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On the Concept of Information and Its Role in Nature

Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks AK 99775-7320, USA
The Abdus Salam Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy
Entropy 2003, 5(1), 3-33;
Received: 12 December 2002 / Accepted: 27 January 2003 / Published: 5 February 2003
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In this article we address some fundamental questions concerning information: Can the existing laws of physics adequately deal with the most striking property of information, namely to cause specific changes in the structure and energy flows of a complex system, without the information in itself representing fields, forces or energy in any of their characteristic forms? Or is information irreducible to the laws of physics and chemistry? Are information and complexity related concepts? Does the Universe, in its evolution, constantly generate new information? Or are information and information-processing exclusive attributes of living systems, related to the very definition of life? If that were the case, what happens with the physical meanings of entropy in statistical mechanics or wave function in quantum mechanics? How many distinct classes of information and information processing do exist in the biological world? How does information appear in Darwinian evolution? Does the human brain have unique properties or capabilities in terms of information processing? In what ways does information processing bring about human self-consciousness? We shall introduce the meaning of "information" in a way that is detached from human technological systems and related algorithms and semantics, and that is not based on any mathematical formula. To accomplish this we turn to the concept of interaction as the basic departing point, and identify two fundamentally different classes, with information and information-processing appearing as the key discriminator: force-field driven interactions between elementary particles and ensembles of particles in the macroscopic physical domain, and information-based interactions between certain kinds of complex systems that form the biological domain. We shall show that in an abiotic world, information plays no role; physical interactions just happen, they are driven by energy exchange between the interacting parts and do not require any operations of information processing. Information only enters the non-living physical world when a living thing interacts with it-and when a scientist extracts information through observation and measurement. But for living organisms, information is the very essence of their existence: to maintain a long-term state of unstable thermodynamic equilibrium with its surroundings, consistently increase its organization and reproduce, an organism has to rely on information-based interactions in which form or pattern, not energy, is the controlling factor. This latter class comprises biomolecular information processes controlling the metabolism, growth, multiplication and differentiation of cells, and neural information processes controlling animal behavior and intelligence. The only way new information can appear is through the process of biological evolution and, in the short term, through sensory acquisition and the manipulation of images in the nervous system. Non-living informational systems such as books, computers, AI systems and other artifacts, as well as living organisms that are the result of breeding or cloning, are planned by human beings and will not be considered here. View Full-Text
Keywords: Physical and Biological Interactions; Life; Memory; Biomolecular Information; Neural Information; Memory; Cognition; Consciousness and Self-Consciousness Physical and Biological Interactions; Life; Memory; Biomolecular Information; Neural Information; Memory; Cognition; Consciousness and Self-Consciousness

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Roederer, J.G. On the Concept of Information and Its Role in Nature. Entropy 2003, 5, 3-33.

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