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At Mind Matters News: Does Mt Rushmore contain no more information than Mt Fuji?

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As Jeffrey Shallit claims? That is, does intelligent intervention increase information? Is that intervention detectable by science methods? With 2 DVDs of the same storage capacity — one random noise and the other a film (BraveHeart, for example), how do we detect a difference? Robert J. Marks, one of the authors of Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics<,/em> thinks so:

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 “” target=”another”>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?

News, “Does Mt Rushmore contain no more information than Mt Fuji?” at Mind Matters News

Michael Egnor: Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, a mathematician at the University of Waterloo near Toronto, claims that Mount Rushmore doesn’t have any more information than Mount Fuji. I’d like to ask my guest today Dr. Robert Marks to answer that question.

Robert J. Marks: In terms of meaningful information I think it’s obvious. Michael, they used to say that it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to answer this or it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Well, it turns out you’re a brain surgeon. And I’ve done work for NASA. And I got a NASA tech brief award. I guess that makes me a rocket scientist. So I think for both of us, the answer is obvious. Mount Rushmore contains more information than does Mount Fuji.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Mount-Rushmore.jpg
Mt. Rushmore/Winkelvi (CC BY 4.0)

There’s more meaningful information on Mount Rushmore. There’s Lincoln and Roosevelt and Washington. And yeah, what do we get with Mount Fuji? We just get a big chocolate gumdrop.

Michael Egnor: Can we say what type of information the additional information on Mount Rushmore is?

Robert J. Marks: Yeah, this is an interesting question. I’m going to give an explanation, then dovetail into the answer. We can ask ourself the definition of two DVDs, both of which have the same storage capacity. One has the movie Braveheart. One has just random noise. And both of them take out the same amount of bytes.

Robert J. Marks: Can we say that the DVD of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart has more information than the noise? Yes, absolutely. If you talk about meaningful information, and as we talked about before, it depends on your definition of information. Certainly in the case of Shannon information, or possibly Kolmogorov information yeah, they’re the same. But neither one of those measures meaning. And so one has to go to specified complexity, the mathematics of specified complexity, specifically algorithmic specified complexity.

And I’ll give a little pitch here, in case people want to read more about it. It’s in Chapter Seven, of the book that I co-authored with design theorist William Dembski and Winston Ewert called Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics.

And the cool part about the book is that it references a lot more nerdy papers that have been published in archival prestigious journals and conferences. So you can read it there at kind of a layperson’s level, or you can dig deeper and go into the papers.

Here are the previous episodes in the series:

  1. How information becomes everything, including life. Without the information that holds us together, we would just be dust floating around the room. As computer engineer Robert J. Marks explains, our DNA is fundamentally digital, not analog, in how it keeps us being what we are.
  2. Does creativity just mean Bigger Data? Or something else? Michael Egnor and Robert J. Marks look at claims that artificial intelligence can somehow be taught to be creative. The problem with getting AI to understand causation, as opposed to correlation, has led to many spurious correlations in data driven papers.

You may also wish to read:

Jeffrey Shallit, a computer scientist, doesn’t know how computers work. Patterns in computers only have meaning when they are caused by humans programming and using them. (Michael Egnor)

5 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Does Mt Rushmore contain no more information than Mt Fuji?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    I’d say that any rock formation processed by humans for human purposes contains the same amount of measurable information.

    A hiker who removes a rock to make a clearer path has added information to the mountain. The cleared path is a symbol with meaning to future hikers, just as Rushmore is a symbol with meaning to some humans. The path may well have vastly more value than a picture of four dudes.

    In the same way, the DVD burned with “random” patterns contains the same information as the DVD with a movie. That’s as far as we can measure the ADDED information.

    Beyond that point, all of the “meaning” is IMPUTED in the mind of the future hiker or future viewer, not in the rock or the DVD. The random DVD can be tremendously meaningful and valuable if it was burned by a Correct Artiste. It can become a million-dollar NFT.

    The key question is what happens when cultures and codes change. Consider our puzzlement about fossil tools with “patterned” scratches. We’ve lost the culture that gave them a purpose, so we only know that they were made, not what they mean. The movie DVD will lose its readability even faster. Many tapes and floppies from just 40 years ago still have the same magnetic patterns but we’ve thrown away the machines and software that turn the patterns into words and opcodes, so the information is just as inaccessible as the scratches. The “random” DVD will still contain the same information after the DVD-reading software goes away, because the randomness can be seen physically under a microscope without any culture or software to decode it.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    Addendum: Here’s a digital archeologist trying to dig out the information in some 1973 “scratches” on a magnetic “scraper”. You can see it’s damned hard work!

  3. 3
    EDTA says:

    Shallit should specify which of the 50+ types of information he is talking about when he makes that comparison. Having read the argument over Mt. Fuji vs. Mt. Rushmore at his blog, he never does specify exactly which type. If it’s CSI, then Rushmore wins.

  4. 4
    KRock says:

    I suppose Shallit would like us to believe that his anti-ID blog—as opposed to a pro-ID blog—actually contains more (meaningful) information!

  5. 5
    ET says:

    Shallit is clueless with respect to information. He doesn’t even understand that the information in a computer program traces back to the programmer (even if said programmer is dead).

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