Erik Larson

Oct 24, 2013

Musings on The Information

The master distiller of science, James Gleick, gets me to thinking (not necessarily in the direction he might intend).

Musing #1:

It’s not really computation simpliciter, but rather information that’s got the modern mind engaged and captivated and maybe captured . Information’s the more fundamental notion. The problem for the physicalist is that “information” requires big doses of mentalese—mind concepts, if not mind-stuff—to get off the ground. You need decoding into meaning and purpose and specification. You have highly abstract notions suddenly popping out of their material substrate—“genes” are suddenly Platonic notions and so on. All of this to get an abstraction up out of the brute matter—to get information that is. Ask me, it’s all mind. Or mind-related. Or mind something.

So it’s a little silly to work with a naive materialism these days. I’ve long suspected the knee-jerk disrespect to postulating purpose in nature (or, better, observers, or minds) is a non-rational fear that we’re sure to collapse back into something pre-scientific unless we maintain a death grip on materialism. “Materialism is almost certainly false.” This is a true statement. Scientific investigation (I’m tempted to say “if one looks closely”, but really it’s not that subtle) appears to me to be pointing away—walking away, you might say—from brute materialism, even as, in a kind of misguided romantic confusion, it thinks it’s completing it. The world is getting larger; we’re not completing something smaller.

And this is all I’m saying. What follows?