Recently Stephen Hawking announced a new theory about what happens to information at the event horizon of a black hole.
Some scientists took him to task. They said in effect: isn’t it a bit of grandstanding to announce such a thing without showing your work?
I like that. Hold authority’s feet to the fire! That is the scientific way!
The question is: why do scientists care?
It turns out to be a question that is basic to the scientific view of how the universe is put together. Leonard Susskind wrote great book about it called “The Black Hole Wars.”
You see, information is conserved.
Like energy over all is conserved, is the same at the beginning of a process as at the end, though not the specific forms of energy (e.g. chemical energy becomes heat).
And most definitely not like entropy. Entropy is not inherently conserved!
Information that is conserved is not exactly the same as “meaning.” It is the possibility of different states. You know, like 0 or 1 in the binary code that the computer uses.
Or the letters of the alphabet. If you see:
in an e mail you think “laugh out loud.” Heck, you can program a robot to recognize it and make “ha, ha, ha” sounds.
Doest the robot know mirth? Joy? What it is to laugh?
Is that information?
No, the idea that LOL means “laugh out loud” is meaning gleaned from information.It is not inherent in the information. We supply the meaning. Conscious, sentient beings do. If someone finds the letters LOL in a message many years from now, odds are it will not have meaning to them. Maybe not in very many years; I understand LOL is going out of fashion already. But it will have information.
LOL could have been randomly generated (a complex thing to do) or it could have been from a program that says: insert consonant-vowel-consonent.
Take a circle. Little information is needed to generate the circle:
- a definition (all points equidistant to one given central point)
2. and the variable (the distance).
The circle is symmetric. If you shut your eyes and I spin the circle around the central point, when you open your eyes the circle looks the same. No change. Symmetry.
But the universe has changed. The energy I used to move my muscles to move, say a cut out circle, thus spinning the circle, or by tapping circle moving instructions on a computer keyboard to spin a computer soft ware generated circle, comes from energy stored in my muscle cells. The cells take glucose and break it down to CO2 and H2O molecules and use the energy released from the chemical bonds to create high energy bonds in ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) molecules, then the muscles use the ATP molecules for energy, breaking the ATP phosphate bonds (creating ADP, adenosine di-phostphate and then passing on the phosphate released from the ATP; don’t worry if this doesn’t mean much to you. The details aren’t critical) and thereby changing the energy state in the ATP/ADP/Actin/Myosin structure and thus changing the molecular structure of actin/myosin in muscle to create movement.
This chemical/mechanical process resulted in more molecules with less energy in their chemical bonds than the original glucose molecule, and released excess energy as heat. Also heat is generated by my fingers moving the circle or pressing the keys (friction and the energy of my fingers interacting with the molecules in the paper as I move the paper circle or computer keys as they crash into each other). The change in the molecules and the cells and the infrared photons (the heat released) pinging around create a less organized, higher entropy situation.
So the circle is unchanged, it is symmetric, it is in the same state after we spun it that it was before we spun it, but the entropy of the universe has increased. We can re-create the glucose molecules, but it takes CO2, H2O, cellular organization and energy, for example in the complex biological process of photosynthesis. But there will still be the same or more entropy each time we go about making any change.
So even a symmetric situation in the “real world” is not totally symmetric. Even if we do the circle spinning as a thought experiment, where you don’t actually move the circle, as you did when reading this pretty much, takes energy! The energy of the chemical reactions and electrons moving about in your brain when you think generates heat and entropy.
Which leads us to thermodynamics and Maxwell’s demon.
But I digress; lets hold on doing more thermodynamics and Maxwell’s demon for this post. I will do more on that later.
For now, let’s get back to the idea that in the world of change and movement, the world of the senses (themselves of course information processors) information is conserved. Not meaning, just information.
Meaning is contingent. It is not conserved. It is relational, and generates entropy or uses energy to decrease entropy. Either way, energy and entropy are involved in meaning, playing off each other, perhaps. Energy is conserved. Information is conserved. Entropy is not. Meaning is not.
I find that very hard to get my head around. Why should that be? For that matter, why should it be that energy and information are conserved?
Perhaps it is because those conserved elements of reality were never created and can’t be destroyed, no beginning no end, so how can they fundamentally change?
Meaning is dualistic. It is not conserved. It is contingent on context.
Perhaps the universe at its core IS information. Some physicists think so. Every aspect of the universe that is, well, an aspect, is an aspect because it could have been otherwise (not necessarily just any old otherwise, perhaps a specific set of otherwise consistent with the laws of string theory, quantum field theory, whatever). Otherwise it isn’t an aspect.
0 and 1. Yin and Yang. Duality. That is what physics studies, after all. That is the core of our experienced universe of the senses.
Remember: information is not meaning, It is not essence, noumena. It is phenomena. It is occurrence.
Information is the dreams stuff is made of.
Meaning is determined by sentience. Consciousness. Is there silicon sentience? If so, that robot will know mirth. And why not? Why should we be carbon chauvinists? Perhaps the very quantum fields can coalesce in many ways to find mirth.
When communications scientists developed the idea of information, it was to quantify the fidelity of communications. Does a phone message get through ungarbled? Not whether the speaker or her message was coherent. Do the 0’s and 1’s that make up your e mail message stay the same, or are some lost in the “tubes” of the internet? It doesn’t matter if the email is LOL or a consonent-vowel-consonent randomly generated, whether or not it has linguistic or human intellectual or emotional meaning, if at each slice of time and space there was an either/or, a 1/0, there was information.
I will elaborate later. But I don’t know that I will get past the following no matter how hard I try:
Everything that happens according to scientists does not change the total information in the universe (though you can rob Peter to pay Paul energy/information, more here less there. Shuffle it around. That takes energy if we are talking about information). Information cannot be irretrievably lost.
This relates to symmetry (lack of change in some element of a system even if something somewhere else changes)
This relates to energy.
This relates to thermodynamics: what is likely to happen, and the role of entropy.
There is relationship between entropy and ignorance (another post; this is one of the technical definitions of entropy: how we can know the state of the components of a system) but as implied here, there is a connection between a type of contingent sense of meaning, meaning as we ascribe it to the stuff of daily life, meaning as motivation in our world of the senses, of our karmic experience, that is also part of entropy.
There is an Akashic record. Information in the universe is never totally lost. If you could lose information, modern physics collapses. Ask Dr. Susskind (or read his book!). This akashic record is not about some mystical new age vision of some grey haired old guy writing in a large parchment book with a quill pen somewhere or Santa Clause remembering if you were naughty or nice. In theory you could piece back all of the energy and information transitions and reclaim the original. Sure it may take time and energy without beginning and without end, so our technology may not be up to it.
Perhaps this “akashic record” is the manifest mind of the universe. It doesn’t have to track information back, put it back togeher. Perhaps it is the process, the functioning. It is not dualistic. It isn’t stuck in meaning in things like “LOL.” Maybe that is our dualistic perspective.
The process of oneness, of unfolding, of compassion, that is the flavor I suspect of this akashic record.
It is kind of fundamental and I find it kind of interesting!