Some say that it’s not clear that the term is useful. A friend writes, “Information is always “about” something. How does one quantify “aboutness. ” He considers the term too vague to be helpful.”
The polymath Christoph Adami is investigating life’s origins by reimagining living things as self-perpetuating information strings.
Once you start thinking about life as information, how does it change the way you think about the conditions under which life might have arisen?
Life is information stored in a symbolic language. It’s self-referential, which is necessary because any piece of information is rare, and the only way you make it stop being rare is by copying the sequence with instructions given within the sequence. The secret of all life is that through the copying process, we take something that is extraordinarily rare and make it extraordinarily abundant.
But where did that first bit of self-referential information come from?
We of course know that all life on Earth has enormous amounts of information that comes from evolution, which allows information to grow slowly. Before evolution, you couldn’t have this process. As a consequence, the first piece of information has to have arisen by chance.
A lot of your work has been in figuring out just that probability, that life would have arisen by chance.
On the one hand, the problem is easy; on the other, it’s difficult. We don’t know what that symbolic language was at the origins of life. It could have been RNA or any other set of molecules. But it has to have been an alphabet. The easy part is asking simply what the likelihood of life is, given absolutely no knowledge of the distribution of the letters of the alphabet. In other words, each letter of the alphabet is at your disposal with equal frequency. More.
So Chance wrote an alphabet? And created “aboutness”? It;s not the same type of chance we live with today.
See also: Does the universe have a “most basic ingredient” that isn’t information?
New Scientist astounds: Information is physical
Data basic: An introduction to information theory
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