* This is my recent submission to the Foundational Questions Institute Essay Contest that seeks to answer the question “It from Bit or Bit from It?”. Please visit the contest page and post any questions/feedback you may have there. Thank you for taking an interest:
THE IN-FORMED UNIVERSE
ABSTRACT: The difficulty of accounting for ubiquitous, coherent order in a Universe considered by many to be ruled by random, entropic decay cannot be understated. Can the evident complexity found throughout our finely tuned Cosmos simply be the byproduct of aimless, uninformed interactions between inert substances leftover from the Big Bang? Likewise can the complex emergence & evolution of biological life on Earth be explained by similar dynamics if augmented by genetic mutation and natural selection alone? I will argue that this overly positivist-reductionist ontology does not hold for an orderly Universe underwritten by linear, irreversible time. If the Universe is no older than 15 billion years, without Information-guided process the natural order as we perceive it could not, and would not, exist — only non-discernible chaos and endless episodes of error catastrophe would persist. Information therefore plays an essential role in undergirding the emergence of coherence and self-organizing process. The genesis of looping, autocatalytic feedback networks, that then give rise to complex order, can be traced back to the accumulation of a “Universal Systemic Memory”. It is postulated that “systemic memory”, or “information”, can be stored dynamically within (1) the vibratory spectrum of material substances themselves, and (2) the highly ordered wave-structure of the quantum vacuum. Non-local, Information-driven process & evolution appears to be the rule, not the exception.
WHAT IS INFORMATION?
Defining Information is not some trivial exercise in semantics. Tremendous thinkers throughout recorded history have undertaken this challenge while at the same time attempting to elucidate Information’s underlying significance. In the 3rd-century BC Plato formulated a proto-conception of Information with his theory of Ideas — defining Information as a kind of immaterial form/structure underwriting the principles of nature. In the 20th-century Claude Shannon constructed a mathematical formalism of Information known today as “Information Theory”. Within this framework Information is thought of as the amount of uncertainty (entropy) associated with a signal. John Wheeler believed that every particle, every field of force, and even the space-time manifold itself owed its existence to the workings of Information. For the duration of this essay, I will define Information as the pattern, form, or structure of a system that has the capability to convey “meaning”. Meaning, in this context, signals to a system how it should respond to a specific stimulus. As a general rule, Substance (Matter & Energy) does the work of Information.
SURVEYING THE EXPLICIT ORDER:
“Since the universe is actually composed of information, then it can be said that information will save us…There is no other road to salvation.”
– Philip K. Dick, Author of VALIS
“Our particular actions depend on the objects and events about us…But our information about the world does not come from direct observation, and our influence on others is happily not confined to pushing and shoving. We have a powerful tool for such purposes: language and words.”
– John Pearce, Author of Introduction to Information Theory
I argue here that Information, not Substance (Matter & Energy), is the prime mover in our Universe. Upon a close inspection of reality, order and coherence appear to be the rule not the exception. But how can this be in a Universe thought to be governed by the random jostling of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles? How can negentropy possibly persist in a Universe allegedly held in thrall by the second law of thermodynamics? Information and its dynamics within systems may provide us with a solution to this enigma. I will expound on this point in a later section, but for now let me first highlight some particularly striking examples of systemic coherence on varying scales.
On the quantum level there is the well-documented phenomenon of non-local interaction (hereafter NLI) between entangled particles (aka action-at-a-distance). The reality of this seemingly superluminal, correlative relation between coupled quanta has been upheld ever since the demonstrated violation of John Bell’s inequality in the 1980s by Alain Aspect and others. While a number of contending interpretations of NLI exist to this day, there remains no penultimate explanation. Also, the peculiar order exhibited during quantum state transitions (aka atomic-electron transitions & quantum tunneling) is rather puzzling. If, prior to observation, quanta exist in a superposition between virtual and classically “real” states, and the transitions conform to statistical rules of probability in accordance with the Schrödinger’s wave equation & Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, it stretches credulity to believe that “random” statistical process resulting from a non-linear “collapse” will create order a priori. Instead it would appear that a form of deterministic chaos, pulled forward by a diversity of attractors, underwrites this process. But the question still remains: What imbues an attractor with any meaning or ability to “attract” in the first place? I contend the answer relates somehow to Information.
On the biological scale we can start with the most obvious example of “Order out of Chaos”: Life itself. As Complexity theorist Stuart Kaufmann has convincingly argued, the spontaneous emergence of biological life requires “Order-for-Free” to account for the omnipresent complexity surrounding us. If the only acknowledged mechanisms for order-emergence under the Darwinian model include classical molecular collisions, random genetic mutation, and natural selection, the time it would require to explore all possible ‘peaks’ of the ‘fitness landscape’ (aka climbing mount improbable) would take approximately 10-to-the-291st-power seconds: An amount of time that eclipses the age of the known Universe. Similarly Sir Fred Hoyle once calculated that it would take approximately 126 billion years for life to emerge under the Darwinian scheme. Beside this seemingly insurmountable event-horizon, the gradual accumulation of minor genetic alterations over time would likely result in what is known as “error catastrophe” — leading to a complete breakdown in complex order. Gradual change, then, is not necessarily in Nature’s best interest.
All we have to do is glance outside our windows to see that complex order and negentropy do indeed persist within the biosphere. I must restate: How can this be? For one, it would appear that organisms at all levels of the ecological hierarchy exhibit highly efficient quantum-like properties to one degree or another. Dr. Seth Lloyd has pointed out that lower creatures, such as green and purple sulfur bacteria (that happen to account for approximately 40% of the biomass on planet earth), leverage states of quantum superposition during photosynthesis in a process known as “quantum walking”. In 2009, a scientific team at Oxford-Singapore found evidence for electron entanglement within European robins that may account for their mysterious sense-of-direction known as “Avian Compass”.
Lastly, let us examine the cosmological scale. The fact that matter dominates over anti-matter is still a rather obvious conundrum — the so called Charge-Parity Violation. Particles and anti-particles born out of a Big Bang should have existed in equal quantities and annihilated one another — the Universe should be completely absent of matter. There is also the large scale uniformity of the Cosmos at all horizon points when viewed from Earth. This well known issue, that largely concerns the isotropic microwave background radiation, is called the Horizon Problem. Likewise, the fine tuning of Universal Constants is quite perplexing. Some of these constants include the Atomic Mass Unit, Compton Wavelength, Planck Length, and Proton Mass. These constants constitute the exact parameters that allow for complex process and structure to arise. If you were to tweak any of them, it would throw everything off kilter, and the Universe as we know it would cease to exist. While Inflationary scenarios are intellectually stimulating, and may provide “answers” to some of these cosmological conundrums, I argue that, overall, it no longer meets the criteria of a privileged scientific theory. It presents as many problems as it purports to solve. As Professor Paul Steinhardt, a vocal critic of Inflation, has written: “Everything that can happen does happen in some bubble. A theory that predicts everything predicts nothing.”
INFORMATION AND SELF-ORGANIZATION:
Pretending that something doesn’t exist if it’s hard to quantify leads to faulty models…system traps [emerge] from setting goals around what is easily measured, rather than around what is important.”
– Dana Meadows, Author of The Limits of Growth
Information, I believe, lies at the heart of the self-organizing process on all aforementioned levels of reality. The underlying cause of self-organization, and the emergent properties-of-the-whole that result from it, still remains something of a mystery. Despite this, there has still been a fair amount of progress in this area of research over the last thirty to forty years. For example, Dr. Stuart Kaufmann has done extensive work in modeling autopoetic systems (cyclic & self-generative) as simplified Boolean-Networks. He theorizes that when a critical density of diversity within these networks is reached, synchronistic order spontaneously blooms. This thermodynamically perplexing event is what he terms “Order-for-Free”. Located below are two diagrams of such networks, each featuring different parameters:
While diversity is certainly a key-component for the spontaneous emergence of self-organization, I contend a critical density of Information or “memory” is also required. As Information accumulates in a resonating system — through its iterative, cross-coupled feedback interactions — the system in a genuine sense “learns”, “remembers”, and “evolves”.
HOW IS INFORMATION STORED?
Information is stored in Nature through two dynamic and interrelated mechanisms. The first mechanism entails sympathetic resonant feedback occurring between two or more oscillating systems. The second mechanism entails wave-front interference taking place in the quantum and subquantum vacuum.
The first postulated mechanism for storing Information can be termed “Recurrent Systemic Memory” (hereafter RSM). RSM is a byproduct of resonant feedback occurring between two or more dynamic, physical systems. As we now know, even at absolute-zero Kelvin, all known particles (as well as the bonds between them) within a quantum lattice continue to vibrate, oscillate and exchange Information about their states. Dynamic phonon exchange within these lattices helps facilitate this process. At all times all matter in the Universe is under the constant bombardment of real & virtual photons radiating from the zero-point ground state of the quantum vacuum. As a result the “jitter-motion” of matter is perpetually maintained and the modulation of Information exchange within a system essentially never ceases, even when perceived to be “at rest”.
Take for example a simplified model composed of resonating tuning forks. The above diagram represents a coupled system composed of tuning fork A (hereafter tfA) and tuning fork B (hereafter tfB). At point #0, tfA is struck and begins to vibrate. At point #1, tfB receives & integrates signal-a1 and begins to vibrate & resonate with tfA. At point #2, tfB transfers the now modulated signal-a1b2 back to tfA, which then integrates and further modulates the signal at point #3. At point #4 we see how the system has come full circle where both tfA & tfB have sympathetically altered each others’ oscillations (aka exchanged Information) over time through sympathetic feedback.
Because both tfA and tfB are composed of vibrating-resonating molecular sub-systems, even when tfA & tfB appear to come to rest their sub-system configurations continue to exchange vibratory Information through phonon transfer. In sum, this web of relations represents an accumulation of constantly evolving Information mediated through vibratory feedback within the structure of matter itself. Even when we perceive a system as “coming to rest”, this does not mean that “memory” of past modulations and environmental exchanges do not persist.
The importance and relevance of Information stored in the vibratory spectrums of atoms & molecules has been emerging at the forefront of Quantum Biology as well. For example, Biophysicist Luca Turin has put forth solid experimental evidence confirming that both human and fruit fly olfaction is a byproduct of the vibratory frequency of atoms & molecules (as well as vibratory exchange between their bonds).
Of course, what is not represented in the oversimplified tfA&B-model is that the wave signals going between tfA & tfB are propagating through the medium of space, interfering with one another, and therefore embedding their Information into the “quantum foam” of the vacuum. This virtual quantum foam is then modulated (albeit minutely), and through virtual particle exchange acts back on the system as a whole (thereby exchanging & evolving the Information further). Recall here the principle of sensitive dependence that reminds us even small alterations & fluctuations within a non-linear system can have expansive effects and repercussions.
While the well-tested theories of QED and QCD both provide us with workable vacuum models, its nature and structure still remain something of a mystery to this day. As Paul Dirac once stated:
“The problem of the exact description of vacuum, in my opinion, is the basic problem now before physics. Really, if you can’t correctly describe the vacuum, how is it possible to expect a correct description of something more complex?”
If Information can be stored outside the material system and within the quantum vacuum as a byproduct of wave-interference, what does this insinuate about the subquantum-structure of the quantum foam? First off, despite its chaotic appearance, the zero-point ground state of the quantum vacuum is most likely highly ordered. Although often overlooked, pair production erupting out of the quantum foam may already constitute evidence for the non-linear, self-organizing character of the physical vacuum itself. Italian Mathematician Daniele Funaro has also demonstrated, through analysis of fractal electromagnetic energy bordering a metallic surface, that the zero-point ground state is highly ordered. This is further supported by the observations of Computer Scientist Sally Goerner, “Fractals of the Cantor Dust type also fit noise on electrical lines…” Also the work of E.T. Whittaker, who in 1903 & 1904 mathematically modeled a “scalar potential” as a series of ordered harmonic wave-pairs, seems to support this hypothesis further. When constructive & destructive interference between waveforms occurs, the Information is well-preserved within this ordered (albeit chaotic & non-linear) vacuum potential.
Evidence for an ordered, Information-preserving vacuum is buttressed further by Funaro who has combined Maxwell’s equations with Euler’s equation — which is related to the velocity field of an immaterial, non-viscous fluid. In his model, charge-density replaces the antiquated notion of mass-density within dielectric free space. As a result, electromagnetic waves are able to form into a variety of helical structures, especially when they are located in the near-field of antennae and receivers.
In parallel Engineer Konstantin Meyl has developed a model of free space that yields similar conclusions. Through his analysis of anomalous dielectric heat-loss, as well as boundary-steadiness outside conductors, he has come to the conclusion that the ambient air around us is filled with white-noise inducing, electromagnetic vortices. These free space solitons, because of their vast and complex frequency spectrum, are able to store an abundant amount of Information.
All of this seems to suggest that the vacuum’s sub-structure is quite capable of integrating and preserving an unfathomable amount of coherent Information (similar to a Hologram). Human beings, like everything else in the Universe, are under constant bombardment from this chaotic, environmental white-noise, and no doubt our bodies and minds (acting as resonating antennae of sorts) are engaged in a subtle feedback exchange with it. To once again quote Goerner:
“Information can be carried by noise and thus may enter from any part of the body not just the five senses…knowing [may arise] from our deep evolutionary entwinement with the world. It may be our most fundamental form of knowing.”
HOW IS INFORMATION RETRIEVED?
Much of the Information stored within the systemic memory apparatuses of Nature is often irreducibly subtle. As a result, serial processing within our conscious minds imposes limits on our awareness and recall of this Information. However, the subconscious mind operating as a parallel processor has Information retrieving capabilities that eclipse the capabilities of our waking mind:
“The conscious mind is a serial processor; it is extremely fast but still perceives snapshot by snapshot, serially. It essentially has been fitted to the single photon interaction, as has Aristotle’s three laws of logic. The problem is in the operation of conscious perception itself, not in nature which is not limited to just serial processing…The unconscious mind is a massively parallel processor, so it can have many ‘different slides or snapshots in the slide projector’ at the same time…The unconscious (massively parallel) perception can handle both snapshots simultaneously. The conscious mind only can see a single [snapshot] at a time, so it will see one or the other.”
Our subconscious can be demonstrated to be constantly at work in a number of instances. First off, as evidenced through such Eureka moments as the discovery of quaternions by Sir William Hamilton in 1843, as well as August Kekele’s discovery of the benzene ring, our subconscious mind seems able to process Information (both internal and external to ourselves) and arrive at answers even when our conscious minds have seemingly given up on the problem.
Likewise at the Max-Planck institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, through analysis of the frontopolar cortex, it is has been experimentally demonstrated that the subconscious mind makes its decisions at least seven-seconds before any conscious decision is made. This finding has been verified at Heart-Math Institute as well. This may very well represent evidence of our subconscious mind acting in response to the environmental Information we are constantly bombarded with and unknowingly integrating & processing.
GENERAL IMPLICATIONS FOR NATURAL SCIENCE:
Through the mechanisms of resonant feedback and wavefront interference, Information can be accumulated and stored within a system — which then corresponds with the spontaneous ordering of the system that holds or encodes this Information. Information also underwrites numerous quantum effects that contribute to the mind-boggling coherence of Nature.
Perhaps the time has arrived to apply the concept of a ‘Information Potential’ to all levels of reality. This would be analogous to extending David Bohm’s concept of the Quantum Potential and/or Implicate Order. Information-based ‘Potential Fields’ are very likely coordinating process below the threshold of conscious-awareness. As Chaos theory and non-linear dynamics teach us, what appears random is not necessarily indeterminate or uninformed. In closing, let me allow Bohm to speak for himself. In discussing alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics during a visit to the Niels Bohr Institute in 1989, he had this to say about Information in Nature:
David Bohm: In 1951 [I developed] another interpretation [of Quantum Mechanics]…I said the electron is a particle…and has what’s called a quantum field represented mathematically by its wave function. This field and particle are [an integrated system] and account for the quantum properties of the electron…the quantum field…has some similarities [to electromagnetic fields] but it’s different because the effect of the quantum field depends only on the form and not the intensity…the quantum field is capable sometimes of spreading out and the electron far away could move with the same energy as if it were close. This would be a kind of explanation of this discrete quantum process [quantum tunneling].
Interviewer: So you have a field that doesn’t drop off [with distance]?
Bohm: The field [intensity] drops off but its effect does not. The effect depends only on the form, not on the intensity.
Interviewer: That’s weird.
Bohm: It’s not so weird. In fact it’s very common but we generally don’t pay attention to it. If you take for example a radio wave its effect falls off. Now imagine a ship guided by radar on an automatic pilot. The guidance does not depend on the intensity of the wave; it depends only on the form which carries information. The word information has the two words in-form: to put form in.
Interviewer: So it’s like you have a television set and you [distance it] far from the [broadcast station]. It doesn’t mean you don’t get the broadcast; you just need a bigger [more sensitive] receiver.
Bohm: Right…As long as it’s received it’s essentially the same program. So what happens is the form of the radio wave puts form into the currents flowing in the receiver. The energy comes from the receiver not from the radio wave. The radio wave is not pushing the ship around mechanically. The ship is moving under its own energy and responding to the form [of the wave]. So the radio wave is giving shape and form to [the ship’s] motion.
Now this is very common. Computers [contain] form which is carried out in the process of running machinery….The form of DNA is carried to the RNA which determines the making of proteins and so on…People depend on the form of sound waves to communicate and [they] move around [by and large] because of that.
The point is this is the most common form of experience and the mechanical business of pushing and pulling is more limited…[Information] is fundamental and the electron responds to this form…that explains not only [wave-particle duality] [but also non-locality]. It explains superconductivity as the electrons move [via] a common pool of information just as ballet dancers do.
That means we have quite a different principle of explanation because this wave function which operates through form is closer to life and mind. The basic quality of mind is that it responds to form not to substance. Therefore the electron has a mind-like quality, though it may not be consciousness as we know it. Consciousness [as we know it] may depend on a much higher organization of this mind-like quality.
Interviewer: So what you are saying is that the physical universe is really more about information than about substance?
Bohm: I’m saying it’s both; but information contributes fundamentally to the qualities of substance.