RE: Emergence of information out of nothing?

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Sat May 04 2002 - 10:47:17 EDT

  • Next message: Dr. Blake Nelson: "RE: Black Sea Flood"

    Hi Howard,

    as for the question of the definition of information - you wrote:
    > 1. There seem to be as many definitions of "information" as there are people
    > who wish to apply this concept to the formation and historical modification
    > of organisms. Semantic information is particularly problematic.

    - please refer to my other post, addressed to you, Glenn Morton and Tim

    But now for the points you alone made. Thank you for your extensive

    First of all, I'd like to ask your forgiveness if I have hurt you! You
    began your response with:
    > I am well aware of the fact that you (and many others) would like to see my
    > "Robust Formational Economy Principle" to fall flat on its backside, ...

    I am sorry if this is what came through to you! I certainly didn't
    intend to put you down. I think your concept is a very interesting and
    challenging contribution in the discussion of how the Creator relates to
    the creation, and what his providence means. And you have certainly had
    a very wide-spread hearing with it - definitely much more than I have
    had with my ideas. In any case, I accept your model as far as the
    abiotic cosmos is concerned.

    My motivation for the post was just that I still cannot see _how_ you
    deal with the problem of functional biological information, although we
    have variously discussed this. I would appreciate if we could discuss it
    some more, although, at present, we seem to be stuck. It seems that we
    still haven't found the common ground, from which we can productively
    discuss our disagreement concerning the biological realm, in order to
    get some new common insights.

    You wrote:
    > 2. Meaningful numbers are rare, in large part because there is little
    > agreement on which "reservoirs of information" need to be considered and how
    > to compute (or even estimate) actual amounts in these reservoirs.

    I don't see how the model of reservoirs containing amounts of
    information can help us find answers to the problem. I prefer to think
    of viable configurations in sequence space, and the mutational paths
    connecting them. Here, the size of the "reservoir" for a given sequence
    length is given, and so are theoretically possible paths connecting the
    configurations contained therein.

    > 3. Focussing on the concept of quantities of information in thinking about
    > how evolutionary development may have taken place strikes me as missing the
    > key element -- dynamic action. Atoms act and interact. Molecules act and
    > interact. Organisms act and interact, with each other and with their
    > environments. My encyclopedia is full of stored information, including lots
    > of information on biological topics. What does that stored information do?
    > ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. There is no action whatsoever in my encyclopedia. The
    > dumb thing just sits there. Evolutionary development is ACTION, not
    > quantities of inert stored information.

    Let us ignore atoms and non-coding molecules for the moment. The kind of
    configurational or other information they contain are negligible
    compared with sequence information. And their actions/reactions are an
    automatic consequence of their constituents and a few contingencies -
    nothing problematic at all. The information stored in coding/coded
    macromolecules, on the other hand, has nothing to do with entries in an
    encyclopedia. They become interesting at the point where they are
    functional in an organism. Here is your ACTION! But the information
    connected with them is a function of the actual path of their evolution
    during the entire history of the biosphere. I agree that it will be very
    difficult to reach probability estimates of even just some parts of such

    > 4. Because of vast uncertainties concerning what definition of information
    > might be relevant to biological evolution, and because of uncertainties
    > about what reservoirs of this relevant information need to be considered,
    > and because quantitative estimates of it are highly uncertain, and because
    > focusing on quantities of "information" (by whatever choices of definition
    > and location) seems effectively blind to the fact that atoms, molecules,
    > organisms, and environments act and interact, I find it much more meaningful
    > to think about the universe's "formational economy" -- its resources, its
    > capabilities for action, and its potentialities for functional
    > configurations and the means of achieving them.

    Of course, the information (II) I am interested in is tightly bound to
    evolutionary paths of genes - which closely interact with their
    environment, see above. But how do the universe's abstract resources you
    mention help us reach a better understanding of such possibilities or

    > 5. In what meaningful way has anyone talked about or computed the
    > "information" resident in the properties and formational capabilities of
    > atoms, molecules and organisms? In what meaningful way has anyone talked
    > about or computed the "information" resident in the huge space of
    > potentialities for viable organisms? In what meaningful way has anyone
    > computed the amount of "information" resident in the biological fitness
    > functions that at least give us a hint of the "forces" relevant to the
    > dynamic action of biological history?

    H.P. Yockey, "Information theory and molecular biology" (Cambridge
    University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-521-35005-0), has done just that (in
    chapter 6) with respect to a rather small enzyme, cytochrome c. I am
    sorry, the only other attempt at doing such a thing I know of, and
    concerning a minute special case only, is the one I described in my 1992
    PSCF paper. Does anyone know of other attempts? On the other hand -
    should we just sit here and say it's too difficult? Of course, if you
    _assume beforehand_ that each mutational step in such a path was
    individually selected by the environment, and the number of steps
    required was sufficiently small, the relevant information concerned is
    zero, and you will not be interested in it.

    > > The amount of meaningful or semantic information contained in a system
    > > may be defined as the minimal length of an algorithm capable of
    > > specifying it (M.V. Volkenstein, "Punctualism, non-adaptionism,
    > > neutralism and evolution", BioSystems 20 (1987), 289).
    > Fine; a numerical amount of some form of "information" (same as Hogan's???)
    > is computed. Where is the story of what configurations of atoms, molecules,
    > or organisms actually have the capabilities to DO? Where's the consideration
    > of biological ACTION?

    This is just my very-shorthand interpretation of a concept found in A.N.
    Kolmogorov, "Three approaches to the notation 'amount of information'",
    Probl.Peredatchi Inf. 1 (1965), 3, as quoted in Volkenstein (I don't
    know any Russian). It is not the same as in Hogan, but closer to
    information (II). All we know for sure of semantic information is that
    it must be smaller than the Shannon information (I) for the size of the
    system given.

    > > This would
    > > exclude all features irrelevant for meaning or functionality. The
    > > meaningful information contained in today's biosphere may be
    > > approximated by a (purely theoretical) minimal set of genome parts
    > > "streamlined" to include the code for whatever is really required for
    > > the organisms represented in the biosphere, but nothing else.
    > Is this the same kind of "information" computed by Hogan? Is this the only
    > kind of information relevant to biological processes & events?

    No, this is semantic information (II), cf. my post to you, Glenn and

    > > Its amount
    > > is such that the improbability of its generation by random-variation /
    > > natural-selection processes, starting with a prebiotic universe, is
    > > vastly transastronomical.
    > Where's the consideration of the full menu of the universe's dynamic
    > formational capabilities? Do we pretend to KNOW everything that the
    > universe has been equipped (by God, I think) to do?

    See above. I certainly don't know everything, nor the full menu. But
    tell me, what considerations of the universe's dynamic formational
    capabilities help us to find out more about _how_ the formation of
    biological systems might work?

    > > In Howard's model, there are just two alternative possibilities to
    > > account for the presence of this information: either: (A) it was given
    > > by the Creator in "the beginning" and was somehow "stored" in the
    > > prebiotic universe, or: (B) it emerged at least 10 billion years later,
    > > at and after the beginning of life, without any external input of
    > > information. (A) is what Howard seemed to prefer in the quote above,
    > > which is contradicted by Hogan, while (B) looks at least as unlikely.
    > I doubt very much that Hogan's computation has any relevance to this
    > question.

    It just gives us an upper limit (I) for the sum of all information (II)
    of all types that could be present in the universe.

    > In no way does it deal with what things can DO or what
    > configurational potentialities characterize the "being" of the universe.
    > Formational capabilities and configurational potentialities are profoundly
    > relevant to what happened in the course of the universe's formational
    > history, but entirely absent from the typical discussion of "information."

    I mostly agree. But _what_ are the capabilities and potentialities
    relevant to the formation of biological systems - beyond those of
    physics and chemistry?

    > > C.J. Hogan, "The Beginning of Time (Perspectives: Cosmology)", Science
    > > 295 (22 March 2002), 2223-2225, writes: "... The holographic principle
    > > [L. Susskind, J.Math.Phys. 36 (1995), 6377] limits the amount of
    > > information carried by quanta during inflation to less than [pi]/H^2 in
    > > Planck units. This bound is greater than about 10^10 bits, but it is
    > > certainly not infinite; indeed, the amount of information needed to
    > > specify literally everything during inflation may be small enough to fit
    > > onto a compact disc. The universe thus began with rather little
    > > information, and practically all the complex structure we see now
    > > developed from within in the absence of external influences. Entire
    > > galaxies developed from almost structureless single quanta..."
    > > (inflation would have occurred within the first 10^(-32) s after the big
    > > bang; H is the Hubble constant).
    > If "information" is of central importance,then how did galaxies actually
    > FORM? Did they forget that they failed to have enough "information" to do
    > that? Oops!

    See above and the parallel post about different types of "information":
    (I) Maximum information carrying capacity (extensive);
    (II) Functional information relevant for biological systems (intensive).

    Galaxies and other abiotic systems need no information (II) at all.
    Their Information (I) may have increased greatly, their information (II)
    was certainly less than Hogan's 10^10 bits, if not =0. There is no
    reason to believe that galaxy formation needed anything beyond the
    physical laws and parameters given in the big bang. For cosmology, I
    have no problem with your concept.

    > > This implies that a concept of "creation's functional integrity" must
    > > assume that all of the biological information contained in the biosphere
    > > emerged by self-organization, by random processes, out of nothing, and
    > > in the absence of external influences.
    > Balderdash! "Out of nothing"? "Random processes" alone? Once again, where is
    > due attention paid to the wealth of the universe's formational capabilities
    > and configurational potentialities? Self-organization is driven by what the
    > universe has been equipped to DO, and what configurational potentialities
    > are part of its very being, not by pure randomness, not out of nothing.

    Thank you. I was talking in the language of science and presupposing the
    prebiotic universe, whereas you are using abstract metaphysical
    language. Please translate "the universe's formational capabilities and
    configurational potentialities" into a hypothesis in scientific
    language, so we can consider biological systems!

    > > Biological systems, therefore,
    > > cannot be counted among the entities "gifted, from the beginning, with
    > > all of the capacities needed".
    > Technically correct. As you have pointed out numerous times, biological
    > systems were not there at the beginning. Neither were atoms or molecules, of
    > course. But the potentialities for atoms were there at the beginning, and
    > they formed in time, as thermal conditions permitted. And the potentialities
    > for molecules were there from the beginning, and they formed in time as
    > atoms became available and thermal conditions allowed. And the
    > potentialities for structural configurations like stars, planets and
    > galaxies were there from the beginning, and they formed in the course of
    > cosmic history. In each case, resources employed their formational
    > capabilities to actualize configurational potentialities that are resident
    > in the being of the universe. And I doubt that they needed to sit down and
    > do "information" computations to see if they were permitted to do so. They
    > used their capabilities for ACTION.

    No problem with atoms, non-informational molecules, galaxies, stars,
    planets. For the beginning and evolution of life however, that doesn't
    do it, because you are swamped by bifurcations as soon as you get to
    isomers and, particularly, (pseudo)isomeric heteropolymers. Neither did
    these need "permission" to act, but outside of living systems, their
    ACTION leads just to goo, not even crude oil. In order to get anything
    functional (_biological_ action!) at all, you need plenty of correct
    selections, but biological natural selection is inexistent before some
    minimal functionality has arisen.

    > > In his "Does God Choose Among Hidden Options?" PSCF 54/1 (March 2002),
    > > 67, Howard suggests the synthesis of simple compounds like
    > > glycolaldehyde in space as an indication that life could very well
    > > emerge spontaneously.
    > What I was actually pointing out was that, contrary to earlier pessimistic
    > estimates regarding the formational capabilities of atoms and molecules, the
    > universe's formational economy was in fact sufficiently robust to do things
    > that chemists and astronomers had once thought highly improbable. My
    > suggestion was, therefore: Don't underestimate what the universe (by its
    > Creator's creativity and generosity) has been equipped to do.

    I understood this suggestion, but you just cannot compare a tile of
    shards with a large, beautiful mosaic, or a letter case with a book. We
    need long chains of _selections_ among equally possible formational

    > > E.L. Shock, "Seeds of Life? (Astrobiology)",
    > > Nature 416 (28 March 2002), 380 writes:
    > > "... It appears that nearly every experimental scenario produces organic
    > > compounds of some form... complex organic compounds should be expected
    > > in any sector of the Solar System that is rich in volatile elements...
    > > Studying the chemical building-blocks of life shows that they are
    > > ubiquitous and can exist in the absence of life... it follows that
    > > process-driven investigations into the emergence of life may need to be
    > > cast in a different way, which takes into account the materials involved
    > > but is not directly tied to them. This, I believe, is a major challenge
    > > for the fledgling field of astrobiology."
    > Sounds reasonable to me.
    > > And of more traditional origin-of-life research, we might add. The
    > > presence of abiotic organic compounds doesn't even address the question
    > > of biologically relevant coding/coded information. I eagerly await the
    > > first appropriate publications in this "fledgling field" - which, during
    > > the last 50 years, has not produced any results relevant for the
    > > emergence of semantic information.
    > No, it has probably been more interested in the formation of actual physical
    > things by processes involving creaturely ACTION.

    Apparently, they haven't found anything beyond the ubiquitous "chemical
    building-blocks of life", as yet, ignoring Shock's "major challenge", so

    > Howard Van Till
    > By the way, the subject title, "Emergence of information out of nothing?" is
    > intriguing. Who has suggested such a thing as "emergence out of nothing"?

    I wrote (see above):
    > > In Howard's model, there are just two alternative possibilities to
    > > account for the presence of this information: either: (A) it was given
    > > by the Creator in "the beginning" and was somehow "stored" in the
    > > prebiotic universe, or: (B) it emerged at least 10 billion years later,
    > > at and after the beginning of life, without any external input of
    > > information. (A) is what Howard seemed to prefer in the quote above,
    > > which is contradicted by Hogan, while (B) looks at least as unlikely.

    because your formulation in "Special Creationism in Designer Clothing: A
    Response to 'The Creation Hypothesis'", PSCF 47 (1995), 123, appeared to
    suggest (in scientific, not metaphysical, language) either storing of
    biological information in the prebiotic universe, or "emergence out of



    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat May 04 2002 - 13:01:02 EDT