Information Intelligent Design Quantum mechanics

At Big Think: Max Planck and how the dramatic birth of quantum physics changed the world

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Marcelo Gleiser writes:

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Quantum physics was a radical departure from the classical physics of Newton. 
  • The quantum world is one in which rules that are completely foreign to our everyday experience dictate bizarre behavior. 
  • Even one of its first discoverers, Max Planck, was reluctant to back the radical conclusions his research led him to. 

We now live in the digital era. The scape of technological marvels that surrounds us is something we owe to 100 or so physicists who, at the dawn of the 20th century, were trying to figure out how atoms worked. Little did they know what their courageous, creative thinking would become a few decades later. 

The quantum revolution was a very hard process of letting go of old ways of thinking, ways that had framed science since Galileo and Newton. These habits were firmly rooted in the notion of determinism — simply put, scientists held that physical causes have predictable effects, or that nature follows a simple order. The ideal behind this worldview was that nature made sense, that it obeyed rational rules, like clocks do. Letting go of this way of thinking took tremendous intellectual courage and imagination. It is a story that needs to be told many times over.

Unpredictable radiation

The quantum era was the result of a series of laboratory discoveries during the second half of the 19th century that refused to be explained by the prevalent classical worldview, a view based on Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetism, and thermodynamics (the physics of heat). The first problem seems easy enough: Heated objects emit radiation of a certain kind. For example, you emit radiation in the infrared spectrum, because your body temperature hovers around 98° F. A candle glows in the visible spectrum because it is hotter. The question then is to figure out the relation between the temperature of an object and its glow. To do this in a simplified way, physicists studied not hot objects in general, but what happens to a cavity when it is heated up. And that’s when things got weird.

The problem they described came to be known as black-body radiation, the electromagnetic radiation trapped inside a closed cavity. Black-body here simply means an object that produces radiation on its own, without anything coming in. Studying the properties of this radiation by poking a hole in the cavity and studying the radiation that leaked out, it became clear that the shape and material of the cavity do not matter. All that matters is the temperature inside the cavity. Since the cavity is hot, atoms from its walls will produce radiation that will fill the space. 

The physics of the time predicted that the cavity would be filled mostly with highly energetic, or high-frequency, radiation. But that was not what the experiments revealed. Instead, they showed that there is a distribution of electromagnetic waves inside the cavity with different frequencies. Some waves dominate the spectrum, but not the ones with the highest or lowest frequencies. How could this be?

A quantum pint

The problem inspired the German physicist Max Planck, who wrote in his Scientific Autobiography that, “This [experimental result] represents something absolute, and since I had always regarded the search for the absolute as the loftiest goal of all scientific activity, I eagerly set to work.” 

Planck struggled. On Oct. 19, 1900, he announced to the Berlin Physical Society that he had obtained a formula that nicely fitted the results of the experiments. But finding the fit was not enough. As he wrote later, “On the very day when I formulated this law, I began to devote myself to the task of investing it with a true physical meaning.” Why this fit and not another one?

In working to explain the physics behind his formula, Planck was led to the radical assumption that atoms do not give radiation away continuously, but in discrete multiples of a fundamental amount. Atoms deal with energy as we deal with money, always in multiples of a smallest quantity. One dollar equals 100 cents, and ten dollars equals 1,000 cents. All financial transactions in the U.S. are in multiples of a cent. For the black-body radiation with its many waves of different frequencies, each frequency released relates to a minimum proportional “cent” of energy. The higher the frequency of the radiation, the larger its “cent.” The mathematical formula for this “minimum cent” of energy reads E = hf, where E is the energy, f is the frequency of the radiation, and h is Planck’s constant. 

Planck found its value by fitting his formula to the experimental black-body curve. Radiation of a particular frequency can only appear as multiples of its fundamental “cent,” which he later called quantum, a word that in late Latin meant a portion of something. As the great Russian-American physicist George Gamow once remarked, Planck’s hypothesis of the quantum created a world in which you could either drink a pint of beer or no beer at all, but nothing in between. 

Quantum blindness

Planck was far from happy with the consequences of his quantum hypothesis. In fact, he spent years trying to explain the existence of a quantum of energy using classical physics. He was a reluctant revolutionary, forcefully led by a deep sense of scientific honesty to propose an idea he was not comfortable with. As he wrote in his autobiography: 

“My futile attempts to fit the… quantum… somehow into the classical theory continued for a number of years, and they cost me a great deal of effort. Many of my colleagues saw in this something bordering on a tragedy. But I feel differently about it… I now knew that the… quantum… played a far more significant part in physics than I had originally been inclined to suspect, and this recognition made me see clearly the need for the introduction of totally new methods of analysis and reasoning in the treatment of atomic problems.” 

Planck was right. The quantum theory he helped propose evolved into an even deeper departure from the old physics than Einstein’s theory of relativity. Classical physics is based on continuous processes, such as planets orbiting the Sun or waves propagating on water. Our whole perception of the world is based on phenomena that continuously evolve in space and time. 

The world of the very small works in a completely different way. It is a world of discontinuous processes, a world where rules alien to our everyday experience dictate bizarre behavior. We are effectively blind to the radical nature of the quantum world. The energies we commonly deal with contain such an enormous number of energy quanta, that its “graininess” obscures our ability to see it. It is as if we lived in a world of billionaires, where a cent is a perfectly negligible amount of money. But in the world of the very small, the cent, or the quantum, rules. 

Planck’s hypothesis changed physics, and eventually the world. He could not have predicted this. Neither could Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and the other quantum pioneers. They knew they had hit on something different. But no one could have anticipated how far the quantum would change the world.

Big Think

The revelation of the quantum nature of physical reality is consistent with the understanding that information may be more fundamental than matter and energy.

21 Replies to “At Big Think: Max Planck and how the dramatic birth of quantum physics changed the world

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to: “the quantum created a world in which you could either drink a pint of beer or no beer at all, but nothing in between.”, and, “The revelation of the quantum nature of physical reality is consistent with the understanding that information may be more fundamental than matter and energy.”

    As newly minted Nobel Laureate Anton Zeilinger once put it, “the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity.”

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: “In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    – Anton Zeilinger – Nobel Laureate 2022 – Quantum Physics
    http://www.metanexus.net/archi.....linger.pdf

    And it was by Zeilinger holding the key insight that information is “the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows” that Zeilinger was capable of making many of his, fairly amazing, experimental breakthroughs in quantum mechanics,

    Zeilinger’s principle
    Zeilinger’s principle states that any elementary system carries just one bit of information. This principle was put forward by Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger in 1999 and subsequently developed by him to derive several aspects of quantum mechanics. Some have reasoned that this principle, in certain ways, links thermodynamics with information theory. [1]
    http://www.eoht.info/page/Zeilinger%27s+principle

    In the beginning was the bit – New Scientist
    Excerpt: Zeilinger’s principle leads to the intrinsic randomness found in the quantum world. Consider the spin of an electron. Say it is measured along a vertical axis (call it the z axis) and found to be pointing up. Because one bit of information has been used to make that statement, no more information can be carried by the electron’s spin. Consequently, no information is available to predict the amounts of spin in the two horizontal directions (x and y axes), so they are of necessity entirely random. If you then measure the spin in one of these directions, there is an equal chance of its pointing right or left, forward or back. This fundamental randomness is what we call Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_.....302101.php

    Anton Zeilinger
    3 Research
    3.1 Quantum teleportation
    3.2 Entanglement swapping – teleportation of entanglement
    3.3 Entanglement beyond two qubits – GHZ-states and their realizations
    3.4 Quantum communication, quantum cryptography, quantum computation
    3.5 Further novel entangled states
    3.6 Macroscopic quantum superposition
    3.7 Further fundamental tests
    3.8 Neutron interferometry
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Zeilinger#Research

    And Zeilinger, in holding information to be the fundamental definition of reality, (and thus enabling his, fairly amazing, experimental breakthroughs in quantum mechanics), was following in none other than the footsteps of John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008), who is considered ‘a legendary figure in physics’,

    It from bit? by Rachel Thomas – Dec. 2015
    Excerpt: John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) is a legendary figure in physics.,,,
    Wheeler categorised his long and productive life in physics into three periods: “Everything is Particles”, “Everything is Fields”, and “Everything is Information”. (You can read more about his life and work in his autobiography, Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam.) The driving idea behind the third period was spurred by his contemplation of the age-old question: “How come existence?” And his answer, first published in a brilliantly written (and very entertaining) paper in 1989, was it from bit:
    “It from bit symbolises the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”,,,
    One clear consequence of “it from bit” is the importance of the observer: reality requires one. “I think [Wheeler] was very radical,” says Zeilinger. “He talks about the participatory universe, where the observer is not only passive, but the observer in certain situations makes reality happen.”
    https://plus.maths.org/content/it-bit

    Along with Wheeler and Zeilinger, Vlatko Vedral, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, also holds that “The most fundamental definition of reality is not matter or energy, but information”,,,

    “The most fundamental definition of reality is not matter or energy, but information–and it is the processing of information that lies at the root of all physical, biological, economic, and social phenomena.”
    – Vlatko Vedral – Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford,

    That information, not matter or energy, would be held to be the fundamental definition of reality is, of course, devastating to the atheist’s reductive materialistic conception of reality. Whereas, on the other hand, the realization that information is the “irreducible kernel from which everything else flows” is, as Anton Zeilinger himself points out, very comforting to the Christian’s overall conception of reality, i.e. “the beginning the bible of St. John which starts with “In the Beginning was the Word”.,,,”

    48:24 mark: “It is operationally impossible to separate Reality and Information”
    49:28 mark: “This is now my personal opinion OK. Because we cannot operationally separate the two. Whenever we talk about reality, we think about reality, we are really handling information. The two are not separable. So maybe now, this is speculative here, maybe the two are the same? Or maybe information constitutive to the universe. This reminds me of the beginning the bible of St. John which starts with “In the Beginning was the Word”.,,,
    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    https://youtu.be/s3ZPWW5NOrw?t=2969

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

  2. 2
    Blastus says:

    Thank you BA77.

    Information is basic. Information spoken by God is compelling, irresistible.

    In John 11 Jesus states “Lazarus, come forth.”. And a corpse complies as it must to the spoken word of the absolute sovereign.

    In Genesis 1 God speaks “Let there be …” and again “Let the earth bring forth …” and “Let the waters bring forth …”. We see a universe spring into existence teaming with life, as it must at the divine command.

    I am not at all surprised to see the physicists discovering an informational component underlying the very foundations of the physical universe.

  3. 3
    Blastus says:

    I listen to a very intelligent podcaster, an atheist, who often opines that we live in a simulation, like a computer program, created by some vast, superior intellect.

    This fellow would be closer to the truth if he acknowledged an all powerful God:

    Colossians 1:16-17 “… all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

  4. 4
    chuckdarwin says:

    Will the hell promised to the lion’s share of humanity be a simulation or will the flames be for real?

    Matthew 13:50: …and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  5. 5
    Blastus says:

    Regardless what underlies matter at the subatomic level, I have always found the pain seems altogether real when I strike my finger with a hammer.

    Luke 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments …

    From a plain reading of the text the rich man in the parable desires real water to assuage real pain from real flames.

    But then, it was his choice to be there (I am not Calvinist).

    I commend you for your bluntness and for not defaulting to the usual, though similar, complaint of “how does a good and just God permit illness, suffering and Balenciaga advertising”.

  6. 6
    Blastus says:

    Chuck, I would be happy to debate you until we reach impasse on the nature of God. And we would of necessity reach an impasse. Experience teaches that it will always be so. Only the Holy Spirit can open the mind.

    But we would annoy the other participants as the greater purpose of the site is to examine the nature and beginnings of the universe; the nature, perceived changes in, and the origins of life; and the science and reasoning which support or challenge intelligent design.

  7. 7
    Belfast says:

    @ Dr. Hedin. Could I have some help here, thanks.
    The basic concept of information in origin of life studies posits that information, by itself, can cause inert molecules to beget life, e.g., Dr. Davies.:-
    ‘Scientists are just beginning to understand the power of information as a cause… the unifying concept that underlies this transformation is information, not it its prosaic everyday sense, but as an abstract quantity which, like energy, has the ability to animate matter.’
    This seems an extraordinarily startling concept. Energy has never been demonstrated to animate matter.
    But it now seems that, in origin of life studies, the word ‘animate,’ like the word ‘ information’ is not to be thought of in its ‘prosaic everyday sense’, but is to be understood in a literal sense of bringing to life to the non-living.
    In this useful caution then; ‘information’ does not mean what the average person thinks it means, and ‘animate’ literally means bringing the lifeless to life.
    It appears to me that ‘information’ is undergoing definition creep and will rival ‘natural selection’ in its potential to explain everything as a narrative word rather than a word with meaning, explaining an event AFTER it happens because it ‘musta’.

  8. 8
    chuckdarwin says:

    Blastus
    It’s not my aim to start a serious theological discussion in the comments section of this blog. Suffice it to say that if one buys the (questionable) “solutions” to the problem of evil, there is still the real issue of proportional punishment. The notion of conscious, eternal torment for the limited evil that any one human can perpetrate in a lifetime, no matter how depraved, is hugely problematic for the claim of a “just” God. Not only does it offend our jurisprudential goal that the “punishment fit the crime,” it cheapens the Christian God as petty and vindictive……

  9. 9
    jerry says:

    not my aim to start a serious theological discussion in the comments section of this blog

    But then you immediately did.

    We are finding out that fear is probably the most important motivator for humans. It generates a lot of cortisol.

    Control during the last two years was enforced by fear, physical fear for one’s health and family. And also social fear that you may be harming others. Or the fear of shame.

    Maybe doubt is part of our existence and doubt about the punishment for our actions is just a small part of it? You invoked a just God. Maybe that just God exists?

    I was part of a couple of discussions the last few years that said there is no downside to believing in a creator who made us for a purpose. What does one lose but a couple hours on a Sunday morning if they are a Christian or some other small amount of time for other religions. Nobody could point to anything important lost. But what could one gain?

    Aside: what if you are right? Nothing lost as lights out means lights out. But if you are wrong, lights out means a realization that one has screwed up big time.

    Take your pick!

    Aside2: one of the things I have learned in life is that helping others has its own very positive rewards and hindering others has no really lasting reward. It’s a shame we don’t realize this in our pre-teen or teenage years. The world would be a much better place.

  10. 10
    chuckdarwin says:

    Jerry
    Blastus brought it up, so I responded. You have a propensity to jump into religious/theological posts, excoriate everyone for straying from ID, then fully participating. Why don’t you just roll with it and drop the pretense?
    As to doubt, I think an authentic God would see right through Pascal’s wager. Bertrand Russell said it best: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
    Jurisprudential proportionality derives directly from scripture: an eye for an eye, etc., and is critical to the notion of justice. It should be what sets Christianity apart from some of the more barbaric religions of history. I frankly don’t know how Christianity got off on the notion of eternal damnation as a manifestation of a just God in the first place. I am guessing that it is an exploitation of doubt and fear as a mechanism of control. Unfortunately, Christianity, or at least certain flavors of Christianity, has taken it way too far….

  11. 11
    jerry says:

    Blastus brought it up, so I responded.

    ChuckDarwin brought it up so I responded.

    You have a propensity to jump into religious/theological posts, excoriate everyone for straying from ID, then fully participating

    ChuchDarwin has a propensity to jump into religious/theological posts, and excoriate everyone for believing in ID. ChuckDarwin will usually bring up Christianity. Then ChuckDarwin usually disappears when challenged.

    I bet I comment here less than you do especially on religion so how is that fully participating? My objective here is to promote ID and to have a record of any ideas I am interested in and seeing their response. In this case the comment I made got an illogical response.

    I am interested in logic and rarely promote Christianity. When I say something about Christianity it is that it is consistent with ID and that ID does not in any way specifically lead to Christianity as what the creator is promoting.

    I did not promote Christianity in the above comment but promoted an idea that is logically coherent yet you responded as if I did. You then promoted an idea that is logically incoherent. Why?

    You did not argue against Pascal’s wager but merely made assertions by someone who obviously got the metaphysics wrong. He just shows that high IQ is not the answer but logic is. High IQ can be influenced by emotions while the other cannot. By the way, Russell and I did agree that doubt is at the heart of everything.

  12. 12
    Blastus says:

    Just so you know, Chuck, I, too, have always felt that eternal torment is disproportionate punishment for finite sins.

    But I cannot dispute what the Bible clearly teaches.

    If you want to positively curl your hair in fright look at The Biblical Doctrine of Hell Examined by Brian Schwertley.

    https://graceonlinelibrary.org/eschatology/eternal-punishment/the-biblical-doctrine-of-hell-examined-by-brian-schwertley/

  13. 13
    relatd says:

    Blastus at 12,

    God sets the rules, not men. Yet some men want to run away from God as far as possible.

    On a billboard I saw, sponsored by a group of nuns.

    Life is short.
    Eternity isn’t.

  14. 14
    relatd says:

    CD at 8,

    You try to turn God into just another man. He’s not.

  15. 15
    Seversky says:

    Relatd/13

    God sets the rules, …

    But they don’t apply to Him. Do as I say, don’t do as I do. What does that say about Him?

    Life is short.

    According to Thomas Hobbes, the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Whose fault is that?

  16. 16
    relatd says:

    Seversky at 15,

    Railing at God again, with no understanding of who He is? Not credible.

    Everything wrong is God’s fault? I’m getting tired of your act, your floor show here. Wake up and read The Bible. Find out who God really is.

    Romans 9:20

    ‘But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

  17. 17
    relatd says:

    Regarding the article above, it’s very poorly written. Possibly the worst I’ve seen. A few edits to add clarity to it and to remove the useless dramatic elements.

    Quantum physics was an important discovery. It was not a “departure.” It was an addition.

    The quantum world has its own rules. Period.

    Max Planck was surprised by his findings.

    We now live in the bad behavior era. The internet has allowed some to give up proper rules of behavior and act poorly. A very sad development.

    “Our whole perception of the world is based on phenomena that continuously evolve in space and time.”  A meaningless statement.

    “We are effectively blind to the radical nature of the quantum world.” A stupid and nonsensical statement. The quantum world is being exploited by scientists right now. Quantum computers exist.

    “… change the world.” The author is fond of grandiose, sweeping statements as opposed to providing specific examples.

    I would return this article to the author for changes as I’ve mentioned.

  18. 18
    Upright BiPed says:

    .
    Belfast at 7,

    Scientists are just beginning to understand the power of information as a cause… the unifying concept that underlies this transformation is information, not it its prosaic everyday sense, but as an abstract quantity which, like energy, has the ability to animate matter — Paul Davies, The Demon in the Machine

    Professor Davies leaves just a wee bit of detail out of this statement, and as far as I am aware, he does not return to give the missing detail elsewhere in his book.

    The information Davies speaks of here is the information contained in DNA. Acknowledging Schrödinger, he says “For life to generate order out of disorder and buck the second law of thermodynamics, there had to be a molecular entity that somehow encoded the instructions for building an organism, at once complex enough to embed a vast quantity of information and stable enough to withstand the degrading effects of thermodynamics. We now know that this entity is DNA.”

    Whether or not one should look at the information in DNA as “abstract” is perhaps a question that provides some grist for the mill, but it is an undeniable fact that a sequence of bases in DNA does not have the “ability to animate matter” without a complete set of physical constraints to establish that sequence as a rate-independent medium of information. This fact is fully documented in the literature and in the history of discovery itself. Not only does it require the presence of a full set of physical constraints, it requires that those constraints be simultaneously coherent with the ordering of the sequence – such that individual portions of the sequence must describe (specify) the construction of each of the constraints in the set, while the remaining portions of the sequence must describe (specify) the construction of all the molecular components that make-up a dissipative organization that can be driven by invariant physical law to successfully manipulate the descriptions and produce the products of those descriptions. In other words, the sequence must be simultaneously self-referent and functional — or, as it has sometimes been called, “semantically closed”. Neither biology nor open-ended evolution can occur without the ability to specify something from among alternatives … and that requires a rate-independent and irreducible organization being perpetuated over time. Perhaps the desire to conceptualize the information in DNA as “abstract” has less to do with genuinely understanding it and more to do with removing and obscuring the physical requirements that it entails. In 15 or so years of following this website, there hasn’t been even a single ID critic that has provided a non-design origin of semantic closure, which is the manifest step in defeating the design inference as it is clearly recorded in the history of science. Meanwhile, the only two places that science can physically describe an organization operating like the above is in the gene system and in human language. Perhaps the attempt to pursue vagaries and grist for the mill is a pursuit that explains itself.

  19. 19
    Origenes says:

    Upright BiPed @

    Can a “rate-independent medium of information” be defined as a medium that functions independent of its physical properties (at the lowest potential energy state), and instead functions due to its organization (e.g. the sequence of nucleotides, and/or the sequence of characters in written language)?
    – – – –
    I come to this definition by reading your explanation here.

  20. 20
    Querius says:

    Upright BiPed @18,

    In 15 or so years of following this website, there hasn’t been even a single ID critic that has provided a non-design origin of semantic closure, which is the manifest step in defeating the design inference as it is clearly recorded in the history of science.

    Yes, exactly. What is typically proposed is the accumulation of data somehow magically transformed into the information required to take advantage of or mitigate the environment. Random chance is the mechanism of choice, regardless of how incredibly minuscule the odds are based on the unfalsifiable rubric of “It MUSTA happened” because we’re here.

    Sometimes the unobservable multiverse of essentially infinite universes are invoked essentially as a pseudo-scientific, “god-of-the-gaps” argument.

    Meanwhile, the only two places that science can physically describe an organization operating like the above is in the gene system and in human language.

    Maybe also well-balanced (i.e. non-crashing) ecosystems as well. Maybe any human construct such as government, businesses, software, or anything else requiring design information.

    Perhaps the attempt to pursue vagaries and grist for the mill is a pursuit that explains itself.

    Or maybe vagaries, grist, obscurationism, vacuous platitudes, ad hominems, and fatuous distractions are actually a means to an end given any lack of meaningful followup in favor of committing immediate verbal graffiti on any NEW post.

    Just a thought.

    -Q

  21. 21
    JVL says:

    Upright Biped: In 15 or so years of following this website, there hasn’t been even a single ID critic that has provided a non-design origin of semantic closure, which is the manifest step in defeating the design inference as it is clearly recorded in the history of science.

    Have you seen How Molecules Become Signs by Terrence W Deacon published in Biosemiotics, 2021?

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12304-021-09453-9

    From the article:

    To explore how molecules became signs I will ask: “What sort of process is necessary and sufficient to treat a molecule as a sign?” This requires focusing on the interpreting system and its interpretive competence. To avoid assuming any properties that need to be explained I develop what I consider to be a simplest possible molecular model system which only assumes known physics and chemistry but nevertheless exemplifies the interpretive properties of interest. Three progressively more complex variants of this model of interpretive competence are developed that roughly parallel an icon-index-symbol hierarchic scaffolding logic. The implication of this analysis is a reversal of the current dogma of molecular and evolutionary biology which treats molecules like DNA and RNA as the original sources of biological information. Instead I argue that the structural characteristics of these molecules have provided semiotic affordances that the interpretive dynamics of viruses and cells have taken advantage of. These molecules are not the source of biological information but are instead semiotic artifacts onto which dynamical functional constraints have been progressively offloaded during the course of evolution.

    And:

    Ironically, I suggest that one of the most enigmatic unsolved mysteries in biology can provide the best place to look for insight into the physical implementation of interpretation. I am referring to the mystery of the origin of life. Why should this unlikely subject offer a privileged view of the issue? First, because it arose by accident, not design, the first life-forms almost certainly were constituted by quite simple molecular processes. Second, despite its simplicity, this molecular complex must have locally inverted one of the most ubiquitous regularities of the universe: the second law of thermodynamics. Though living functions act to compensate for this increase of entropy internally, organisms accomplish this by doing work that ultimately “exports” entropy to the environment at a rate higher than if they were just dissipating heat as they fell to equilibrium. So the origin of life problem brings together three seemingly incommensurate properties. It involves an extremely simple spontaneously produced molecule system that persists far from thermodynamic equilibrium (unlike almost all other chemical processes), and selectively interacts with its immediate environment in ways that support the persistence of these processes. This latter disposition is what demands a simple form of interpretive competence. To persist and even reproduce its unstable far from equilibrium condition this tiny first step toward life required an ability to re-presentFootnote 1 itself in ever new substrates ultimately borrowed from its environment. In other words, it was adapted to its environment.

    It is precisely in this origins of life context that the eliminativist perspective on biological information is alive and well, and squarely in the mainstream. It is currently recapitulated in the dominant scenario for explaining the origins of Life: the RNA-World hypothesis. This approach was originally motivated by the discovery that RNA molecules could serve both as replication templates for copying its structure and as catalysts potentially able to facilitate this copying (though to date neither of these essential steps of the process have been demonstrated). The problem with a “naked replicator” approach, as Fano (above) recognized, is that replication isn’t about anything, nor does it contribute to anything except increasing numbers of similar objects. And although there can be something analogous to “selection” eliminating modified sequences that fail to replicate, the “external” environment does all the work. Replicating molecules are passive artifacts. They don’t actively adapt to their environment, and so their structure does not contain or acquire information about the environment and they do not have any intrinsic disposition to correct “errors” because the very concept of error has no intrinsic meaning. There just is what gets copied and what doesn’t, and whether something gets copied or not is only interpretable as success or failure from an external observer’s point of view. Nevertheless, the RNA-World hypothesis does have one thing going for it: its simplicity

    And:

    The logic of the autogenic approach, though not able to directly account for the evolution of the DNA-to-amino acid “code,” provides something more basic. It provides a “proof of principle” of a sort, showing step-by-chemically-realistic-step how a molecule like RNA or DNA could acquire the property of recording and instructing the dynamical molecular relationships that constitute and maintain the molecular system of which it is a part. In short, it explains how a molecule can become about other molecules.

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