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If two snowflakes are identical, does that increase information?

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We asked this question among friends and received a variety of answers.

One answer was that there was no further information. Another was that the two snowflakes might differ by one bit. Another was that finding two identical snowflakes would be more meaningful because it would create conversations.

Here’s a longer answer:

Remember the critical distinction between mere “complexity” and “information-bearing sequences.”

Snowflakes carry no information, no matter how many. They perform no function, because their shapes do not conform to an externally specified pattern or set of rules that would enable them to perform any function (like conveying information).

Many StrawMan attacks against ID theory will tend to focus solely on complexity alone and then use examples like snowflakes to debunk the claim that natural processes cannot produce mere complexity. But that is not ID theory, but a Straw Man.

Now, It might TAKE information to CAUSE two snowflakes to have identical shapes, because the undirected physical processes that form them have so many variables that the odds of producing two identical ones naturally are remote. ID theory may infer that intelligent/intentional causation would be required to produce two literally identical snowflakes, if one could calculate the probability of natural forces to produce that pattern twice.

Even then, the odds may be low but not impossibly low, and so the inference they were designed would not be strong. Ten identical snowflakes would produce a stronger inference.

But if the two “snowflakes” were plastic snowflake replicas like those sold in stores around Christmas, then knowing nothing in the physical processes associated with melted plastic congealing requires them to have that shape, coupled with the fact that both conform to the EXTERNALLY SPECIFIED pattern of what we imagine a stylized snowflake looks like, and the odds against a pool of melted plastic just happening to cool in those specific shapes not just once, but twice, would be astronomically remote. Design is obvious in those cases.

Even then, though, those plastic snowflakes contain no information, as they perform no function, not even communication. They simply exist.


Jerry: "I would be interested what is the latest, not from an ID perspective but from an energy metabolism one." Well it just so happens that, besides the 'power grid' in muscle cells having profound design implications, the multifaceted contributions of mitochondria to cellular metabolism also has profound design implications.
The Multifaceted Contributions of Mitochondria to Cellular Metabolism - 2018 Abstract: Although classically appreciated for their role as the powerhouse of the cell, the metabolic functions of mitochondria reach far beyond bioenergetics. Mitochondria catabolize nutrients for energy, generate biosynthetic precursors for macromolecules, compartmentalize metabolites for the maintenance of redox homeostasis, and function as hubs for metabolic waste management. We discuss the importance of these roles in both normal physiology and in disease.,,, Excerpt: Mitochondria integrate fuel metabolism to generate energy in the form of ATP. Mitochondria oxidize pyruvate (derived from glucose or lactate), fatty acids, and amino acids to harness electrons onto the carriers NADH and FADH2. NADH and FADH2 transport these electrons to the electron transport chain, in which an electrochemical gradient is formed to facilitate ATP production through oxidative phosphorylation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6541229/
Of related note to "having profound design implications", the following article argued for promoting mitochondria, (from being merely a 'powerhouse of the cell'), to being a information processing system.
Mitochondria Promoted to Information Processing Systems David Coppedge - November 16, 2022 Excerpt: In a fascinating Perspective paper in Cell Metabolism, Martin Picard and Orian S. Shirihai tell about the “particularly exciting time for mitochondrial biology” going on right now. Figure 1 in their open-access paper illustrates historical landmarks in mitochondrial research on a chart, showing “the need for an integrative view of this multifaceted organelle.” It’s time to promote mitochondria to leadership positions. "The analogy of mitochondria as powerhouses has expired. Mitochondria are living, dynamic, maternally inherited, energy-transforming, biosynthetic, and signaling organelles that actively transduce biological information. We argue that mitochondria are the processor of the cell, and together with the nucleus and other organelles they constitute the mitochondrial information processing system (MIPS)." https://evolutionnews.org/2022/11/mitochondria-promoted-to-information-processing-systems/
In terms of thermodynamic efficiency, (and also having 'profound design implications'), it is found that the thermodynamic efficiency is about 80–90% for the protonmotive mitochondrial respiratory chain, comprising complexes I, III and IV,
Thermodynamic efficiency, reversibility, and degree of coupling in energy conservation by the mitochondrial respiratory chain - 2020 Excerpt: The protonmotive mitochondrial respiratory chain, comprising complexes I, III and IV, transduces free energy of the electron transfer reactions to an electrochemical proton gradient across the inner mitochondrial membrane. This gradient is used to drive synthesis of ATP and ion and metabolite transport. The efficiency of energy conversion is of interest from a physiological point of view, since the energy transduction mechanisms differ fundamentally between the three complexes. Here, we have chosen actively phosphorylating mitochondria as the focus of analysis. For all three complexes we find that the thermodynamic efficiency is about 80–90% and that the degree of coupling between the redox and proton translocation reactions is very high during active ATP synthesis.,,, https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-020-01192-w
And the following study found the "efficiency of chemomechanical energy conversion by this motor is always "near-perfect" under different ATP hydrolysis energy (?GATP) conditions."
The Puzzle of Perfection, Thirty Years On - July 31, 2015 Excerpt: The authors of the first paper, published in PNAS, seem hesitant to use the word "perfect" in their description of ATP synthase, the machine that generates energy currency for most cellular processes in all living things (see our animation of this amazing machine here). They use "near-perfect" in the title and throughout the paper: "ATP synthase produces most of the ATP in respiratory and photosynthetic cells. It is a rotary motor enzyme and its catalytic portion F1-ATPase hydrolyzes ATP to drive rotation of the central ? subunit. Efficiency of chemomechanical energy conversion by this motor is always near-perfect under different ATP hydrolysis energy (?GATP) conditions." Any deviation from perfection, however, could be due to experimental error. In their graph, the error bars transverse the slope for 100 percent efficiency (that is, for conversion of chemical energy to mechanical work). It may well be as close to perfect as is physically possible. What's even more striking is that this "near-perfect" level of efficiency is maintained throughout a "broad range" of operation conditions. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/07/the_puzzle_of_p098171.html
And the following article stated that "one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor"
Your Motor/Generators Are 100% Efficient – October 2011 Excerpt: ATP synthase astounds again. The molecular machine that generates almost all the ATP (molecular “energy pellets”) for all life was examined by Japanese scientists for its thermodynamic efficiency. By applying and measuring load on the top part that synthesizes ATP, they were able to determine that one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor,,, The article was edited by noted Harvard expert on the bacterial flagellum, Howard Berg. http://crev.info/content/111014-your_motor_generators
For comparison sake the thermodynamic efficiency of solar cells, which converts solar energy into electrical energy, is only around 30 to 50%.
,,, Although some experimental solar cells have achieved efficiencies of close to 50%, most commercial cells are below 30%.,,, https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Solar_cell_efficiency
All in all, mitochondria literally has intelligent design written all over it, and to presuppose that unguided Darwinian processes can possibly produce such an elegant, extensively integrated, and efficient, system is nothing short of madness.
“When with bold telescopes I survey the old and newly discovered stars and planets, when with excellent microscopes I discern the unimitable subtility of nature’s curious workmanship; and when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chemical furnaces, I study the book of nature, I find myself often times reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, ‘How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!’ ” (Boyle, as cited in Woodall 1997, 32) Robert Boyle is largely regarded as the first modern chemist,
Bornagain77 Thank you for posting this article
A Power Grid in Muscle Cells Has Profound Design Implications
It is something that is of interest to me and I sent the article to a couple of the world's experts on energy metabolism to get their take on it. The main issue I have with this research is that it is relatively old, about 8 years ago. I would be interested what is the latest, not from an ID perspective but from an energy metabolism one. jerry
Off topic:
A Power Grid in Muscle Cells Has Profound Design Implications David Coppedge - March 27, 2023 Excerpt: Research news from the National Institutes of Health explains: "A new study overturns longstanding scientific ideas regarding how energy is distributed within muscles for powering movement. Scientists are reporting the first clear evidence that muscle cells distribute energy primarily by the rapid conduction of electrical charges through a vast, interconnected network of mitochondria — the cell’s “powerhouse” — in a way that resembles the wire grid that distributes power throughout a city. The study offers an unprecedented, detailed look at the distribution system that rapidly provides energy throughout the cell where it is needed for muscle contraction.,,," The images in the paper even look like a power grid. More: "For the current experiments, the NIH scientists collaborated in a detailed study of the mitochondria structure, biochemical composition, and function in mouse skeletal muscle cells. The researchers used 3D electron microscopy as well as super-resolution optical imaging techniques to show that most of the mitochondria form highly connected networks in a way that resembles electrical transmission lines in a municipal power grid.",, The study provides unprecedented images of how these mitochondria are arranged in muscle. “Structurally, the mitochondria are arranged in such a way that permits the flow of potential energy in the form of the mitochondrial membrane voltage throughout the cell to power ATP production and subsequent muscle contraction, or movement,” Dr. Balaban explained. Mitochondria located on the edges of the muscle cell near blood vessels and oxygen supply are optimized for generating the mitochondrial membrane voltage, while the interconnected mitochondria deep in the muscle are optimized for using the voltage to produce ATP, Balaban added. https://evolutionnews.org/2023/03/a-power-grid-in-muscle-cells-has-profound-design-implications/ Article https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2015/high-resolution-3d-images-reveal-muscle-mitochondrial-power-grid Image https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/styles/16x9_crop/public/2017-11/Mitochondrial%20power%20grid.jpg?h=0bd7a587&itok=Bnb3DbnZ
Further notes:
Shaking up cell biology - October 20, 2014 Excerpt: a team of scientists,,, has imaged mitochondria for the first time oscillating in a live animal,,, “The movements could last from tens of seconds to minutes, which was far longer and frequently at a faster tempo than observed previously in cell culture,” said Roberto Weigert, Ph.D.,,, The mitochondria also appear to synchronize their movements not only in an individual cell but, quite unexpectedly, into a linked network of oscillators vibrating throughout the tissue. “You look through the microscope, and it almost looks like a synchronized dance,” said Weigert. “The synchronization, to borrow an old cliché, tells us that we need to differentiate the forest from the trees — and vice versa — when studying mitochondria. It may be that the forest holds the key to understanding how mitochondria function in human health and disease.”,,, “We saw things in live animals that you don’t see in cell culture. The reasons, in this case, very well may be that the mitochondria continue to receive an influx of signals from the blood vessels, the nervous system, and their surrounding environment. The entire system can’t be reassembled (i)n cell culture.”,,, http://www.nih.gov/news/health/oct2014/nidcr-20.htm Powering the Cell: Mitochondria - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrS2uROUjK4 Nanomachines in the Powerhouse of the Cell: Architecture of the Largest Protein Complex of Cellular Respiration Elucidated - July 2010 Excerpt: The total surface of all mitochondrial membranes in a human body covers about 14,000 square meter. This accounts for a daily production of about 65 kg of ATP. (A little over 143 pounds). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100702100414.htm
Answers to your questions: Chuckdarwin; those who defend ID; that 'nonsense' is commonplace here. PaV
Jerry, it’s so nice you agree with those who disagree with us.
A few questions. Who is "those who disagree with us?" Who is "us?" What do I agree with? I know no stronger advocate of ID here than myself so the above comment makes no sense. jerry
Is too much information a problem? I just had a comment put in moderation. Nothing controversial. Just about 20 links. So are too many links a sign of a potential problem. jerry
ChuckDarwin: If you don't understand something, that doesn't make it nonsense. Why don't you try and understand what is being said. Aarceng: If you want to go down the road of tying snowflakes to some type of environmental information they contain, good luck. But, even if you should succeed, the "second" identical 'snowflake' adds no 'new' information. Jerry, it's so nice you agree with those who disagree with us. PaV
The answer to this seems so simple that I wonder if I'm missing something, for it seems to me that: - if two snowflakes are identical in the abstract, then they exist as knowledge in a conscious mind in a state of unity, and are therefore "one". - If they're identical in the physical , public world that we all access in common, then they are located in two different places (or else fell to earth at two different times) and are thus "two". BPS from AZ
Does the snowflake encode the environmental factors during its formation? If you knew enough about how they formed could you analyse the structure of a snowflake to derive those conditions? Similarly do tree rings encode conditions during a tree’s growth, or the striations in a sedimentary rock encode the geological conditions of its formation? Is this information in itself or are these things from which we can derive information? aarceng
Pav @3 “ If we define, a la Shannon, information as being the negative log of entropy”. It is my understanding that this was a measure of the minimum size required to transmit the message faithfully but said nothing about the information content itself. The message could be gibberish. This is why random data which contains no useful information and which is not compressible has high Shannon entropy. aarceng
Who writes this nonsense?
Welcome to ID. One of the best proofs for a designer is the water transportation system. You hit it on the head. Denton's book, "The Miracle of Man," spells out the uniqueness and importance of this cycle. Aside: OP doesn't say where discussion came from. jerry
Snowflakes “perform no function?” I guess contributing to the mountain snow pack that fills rivers and reservoirs, which in turn drive agriculture, recreation, recharge aquifers, sustain wildlife and fish populations and give us the luxury of flushing our toilets, is not enough to meet the definition of “function.” Who writes this nonsense? chuckdarwin
Does an identical snowflake increase information? It all depends on your definition of information. Any time a 'snowflake' forms, there is a decrease in entropy, for order has been imposed on otherwise degrees of freedom. If we define, a la Shannon, information as being the negative log of entropy, then 'information' has increased. However, if our working definition of 'information' is keyed to function, then, no, there is no additional information. All of this serves to show that talking about information is problematic unless specified definitions are used and, further, that the distinctions between them are properly understood. PaV
Depends of the system of reference. :) A snowflake become information when come in contact with an animal and could trigger a chain of reactions in its organism like "prepare for winter!" or for a low temperature night. Or could be information when is part of "a snowman" and a child see it. Could be considered information inside of an environmental system where snow is a component,like a wheel that trigger further chain reactions, moving herds of animals, behavioural changes, environmental changes, etc. But separately is not per se functional information like DNA . Sandy
Yes! You now know there can be identical snowflakes. I’m not sure what you can do with that. They definitely have a function, the storage of water for further use. The specific shape may not have a function since it seems one snowflake is as valuable as the other. So they are fungible. I’m writing this as I observe the winter snow pack recede here in New Hampshire. Still lots of snowflakes around though. Aside: one of the great design aspects of our planet is the water distribution system. Water is the most essential molecule in the planet for life and exists in amazingly convenient forms to be transported all over the globe. Look at the clouds and thank whoever you believe created this system. It couldn’t have happened by chance, unless you believe in nonsense and are mathematically inept. jerry

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