of information would release a tiny amount of heat, a figure which he calculated. Landauer said this proves information is more than just a mathematical quantity. This connects information to energy. Through experimental testing over the years, the Landauer Principle has held up.
Vopson says, “He [Landauer] first identified the link between thermodynamics and information by postulating that logical irreversibility of a computational process implies physical irreversibility.” This indicates that information is physical, Vopson says, and demonstrates the link between information theory and thermodynamics.Philip Perry, “There is no dark matter. Instead, information has mass, physicist says” at Big Think (January 21, 2020)
But how viable is the basic idea? Information theorist Bill Dembski (right) told Mind Matters News that Professor Vopson may be confusing two different concepts of information:
Vopson seems to me confusing information as represented in matter, which is always going to involve mass-energy, and information as a mathematical entity that is multirealizable in and outside of matter. The mathematics of information, i.e., information theory, indicates no place for standard physical entities such as mass and energy, though applying information theory to communication problems involving real physical systems will require attention to these physical features, such as heat dissipation. I just don’t see the equivalence of information to these conventional physical entities.
One underlying issue may be that materialist thinkers must see information as material, whether that approach fits information or not.
Materialists face the same problem with consciousness; their choices are starkly limited. Analytical philosopher Galen Strawson, for example, explains “ Given that we know that conscious experience exists, we must as naturalists suppose that it’s wholly natural. And given that we’re specifically materialist or physicalist naturalists (as almost all naturalists are), we must take it that conscious experience is wholly material or physical… ”
There is no evidence that information is dark matter or that consciousness is physical but materialists understandably long for evidence that would make their theory more viable.
Further reading on information theory:
How Can Information Theory Help the Economy Grow? New information is the true source of new wealth; everyone wins when we learn how to produce it more efficiently (Jonathan Bartlett)
Does information theory support design in nature? William Dembski makes a convincing case, using accepted information theory principles relevant to computer science (Eric Holloway)
Also: Why some scientists believe that the universe itself is conscious