What Is Physical Information?
2. Is InformationC a Physical Phenomenon?
3. Three Features of InformationC
3.1. InformationC Exists Objectively
3.2. InformationC Has No Meaning
3.3. Is InformationC the Organization of Matter, or Is Responsible For It?
3.4. InformationA and/or InformationC
4. InformationC: To Be or Not to Be?
5. Physical Information Revisited: Conclusions and Questions
- Question 1: Do laws for the conservation of information exist, and if they do, what do they claim? Is the total amount of information in the universe therefore constant? This question probes the problem of “the conservation of information”. If information is fundamental to whatever exists in the physical world, does it follow laws for its preservation, much like energy? (Suggested by the writings of Carroll , for example.)
- Question 2: Can we claim that whatever exists must contain informationC? Can we defend the paninformatism claim that information is everything that exists? What is more, is paninformatism related to panpsychism? This question probes the claim that information is in everything that exists. Can such a claim be justified? And does such a claim amount to some kind of paninformatism or panpsychism? If so, what precisely would this entail? Would such a claim trivialize the concept of information? (Suggested by the writings of Stonier , Turek , and Carroll , for example.)
- Question 3: Can we interpret informationC as a causal factor, and how could such a claim be verified? This question probes the alleged causal role of information in the physical world. It amounts to the question of whether information is a passive or active element in nature and what the nature of this activity would be. (Suggested by the writings of Carroll , and von Weizsäcker , for example.)
- Question 4: InformationC is foundational to the physical universe, but in what sense can this statement be made? This question probes the claim that information is fundamental to nature, but what exactly would this mean? Should such a claim be interpreted along the lines of the proposed information–matter–energy complex? Or should it be interpreted more metaphysically like the Logos of The Bible or the Tao of Tao-Te-Ching as an all-pervading and primordial element of existence? (Suggested by the writings of Heller [42,43], Dodig Crnkovic , Stonier , for example.)
- Question 5: Can we say that highly complex and chaotic (i.e., non-linear, dynamic) systems have no informationC? This concerns the problems of chaos and non-linear, dynamic systems. Does information play a role in such systems? Quite often, chaos is associated with a lack of information, which seems to be a questionable interpretation of a physical phenomenon. (This issue was indicated by Bates .)
- Question 6: Does informationC imply some form of modern hylemorphism?34 This question seeks to identify the similarities between information and hylemorphism in its modern interpretations. The problem of the nature of information and matter and energy has resurfaced in the works of many authors (see the references in this paper), and they all seem to echo Aristotelian metaphysics (see Jaworki ) (Suggested by the writings of Polkinghorne , Turek , Krzanowski , and Carroll , for example.)
- Question 7: Does the fact that information is physical change the meaning of computation from one of symbolic processing to processing physical information? We associate computation with symbolic processing, but computation in computers is, in fact, a highly structured, pure physical process (e.g., as Searle said, “computation is in the eye of the beholder”). Could we extend the concept of computation to any physical process involving changes in physical organization without trivializing the concept of computing? Do we even care? (Suggested by the writings of Seife , Dodig Crnkovic [50,60], and Dodig Crnkovic and Mueller , for example.)
- Question 8: Can information be equated to some kind of structure, and what would this mean for the concept of structure? This question proposes explaining the concept of informationC through the concepts of structure and structural realism. (Suggested by the writings of Heller [42,43], and Schroeder [48,49].)
Conflicts of Interest
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We acknowledge that a generalization like this will never be 100% accurate, therefore some concepts of information may not fit into either of these two categories, or they may, in some sense, belong to both.
By “abstract,” we refer to something not existing in space-time as a physical object.
By “concrete”, we mean existing in space and time as a physical object.
In all cases of information, though, how can we say that both kinds of information exist? After all, the statement about how informationA “exists” is not compatible with the statement about how informationC “exists”. The concept of existence in the case of information is discussed later in the study.
InformationA and informationC have many interpretations that vary depending on what a specific author regards as concrete or abstract, so this division into two basic classes of information is certainly a generalization. There are also proposals for combining abstract and physical aspects into some sort of unified form of information. One example of this is Rovelli’s purely physical meaningful information (i.e., physical information with meaning). We could denote such information as informationAC. The concept of informationAC is not discussed here any further, however, but more details can be found in Rovelli’s paper (Rovelli , Krzanowski ). Something worth noting, however, is that a concrete-abstract combination is only plausible after significantly changing the meaning of its component terms. In Rovelli’s case, the concept of meaning (i.e., abstract knowledge) is reworked. In addition, the suggested resolution by Rovelli for the concrete–abstract concept of information has little to do with the general abstract–concrete problem of metaphysics [57,58]; Rovelli’s proposal specifically addresses the concept of information, but it does not resolve the metaphysical abstract–concrete division.
The general features that characterize a physical phenomenon are often disputed, so we follow the most prevalent views on scientific realism .
A rainbow and a temperature of a volume of gas are physically reducible to (can be explained by) more fundamental phenomena: white light refraction and the average kinetic energy of gas molecules, respectively.
Several authors explain the place of physical information in nature and propose a sort of matter–energy- information complex. As a conjecture, this proposal can remain, but as a scientific or even philosophical claim, it lacks enough specificity.
The analogy of thermodynamic entropy may help here: Entropy itself is an abstract concept, but it refers to a real, physical phenomenon that can be measured, observed, and so on. The same is true of informationC: The concept is abstract, but it denotes a real physical phenomenon with specific properties.
The common meaning of chaos should not be confused, as is often the case, with the meaning of chaos in nature. Chaos in nature (or what we call chaotic phenomena) is actually highly organized dynamic phenomena; entropy (incorrectly) that is often associated with chaos. It is incorrect to claim that these two phenomena are unstructured or disorganized. Nature is never disorganized—it is just the way it is. It only appears disorganized to us.
Every element of the physical realm is a subject to some physical laws, otherwise, by definition, it would not be physical.
The term “complex” denotes a combination of elements as “a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts”. We use this term to avoid referring to hylemorphism.
Meaning-less denotes an entity that lacks meaning in its essence, while meaningless denotes an entity that has no meaning in a specific context.
Meaning has many interpretations. For this study, if not otherwise stated, we follow the definition from the philosophy of language, where the term “meaning” denotes how language (linguistic constructs) relates to the world. A review of the various theories of meaning is beyond the scope and purpose of this work, however. An extensive list of references can be found in , among others. The theories claiming that meaning is the correlata to the world are contested by some good arguments by Chomsky [70,71,72].
Natural agents (i.e., biological systems) have been shaped by nature to sense its properties, including its structure (i.e., informationC). Nagel  discusses the dependency between an environment and an agent in detail. Indeed, we are built to interpret nature, so we could say that interpretation comes to us naturally (we are interpreters per se). Indeed, we seek interpretations, because they are essential for survival and because evolution deems that agents who fail to adequately perceive their environment will not survive.
We are not sure how to interpret the function of informationC in nature. One thing that is certain, however, is that the existence of informationC is recognized in the form of objects. However, whether its role is that of Plato’s Forms or Aristotelian eidos, or whether the role of informationC is causal or not, is not well understood at present. Some studies claim  that information is a primary element of nature, or that information is a third element of nature in an energy–matter–information complex, but these are just intuitions. Due to this ambiguity about the role of information, the statements about informationC and the organization of matter are imprecise.
The structure/organization of physical reality is such a fundamental concept that it cannot be described through other concepts, because structure lies at the foundation of everything that exists. We cannot talk about reality without talking about structure. However, this is, of course, just conjecture.
We stay away from unresolved disputes about the nature and ontology of mathematical constructs, because bringing unresolved disputes into the discussion will not further the resolution of other unresolved disputes, such as the nature of informationC in this case.
The case of the different mathematical representations of physical information is to some extend but not exactly, similar to the case of two different mathematical models of quantum mechanics (Schrodinger and Heisenberg). Herman Weyl stated that these models are “alternative representations of the same mathematical structure” (as quoted by Heller ). We do not claim that physical information is a mathematical structure but we suggest that the different mathematical models of information represent the same physical information as organization, as Schrodinger and Heisenberg’s models are different representation of the QM structure.
These physical structures can also generally be converted from one to another (e.g., recording a radio performance onto a cassette tape) while preserving the capacity to be interpreted as the same piece of music (i.e., the same informationA).
Apparently, Mozart claimed that he did not compose the music but merely noted it down, however this may be a psychological phenomenon rather than a scientific argument for the independent existence of informationA.
See, for example, “human behavior is determined by physical processes in the brain” . Similar views are widespread in the literature of the field.
I am referring to the 747 junkyard argument, the details of which may be found in .
We assume that the current explanations of the mind as a kind of software and the brain as a kind of hardware are wrong and misguided. See, for example, the arguments of Searle .
“…that physical things cannot be information, and information therefore cannot be a physical thing” .
The problem is stated as follows: “How can information be physical and abstract at the same time?”
We do not go into details about what is “total entropy” or whether information as a pattern would appear if entropy was less than total (whatever that means for Bates) (i.e., would information as a pattern disappear at one point, or would it appear or disappear gradually?).
The claim that “total entropy is pattern-free” is incorrect, because every physical phenomenon has some organization or pattern, although it may be beyond our understanding in some cases. Bates repeats the common misconception of equating entropy (assumedly thermodynamic entropy) with the popular notion of chaos (of sorts).
The “epistemic turn” denotes the reorientation of modern philosophy from ontology to epistemology as the main philosophical perspective on nature.
By “a Copernican move’ we understand the position in which a human person is not the vantage point from which to look at nature.
William Jaworski argues why the hylemorphic structure is the best, and perhaps only, means for explaining the persistence of individuals who change their matter over time. Hylemorphism claims that some individuals, paradigmatically living things, are composed of physical materials with a form or structure that is responsible for them existing and persisting as the kind of things they are. One objection to hylemorphism is that an account of the physical materials that comprise an individual is insufficient to account for everything it is and everything it does. William Jaworski, however, argues that this objection fails insofar as hylemorphic structure is the best, and perhaps only, means for explaining the persistence of individuals who change their matter over time . A similar claim was made almost 40 years earlier by Turek in a 1978 article on the concept of information and its relation to a restricted form of hylemorphism .
|1||InformationC is a physical phenomenon, so it exists objectively and is not relative to anything.||InformationA is a cognitive agent’s (artificial or biological) interpretation of physical stimuli, which may be a signal, the state of a physical system, or some other physical phenomenon.|
|2||InformationC has no intrinsic meaning.||InformationA exists for a cognitive agent, or it is relative to a cognitive agent. In other words, informationA is agent-relative or ontologically subjective. InformationA has meaning for a cognitive agent.|
|3||InformationC is, in a sense, responsible for the organization of the physical world.||The cognitive agent may be a human, a biological system, or some artificially intelligent system.|
|4||For informationC, existence implies existence in the physical world, somewhere in the space–time continuum.||For informationA, existence denotes the presence of an abstract notion somewhere outside of space and time.|
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Krzanowski, R. What Is Physical Information? Philosophies 2020, 5, 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5020010
Krzanowski R. What Is Physical Information? Philosophies. 2020; 5(2):10. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5020010Chicago/Turabian Style
Krzanowski, Roman. 2020. "What Is Physical Information?" Philosophies 5, no. 2: 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5020010