Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

When science writer John Horgan reluctantly sort of acknowledged: Information implies minds

arroba Email

In 2011, thinking of John Wheeler and bit before it:

The concept of information makes no sense in the absence of something to be informed—that is, a conscious observer capable of choice, or free will (sorry, I can’t help it, free will is an obsession). If all the humans in the world vanished tomorrow, all the information would vanish, too. Lacking minds to surprise and change, books and televisions and computers would be as dumb as stumps and stones. This fact may seem crushingly obvious, but it seems to be overlooked by many information enthusiasts.

John Horgan, “Why information can’t be the basis of reality” at Scientific Ameerican (March 7, 2011)

But he concludes:

The idea that mind is as fundamental as matter—which Wheeler’s “participatory universe” notion implies–also flies in the face of everyday experience. Matter can clearly exist without mind, but where do we see mind existing without matter? Shoot a man through the heart, and his mind vanishes while his matter persists. As far as we know, information—embodied in things like poetry, hiphop music and cell-phone images from Libya–only exists here on Earth and nowhere else in the universe. Did the big bang bang if there was no one there to hear it? Well, here we are, so I guess it did (and saying that God was listening is cheating).

Part of me would love to believe that consciousness is not an accidental by-product of the physical realm but is in some sense the primary purpose of reality. Without us to ponder it, the universe makes no sense; worse, it’s boring. But the hard-headed part of me sees ideas like the “it from bit” as the kind of fuzzy-headed, narcissistic mysticism that science is supposed to help us overcome.

John Horgan, “Why information can’t be the basis of reality” at Scientific American (March 7, 2011)

But now what does he think of the panpsychists?

See also: Why Is Science Growing Comfortable with Panpsychism (“Everything Is Conscious”)? At one time, the idea that “everything is conscious” was the stuff of jokes. Not any more, it seems.

Can biological cells be associated with computers? Nah, that’s ID wishful thinking. Biology is all chemistry and physics. There’s nothing about complex functionally specified information. Computer concepts don’t relate to biological systems. Really? What about this? Turning cells into computers with protein logic gates: https://phys.org/news/2020-04-cells-protein-logic-gates.html jawa
It looks as if Horgan stumbled on (reluctantly I'm sure) Deism as the answer, in his little essay on information as the basis of reality. I agree with commenter Kabane52, who wrote this in response to Horgan's article:
Our dear Mr. Horgan has stumbled upon the existence of God- yes, this is indeed the basis of the classical arguments for God's existence. Information does not exist in terms of physical things without that physicality being informational. Tell me what physical particle exists apart from its being defined by a specific mathematical signature, a precise set of qualities marking it out as uniquely and only itself? There is no "physicality" apart from information, for to say something is "physical" is to describe a piece of information about it! Mr. Horgan objects- but information, to be itself, is itself in its being known by mind, and if all human minds disappeared, the cosmos would still exist. Bingo! And so the basic obviousness of the truth steps forth to reveal itself- God, who perfectly suffuses all things by His knowing- and indeed, who constitutes the cosmos by **knowing it into being**, is real, and materialism is a terrible joke. The cosmos is a world of knowable qualities, and the subject of that knowledge is mind. There is no reason to think that there is a transmental reality underlying the cosmos and not ultimately intelligible in terms of things knowing and being known. And since this cosmos, defined in its every detail by its relation to mind, exists wholly independently of any human mind or all human minds, there must exist the Mind to which all minds make reference simply by definition. Welcome to the real world- each of your arguments against the informational quality of reality leads inexorably towards the truth of theism.
Horgan seems to me to be half right. Information implies something to be informed but it also requires a mind to have created it. Information (of the complex specified kind) doesn't result from serendipitous physical processes. It's always, so far as we've been able to ascertain, the product of a mind. Dick
Polistra @4 The Theistic argument is Horgan's contention that for information to both exist and make sense there must be "something to be informed—that is, a conscious observer capable of choice, or free will...". That "something" (for the huge amount of information that exists but is not observed (to our knowledge) by living physical creatures is obviously not humans or even plants, animals and bacteria. So it must be the mind of God or some sort of conscious being that is outside our physical system, or so the reasoning goes. This reasoning seems good to me. Of course it can always be contended that there may not ultimately be any requirement for reality to make sense, despite the massive edifice of physics that has been built up that does make sense of physical reality. doubter
So many logical fallacies, so little time... What if an alien race shows up - does the information magically re-appear, or was it always there, just not being used? The Big Bang implies the creation of matter/energy - the cosmological argument implies that saying God was listening is not only not cheating, but is logically implied. Is he saying that "consciousness" is fuzzy-headed mysticism? If his science tells him consciousness isn't real, his science is the fuzzy-headed mysticism. Since our senses are built to only detect material things, the fact that we don't see mind without matter is logically an artifact of the limitation of our senses, not a proof of its non-existence, no? If mind is NOT as fundamental a part of everyday experience as matter, there wouldn't be any such thing as "everyday experience", would there? The fact that the author has experiences argues against this point. How, exactly do information enthusiasts "overlook" the fact that information requires mind to interpret? Isn't that a key element in all information theory - that having a code is not enough, a translator/interpreter is required? What DO they teach in schools these days? Certainly not logic... (edit for typos) drc466
This could go two ways. One way: By the usual standards, info doesn't imply conscious minds. A lot of information is DELIBERATELY created and received by plants and animals that we generally don't credit with consciousness. The other way: Plants and bacteria deliberately create and understand and decode info all the time, therefore they MUST be conscious. polistra
He gives it all away: "Did the big bang bang if there was no one there to hear it? Well, here we are, so I guess it did (and saying that God was listening is cheating)." Yes here WE ARE...no it would have not banged with out us....nothing capable of looking or measuring, then we are back to that certain cat in its special box...both alive and dead? No decision is made so no information or matter exists..how would it ever be known otherwise? Also I dont think saying if GOD conciousness was hearing/looking is a cheat..it is the essence. With no point of refrence nothing is known..nor is it "out thete" as where is "there:? Tom Robbins
Seems pretty sensible to me. Seversky
The concept of information makes no sense in the absence of something to be informed Heh! Indeed. Latemarch

Leave a Reply