Information: the New Language of Science
by Hans Christian von Baeyer

Book synopsis (chapters 1-8) for Center for Science in Society
Information Working Group
Steven Lindell
Haverford College
June l, 2004

Chapter 1
Electric Rain: Information in our lives
Seems woven into fabric of universe
Where, if anywhere, is it created or destroyed?
What is it ?

Chapter 2
The Spell of Democritus: Why information will transform physics

Energy is objective: a robust scientific concept described in precise mathematical terms

Our theories of the world are subjective: all in the mind

Atomic doctrine separates material world from perception, even though our understanding is based on observation.

atoms in the void => human senses => theory in brain (should this also be reversed?)

Idea: information connects matter (real) to mind (ideal). E.g.,

Feynman: the atomic hypothesis itself conveys a great deal of intuitive information!

Aside on Œforms¹ of eighteenth century instrumentation:
The instruments used by natural philosophers were of three types: "mathematical," "optical," and "philosophical." Balances and mint weights were considered mathematical because they measured things, whereas telescopes and microscopes enhanced one's ability to see them. Philosophical instruments referred to electrical machines, air pumps, and other tools that manipulated the environment.
Chapter 3
In-Formation: The roots of the concept

From an operational definition of temperature it took 250 years to understand its real meaning as average speed of molecular constituents.

Form comes from Platonic archetypes (held in our minds). (cf. Œsign¹)
Used by Aristotle to assign properties to material things based on whether we perceive them to match these forms. (cf. Œsymbol¹)
Example: horse -- quadrupedalism

Science: shape, or (complex) relationship between parts
Example: in orbital motion it is both spatial and temporal.

Literature: patterns of words
Music: temporality of tones
Painting: spatiality of colors

Conclusion: form expresses relationships, and therefore information is the transfer of form between mediums. It is not in the symbols themselves, but rather what they can convey by the relationships between them.
Tentative: a flow of relationships with encoding-decoding. Chapter 4
Counting Bits: The scientific measure of information

Shannnon invents a mathematical formula (unlike the physical apparatus of a thermometer) to measure quantity of information. It is a technical definition which has nothing to say about meaning.

Weaver's assigns three levels of analysis [e.g. 'Fire!']

  1. Accuracy (of transmission)
  2. Precision (conveyance of desired meaning)
  3. Effectiveness (does it affect intended behavior?)
Gell-Mann develops IGUS (Information Gathering and Utilizing System) as a formal substitute for the observer in QM, because it is not enough to transfer info from object to subject without noticable changes.

Chapter 5
Abstraction: Beyond concrete reality

Analogy to Piaget's stages of mental development

observation-measurement => model-formula => law-principle

1. planetary motion eventually led to general relativity
2. the (apparently retrograde) story of matter eventually led to quantum field theory sitting alongside

Both these great theories make unbelievably accurate predictions, but what is a field ? -- perhaps an Aristotelian form based on Principle of Least Action. First formulated by Maupertuis, who felt that the perfection of the universe was made manifest by an economy in nature.

GR: least distance/time (over geodesics)
QM: least energy (over possible paths)

Chapter 6
The Book of Life: Genetic information

Life beyond anatomy -- the road to molecular genetics
Physics: Planck's explanation of thermal radiation based on a quantum hypothesis, followed by Einstein's explanation of the photoelectric effect (photon)
Mendel discovered mathematical laws of heredity remarkably similar to stoichiometric ratios, which eventually led to postulating a granular explanation:

A clue to the genetic hypothesis was the linearity of chromosomes. Schroedinger estimated one million atoms per gene and predicted a molecular structure to counteract the impermanence of a purely statistical collection. Data arranged as a linear array of hereditary information! Chapter 7
A Battle Among Giants: Reductionism and emergence

Can the study of bits reveal the true nature of information?
The particulate nature of matter doesn't fully explain its behavior -- what's missing is relationships.

Weinberg (a particle physicist) refers to this as a petty (component properties) versus grand reductionism (derivation from universal laws).

Anderson (condensed matter) disagrees and says new laws only become evident (or even defined) in the aggregate and emerge from complex systems -- statistical mechanics.

Wilson advocates consilience:

understanding through levels of organization

Can we get from bit all the way to information? Chapter 8
The Oracle of Copenhagen: Science is about information

Einstein: equation E = mc2 is from a deterministic theory
Bohr: simple model was replaced by indeterministic theory Is there objective reality? Copenhagen interpretation: NO.
Information is quantified in terms of probabilities. Not about ontology but epistemology (limits to knowledge).

According to Einstein, Science is about ultimate reality.

Bottom line: certainty Versus doubt


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