Computation and Information
When we think about information, we generally are referring to computable data – to states of physical substances or objects which can be detected as physical consequences or can be controlled with sequences of physical actions.
There is nothing mystical about this. A mailbox which has its flag up serves to signal the mail carrier to pick up outgoing mail. The physical position of the flag is not generating any subjectivity, and it doesn’t inform anyone of anything except for the mail carrier or other people who notice. There is nothing which is informative about the flag which is not wholly dependent upon sensing and sense-making, neither of which can be defined in terms of objective forms or logical functions. In both physics and information science, the capacity to detect and interpret is overlooked entirely, and taken for granted – thus burying the hard problem under the carpet.
In my view, matter and energy are the publicly reflected tokens* of sense and motive respectively. As human experiences, we are a complicated thing to try to use as an example – like trying to learn arithmetic by starting with an enormous differential equation. When we look at a brain, we are using the eyes of a simian body. That’s what the experience of a person looks like when it is stepped all the way down from human experience, to animal experience, to cellular experience, to molecular experience, and all the way back up to the animal experience level. Plus we are seeing it from the wrong angle. If I’m right, experience is a measure of time, not space, so looking at the body associated with an experience that lasts 80 or 100 years from a sampling rate of a few milliseconds would be a radically truncated view, even if we were looking at it in its native, subjective form. Every moment we are alive, we are surfing on a wave that has been growing since our birth – growing not just in synch with clock time, but changing in response to the significance of the experiences in which we participate directly. This is what I mean by sense. A concretely real accumulation of experience, a single wave in constant modulation as the local surface of an arbitrarily deep ocean.
Information is not sense, and neither is it matter or energy. Information is the shadow of all of these, of their relation to each other, which is cast by sense. Information is like sense as far as it being neither substantial nor insubstantial, but it is the opposite of sense also. Matter, energy, and information are all opposite to each other and opposite to sense. They are the projections of sense. If you break down the word information into three bites, the “in” would be sensory input, the ‘form’ would be ‘matter-space’ and the ‘ation’ would be ‘energy-time’. When most people think about information though, they undersignify the input/output aspect, the “in”, – which is sense, and conflate consciousness with senseless formations. Formations with no participating perceiver are non-sense and no-thing.
The difference between sense and information is that sense is anchored tangibly in the totality of events in all of history. It is the meta-firmament; the Absolute, and it potentially makes sense of itself in every sense modality. Information only makes sense from one particular angle or method of interpretation. It is a facade. As soon as information is removed from its context, its ungrounded, superficial nature is exposed. Information so removed does not react or adapt to make itself understood – it is sterile and evacuated of feeling or being. It is purely a feeling being’s idea of doing or knowing and does not exist independently of its ‘host’. Because of this it is tempting to conceptualize information as self-directing memes, but that would only be true figuratively. In an absolute sense, memes are a figure-ground inversion, i.e it puts the cart before the horse and sucks us into strong computationalism and the Pathetic fallacy. From what I can see, information has no autonomy, no motive. It is an inert recording of past motives and sensations.
Previously, I have written about computation, numbers, mathematics as being the flattest category of qualia. Flattest in the sense of being almost purely an tool for knowing or doing that has to borrow rely on being output in some aesthetic form to yield any feeling or ‘being’.
Computation can be represented publicly through material things like positions of beads on an abacus, the turns of mechanical gears, the magnetic dispositions of microelectronic switches, the opening and closing of valves in a plumbing system, the timing and placement of traffic signals on a street grid, etc. All of these bodies rely on the ability to detect or sense each others passive states and to respond to them in some motor effect. It makes no difference how it is represented, because the function will be the same. This is precisely the opposite of consciousness, in which rich aesthetic details provide the motivation and significance. Evolutionary functions are never nakedly revealed as a-signifying generic processes. For humans, food and sex are profoundly aesthetic, social engagements, not just automatic functions.
Computation can also be represented publicly through symbols. One step removed from literally embodied aesthetics, computation can be transferred figuratively between a person’s thoughts and written symbols through the sensory-motor medium of mathematical literacy. We can imagine that there is a similar ferrying of meaning between the mathematician’s thoughts and some non-local source of arithmetic truth. Arithmetic truth seems to us certain, rational, internally consistent, universal but it is also impersonal. Arithmetic laws cannot be made proprietary or changed. They are eternal and unchanging. We can only borrow local copies of numbers for temporary use, but they cannot be touched or controlled. They represent disembodied knowledge, but no doing, no being, and no feeling.
In the first sense, mathematics is represented by mechanical positions of public bodies, and therefore almost completely ‘flat’ qualitatively. Binary interactions of go/on-stop/off have no sense to them other than loops and recursive enumeration. In the second sense, a written mathematical language adds more qualia, clothing the naked digital states in conceptual symbols. The language of mathematics allows the thinker to bridge the gap between public doing of machines and private knowing of arithmetic truth.
Although strong computationalists will disagree, it seems to me that a deeper understanding reveals of computation reveals that arithmetic truth itself requires an even deeper set of axioms which are pre-arithmetic. The third sense of mathematics is the first sense we encounter. Before there is mathematical literacy, there is counting. Counting to three gives way to counting on fingers (digits), as we learn the essential skills of mental focus required. As we learn more about odd and even numbers, addition and subtraction, the aesthetics of symmetry and succession are not so much introduced into the psyche as foreign concepts, but are recovered by the psyche as natural, familiar expectations. Math, like music, is felt. Before we can use it to help us know essential truths or to cause existential effects, we have to be able to participate in counting and the solving of problems in our mind. When we do these kinds of problems, our awareness must be very focused. We are accessing an impersonal level of truth. Our human bodies and lives are distractions. Machines and computers have always been conspicuously lacking in what people refer to as ‘soul’, or ‘warmth’, feeling, empathy, personality, etc. This is consistent with the view of computation that I am trying to explain. Whatever warmth or personality it can carry must originate in a being – an experience which is anchored in the aesthetic presentation of sense rather than the infinite representation of information.
*or orthomodular inversions to be more precise