Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryInformation Theory

Dawkins’ Weasel Program vs the Information Life Acquires En Route

To demonstrate what is wrong with fully naturalist assumptions like those of Richard Dawkins’ Weasel program, I developed Weasel Libs, modeled on Mad Libs

In his famous Weasel program zoologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins shows that the simple combination of random mutation and natural selection (Darwinian evolution) can produce the English sentence, “Methinks it is like a weasel”, in a short time period. The point of his program is to demonstrate that evolution can generate the complex, pre-specified DNA sequences we find in biology before the heat death of the universe. His argument sounds persuasive because both English sentences and DNA sequences are made up of symbols. Both can be randomly modified anywhere, and by cumulative selection, they can plausibly adapt to the environment in reasonably short order. Writers in English can learn to pen best-selling novels through trial and error and audience feedback.…

Does Information Have Mass? An Experimental Physicist Weighs In

Physicist Melvin Vopson argues that information has mass; Eric Holloway replies that, if so, it must come from outside the universe. Meanwhile…

It’s generally held that information does not have mass. However, physicist Melvin Vopson, reflecting on the work of Rolf Landauer (1927–1999), offers a somewhat alarming view: Not only does information have mass but that — at the rate we humans output it now — its energy will outweigh Earth. Yesterday, Eric Holloway offered a response to that claim: Let’s accept that creation of information can indeed increase the amount of energy and mass in a system. But, according to the conservation of energy, the energy in a closed system remains constant. So, if Vopson is correct we now have a mystery because his theory is in tension with the conservation of energy. The only solution is that the system is…

Does Information Weigh Something After All? What If It Does?

At the rate we create information today, one physicist computes that in 350 years, the energy will outweigh the atoms of Earth

In the 1960s, IBM researcher Rolf Landauer (1927–1999) observed that if the logical information in a computational system decreased, then the physical entropy in the system must increase (Landauer’s Principle). This conclusion follows from the principle that the entropy in a closed system can never decrease. A decrease in the logical information corresponds to a decrease in entropy. And factoring in the principle that the entropy cannot actually decrease, the physical system itself must increase in entropy when the information decreases. This increase in entropy will result in the emission of heat, and a reduction of energy in the system. Now Melvin Vopson, a physicist at the University of Portsmouth, has taken Landauer’s principle to the next logical step. He…

“Killing Disease and Living Longer” Biotech Panel Now Online

Combining information technology with microscopic nanotechnology can help us find and weaken toxic bacteria so antibiotics can destroy them

Here’s the Innovations in Biotech workshop at COSM 2021 dedicated to “Killing Disease and Living Longer,” on November 11, 2021 in Bellevue, Washington: Panelists: Matt McIlwain (Moderator) — Managing Director, Madrona Venture GroupStephen C. Meyer — Director, Center for Science and CultureJim Tour — T.t. and W.f. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Rice UniversityMatthew Scholz — CEO, Oisin Biotechnologies Attendee Casey Luskin offers an overview of this panel at Manipulating Molecules: Combining info + nano for better medicine: At COSM 2021, scientists like Jim Tour and entrepreneurs like Matt Scholz offer a window into how we are learning to manipulate the building blocks of life (November 12, 2021). For example, Tour and his team are designing light-activated nanodrills which can drill…

Can Animal Behavior Simply Be Transferred Into the Genome?

For example, how do Monarch butterflies from Canada get to the same trees in Mexico as their great-grandparents landed in?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries of biology: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? Here’s the first part, with transcript and notes. Below is the second part, which looks at some “how” questions. Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS whose experience includes more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft, navigation and safety. He has long had an interest in animal navigation. His model for animal navigation is the natural algorithm: The animal’s brain is “programmed” to enable navigation. Here’s Part II of our…

Study Information Theory with Engineer Robert J. Marks—and Save Over 50%!

Join computer engineer Robert J. Marks to take a deep dive into these issues and more in Marks’ new online course Evolutionary Informatics, which has just debuted at DiscoveryU

What can we learn from information theory about the possibilities—and limits—of machine intelligence? How can the methods of probability help us better assess the capabilities of “evolutionary” algorithms? Join computer engineer Robert J. Marks to take a deep dive into these issues and more in Marks’ new online course Evolutionary Informatics, which has just debuted at DiscoveryU, Discovery Institute’s online learning platform.Tuition for the Evolutionary Informatics,course is set at $100, but with a special coupon code (2022special47) you can reduce the cost by more than 50% to just$47! The coupon code is valid through Feb. 28, 2022. Students can use a different code (2022special25) to reduce the cost of the course to \$25, also through Feb. 28. Dr. Marks…

Why Neuroscientist Solms Is No Materialist: Information Theory

He points out that, to begin with, Einstein’s famous equation — E equals MC squared — makes the point that matter is derivative. It’s a state of energy

Arjuna, the host of the Theology Unleashed broadcast with South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the mind vs. the brain (October 22, 2021) begins this portion by offering a Hindu (Hare Krishna) perspective view of the whole question of mind vs. matter… and he finds considerable common ground with the other two non-materialists! The true implications of quantum mechanics and information theory in refuting materialism are only beginning to be understood. Summary to date: In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally…

Will the Fossils We Find on Mars Be Fakes?

No, no, this is NOT a broadcast from Moonbat Central! False fossils are objects that look like fossils but aren’t

As we sift more and more of the surface of Mars, we’d love to find fossils. But then we may run into a problem that dogs paleontologists on Earth. From the University of Edinburgh: Rocks on Mars may contain numerous types of non-biological deposits that look similar to the kinds of fossils likely to be found if the planet ever supported life, a study says. Telling these false fossils apart from what could be evidence of ancient life on the surface of Mars — which was temporarily habitable four billion years ago — is key to the success of current and future missions, researchers say. University of Edinburgh, “Life on Mars search could be misled by false fossils, study says”…

Physicist: Does Captain Kirk Die Going Through the Transporter?

The problem has kept her up at night for decades, she says, and it appears we are no closer to an answer

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder is genuinely puzzled and asks readers for possible solutions: Does Captain Kirk die when he goes through the transporter? This question has kept me up at night for decades. I’m not kidding. And I still don’t have an answer. So this video isn’t going to answer the question, but I will explain why it’s more difficult than you may think. Sabine Hossenfelder, “Does Captain Kirk die when he goes through the transporter?” at BackRe(Action) (October 23, 2021) Why so difficult? Assume that all the information about a person is contained in the exact configuration in which it appears at one moment in time. Hossenfelder accepts that as the correct view. So the transporter converts you into…

Life forms strive to be more of what they are. Grains of sand don’t. You need more information to strive than to just exist.

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? And human intervention make any difference? Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? Does human intervention make a measurable difference? That’s specified complexity. Putting the idea of specified complexity to work, how do we measure meaningful information? What if an information-rich entity were scattered…

That is, does intelligent intervention increase information? Is that intervention detectable by science methods?

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? Now, they ask, does human intervention make any difference? Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/3efb31b8-8406-43fb-a8f9-66a0b635215d-Mind-Matters-Episode-158-Robert-Marks-Egnor-Guest-Host-Information-Bingecast-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 24:22 min. A partial transcript and notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, a mathematician at the University…

How Information Becomes Everything, Including Life

Without the information that holds us together, we would just be dust floating around the room

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discuss questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/3efb31b8-8406-43fb-a8f9-66a0b635215d-Mind-Matters-Episode-158-Robert-Marks-Egnor-Guest-Host-Information-Bingecast-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 01:02 min. A partial transcript and notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: I know that information is a topic that you have a strong professional interest and a great deal of professional expertise. Probably the best way to start is to ask what is information? Robert J. Marks: It turns out that before talking about information, you really have to define it.…

How Exoplanets Have Made the Search for ET Respectable

Recent years have seen a marked change from official skepticism to official curiosity, which includes more generous funding for the search

Exoplanets were first confirmed in 1992. Before that, it was easy to simply mock the search for the flying saucers and the little green men. After that, the obvious question became: If planets, why not habitable planets? If inhabited, why not by intelligent life forms? It was the naysayers who had more to prove. More recently, astrobiologists looking for signals from intelligent extraterrestrials (technosignatures) have started to doubt that the old standby, radio, is the best choice, as science writer Corey S. Powell reports, ‘I was never a big fan of what might be called “beacon SETI”,’ the astrophysicist Adam Frank from the University of Rochester tells me. ‘The idea is that you’re waiting for somebody to send you a…

Harvard Astronomer: Advanced Aliens Engineered the Big Bang

Avi Loeb writes in Scientific American that when we humans are sufficiently advanced, we will create other universes as well

At Scientific American, Avi Loeb, the longest-serving chair of astronomy at Harvard (2011–2020), tackles the question of what came before the Big Bang. He surveys the conventional explanations for this singularity in time and space (when all points are zero) and comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Creation by an alien intelligence is the best way to account for our universe: Now there are a variety of conjectures in the scientific literature for our cosmic origins, including the ideas that our universe emerged from a vacuum fluctuation, or that it is cyclic with repeated periods of contraction and expansion, or that it was selected by the anthropic principle out of the string theory landscape of the multiverse—where, as the MIT…

GWT: A Leading Consciousness Theory Depends on Information Theory

Not mechanism. If Global Workspace Theory (GWT) is a good approach to consciousness, there is no “consciousness spot” in the brain.

Recently, we have looked at the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of human consciousness, as set out by well-known Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch. Another leading contender (and rival) is Global Workspace Theory (GWT) — it pictures the brain as an orchestra with many conductors. IIT is panpsychist in orientation (the universe participates in consciousness; human consciousness is the most highly developed instance) whereas GWT uses information theory to capture an image of consciousness via observations of the brain at work. A recent essay in Psyche by two GWT proponents, Morten L. Kringelbach and Gustav Deco, introduces us to GWT: … given the distributed nature of the brain hierarchy, there is unlikely to be just a single ‘conductor’. Instead, in 1988…

It’s 2075! Our Motto: “Ignorance is Bliss” — Sci-fi Saturday

This animated short asks us to consider a future world in which information is reduced to a sort of haze

“Kernel” at DUST by Olly Skillman-Wilson (August 25, 2021, 5:12 min, animated) The world has become a place where information is tightly filtered and controlled, expelled into the air like a thick smog. Leonard Paisley is an ageing neurobotanist, his life work to preserve the knowledge of the past in his biome. When some equipment malfunctions his commitment is tested. Review: It’s 2075 AD and freedom of the press is not even remembered. Against a background of futuristic skyscrapers, a billboard advises us, “Not Knowing Is a Virtue.” Another that “Ignorance Is Bliss.” And “‘Tis Folly To Be Wise” Well, at least they are not telling us to Love Big Brother Or Else. Except for the fact that the landscape…

How Informational Realism Subverts Materialism

Within informational realism, what defines things is their capacity for communicating or exchanging information with other things

Here are some brief excerpts from design theorist William Dembski’s chapter in a forthcoming book on informational realism: To see how informational realism dissolves the mind-body problem, we need first to be clear on what informational realism is and why it is credible. Informational realism is not simply the view that information is real. We live in an information age, so who doesn’t think that information is real? Rather, informational realism asserts that the ability to exchange information is the defining feature of reality, of what it means, at the most fundamental level, for any entity to be real. William A. Dembski, “Informational Realism Dissolves the Mind–Body Problem,” a chapter of the forthcoming Mind and Matter: Modern Dualism, Idealism and…

There are two types of uncertainty, we learn, only one of which could create free will

Caleb Scharf (pictured), author of The Ascent of Information (2021), offers an excerpt at Nautilus that introduces two new terms, the “dataome” and “freebits.” The dataome is all the ways human beings create information, from cave paintings to cloud servers. He asks, “Was all of this really inevitable? Did we ever have a choice in creating a dataome or doing any of the things we do, and does any self-aware entity in the universe have a choice either?” Relying on theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson’s 2013 essay, “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine,” he asks us to consider that there are two types of uncertainty, only one of which could create choice. Typical “randomness” actually follows statistical laws, a…

Plants Help Each Other. Are They Self-Aware? Can They Suffer?

Recent discoveries that plants can do many things that we used to think only animals could do raise some interesting questions

In recent decades, we have learned that plants are much more like animals in their use of information than earlier thought. They have nervous systems that use glutamate to speed transmission, as mammals do. And seeking to thrive and grow, they communicate extensively. Recently, environmental journalist Richard Schiffman interviewed forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of the just-released Finding the Mother Tree on the intelligence of trees: You also found that birches give sugars to fir trees in the summer through the mycorrhizal networks and that firs return the favor by sending food to birches in the spring and fall, when the birches lack leaves. Isn’t that cool? Some scientists were having trouble with this: Why would a tree send photosynthetic…

Spiders May Not Know It But They Are Making Music

An MIT researcher has developed an algorithm that translates the delicate vibrations of spider webs into music

One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs: “The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.” Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web. Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs. “Webs could be a new source for…