Is it Possible That Everything is Made of Information?
“The duality of simulation and physical reality is an illusion like all dualities- the universe is the computation”
It’s simulation that is an illusion. The duality is between information (abstract representation) and performance (aesthetic presentation). Computation is the distance between the two, not the unity. Only awareness can project a representation – representations themselves are inert. To quote a friend, “Math/ physics is ‘the map’ and Awareness per se is the ‘territory’.
Information does not account for the aesthetic qualities of sensation, feeling, and direct participation which comprise the universe. Because of the great success of the instrument of our era, the computer, many find it irresistible to use the metaphor of information processing to describe the brain, genetics, or physics itself. This is in keeping with the historical trend of describing the universe in terms of the newest and most sophisticated technology. In the industrial era, the universe was considered by many to be a machine, before that a clock, etc.
In my view, this is also a reaction against the anthropomorphic tendencies of religion. Many who view deity concepts as backward and superstitious are subconsciously compelled to the opposite polarity. If the universe is not teleological and divine, then it must be mechanical and generic. If the image of a conscious creator is absurdly naive, then the image of an unconscious process of calculation must be the height of sophistication.
The idea of information as universal is not without appeal. Certainly it provides enormous, even Godlike flexibility, so that no matter what phenomena we find in the universe, from gravitational lensing to the feeling of dizziness, “information” serves as the machina ex deus to religion’s deus ex machina. We have substituted sophisticated unrealism for naive realism, turning our own consciousness into an algebraic ‘simulation’ – a function in which sensory representations ’emerge’ as properties of the computations they represent.
In my view, this does not quite work. Like religion, information-theoretic views have an inherent confirmation bias. When it comes to understanding consciousness itself, experiments which are based on measurement alone cannot be trusted to reveal the true nature of measurement itself. Measurement is analogy and metaphor. It can only account for the relation of one phenomena against the index of another, it cannot access the phenomena itself. All conceptualization of forms and functions automatically frame the context so that the appreciation/apprehension of those forms and participation in those functions is overlooked or taken for granted. For this reason, most who favor an info-centric view see information as including consciousness, but this is, in my estimation, a category error. It would be like confusing the code for a program with the electric or motive force that runs a computing machine. They are not merely different, they are diametrically opposed.
A lot of people take offense to Searle’s Chinese Room and project their own lack of understanding onto others, even vilifying Searle himself. Likewise, the Hard Problem of Consciousness written about by David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel are harshly treated for daring to set the qualities of awareness apart from the functions that we associate with it. An array of doctrines, from Logical Positivism to Functionalism, to Determinism, Structured Realism, Computationalism and Eliminativism share a deep and abiding intolerance for any thought which departs from the absolute belief in the disbelief of authentic subjectivity or direct perception. By committing to this ‘representation without presentation’, we make the mistake of amputating no less than half of the universe.
Here are three examples of what I mean. The information of a deck of cards is very easy to compute. Each card gets a number, each suit becomes one of four categories, also numbered with binary codes. You can now play any card game that you care to play. If you want them to look like cards, however, with red and black shapes and royal portraits, that is a much different trick to pull off. You need to invent a video screen, and eyes, colors and shapes, you need to invent human history to give meaning to the prestige of royal rankings. The players themselves need to be conjured into being to supply the intention to win, the significance of competition and improvement. These are things which cannot be simulated from the outside in. Mathematical functions don’t “want” to do anything, and projecting that want onto them selectively is no more scientific than any metaphysical doctrine of religion.
The second example involves computer passwords. Many people have found that using a keyboard-based password is more secure than using a memorized string of text. Knowing were to put your fingers and where to move them allows you to have a very cryptic password without having to know what the characters actually are. This was what Searle was getting at with the Chinese Room. Mechanical copying is not the same thing as understanding. Consciousness has many different levels, and the syntactic-informational level is only one of them. Because that computational level is the most public-facing and generic level, it is also the most universal. The Church-Turing thesis has codified that universality, saying that all computable functions can be digitally emulated. But digital is still not analog, and analog is still representation, not presentation. No matter how much computing we do, programs are no more able to understand the significance of what they are doing than an abacus. They still might have no genuine private experience.
The third example does not even involve consciousness, but aesthetics. As you know, a computer renders geometric shapes on a screen bit by bit. Even vector based graphics rely on a point to point simulation of geometry. When we resize a circle in Photoshop, the circle is erased and recreated as a new circle. All motion is inferred by manipulation of adjacent bits being turned on and off like a marquee effect or cells of a cartoon. The universe of information is one of Cartesian coordinates – charts or cards which display a static reference through which dynamism and animation can be inferred by the conscious viewer. To the computer itself, there is no memory, no perceptual caching of fluid motion. Unlike our perceptions of the real world, virtual realities must be constantly projected and are not grounded in the history of experience and physics. Information is more like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. The only difference is that now we have decided that the shadows must be all there are.
(from Quora question)