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Thread: Does science specifically define "information" and "machine"?

  1. #1
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    Does science specifically define "information" and "machine"?

    ... differently from their everyday usage? (Physics, for example, has precise definitions of "work", "power" and "weight" distinct from casual use.)

    As you will guess, I am prompted by ID proponents who see information and machines as necessitating programmers and designers. "Information", particularly, is emphasised. Is the code in DNA distinct from the info derived from our senses? Is a star a valid example of a machine?

    The standard riposte to the engineering-designed life comparison would be that human constructions cannot self-replicate. I cannot think of an answer to the comparison between seeing design in a cell and an archaeologist seeing design in a sharp flint.

    The above is background: can "information" and "machine" be defined so as to not imply design?

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    Well, there is "information theory" (or information science)--but it doesn't so much define information as study its properties. It's meaning is not all that different from everyday usage, other than being more precise--the total amount of information in some entity (book, whatever) is defined to be the smallest number of bits (you can use other units, like bytes, decimal digits, or "nats"--base e) from which one could reconstruct the whole without loss. So, if you have a megabyte file, run gzip on it, and it is down to 300 kilobytes, that shows you that it had no more than 300 * 1024 * 8 bits of information in it (and maybe less, since gzip is not necessarily all the compression that can be done).

    There are some sticky points--e.g. it is assumed you have "gunzip" available to expand it back. Also, the content of a book--you need to specify--the text only, or the pages, material it's made of, placement of each molecule, etc. It's all information in some sense, we just care about some of it more than the rest.

    Claude Shannon invented information theory in one paper he published in 1958 (and tons of doctoral theses, including mine, were enabled by it). He called the information content "entropy" since the equations modeling it looked a lot like entropy equations in physics. That is apparently not a coincidence--as the entropy of a system tells you the theoretical maximum amount of data that might be encoded in the system (up to a constant factor, since entropy in physics is not measured in bits, but in something more physical based on metric system units).

    Incidentally, entropy always increases--so does information (every quantum state collapse could be considered the creation of new information). Hawking noted you can't really destroy information anymore than you can reduce the entropy of a closed system (without pumping energy from a low-entropy source into the system, but then it wouldn't be closed anymore). So, in theory, you can turn a scrambled egg back into something that hatches a chicken. In practice, ain't gonna happen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndrewJ View Post
    The above is background: can "information" and "machine" be defined so as to not imply design?
    Can they. Sure.

    Are they? I think I've seen them so.

    Are they only used to imply design? No.
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    Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. --Carl Sagan

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    'Science' is a broad concept and it's not possible to paint all disciplines with the same brush. Each discipline uses it's own accepted nomenclature and is understood by one's peers in that group. In geology we can use a word like 'force' quite loosely when describing an event whereas in physics the word 'force' is quite precise in definition.

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    Throwing this out here as well...

    Information in our universe obeys the same laws as light with respect to how fast it can propagate, i.e., information cannot be communicated faster than c. Also, there is information beyond our particle horizon, and thus will never be known to us (For example, there could be a part of the universe 10 trillion light years away, receding from us at 1000*c, and we will never be able to know anything about it nor communicate with it.)

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    Will it really help to find a scientist's peculiar definition of machine and information not implying a designer?

    The people you are challenging are using common definitions to their liking, that support their cause, and you intend to use some specialized jargon to sway them? Can that be fruitful?
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    Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. --Carl Sagan

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    Another caveat on information theory: There are a few different (but often related) kinds of information that are studied in information theory. The Wikipedia page on the subject, for example, lists seven. There are also two major branches of information theory, the classical and the algorithmic. The definitions used by each do not necessarily overlap, or even fit together in any meaningful way.

    The most articulate presentation of the Creationist version of information that I've heard of is given by William Dembski. He proposes an idea called "complex specified information". Without going too far into the details (which I barely comprehend myself) this doesn't precisely correspond to any one of the standard definitions of information. Instead, it's a conflation of two different definitions, one classical and one algorithmic, which don't seem to fit together at first glance.

    He then goes on to claim several properties for CSI, but to the best of my knowledge he has never proven that they are true. He just jumps to the conclusion that they are for no apparent reason, which would be a sin in any science but is particularly egregious in mathematics. The biggest of these is that he claims that a signal with a greater descriptive complexity has a lower likelihood of appearing in nature, which is a hard pill to swallow because the definition of descriptive complexity doesn't really have anything to do with probabilities.

    (Descriptive complexity is defined as the minimum size of a program, written in some Turing-complete machine language, that will produce the signal. For a rough illustration of how this does not correspond to probability, consider a string of random bits. A string like 11111111111111111111111111111111 has a very low descriptive complexity, essentially because we just need to write "thirty-two 1s". A string like 11110111101111101111001111111011, because we would need to write something more like "four 1s, a 0, four 1s, a 0, five 1s, a 0, four 1s, two 0s, seven 1s, a 0, two 1s." The lengths of the two descriptions are very different: thirteen and eighty characters, respectively. However, the probability of exactly reproducing either sequence by flipping a coin 32 times is the same: 1/4,294,967,296.)

    Another hit against CSI is that it is not rigorously defined. This makes it impossible to properly identify its mathematical properties - we must either make them up out of thin air as Dembski seems to have, or we must say that it has no mathematical properties because it is not properly defined in any mathematically-meaningful sense. Nor is it possible to quantify CSI, so we cannot properly determine whether it really is true that there is more CSI in the genome of some species of yeast then there is in the genome of a house cat.

    Or, to put it short, creationist claims about evolution and information theory don't seem to amount to anything more than technobabble.

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    Ah the IDiots out there. Even when shown the overwhelming evidence of their faulty logic they refuse to see.

    For any that care I suggest reading the court transcripts to the Dover trial. If you don't want to read that much go find the Nova special
    NOVA | Intelligent Design on Trial | PBS

    or go here to read just one spot where a Micheal Behe ignores evidence and pretty much literally waves a stack of papers and books that describe how the immune system evolved while trying to twist words and definitions.

    ID proponents are only in a public relation field. They twist definitions to suit their need and will often use 2 different definitions of a word in the same conversation to make their statements sound credible. In one breath they'll ask for scientists to provide a step by step process on how something is done but when asked to do do the same for their ideas they evade and even say it is not their responsibility.

    The worst thing is the heads of this movement fully understand what science is about but because there are some theological implications of sciences they would rather reject science and even distort what science says to the masses then actually be honest. Lying for Jesus is the tool of their trade.

    Thankfully we have many great people on the side of science both religious and not. We also have truth and integrity on our side.

    So even if you find a good scientific definition of these words you'll find some honest scientist use them in an analogy in with slightly different meaning and the IDers will cling onto this. But feel free to call them on their quote mining when ever they do it.

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    Thanks for all your input. A question to address:

    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    The people you are challenging are using common definitions to their liking, that support their cause, and you intend to use some specialized jargon to sway them? Can that be fruitful?
    I'm not in a position to sway anyone particularly not the ID lobby who, as WayneFrancis remarks, are a PR campaign, an effective one. Moreover, I suspect they debate without expecting to win, just to sow the appearance of doubt and controversy. The forum of a breathless five minute satellite debate on Fox suits them well.

    It is worth considering meaning if it is fundamental to a debate. Tdvance makes the point that info is not a metaphysical concept but a function of the level of entropy in a system and robross points out that its propagation is limited by c. It is interesting that the key ID concept of (descriptive) "complexity" is defined (nauthiz).

    I have never seen a book by Dembski, his reviews suggest he uses Maths as a smokescreen for a God-of the-gaps argument. My local Chapters had a copy of "Icons of Evolution" by Jonathan Wells. These guys might not sell copies like Dawkins but I suspect their work gets lent around a lot.

    Raptorthang: the distinction between apparent forces and fundamental forces is clear in physics. Are not the apparent forces in geology still suggesting f=ma? I agree that definitions are crucial because...

    Quote Originally Posted by 01101001 View Post
    Will it really help to find a scientist's peculiar definition of machine and information not implying a designer?
    Jargon would only confuse but a considered opinion might help to get to the heart of the matter. On closer inspection the IDers are using information as "coded information independent of the medium" such as a language. That DNA is a language or independent of its medium is refuted here: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB180.html. I have encountered the ID fallback position that DNA is the only "natural" coded information and that bee dances and whale songs are built upon it.

    This - http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI131.html - answers the notion of machines as evidence of design. I still can't think of an answer to comparing the legitimacy of seeing design in a cell and an archaeologist seeing design in a sharp flint.

  10. #10
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    I miss talkorigins

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    Quote Originally Posted by WayneFrancis View Post
    I miss talkorigins
    Quote Originally Posted by nauthiz View Post
    You might also like - http://www.freeratio.org/ - a secularist site with some quite knowledgable origins-debaters. They seem to be permanently at war with these folk: http://www.evolutionfairytale.com/.

    The responses from tdvance and nauthiz were the kind of perspectives I was hoping for. I am reading up on the link between information and entropy in the quantum context. I guess that if you can eradicate the implication of artificiality in “information” at the physical level it will melt away at the chemical and biological levels. If I find a simple explanation I will post it in this thread.

    If folks are thinking this is all a bit abstruse, here is news of a recent ID victory in education from the BA blog: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/ba...000-years-old/. Texas has two of the ten largest cities in North America and would be the 15th richest country (by GDP, 2005) if it were independent.
    Last edited by AndrewJ; 2009-May-09 at 01:32 AM. Reason: cannot spell!

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndrewJ View Post
    ... differently from their everyday usage? (Physics, for example, has precise definitions of "work", "power" and "weight" distinct from casual use.)

    As you will guess, I am prompted by ID proponents who see information and machines as necessitating programmers and designers. "Information", particularly, is emphasised. Is the code in DNA distinct from the info derived from our senses? Is a star a valid example of a machine?

    The standard riposte to the engineering-designed life comparison would be that human constructions cannot self-replicate. I cannot think of an answer to the comparison between seeing design in a cell and an archaeologist seeing design in a sharp flint.

    The above is background: can "information" and "machine" be defined so as to not imply design?
    The best counter I've yet come up with in support of self-assimilation involves the use of two elongated ovals of hemitite I carry around with me. No matter how you arrange them, when they get anywhere near one another, they always self-assemble in precisely the same way - N-S lying next to S-N.

    I then explain that electron orbitals are similarly arranged by natures laws, which allow chemicals to combine with some chemicals, but not others. The same goes at successively higher stages until DNA, which is a conceptionally simple molecule of just four nucleotides, fairly simple chemical compounds which are found throughout all life, which are at the upper end of a few short chemical processes, and which themselves will self-assemble in DNA chains of various lengths when brought into proximity with one another.

    Where it gets complex is explaining how they assemble this way, as opposed to that way, based on instructions in the genes, as the first question that pops out is, "Then who programmed the genes.?"

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    Quote Originally Posted by mugaliens View Post
    The best counter I've yet come up with in support of self-assimilation involves the use of two elongated ovals of hemitite I carry around with me. No matter how you arrange them, when they get anywhere near one another, they always self-assemble in precisely the same way - N-S lying next to S-N.

    I then explain that electron orbitals are similarly arranged by natures laws, which allow chemicals to combine with some chemicals, but not others. The same goes at successively higher stages until DNA, which is a conceptionally simple molecule of just four nucleotides, fairly simple chemical compounds which are found throughout all life, which are at the upper end of a few short chemical processes, and which themselves will self-assemble in DNA chains of various lengths when brought into proximity with one another.
    Sounds like you're on a similar wavelength to me, Mugaliens. I always find a phenomenon most plausible if it can be described from first principles (i.e. physics) upwards. A.DIM linked an interesting article on the contribution of physics and thermodynamics to abiogenesis on the Life in Space forum. Only a couple of us commented on the article but it deserves to be discussed - I tried to link the article but it didn't work, A.DIM's link still does: http://www.bautforum.com/life-space/...electrons.html

    It's worth considering that gravity, friction (EM) and energetic emissions caused by the Weak Interaction all have the effect of either bringing matter together and/or mixing it up. The Color Force is kind of limited to the nucleus so is the only fundamental force that I cannot imagine has any residual effect making life any more probable.

    Explaining life from the level of physics sounds like a good idea for a book. I might email Richard Dawkins suggesting it. My message might be a change from all the hate-mails and sycophancy he gets.

    Quote Originally Posted by mugaliens View Post
    Where it gets complex is explaining how they assemble this way, as opposed to that way, based on instructions in the genes, as the first question that pops out is, "Then who programmed the genes.?"
    Well, a retort to the Dembski life-is-too-complex-to-be-naturally-probable line would be that any combination is as likely as any other of the same length. Complexity does not equate to improbability. Would be interested to read if anyone disputes this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nauthiz View Post
    I know the news group is...its the web site that I miss updates to. Mostly their monthly feedback. Was a game to try to spot the real creationist from the fake ones just sending in a feed back for laughs.

    I'm a big Pandas Thumb reader these days.

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    The Probability of Artificiality: a Revolution in Creation Science!

    OK, so "complexity", "machine" and "information" have all proved duds at implying the necessity of design. I have been reduced to coining my own ID buzzphrase - "the probability of artificiality". (It was suggested by the IDers habit of comparing the search for design in biology to seeking design in paleological finds or SETI.)

    A paleontologist could find a flint or arrowhead shape that might have conceivably been shaped by natural causes, but, in the context of bones found nearby, s/he concludes it is artificial (hominid manufactured). Similarly, a biologist may believe multicellular life could have evolved but instead infers design in the context of possible supernatural entities that cannot, by definition, be falsified by the natural sciences: I know that such a metaphysical leap-of-faith would not constitute science.

    Just a thought experiment (not ATM, I don't actually believe my own theory).

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