Information Intelligent Design

Eric Holloway: Does information weigh something after all? What if it does?

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At the rate we create information today, one physicist computes that in 350 years, the energy will outweigh the atoms of Earth. Eric Holloway responds:

Is Vopson’s theory justified? I am a bit skeptical, but the reversing of Landauer’s Principle appears sound. If we assume the opposite, that creating information does not increase the energy and mass in the system, then we end up with a situation where we create infinite negative energy and mass by constantly creating and destroying information.

Let’s take one more little step off Vopson’s idea. Let’s accept that creation of information can indeed increase the amount of energy and mass in a system. But, according to the conservation of energy, the energy in a closed system remains constant. So, if Vopson is correct we now have a mystery because his theory is in tension with the conservation of energy. The only solution is that the system is not closed. So where is the opening in the system? If the system is physically closed, then the influx of information must come from outside the physical realm.

Eric Holloway, “Does information weigh something after all? What if it does?” at Mind Matters News (April 11, 2022)

The paper is open access.

Takehome: Vopson’s idea that creating information also creates mass and energy is fascinating — and it promises even bigger mysteries than the ones we address now.

You may also wish to read: Is GPT-3 the “reborn doll” of artificial intelligence? Unlike the reality doll collectors, GPT-3 engineers truly believe that scaling up the model size will suddenly cause GPT-3 to think and talk like a real human. If we doubt that the reborn dolls will ever become real babies, why should we expect a different outcome with the GPT-3 language model? (Eric Holloway)

6 Replies to “Eric Holloway: Does information weigh something after all? What if it does?

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    As I understand it, in the old laser disc system, information was recorded by a laser etching tiny pits into the recording layer so adding information to the disc would have reduced its weight by a tiny amount.

    We could also imagine, as a little thought experiment, two books, both the same size and weight with exactly the same number of pages and the same number of printed characters on the pages. One book would be a well-known novel such as To Kill A Mockingbird, the other would have randomized strings of characters that would be meaningless gibberish to us.

    We could acquire some information about each book, such as dimensions, weight, number of pages, number of characters and so on. We could also acquire a lot more additional information by reading the novel than we could get from the randomized text. The question is, would we expect there to be any difference in the measurable physical properties of the books? Would we expect the novel to weigh slightly more than the other book by virtue of the additional information it contains?

    In other words, is there a conceptual error in thinking of information as a physical entity rather than as a process?

  2. 2
    Viola Lee says:

    Dembski was speculated that if information came in on infinitely long waves they would have zero energy impact. I don’t think this idea took off.

  3. 3
    Eugene says:

    The whole idea is bizarre. Why does information have to weight anything? Information is basically math as any information can be easily represented by an ordered sequence of numbers. Do math concepts weight anything? Why would they?

  4. 4
    polistra says:

    Try it from a different angle.

    Order is akin to potential energy. Both are definitions from a human viewpoint. When I pick up a rock from the ground, I’m increasing its potential energy, but I’m not really changing anything inside the rock. When I drop the rock on a spider, I’m letting the potential energy out. I haven’t changed the total energy in the world at all, I’ve just created a kind of ordered relationship between the rock and the spider, and then released the ordered relationship.

    Order is also a measurement from the viewpoint of life. Order is created by life. Order is the ability to do ordered work, just as energy is the ability to do simple work. When life creates more order, by building a house or birthing a child, the amount of order in the universe does increase. When the child dies or the house dissolves into dust, this order returns to the system just as the rock’s potential energy returned to the system.

    Does the sum of all order inside the system ever increase in a permanent way? Probably not.

  5. 5
    Fasteddious says:

    Seems like an easy thing to test. Take an untouched USB drive with, say 128GB of memory. Plug it into a PC (using clean gloves), and unplug it again several times. Weigh it accurately each time to see how making connections affects the weight. Then when it is plugged in, fill it with “information”. Then unplug it and weigh it again. Should be able to detect any change greater than, say a microgram (or less?). One microgram divided by 10^12 bits means you should be able to detect any mass above 10^-18 grams per bit. That should be a good start.
    Having said this, I admit that I am not sure whether writing to a USB drive involves any loss or gain of material. It may depend on the type of drive. But surely if you can write/read many times, then there is no irreversible physical process? In any case, a USB drive would be a better test platform than a magnetic disc, DVD, laser disc, or CD ROM.

  6. 6
    Sandy says:

    An intelligence use matter as a mule for transmiting information(book, hdd,DVD ) .A book is not information is a carrier of information , a carrier of symbols(letters) that need a material support to be visible for receivers .
    There are 3 elements:
    1.meanings
    2.symbols
    3.matter that is carrier of symbols(letters)

    Meaning is abstract ,can be perceived only by a mind ,have no weight.
    Symbols is a medium of transition from abstract to material,can be seen but have no weight because symbols are just “adjusted” matter made by an intelligence not by physical laws.
    Only matter have weight.

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