Saturday, June 30, 2007

Is Encoded Information an Essential Part of the Universe?

In a previous blog entitled "All Things", I discussed how the universe is made of the four essentials:

matter — energy — space — time

-- and how, according to the laws of physics, as best we know them, none of these can exist without the others. Now I would like to extend the discussion by talking about information.

Information is made of none of these. Information can be represented, or encoded, by arrangements of matter (ink on paper, magnetic patterns in a disk, etc.) that lie motionless in space, unchanging in time. Or information can be encoded by patterns of energy (sound, radio waves, etc.) that move through space, changing in time. Matter and energy are only containers and vehicles to store and transmit information within space-time.

When you write your thoughts in your diary, the ink and paper do not make your thoughts; they simply 'record' them: that is, they hold what you have recorded. When you record an experience, the information comes from external sources, but is filtered by your perceptions. When you record a question that you wish to have answered, or record an ambition for the future, the source of the information is more internal, originating from who you are.

Scientists have discovered much about the laws of physics that mathematically describe the behavior of matter, energy, space, and time, although there are a few things they are still hoping to discover. And in modern times, scientists have discovered laws that govern the storage and transmission of information, the application of which has revolutionized our present "information age" of computers and communication devices. So it seems that we should add information to the list of essentials that the universe is made of:

matter — energy — space — time -- information

Or should we? Recall that we argued that matter, energy, space, and time belonged together because there are "inexorably, inextricably joined". We said that "energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable" and that "time and space are different sides of the same fabric" and that matter and energy were like "wrinkles or knots in the fabric of space-time". That is, the laws of physics that we observe does not allow for an empty space-time that is not filled with matter, and that does not have energy. But do these same laws of physics allow for a universe of matter, energy, space, and time that has no information?

To be clear, the information that we are discussing is encoded information, not physical information. For example, if you print this web page, you will get a piece of paper with a certain pattern of ink on it. You can measure the height, width, thickness, and weight of the paper and get physical information about the paper. Someone that does not know English can count the words and letters, and measure the height of the letters, getting more physical information. But only by reading and understanding the English can they get the encoded information that was encoded one way in the computer, then encoded another way on the paper.

We can splatter some ink on the paper, also producing a pattern of ink on it. But there will only be physical information but no encoded information.

You may have heard stories of a crime scene where a pattern of splattered blood is analyzed by a forensic scientist, who tries to determine something about the events that caused the blood to splatter. His analysis relies on the laws of physics that govern how drops travel through the air, adhere to a surface, or bounce, skid, roll, or run on the surface, or how larger drops can break into smaller ones.

In the case of the printed page, the laws of physics can only explain the general process by which the printer works, but cannot explain the particular pattern that encodes a particular message. The science of information can explain how the pattern of keystrokes on my keyboard was encoded into bit patterns entering my computer, stored there, sent to a web server computer, and ultimately sent to your computer and then to your printer. But it can't explain what happened in my head to make my fingers do what they did to the keyboard.

Now that we have clarified the difference between encoded information and physical information, we can state (and answer) our question more clearly:

Do these same laws of physics allow for a universe of matter, energy, space, and time that has no encoded information? The answer is YES!

There is no physical law that requires encoded information to exist. And what do we observe? We observe encoded information only where there is life, and there is no physical law that requires life to exist. The universe can be full of stars and inert, lifeless planets such as we have observed elsewhere, and no physical laws would be broken.

Where there is life, we observe encoded information. First, we see animals (as well as people) communicating. Birds will make one sound that means "This territory is mine! Stay out!" And another sound that means "Watch out! Danger is close." For example, chickadees have a song that sounds like "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee!" Ornithologists have discovered that the number of dee's is an indication of the perceived danger level. Honeybees perform a dance on the honeycomb that reports to other bees the direction and distance from the hive to a source of nectar. Many animals use pheremones (specialized scents) to convey information to one another. Even plants use chemical communication.

This information is encoded, because there is a fundamental difference between the action of chasing another bird out of the claimed territory and a message that threatens this action in the future when needed. There is a fundamental difference between fleeing from danger or ducking out of sight, and warning another bird that one of those actions may be necessary.

We also observe encoded information in the communication of one part of a living body to another part of the same body. An obvious example is the communication within the nervous system.

There is also encoded information in the DNA and RNA of living things. This is stored information, which is communicated in three ways: (1) the construction of proteins, etc. -- ultimately, the body -- from the 'stored blueprints' of the DNA repository, (2) the replication of the information into new cells, and (3) the replication of the information (generally combining with another DNA source) to produce progeny.

There is an interesting parallel between the operation of data within a computer and the operation of DNA information within the 'hardware' of a living organism. But that is too much to explain here -- this is the subject of later blogs:
"The Digital Control of Life"
"The First Digitally-Controlled Designs".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fairness Doctrine?   Who are They Kidding?

If you recognize that the so-called ‘Fairness’ Doctrine isn’t fair, then you don’t need to read this. But if you think the ‘Fairness’ Doctrine is fair, then you need a lesson in logic -- read on if you are open-minded.

Basically, the ‘Fairness’ Doctrine seeks to enforce equal time for conservative and liberal views on American radio stations. But why do that and not also enforce equal time on cable and broadcast TV, equal print space in newspapers, etc.? If we really need to enforce an equal voice for conservative and liberal views, it would be ‘fair’ to do it equally for all outlets. But the liberals don’t want that, because then they would lose their advantage in the TV and newspaper outlets. Is a 'fairness' only in an area that gives an advantage to the liberals fair?

Some of the misunderstanding of the ‘Fairness’ Doctrine relates to a common misunderstanding of the freedom of speech. The free communication of ideas involves listening as well as speaking, and thus involves the freedom of listening (or not listening) to any one, as well as the freedom of speaking. For an example, even though people are free to say stupid things, the rest of us are free not to listen to stupid speeches. The natural result, fortunately, is that stupid people don’t get equal time. You can substitute other words such as ‘ranting’ instead of ‘stupid’, and the logic works the same. In an unregulated media that is funded by advertising, advertisers pay for listeners, so programs with few listeners will fail financially. The speakers on these failing programs may not be stupid or ranting, but something is causing potential listeners to tune out, which is freedom at work.

Another part of the issue is: why should conservative and liberal views get equal time? Why not conservative, centrist, and liberal getting equal thirds? Why not far right, right, centrist, left, and far left? Why not Democrat and Republican? Why not pro-life and pro-choice? Pro-amnesty and anti-amnesty? Who should decide the categories? Just to be sure we are really fair, shouldn’t we include all categories, including cat-lovers and dog-lovers? (For a bonus, all the government regulators needed to make this system work will reduce the jobless rate.) Imagine all the paperwork -- does that sound like freedom of speech to you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Dreamed I Met My Guardian Angel

I had a dream that I arrived in heaven and was escorted to my new living quarters -- my "mansion". I was introduced to my guardian angel, who explained to me that he would now be my personal servant -- valet, housekeeper, etc.

All kinds of questions began to flood my mind. "Does this mean that my house will get dirty and need cleaning?" I asked.

"No, there is never any dirt or dust in the houses; only dirt in the gardens where the flowers grow", he explained. "But you might, for example, not return books to their proper places in your library. I will make sure that the books are filed correctly, and will help you find books in your library."

"Wow! My house is furnished with a library!" I thought, hoping that he didn't notice the big grin that broke out across my face.

"The same goes for keeping your personal wardrobe in order", he continued.

"We don't all wear white robes?" I asked.

"Only on special occasions", he replied. "God loves variety, so He not only has made individual human bodies different -- both before and after resurrection -- but He also allows people to wear a variety of clothing colors and styles."

"Since you were my guardian angel," I began, changing the subject, "you must recall times in my life when.."

"When you nearly got into trouble", he said, laughing. "Yes, I have lots of stories about your life on earth. And I also have lots of questions. I don't understand about forgiveness and grace, for example. We angels -- I mean, the ones that sinned -- didn't get forgiveness. But we will have lots of time to talk."

I looked into his friendly face, and somehow I sensed a child-like innocence. Even a pet-dog innocence, I thought, though more intelligent and conversant than a dog. My heart suddenly discovered a love for this wonderful creature that God had created before I was born. And I began to realize that through my salvation and sanctification experience, God had taught me lessons about things that baffled this angel.

Impulsively, I reached out and hugged him, and told him that I loved him. He reacted with great surprise, even shock, it seemed.

"You love me?"

"Yes, God loves you, and He has given me a love for you, and has given me to you even as He has given you to me, so that He can love you through me." As I spoke these words, I realized that God had given them to me through His Spirit.

"Show me the library" I asked. He led me down a hallway, but before we got to the library, I passed another room that caught my attention. "What's this?" I asked.

"That's the music room." As we walked in, I could see many kinds of musical instruments arranged neatly on one side of the room.

"But I don't play any musical instruments."

"You didn't." He corrected my tense. "But you will. Haven't you always wished you could play a musical instrument?"

I picked up a stringed instrument, quite unlike anything I had ever seen before, yet it seemed simple in design. I plucked the strings, and found that I could remember the tone of each string. My angel friend started singing a song of praise that somehow seemed both new and familiar. A harmony for his song began to form in my mind, and I began to pluck the strings, discovering that my fingers were finding the strings that matched the notes in my head. "This is amazing!" I exclaimed, interrupting the song. "I really can play this thing!"

"You are surprised?" He laughed with joy at my obvious delight. "Who taught the birds to sing? And who taught the birds to fly?"

"You are so right. I remember that when I first got my resurrection body that I just started flying up towards Jesus, and it seemed as natural as walking."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Literary Meme"

A friend passed on this concept that was titled "Literary Meme", which she got from This is how it works:

1. grab the book closest to you
2. open it to page 161
3. find the fifth full sentence
4. post the text of the sentence to your blog
5. don't search around for the coolest book you have, use the one that is really next to you.

My daughter Susan's new novel, "And the Violin Cried", wasn't the closest book to me, but it was the first book that came to mind, so I was curious as to what the sentence would be:

Samantha’s father pounded the last nail into the manger, while Angelica Nelson toddled over toolboxes and through sawdust to donate her baby doll to the cause.

That was from chapter 34, "Send Aaron!", describing Pinedale Bible Church's preparations for a Christmas production.

The nearest book other than my Bible was an anthology called "The Intellectuals Speak Out About God", and the sentence is:

What, for example, the ontological argument basically says is that if you understand what is meant by "God" and at the same time fail to see the necessity of the reality of that Being, then you are not really talking about God but about something else.

This was from chapter 11, "The Rationality of Belief in God", in a section where Professor John E. Smith attempts to answer the question "How best can the theistic point of view be presented to modern man?"

The reason why this book is so close by is that the reading is so deep that I can only read small portions at a time. But I don't want to give up on the book, so I keep it near as a reminder to read more later.

Equally close was my NKJ Bible, and the sentence is:

It is perversion.

That was from Leviticus 18, where God proscribes homosexuality and bestiality. A reminder that belief in God, and necessarily, acceptance of His absolute proclamations, is an inconvenience to those who would rather define morality on their own terms.