Intelligent Design

Information, Materialism and Free Will

Spread the love

The existence of information is a fundamental refutation of materialism.

Information has no mass. It has no physical dimensions. And it can exist in multiple places at the same time. It has no physical or materialistic properties whatsoever. Put a gigabyte of information on your computer’s blank hard disk, and check out how much more the disk weighs. Back up your hard disk and that information will exist in two places at the same time. You can transmit that information at the speed of light (at which speed nothing with rest mass can travel).

Life is not fundamentally based on atoms, molecules and chemistry. These represent the media and low-level mechanism in which life’s information is stored and expressed.

As to the question of determinism (a conclusion frequently derived from a materialistic worldview) and free will, I propose the following: Unless the choices people make can be predicted with certainty, we have the functional equivalent of free will, which is all that matters in real life. Without the supposition of, and existence of functional free will, life would be absurd and unlivable.

This is why the question of materialism versus design is so important. It impinges upon everything that ultimately matters. Are we fundamentally information-based, non-material free agents, or are we natural-law-based, biochemical automatons?

59 Replies to “Information, Materialism and Free Will

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    I’m a bit conflicted on this point, Gil. Information cannot exist without mass to represent it. Even the tranmission at light speed you describe is not without mass. Photons are massless only at rest and they are never at rest. Their kinetic energy gives them mass according to the equation e=mc^2. While the weight of the hard disk doesn’t change there is also no objective change in the information content when the magnetic fields are rearranged. I’ve come to the conclusion that one must discriminate between types of information. There is objective information and subjective information. The positions of any given particles carry the same amount of objective information (x,y,z coordinates for instance) whether they are arranged in a manner meaningful in any given context or not. Subjective information I think has the massless properties you suggest. The information that defines life is indeed subjective so as long as we make the qualification that it’s subjective and not objective information I’m in full agreement with you. Subjective information is massless.

  2. 2
    StephenA says:

    “Life is not fundamentally based on atoms, molecules and chemistry. These represent the media and low-level mechanism in which life’s information is stored and expressed.”

    This raises an interesting point. Information is media independant (it’s the same information whether it is transmitted by sound waves or read from a book). If life is information based does this mean that life is media independant? Is computer based life possible? Or does life require more than just the right information and the media to process it?

  3. 3
    JGuy says:

    All information is massless? If I take fifty grains of sand and space them in a line somehow using a morse code pattern to code the message “Information is massless” – or whatever – and I then take fifty bowling balls and line them up in proportional morse code to spell the smae message. Is information any more massive from one example to the other? And whether it is a known coding system or an arbitray concept of information, the information will have the same mass relevence or nonrelevence when comparing the two scenarios… so what is mass or matter but a place holder for us to interact with information.

  4. 4
    Carlos says:

    Ah! A philosophical problem! Excellent! (I’m a philosopher in my real life, too. Makes for laughs when I’m told that I shouldn’t quit my day job.)

    One problem arises with the restrictions posed on “materialism.” If we stipulate that “materialism” means “the position that everything that exists is made of matter,” we’re already in trouble. Why? Two reasons (at least!): (a) this implies that space, time, energy, fields (e.g. gravity) do not exist; (b) it leaves open the question as to what “matter” is. On the first objection: some philosophers prefer to speak of “physicalism” instead of “materialism,” since we’re dealing with fundamental concepts from physics (space, time, energy, matter, etc.). But this leads us straight into a response to the second objection: if “physicalism” is only committed to the existence of what physics tells us there is, then physicalism cannot yield a definitive ontology, because physics, as a sphere of scientific inquiry, is always changing. New discoveries are always being made, new experiments designed and run, new mathematical models built, etc.

    To see the force of this point, consider the typical Democrtiean picture of matter: little hard balls bouncing around. Now consider how drastically that picture has been revised in light of general relativity and quantum mechanics! And now consider: what further drastic revisions may be required as a result of further discoveries? Clearly we don’t know what those discoveries will be — but the good money says that the picture of “matter” used by 22nd-century physicists will be very different from our current one.

    So, what to say about “information”? Without having a solid command of information theory, my prejudice is that we simply don’t know whether or not information could arise from “mere matter” or not, because we don’t know what “mere matter” even is! But we can say this with some confidence: it’s not what Democritus, Aristotle, or Newton thought it was — we know that — so we shouldn’t let ourselves be held captive by their pictures.

    Another, and perhaps more helpful, way of getting the question of the ontology (or ontogeny?) of information going is to consider information as structures. Structures of what? Well, why not as structures of matter and energy? One might object: “but Carlos, the structures aren’t reducible to matter and energy!” OK — but I didn’t say that they were, did I? General point: physicalism does not entail reductionism. Emergentist physicalism, in which higher-order structures emerge from lower-order ones, is at least still a contender — even if it’s proponents owe us a much better story about how, exactly, “emergence” happens.

    Without the supposition of, and existence of functional free will, life would be absurd and unlivable.

    I can think of at least three people who would disagree: Benedictus Spinoza, Friedrich Nietzsche, and John Davison. Since John is here, I’ll let him speak for himself, and I’ll adopt the temerity to speak for the other two. (Please notice that, while Nietzsche may be regarded as a sort of atheist — and here I’m actually skeptical as to whether that’s the best interpretation — Spinoza seems very hard to peg as an atheist. Sure, Spinoza denies the existence of a transcendent and creator God, but he identifies salvation and immortality with what he calls “the intellectual love of God,” and that’s not a typical atheistic move, either!)

    Are we fundamentally information-based, non-material free agents, or are we natural-law-based, biochemical automatons?

    Why not both?

  5. 5
    DaveScot says:


    Matter and energy are the same thing. E=MC^2. Time is sort of an arbitrary construct. It is based upon motion or changes in matter. Without matter, time doesn’t exist. Space doesn’t exist without matter either. Space is measured by the position of matter. According to Standard Theory, before the big bang neither space nor time nor matter existed. Obviously gravity is a property of matter too. No matter, no gravity. So the $64,000 question is: Without matter does anything else exist? The answer is no as far as anyone can empirically determine. Not even information can exist without matter because absent matter/energy there’s no known medium to carry it. It appears we live in a material universe and there’s nothing else that matters, so to speak.

    I have no idea whether free will exists or not. Above the quantum level it evidently doesn’t. But it sure feels like I have free will. I’m not sure you really exist so I can’t say whether your feelings on it matter or not, so to speak. The jury is still out on whether quantum uncertainty is real or there are hidden variables we don’t know about that would make for certain outcomes. Without a quantum theory of gravity the jury will remain out on that question. This also raises the question of whether there is any such thing as a random event or whether what we perceive as random is simply a lack of knowledge. I’m sure I don’t want to know. Unlike Neo, I’d go for the blue pill. Ignorance is bliss. Now I suddenly have a desire for a nice thick steak and I don’t want to think about whether it’s just strings vibrating in dimensions too small to experience. A steak by any other name tastes as good is my motto.

  6. 6
    Tom English says:


    The’ standard line on methodological materialism in science is that scientific explanations are formulated in terms of matter, energy, and their interactions. In the realm of classical mechanics and thermodynamics, information seems to be a matter of “interactions.” There is no storage or transmission of information without a matter-energy medium. Furthermore, information has several useful definitions, none of which compels universal adoption. This suggests that scientists are not so much observing information in nature as reifying mathematical models.

    I have read that in the realm of quantum theory, information seems to have an independent existence. There are many interpretations of quantum mechanics, some very straightforward and some very mystical. As someone who cannot interpret quantum mechanics literature for himself, I am biased in favor of straightforward interpretations.

    Gil: “Are we fundamentally information-based, non-material free agents, or are we natural-law-based, biochemical automatons?”
    Carlos: “Why not both?”

    Ah, a man after my own heart.

  7. 7
    jpark320 says:


    Davescot is right. The jury is still out on the nature of quantum mechanics. Besides,

    1. The wave like nature of electrons doesn’t allow for the traditional “where is it?” Since it has properties like a wave we should have a probability test that reflects that ie orbitals – then we have near 100% probability of knowing the orbital/field where an electron will lie.

    2. If quantum mechancics was that “unpredictable,” Newtonian mechanics would not nearly be as good as it is ie if the will’s predictability is at the level of the Newtonian mechanics (assuming Naturalism) then quantum probabilities are not so much a prb (or just as much which is nothing really).

    3. Though we don’t know what “mere matter” is, from the information we do know now, its safe to say that quarks, neutrinos, and electrons aren’t producing any information for free! So at least with our current version of matter we can say that we are in fact not automatons, but free agents. We’re limited to the info we have now so let’s use itrather than have faith that 22nd Century scientists will prove us wrong, they may in fact confirm us even more 🙂

  8. 8
    niwrad says:

    “Not even information can exist without matter because absent matter/energy there’s no known medium to carry it. It appears we live in a material universe and there’s nothing else that matters.”

    In the cosmos matter cannot exist without information. In the cosmos information cannot exist without matter. Both are necessary for having an universe. Scholasticism said: Essence (information) and Substance (matter) are the two fundamental principles of manifestation.

  9. 9
    DaveScot says:

    “Is computer based life possible?”

    Unless you know of a physical law that prohibits it then the working assumption is that it is possible. I don’t know of any law that prohibits it. Do you?

    Here’s a great book that explores the limits of the possible. Not only is the book free in hypertext format, the book is now 20 years old and among other things it predicted was hypertext and the world wide web.

  10. 10
    John A. Davison says:

    Everything in the universe is material or it wouldn’t be there. That includes ourselves, our brains and the way that our brains operate. I should say ways because it is obvious that our brains operate in drastically different ways depending on our congenital tendencies. In other words our “free wills” vary substantially from individual to individual. As Ernst Mayr put it when he described himself as –

    “…a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinian like myself.”
    The Growth of Biological Thought, page 132.

    I never cease to be amazed at such a demonstration of what Einstein so clearly understood about the human condition.

    “Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their THINKING, feeling, and acting ARE NOT FREE but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.”
    Alice Calaprice. The New Quotable Einstein, page 200 (my quite unecessary emphasis).

    I also must agree with him with –

    No idea is conceived in our mind independent of our five senses [i.e., no idea is divinely inspired].

    By that I think he meant by a living personal God which he rejected as have I.

    Nevertheless, like Einstein I am a devout determinist so I reserve the possibility that ideas were also predetermined just as the entire evolutionary sequence was. It just gives me intellectual pleasure to believe such things so I hope I don’t offend anyone with my heresies, especially when I share them with a man for whom I have such great respect. Purely as an intellectual experiment, I have even gone so far as to suggest that the great music and literature of the past had also been written and, like all of mathematics and science generally, had simply been discovered and expressed by those who had been “determined” or, to use my term, “prescribed” to have that privelege.

    After all isn’t that exactly what Einstein meant?

    “EVERYTHING is determined… by forces over which we have no control
    ibid, page 196 (my emphasis)

    I have only carried his convictions to a seemingly absurd extreme. That does not mean I am wrong.

    “An hypothesis does not cease to be an hypothesis when a lot of people believe it.”
    Boris Ephrussi

    “Oh the big wheel run by fate, and the little wheel run by the grace of God.”

    Isn’t science fun?

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”

  11. 11

    Freedom is a tricky thing.

    “Freedom” is usually defined as no constraints whatsoever. Or basicly uncaused actions. Well, I’m not a materialist. But I don’t believe in uncaused acts of the will.

    So non-materialists can believe in some form of determinism. But materialists really have no other choice.

  12. 12

    Oh another philosophical point. This gets into universals and particulars.

    Universals (and information) are immaterial concepts. A materialist cannot account for these things.

    Universals don’t need to be instantiated to exist and be immaterial. Unicorns come to mind. None exist. The idea does.

  13. 13
    BarryA says:


    When I read your post the information went from one medium (my computer) to another (short term storage in my brain’s memory banks) at the speed of light, which backs up Gil’s contention that information can travel at the speed of light, which nothing with mass can do. I’m not sure I understand the subjective/objective information distinction you make. Can you elucidate?

  14. 14
    johnnyb says:

    “Unless the choices people make can be predicted with certainty, we have the functional equivalent of free will”

    I disagree with this statement. Randomness could also be a fundamental element. This would allow for the inability to predict with certainty, but it certainly would not be the functional equivalent of free will.

    geoff —

    Free will does _not_ and has not ever meant unbounded freedom, but instead freedom within boundaries. The way I take it is that if a given natural law has multiple possible destinations, a will can actualize a given one for their own purpose.

  15. 15
    mike1962 says:

    StephenA: “If life is information based does this mean that life is media independant? Is computer based life possible?”

    Perhaps. But if consciousness is not an emergent property of matter in a particular arrangment, then computers could never be conscious. And if consciousness is the source of agency, nor could computers have free will.

  16. 16
    BarryA says:

    Gil, about the same time you were posting this, I was reading this by David Berlinski (the full article is over at Discovery Institute):

    “The concept of time now occupies centre stage. A number of philosophers are standing by. And what they are saying, those philosophers, is that change is an illusion. Things do not become, they have not been, and they will not be: they simply are. Human beings reach events in the future by displacing themselves in time just as they reach places on the earth by displacing themselves in space. They do not bring those places into being, nor those events. It is thus that time dwindles, and thus that time disappears, replaced by an entirely more arid notion, that of position along a temporal stream.

    “Einstein’s special theory of relativity, Gödel observed, was widely thought to support this view. Imagine a group of observers scattered carelessly throughout the cosmos. Each is able to organise the events of his life into a linear order; and as a result each is persuaded that his life consists of a series of nows, moving moments passing from the past to the present to the future. I might as well dismiss those observers before they do any real harm. This is how we see things. Now is after all now, it is not? Right now.

    “Apparently not. Simultaneity, special relativity revealed, depends on the speed at which we are moving with respect to one another. Moving at different speeds, the two of us, it is entirely possible that my now might be your past or your future.

    “It follows that what is becoming for me may have become or may become for you. But then Gödel asks, very reasonably, how something can become for me when it has already been for you? The idea is if not absurd then deeply unattractive. What is left when becoming is subtracted from the cosmic account is time – that remains. But change has disappeared. A philosophical conjecture has been ratified by a great physical theory.

    I would add that if there is no “becoming,” there are no choices and thus no free will.

    I personally believe that God knows the beginning from the end. He knows in an absolute sense what I am going to be doing six hours from now, and therefore I cannot not do what He knows I will do and therefore I have no free will. I also believe that I can choose to do bad or good, and I can choose to accept God or reject Him and therefore I do have free will. I hold these contradictory ideas in suspense, just as I hold the contradictory idea of the Trinity in suspense, waiting until a time when I will no longer see “through a glass darkly.”

    Between hyper-Calvinism, where we make no choices and everything is determined, and open-theism, where not even God knows what will happen in the future, lies orthodoxy. Is this analysis based on pure reason? Obviously not. But does not our reason also tell us that there are limits to what reason can tell us? As Pascal said, the heart has reasons that reason does not know.

  17. 17
    tribune7 says:

    Information cannot exist without mass to represent it.

    So what came first — mass or the information?

  18. 18
    mike1962 says:


    What article is that?

  19. 19
    John A. Davison says:

    How the hell can something be free if it has boundaries? I also thought free will was verboten here. Don’t blame me Denyse. I didn’t bring it up.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  20. 20
    tribune7 says:

    How the hell can something be free if it has boundaries?

    Because freedom is a relative, conditional even, concept, not an absolute one.

  21. 21
    mike1962 says:

    John Davison: “How the hell can something be free if it has boundaries?”

    I can wiggle my finger at will. I cannot leap across the galaxy at will. Pretty obvious that it’s a freedom within boundries.

  22. 22
    ajl says:

    Between hyper-Calvinism, where we make no choices and everything is determined, and open-theism, where not even God knows what will happen in the future, lies orthodoxy.

    Hey BarryA, I like what you said, and have found myself getting much more interested in orthodoxy of old. On a previous post, bFast said:

    As a born and raised evangelical protestant, I must say that the older I get the more respect I have for Catholic theology.

    with that, I was wondering if you could recommend any “must reads” on the “orthodoxy” that you speak of

  23. 23
    John A. Davison says:

    Thanks for the lessons. I should have known better.

  24. 24
    Carlos says:

    I accept the point above about competing interpretations of quantum mechanics — some of which are very mystical indeed! But all I needed to say there was that, regardless of which — if any — current interpretation of QM gets accepted, none of them give legitimacy to Democritean “atoms and void” materialism.

    Geoff Robinson makes an excellent point about abstract objects (concepts, sets, numbers, etc.). We have no way of doing away with these things, and if our ontology doesn’t allow some room for them, so much the worse for our ontology. But this doesn’t mean that they need be on the list of the basic furniture of the universe, and it doesn’t mean that Platonism is the only other option to materialism.

    Still, I find it striking that we’re still having the same basic debates today, in 2006, as the ancient Greeks had — the basic options still seem to be materialism (Democritus to Dennett), idealism (Plato to Dembski), or a compromise (Aristotle to Kauffman). Does anyone else here get this impression? It sometimes looks to me as though our science has grown enormously (including mathematics as part of science), but our conceptual frameworks for thinking about science have not.

  25. 25
    BarryA says:

    To mike1962, the article is here:;id=2444

    To ajl, I don’t know if they are “must reads,” but I think “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton and “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis would be good places to start.

  26. 26
    BarryA says:

    Carlos writes: “I find it striking that we’re still having the same basic debates today, in 2006, as the ancient Greeks had — the basic options still seem to be materialism (Democritus to Dennett), idealism (Plato to Dembski), or a compromise (Aristotle to Kauffman). Does anyone else here get this impression?”

    Yes, I get the same impression. A very wise man once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

  27. 27

    Appealing to the will doesn’t necessarily get us to freedom, even the kind within boundaries.

    The will is the cause of actions. Is the will uncaused? No. The will has a nature. I choose something because I desire something. I don’t make choices based on a neutral will. Therefore, libertine freedom is not an option

  28. 28
    tinabrewer says:

    Carlos: just because we are having the same debates does not mean that we have not progressed, if by this you mean to imply that whole new categories for discussing such questions should long since have been conceived.

    I would place myself squarely in the idealist camp, which I take to mean that an independent non-material life-giving substance exists and which is the foundation of free-will. This substance has the capacity to act upon and within matter when necessary but is not dependent upon matter for its existence. Its called a soul, or spirit for human beings. The free will is always bound by the consequenses of its previous choices, which originate in this non-material essence (choice) but react back upon the material substance at the appropriate time (consequence). That is a lawful relationship, but not at all the same as determinism. Its called karma.

    I would appreciate anyone who is able to take a minute to explain to me why we would see the will as being determined or unfree based upon physical laws, and have to look to “quantum uncertainty” for the free will’s expression. I just don’t get this, perhaps because I am such a committed non-materialist, but help would be appreciated…

  29. 29
    mike1962 says:

    BarryA: “A very wise man once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

    I wonder what Solomon would have thought about the 20th century.

  30. 30
    DaveScot says:


    Mass and energy are equivalent. That’s what the equal sign means in e=mc^2. There are two common definitions of mass. Invariant mass and relativistic mass. Invariant mass is also called rest mass. Photons have a positive relativistic mass but zero rest mass. Photons are always moving at the speed of light so they always have relativistic mass. The confusion comes in because when we say “mass” we could mean either relativistic mass or invariant mass. In modern usage mass usually refers to invariant mass.

    When we speak of the mass of elementary particles it’s given in electronvolts. Giga (billion) electronvolts usually. An electron masses about a half million electronvolts. When the information you spoke of was transmitted there were changes in voltage all over the place from start to finish including voltage potentials in the originating computer, the wires that carried it, the phosphor particles on your display screen, and the synapses in your brain. However, the voltages we are speaking of there are typically just a few volts in modern electronic circuitry to microvolts in neural synapses. Thus the amount of mass that has moved around is for all practical purposes zero but it isn’t exactly zero.

    All kinds of experiments demonstrate the relativistic mass of photons. Gravitational bending of light was the most famous and the primary confirmation of relativity. How can gravity effect something that has no mass?

  31. 31
    mike1962 says:

    DaveScot: “How can gravity effect something that has no mass?”

    Because gravity bends the space thru which it travels.

  32. 32
    Rude says:

    It’s all very interesting—big guy philosophers not sure they exist, let alone all the stuff that’s out there—and at the highest level little or no progress since biblical times. The negativists may provide stability as they fight off the barbarians of innovation, and they may make efficient bureaucrats as they flesh out the details of the grand theories devised by visionaries, but—as I recall Sheldon Glashow musing—no great discovery was ever made by anyone who did not somehow know deep down in his bones that things are good. Lacking any cogent reason not to believe that things are pretty much as they seem, why not eschew any reductionism that denies the elementarity of free will (biblically ‘soul’), information (biblically ‘spirit’), or matter (biblically ‘flesh and bone’)? Until the reductionists can prove their point their consensus means nothing.

  33. 33
    BarryA says:

    mike1962 writes: “I wonder what Solomon would have thought about the 20th century.”

    I know exactly what he would have said: “Oy vey! What’s with all the kerfuffles?”

  34. 34
    GilDodgen says:

    Many Darwinists, being materialists, deny the existence of free will (William Provine comes to mind, for example). If there is no free will, why do these Darwinists get so angry and upset with those of us who are proponents of intelligent design? After all, we have no choice in the matter.

  35. 35
    BarryA says:


    I don’t think I agree with you (I know, I know, you say I have a choice between agreeing with you and being wrong, and I have chosen the latter). You assertion is certainly counter-intuitive (which, of course, does not necessarily mean it’s wrong).

    Consider two pieces of paper. One is blank. The other has the Gettysburg Address written on it. I look at the first piece of paper and no information is transferred. I look at the second piece of paper and the information in Lincoln’s speech is transferred to my brain.

    Now the physical properties of the light traveling between the pieces of paper and my eye are identical in both instances. The light changes in neither mass nor energy content. Therefore I conclude: (1) The information does not “hop aboard” the light in the sense of increasing its mass or energy; (2) The information is not a property of the light (or any other medium by which it is transmitted). (3) Since the information exists independently of the physical properties of the medium by with it is transmitted, it cannot be accounted for in materialist terms, i.e., the materialist assertion that all of reality can be reduced to particles in motion is refuted. How am I wrong?

  36. 36

    Someone has to explain quantum uncertainty to me. How does that give you free will?

    You may have quantum stuff going on which is unpredictable. That doesn’t make it uncaused. That doesn’t give you libertine freedom of thought.

  37. 37
    kvwells says:

    Here’s an interesting case, IMO:

    Let’s assume: Mankind is the only entity in the universe that can detect information.

    Now suppose:

    1.mankind and all other life gets blasted off of the planet by some catastrophe.

    2. the only thing left of our civilization is a carving of a unicorn (ex. chosen just for fun) blasted into space.

    Does this material object cease to embody information that concerns unicorns?

    It is easy to imagine the little sculpture floating in space and conclude that the information is still “there” (“Hey, I can still see its a unicorn, even if I don’t exist.”), however, the mental picture is not the thing.

    The point:

    Can we say that information of this kind – the ‘image’ of the unicorn – which may serve as instruction for making more images, absolutely must be produced by intelligence, and ceases to be information in the absence of a detecting intelligence?

    If so, or nearly so, what does this say about genetic information, which (if properly comprehended, and leaving assuming technological omnipotence) could theoretically be used to make an animal, even if no other animals existed.

    IOW how can we say that genetic information can exist without a previously existing intellegence?

  38. 38
    KMO says:

    It is hard to imagine how information can be transferred in the absence of the physical–sight, touch, smell, taste, sound? But is information’s existence necessarily dependant on the physical?

  39. 39
    Scott says:

    This issue is of particular interest to me and therefore I have made a pretty thorough investigation into the arguments for and against what Gil is saying.

    To this day, I am decidedly unconvinced and unimpressed by the arguments against Gil’s position. I wholeheartedly agree with everything he’s said.

  40. 40
    kvwells says:


    Actually the particular photons which are gathered by your eyes to make the image of the two pieces of paper have a different average brightness (energy emitted), the one with pencil marks reflecting less visible light than the blank one. Without some sort of state change relative to the observer detection/transfer of information does not occur.

  41. 41
    Rude says:

    Geoff Robinson,

    In my naïveté I like to think it’s at the level of quantum uncertainty that free will exerts itself in the world. I cannot will this keyboard to type, nor can I will my hands to move—only the neurons that first fire and send the electronic impulses down the nerves in my arms and out to my fingers. Sever a nerve and my hands just lie there no matter how hard I exert my will. But let a doctor stimulate the same neuron and set my hands in motion and I will say, “That wasn’t me!” There is some point where telekinesis operates—maybe it’s at the level of quantum uncertainty somewhere in the neurons of the brain.

  42. 42
    BarryA says:


    OK, but my basic point still stands. The information is not a property of the light by which it it transmitted. Therefore, it must exist independently of the light and cannot be explained in materialist terms.

  43. 43
    Rude says:

    Uh … aren’t Barry A and K V Wells both right? It seems increasingly clear (at least to me) that the cosmos is fundamentally all three—hardware, software, and agency. Thus your computer just sitting there is hardware (flesh and bone), software (spirit), but without the guy sitting in the chair there is no agent (soul). Materialism admits only to the hardware and makes the software “emergent”, whereas ID has brought software back into the discussion, and Angus Menuge has made a good case that agency is elemental and does not “emerge from” or “supervene on” hardware and/or software.

    So I guess the question is whether any of the three—hardware or software or agency—can exist completely independent of the others. Could there be a material world without design and agency? Can design exist unless instantiated in material or some kind of “stuff”? And can design happen without agency? And can agency exist—can God exist—independently of information and form? Those are questions for philosophers and theologians but it’s my hunch that we back ourselves into a more difficult corner by completely reducing any of these to the other than we do by entertaining the possibility that all three are fundamental to reality.

  44. 44
    Zachriel says:

    BarryA: “Consider two pieces of paper. One is blank. The other has the Gettysburg Address written on it.

    The increase of entropy of the light source, the mechanism of vision, and of the brain as it translates the words, deciphers semantic meaning and conjures mental images, overwhelm any raw information content contained within the letters on the page.

    Resolutions of paradoxes surrounding Maxwell’s Demon might be relevant.'s_demon

    The problem is that when the Demon develops information about the environment (observes), it results in a change of entropy. Even if this information could be acquired without an increase in entropy, the storage of this information requires a quantum change. And such memory is necessarily finite resulting in the reuse of memory and the erasure of old information, again an increase in entropy.

    It might be better to consider two pieces of paper, one with the Gettysburg Address, the other with ink splotches. All aspects of the process external to the mind are now identical. The only difference is how the brain processes the information. While the former is rich in semantic content, the latter is meaningless. Unless you were to discover the splotches are actually symbols of a heretofore unknown language translating the Gettysburg Address.

    In all cases, none of these processes violate any known law of physics. We consider thoughts to be ephemeral and unconnected to reality. And it apparently takes a hugely complex organic brain and substantial energy to create this sensation of disembodied thoughts.

  45. 45
    BarryA says:


    After further thought, I am not ready to give up on my first point.

    Consider two pieces of paper. On one the Gettysburg Address is written. On the other is a randomly assorted grouping of letters and spaces of the same length as the Gettysburg Address. The physical properties of the light that transmits the information are identical to the physical properties of the light that transmits the gibberish. This demonstrates that the information is independent of the medium.

  46. 46
    Tom English says:

    1. Signals propagate, not information per se. Signals do not propagate through brains, or even electronic devices, at anything close to the speed of light. But even if the signal is light, the rate at which the receiver gains information can be very low. Let’s say, for instance, that I am sending a message in binary code to E.T. He and I have agreed that I will transmit green light for one year to signal “1,” and red light for one year to signal “0.” Obviously, fast signal propagation does not imply fast information transmission.

    2. In statistical information theory, the information in an event is directly related to the improbability of its occurrence. Contrary to intuition, the most informative message is random noise. Information is neither order nor meaning.

    3. There is a fundamental problem with saying how much information a natural signal conveys. Science may make discoveries about the signal generator that render the signal quite predictable, and thus relatively uninformative. What I am driving at here is that “randomness” in nature is often just our ignorance. When we model ignorance with probability distributions, we impute information to what we don’t understand. That says to me that information is actually a measure of how observations surprise us, not a measure of the inherent surprise in what we observe.

    4. Suppose I transmit an encrypted message to a friend using a one-time pad, and an enemy intercepts the signal. Using the one-time pad makes the message into random noise. There is more information in the encrypted message than in the original. Yet the information in the original message is not in the encrypted message. Nor is the information in the one-time pad. The information is available only in the combination of the encrypted message and the one-time pad.

    5. If the last person who understands a distinctive human language dies, what information is there in a phonetic transcript of that person speaking that language? Nothing semantic.

  47. 47
    DaveScot says:

    Consider two pieces of paper. On one the Gettysburg Address is written. On the other is a randomly assorted grouping of letters and spaces of the same length as the Gettysburg Address.

    The Gettysburg Address is meaningless without context. It’s subjective information. The letters, random or otherwise, carry information. Each letter in either case has an X,Y location on the paper and is one of a set of letters. It takes the same amount of information to specify the arrangement in either case. That is objective information. If you happen to be able to read english then the latter example also has subjective information.

  48. 48
    DaveScot says:

    “Because gravity bends the space thru which it travels.”

    In general relativity mass causes a curvature of spacetime. Gravity is an observed effect, not a fundamental force, in general relativity. This is why general relativity is incompatible with quantum field theory, which describes the other 3 forces of nature. Quantum fields are described in the flat spacetime of special relativity and they have particles (quanta) which mediate them. Both quantum field theory and general relativity are very successful which is why the jury is out on whether spacetime curvature is the cause of gravitational effects.

    Regardless, that was a good answer. I’ll ask something different. How is it that photons can push objects with non-zero rest mass if photons have no relativistic mass?

    There’s no controversy over whether or not relativisic mass is real. It is. There’s also no controvery over whether or not photons possess relativistic mass. They do.

  49. 49
    P. Phillips says:

    A simple escape route for Dave Scott, that I doubt he’ll take, is to leave Einstein’s “space time” on the same ash heap as Darwin.

    It’s perfectly fine if you don’t agree, but the evidence is backing up plasma cosmology more and more!

    From Washington Post:

    Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, has been one of the dark-matter skeptics, and he said yesterday that he remained unconvinced.

    “I’ve been aware of this result some time, and I agree that it is interesting and may make more sense in terms of dark matter than alternative gravity,” he said. “However, it is premature to say so.”

    He said that a definitive detection of dark-matter particles would mean “grabbing them in the laboratory, not just inferring that their effects can be the only possible explanation for an observation before the alternatives have actually been checked.”

  50. 50
    DaveScot says:

    Tom English

    “Contrary to intuition, the most informative message is random noise.”

    One first needs to define information. I suggest objective and subjective. A saturated information channel is indistinguishable from random noise i.e. it cannot be compressed. When you say informative message that seems to be saying there’s subjective informataion on the channel and that might not be the case. It might indeed be random noise with no message of any kind in it.

  51. 51
    Tom English says:


    “One first needs to define information.”

    Well, I thought I could get by with generic statistical measures of information. Under various (perhaps not all) measures, information is maximal for certain noise distributions.

    “A saturated information channel is indistinguishable from random noise i.e. it cannot be compressed.”

    Generally, to achieve the channel capacity you have to do block coding, which is data compression. In maximally compressed data, the bits pass for i.i.d. uniform. So we are left with this: If we detect a signal that is “noise,” it could be noise, or it could be a transmission of compressed data, or it could be a transmission of encrypted data, or it could be a transmission of compressed and encrypted data.

  52. 52
    DaveScot says:

    Your response didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and was just a restatement of me telling you that random noise can be just random noise instead of carrying a message. You need to be careful with your terminology. Calling random noise a maximally informative “message” sends the wrong message to people who don’t know you’re referring to an incompressible data stream and not necessarily a message of any kind.

    If I had been feeling less kind I might have pointed out that the tiny perturbations in the cosmic microwave background, perturbations which caused matter in the universe to clump instead of being uniformly distributed, when analyzed have been found to have the characteristics of pink noise. Taking you literally would mean that the universe owes its clumpy structure, and hence we owe our existence, to a maximally informative “message” at the beginning of time. A booming sonic maximally informative message at the beginning of time that caused planets and stars and galaxies to form instead of matter just being perfectly spread out like gas in a bottle could be fairly characterized as the voice of God speaking the universe into existence like it says in the bible. But now that I’ve corrected your statement we know that it might be the maximally informative message to the universe given by God or it might be just random noise. In case you’re interested you can give it a listen:

  53. 53
    P. Phillips says:

    I hope those willing to consider an alternative “listen”, to use a phrase. There are errors made about mass and energy and their nature. Narlikar has solutions, that Halton Arp explains:

    “The first insight came when I realized that the Friedmann solution of 1922 was based on the assumption that the masses of elementary particles were always and forever constant, m = const. He had made an approximation in a differential equation and then solved it. This is an error in mathematical procedure. What Narlikar had done was solve the equations for m= f(x,t). This a more general solution, what Tom Phipps calls a covering theory. Then if it is decided from observations that m can be set constant (e.g. locally) the solution can be used for this special case. What the Friedmann, and following Big Bang evangelists did, was succumb to the typical conceit of humans that the whole of the universe was just like themselves.

    “But Narlikar had overwhelmed me with the beauty of the variable mass solution by showing how the local dynamics could be recovered by the simple conformal transformation from t time (universal) to what we called time (our galaxy) time. The advertisement here was that our solution inherited all the physics triumphs much heralded in general relativity but also accounted for the non-local phenomena like quasar and extragalactic redshifts. Of course, to date, that still has made no impression on academic science.”

    # # # # #

    In addition, there is evidence that Lorentzian Relativity is better supported by evidence, i.e., GPS

    # # # # #

    “For example in GPS, all atomic clocks aboard satellites with a variety of orbital planes, and all atomic clocks all over the rotating Earth, are all synchronized with one another, and remain synchronized, despite being in many different inertial frames. This appears to be a practical realization of Lorentz’s universal time. But SR points out that the clocks had to be adjusted in rate to achieve this synchronization, and that the measured speed of light is then not constant in frames other than the local gravitational potential field. If the two postulates of SR are adhered to, the clocks must be reset in rate and adjusted in their initial time setting so that the speed of light is measured to be the same in all frames. Then the clocks in all frames would behave just as predicted by SR, albeit at the cost of adding considerable complexity to the system. Every satellite-receiver pair would have unique and time-variable clock corrections. That is avoided in GPS by synchronizing each clock (in epoch and rate) to an imaginary, moment-by-moment co-located clock always at rest in the local gravitational potential field, the Earth-centered inertial frame. But that is precisely what LR specifies as the method of synchronizing to Lorentzian universal time.

    “This GPS procedure is all very nice, but hardly what Einstein envisioned when speaking of two clocks in relative motion, one at a station and one on a passing train. How simple special relativity would have become all these years if physicists had realized that all they had to do was reset the clock rates so they all ticked at the same rate as the reference clock in the local gravity field!”

    # # # # #

    Now, if the Electrical Universe hypothesis is verified, then everything that exists is connected, interconnected. Dr. Dembski has written on consciousness, in fact. He wrote:

    # # # # #

    “Or consider a more striking example. The December 12, 1980 issue of Science contained an article by Roger Lewin titled ‘Is Your Brain Really Necessary?’ In the article, Lewin reported a case study by John Lorber, a British neurologist and professor at Sheffield University:

    “‘There’s a young student at this university,’ says Lorber, ‘who has an IQ of 126, has gained a first–class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.’ The student’s physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Lorber, simply out of interest. ‘When we did a brain scan on him,’ Lorber recalls, ‘we saw that instead of the normal 4.5–centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.'”

    # # # # #

    The Electric Universe conceives of real time interconnectedness; I wrote on another threat about Kaballah and God “emanating” the Universe. There are numerous concepts on the nature of God, this is a good summary:

    Nothwithstanding the Ultimate Reality, which I believe is beyond human comprehension, the Electric model contemplates this:

    “The implications for biological systems in this electrical model of matter are profound. A method of near-instantaneous signalling between resonant molecular structures within cells and on cell walls seems plausible and may provide a way of looking at the mind-body connection and other communications external to the body. It may provide a link between classical physics and the pioneering work of the biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, in biological morphogenesis and telepathy.”

    Even adherents of quantum reality, which is not needed in the Electric model, are seeing this interconnectedness. See the work of Nick Herbert.


    # # # # #

    MISHLOVE: You mentioned three things that Einstein objected to; then there must be one more.

    HERBERT: Well, the third thing is this interconnectedness. Einstein said the world cannot be like this, because this interconnectedness goes faster than light. With this quantum interconnectedness, two objects could come together, meet, and then each go into the universe, and they would still be connected. Instantaneously one would know what the fate of the other one was. Einstein said, now that can never be; that’s like voodoo — in fact, he used the word — it’s like telepathy, he said; he said it’s spooky, it’s ghostlike. Almost his last words in his biography were, “On this I absolutely stand firm. The world is not like this.” He died in ’55, and ten years later Bell showed that the world must be like this. It’s kind of ironic. Bell himself said, “My theorem answers some of Einstein’s questions in a way that Einstein would have liked the least.”

    MISHLOVE: And Einstein created a very strange picture of the universe as it is, almost time travel, in his theory of relativity.

    HERBERT: Yes, but even Einstein’s mind wouldn’t go this far, to accept these instant connections, which now we believe really must exist in the universe.

    MISHLOVE: The notion of instant connections almost implies that space itself is an illusion.

    HERBERT: Yes, that distance is an illusion.

    MISHLOVE: That distance is an illusion — that you and I and our viewers and the chair are all somehow intimately connected with the most distant part of the galaxy.

    HERBERT: Yes, that we’re all in one place, that there aren’t any places.

    MISHLOVE: And the notion the mystics sometimes say, that you and I, we’re not really separate individuals, but at a deeper level we’re like fingers; we’re all connected. Or we’re like islands connected. There’s that sense of connectedness as well.

    # # # # #

    My point — there is evidence of more than “mere matter”. But not as Einstein believed. And if Ernest Sternglass is correct quoting Einstein (BEFORE THE BIG BANG), he regretted giving up the ether. Back to Lorentzian relativity!

    So don’t dismiss the theory out of hand; there may have been creation ex nihilo, but no one is seeing “echoes” of it now. What there is evidence for is the interconnection. (I’m sure fellow posters Dave Scott and Tom will be thrilled at our “interconnectedness”!)

    Remember Godel’s theorem; mathematics can only go so far, and the mathematics of plasma are far more complex than Riemann’s Geometry!

    But, even if you assume quantum mechanics, then the interconnection at faster than light is there.

    Perhaps Bill would like to review the “alternate” math in the links I provided, i.e., Arp and Metaresearch.

    Best wishes,

    P.S. (apologies for spelling and typos; don’t know how to do pretty hyperlinks)

  54. 54
    Tom English says:

    Tom: “Contrary to intuition, the most informative message is random noise.”

    DaveScot: “Calling random noise a maximally informative “message” sends the wrong message to people who don’t know you’re referring to an incompressible data stream and not necessarily a message of any kind.”

    I said the message is noise, not that noise is a message. It makes a big difference.

  55. 55
    DaveScot says:


    No, that’s not what you said. You said the most informative message is random noise and that’s simply not true. Random noise may or may not be an informative message. An incompressible data stream is indistinguishable from random noise absent knowledge of how to decode it. This implies that a maximally informative message will appear to be random noise. But it might be random noise with no message. What you should have said is “the most informative message will outwardly appear as random noise”. I’m not sure that’s counter-intuitive at all if you have some basic knowledge of error-free data compression as such compression works by finding redundancies (low entropy) and eliminating them through various lossless compression methods until, theoretically, maximum entropy is attainted and the compressed data (without the decoding procedure) appears to be random noise.

    The big mistake you made was equating the words information and message. That’s why I said you need to define what you mean when you say “information”. “Message” is subjective information and messages need to be treated in a different manner than objective information.

    Say we compress the verbage in “War and Peace” with lossless perfection. Objectively, that and a random assortment of letters will appear to be the same. It will take exactly the same amount of information to perfectly describe each of the data sets. Yet subjectively, there is additional information in the set that is the compressed version of War and Peace. Moreover, it appears to me that the subjective information is in the stream at no additional cost in matter or energy. The implication there is that subjective information is massless and conforms to Gil’s assertion.

  56. 56
    John A. Davison says:

    Just exactly what have photons or any other elementary particles have to do with either ontogeny or phylogeny, the presumed subjects of this forum?

    “Neither in the one nor in the other is there room for chance.”
    Leo Berg, Nomogenesis, page 134

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  57. 57
    Tom English says:


    Tom: “In statistical information theory, the information in an event is directly related to the improbability of its occurrence. Contrary to intuition, the most informative message is random noise. Information is neither order nor meaning.”

    DaveSot: “You said the most informative message is random noise and that’s simply not true.”

    Wiki: “In signal processing or computing [noise] can be considered data without meaning; that is, data that is not being used to transmit a signal, but is simply produced as an unwanted by-product of other activities. In Information Theory, however, noise is still considered to be information.”

    I have had a growing suspicion that most advocates of ID (notably, tech “guru” George Guilder) have no idea of how very different the meanings of “information” are in information theory and in information technology.

    DaveSot: “What you should have said is ‘the most informative message will outwardly appear as random noise’.”

    No, I said that the most informative message IS random noise with the goal of helping ID advocates see that their intuitions of what information means in information theory are wrong.

    In information theory, a message is a string of symbols from a finite alphabet. An encoder maps the message to a string of channel symbols from another finite alphabet. This string of channel symbols might be called the encoded message or the transmitted message. The encoded message symbols is transmitted through a discrete communications channel. See the first two pages of Chapter 8 in Cover and Thomas, Elements of Information Theory.

    Let’s say I have a quantum random number generator, and you want me to send you 100 million randomly generated bits. The power spectrum of the message is approximately flat, so it is white noise.

    “The big mistake you made was equating the words information and message.”

    You need to cite chapter and verse.

  58. 58
    P. Phillips says:

    Astronomer Tom Van Flandern was good enough to comment on the below, and gave permission to quote him.

    Here is his reply to DaveScot # 5 above:

    “DaveScot is correct in the context of the geometric interpretation of general relativity. The field interpretation, which uses a physical rather than mathematical basis, indicates this bending takes place by refraction in the light-carrying medium caused by a density gradient in that medium near masses.

    “The only thing wrong is that light has neither a rest mass not a relativistic mass. Instead, light has momentum that is a function of frequency. As such, light waves are similar to water waves which do not have a definable mass either, but do carry momentum and can knock you down. Otherwise, he is technically correct that gravitational forces cannot affect light. Instead, light is bent by refraction as it passes through the gravitational potential field (another name for the light-carrying medium). Gravitational forces affect the density of that medium near masses, which in turn bends the path of light waves.”

    Regarding Einstein, he wrote “Einstein himself said sensible things. He has been deified to justify the nonsense perpetrated by a few modern relativists, who have found it is easier to get published and funded under the guise of ‘confirming Einstein’. ‘Black holes’ are a classic example. Einstein wrote a paper in 1939 proving that no such thing could exist in physical reality. But nobody today cites that paper. The whole geometric interpretation of GR (‘curved spacetime’) is another example. It was just a quaint mathematical coincidence in Einstein’s day, but was developed by Misner, Thorne and Wheeler in the early 1970s, and has become today the exclusive understanding of GR taught in schools.”

    Finally, regarding this remark:

    The existence of information is a fundamental refutation of materialism, he wrote:

    “This suffers from taking words too literally. Two things exist, even in materialism: substance (the generic term for ‘matter’) and concepts. Concepts exist only in minds as products of thought. Information is a concept. Space and time are concepts. Right angles and slopes are concepts. We use concepts to describe substance, but they ‘exist’ only as thoughts in the form of brain electrons.

    # # # # #

    I find the views informative, but if any of you went to Nick Herbert’s interview link above, I thought the Metaphase Typewriter experiment fascinating. Note what it wrote:

    MISHLOVE: Jammed or something.

    HERBERT: And the print went all over the page, making a little frame. In that frame there was a single word, and that word was “inininfinitime.”

    MISHLOVE: That’s quite a word.

    HERBERT: That’s a nice word.

    MISHLOVE: “In an infinite time.”

    HERBERT: It wasn’t spelled quite right; it was “inininfinitime.”

    MISHLOVE: Phonetically. In other words, In an infinite time, if I had a million zillion monkeys all typing, eventually I could type out Macbeth.

  59. 59
    Tom English says:


    ““Message” is subjective information and messages need to be treated in a different manner than objective information.”

    There is no subjective information in classical information theory. Evidently you are using a term from quantum information theory. I don’t think you understand what it means. “Subjective” does not imply involvement of human mind or consciousness.

    “Say we compress the verbage in ‘War and Peace’ with lossless perfection.”

    Let W denote the text (string of characters) of War and Peace. Let C denote the compression of W you refer to. It is impossible to guarantee “perfection” unless C is a string of bits, not characters. What you have indicated is that C is algorithmically incompressible. There does not exist an algorithm that compresses all inputs to algorithmically incompressible strings. But I will let you have C.

    To generate compressed strings that are close to algorithmically incompressible, a compression algorithm must have a long average running time. A program implementing the algorithm on an electronic digital computer converts a large amount of electric energy into heat while compressing War and Peace. It also uses a fair amount of space (material storage) for a long time.

    Furthermore, the program implementing the decompression algorithm will take some time to recover W from C. This running time corresponds loosely to what is known in the theory of Solomonoff-Chaitin-Kolmogorov complexity as the logical depth of War and Peace. Logical depth is an alternative measure of the complexity of strings, and in practical computation it is closely related to power consumption. See Section 7.7 of of Li and Vitanyi, An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications (2E).

    “Objectively, that and a random assortment of letters will appear to be the same. It will take exactly the same amount of information to perfectly describe each of the data sets.”

    Only algorithmic information makes sense in this context. So let R (not equal to C) denote an algorithmically random (incompressible) bit string equal in length to C. The absolute difference in algorithmic information of R and C is bounded by a small positive constant.

    “Yet subjectively, there is additional information in the set that is the compressed version of War and Peace. Moreover, it appears to me that the subjective information is in the stream at no additional cost in matter or energy.”

    In and of itself, C is nothing but a random bit string. Only a pair (C, D), where D is an algorithm that writes W on input of C, allows one to recover War and Peace. The “additional information” is the algorithmic information in D. The additional “cost in matter or energy” is due to a) transmission of D and b) execution of a program implementing D on input of C. Incidentally, there is nothing that keeps me from transmitting (R, A), where A is an algorithm that writes W on input of R.

    Suppose I give you C and tell you nothing about how I obtained it. Do you think you can get War and Peace out of C? Will you try a large number of decompression algorithms and watch for something coherent? Well, most of the novel is in Russian, and most of text comprises Cyrillic characters. Good luck.

    The main thing that allows you to intimate something mystical is your separation of C from the decompression algorithm D. This is precisely what the theory of Solomonoff-Chaitin-Kolmogoroff complexity avoids. The information in a binary string is the length (in bits) of the shortest program that writes the string and halts. In essence, this forces us to consolidate the compressed string C and the decompression algorithm D into a single program P, and measure the information in War and Peace as the length of the shortest program P that writes War and Peace and halts.

Leave a Reply