Is information a noun, or a verb?
Can information sit in a computer’s hard disc?
Or do we need to be clearer that data sits in a hard disc as static patterns of digits, while life goes on around it?
This post, like the chicken-egg conundrum, challenges a misleading feature of information theory. It is worth writing about, because it may bring some mutual understanding with scientists as societies move into the ‘information age’.
Data sits on a hard disc or in a solid-state memory as potential patterns that only inform life when their patterned ‘forms’ (like hens’ eggs) connect into a responsive system (like eggs breaking out as chicks). The pattern of data (the form) then relationally transforms the system… just as chicks transform the life of the farmyard. That process makes in-form-ation a verb. The egg itself does not ‘hold information’ (a noun).
Even the developing chick’s DNA does not ‘hold information’ in the old-fashioned view of genetics – as a blueprint for a body form. The DNA codes for a pattern of chemical responsiveness to whatever environment it relationally finds itself in, transforming the environment into a living, moving, recognisable life form. DNA is a history of relational responsiveness in chemistry that has resulted in relational mating of life forms for reproduction in any given environment.
Data on a disc or in a solid-state matrix only informs life when it is searched informationally. A mobile phone held in the hand of its watchful and searching owner may not promote survival if that researcher steps unthinkingly into a road. Likewise for chicks. Information is a relevant process only in defined relational contexts. The human being reading a mobile phone is not a ‘closed system of information’. It is an open system of life that includes cars with independently-minded owners, who might be equally distracted. The unexpected can happen.
Information in a quantum world is movement. Constant movement transforms life. It cannot just sit on a disc. Bits, megabits, megabytes, terabytes – it’s about transfer speeds and searching, not about ‘it’ sitting there.
The same is true of humanity. It’s about responsiveness in relationships, not about what knowledge I’ve accumulated. Books in a library do not contain information. They are books. They only provide information when the reader connects with the author through searching them. Hopefully, this blog achieves the same. Do respond if you would like.