Re: Information: a very technical definition (was Dawkins' video)

Stephen Jones (
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 12:41:48 +0800


[continued from thread "Dawkins' video)

GM>Concerning the last paragraph which Ms. Brown added. I replied to her.
>>>...I would like to note that information has a very technical definition

Could you please clarify what your "technical definition" of "information"

GM> and by that definition, there are lots of examples of increase in information
>by mutation.

First of all, I would like to state up-front that I do not rule out that some increases
in information could occur by random mutation and natural selection. If it could be
shown that some limited increases in genetic information could occur, that may still
only be a mechanism for microevolution.

However, Spetner, whose qualifications are in information and communication

"I received the PhD degree in physics from MIT in 1950 and joined APL in 1951.
I spent most of my professional career doing research and development on
information processing in electronic systems, and teaching information and
communication theory. After I had been at APL for about a dozen years, I was
offered a year's fellowship in the university's Department of Biophysics. There I
was to solve problems in the extraction of signal from noise in DNA
electronmicrographs. I accepted the fellowship and, as it turned out, I learned a
lot about biology.." (Spetner L.M., "Not by Chance!: Shattering the Modern Theory of
Evolution," Judaica Press: New York, 1997 revised, p.iv)


"Information theory, which was introduced as a discipline about half a century ago
by Claude Shannon, has thrown new light on this problem. It turns out that random
variation cannot lead to large evolutionary changes. The information required for
large-scale evolution cannot come from random variations. There are cases in
which random mutations do lead to evolution on a small scale. But it turns out that,
in these instances, no information is added to the organism. Most often, information is
lost. A process that adds no heritable information into the organism cannot lead to the
grand evolutionary advances envisioned by the neo-Darwinians." (Spetner, 1997 p.vii)


"You can easily add symbols to a message and not add information: just add random
symbols. Then you won't be adding information - you'll be adding only nonsense.
Similarly, if you add random nucleotides to the genome you add no information.
Symbols without meaning carry no information." (Spetner, 1997 p83)

GM>If you start with a sequence of 11111111111 or in DNA AAAAAAAAAAA and
>then mutate it so that it is 11111211111 or in DNA AAAAATAAAAA you have
>actually increased the information.

I have a son, Brad, who is studying InformationTechnology Engineering at university
and he is currently doing Information Theory. I showed him your message and he said
what you are saying here is "wrong" (his word). He gave me a very detailed explanation
why (which I did not fully understand), and even if I did it sounded to complex for me to

One thing he said that I did understand was was that Information Theory would regard
such a random change as "noise", not new information.

Brad also said that, according to Information Theory, AAAAAAAAAAA and AAAAATAAAAA
have the *same* information, namely zero. He proposed a test of writing 640 blocks of
AAAAAAAAAAA's and AAAAATAAAAA's each to a text file and compressed each file with
WinZip. Both files compressed nearly 100%, which shows they both have effectively zero
information. To be sure, the AAAAAAAAAAA block compressed slightly more (99%
compared to 100%), but this was because of the way WinZip works. We had
previously compressed smaller much blocks and they were 99% for AAAAAAAAAAA
and 98% for AAAAATAAAAA. The actual files reduced in size from 8,538 bytels
each down to 153 bytes for the AAAAAAAAAAA file and 157 bytes for the
AAAAATAAAAA file.This suggests that it is WinZip's algorithm which makes
the difference. If the blocks were longer, say 6400 blocks of each, the effect of
WinZip's algorithm would be expected to decrease till both files were compressed
100%, which is zero information content.

GM>The equation which measures info would yield a higher value
>for the second sequence than for the first.

Please post which "equation" you mean.

GM>While you may not believe this, I would suggest that your read H. Yockey,
Information Theory and Molecular Biology for technical details.

How about quoting the relevant paragraphs from Yockey to support your

GM>I would also point to a simpler example where plants of two different
>species can produce offspring which cannot interbreed with either of the
>parent species but have the entire genetic information from both parent
>species. It is called polyploidy and this greatly increases the information
>content of the daughter plant. You should go look it up.<<<

Again, at best this would only apply to asexual plants and animals:

"POLYPLOID. Having three or more times the haploid number of
chromosomes. Polyploid individuals, sub-species and species are fairly
common in plants (especially angiosperms) but rare in animals. This
is mainly because polyploid organisms are sterile when crossed with
diploids, and a polyploid suddenly arising in a diploid population can
therefore only reproduce vegetatively, parthenogenetically, or by self-fertilization.
These ways are commonly open to plants, but not commonly to animals."
(Abercrombie M., et. al., "The Penguin Dictionary of Biology," Penguin:
Harmondsworth UK, Seventh Edition, 1980, p243)

But it is doubtful that any real increase in information has ocurred, certainly
nothing that leads to "macroevolutionary transition", which, after all, was Ms
Brown's point:

"The question of whether evolutionary processes can increase genetic
information, as discussed in the video "From a Frog to a Prince", is one
which is often swept under the carpet. We know that great variation
within species does result from rearrangement or loss of genetic
information, but this does not explain the supposed macroevolutionary
transition from simple life forms to complex ones with far greater genetic

Indeed, Dobzhansky, et al, say that "At the level of transspecific [ie. macro-]
evolution, polyploidy has been a conservative rather than progressive factor":

"At the level of transspecific evolution, polyploidy has been a
conservative rather than progressive factor. This is evident from the
fact that many of the most archaic genera of vascular plants-such as
Psilotum, Tmesipteris, Lycopodium, Equisetum, and Ophioglossum
among spore bearers, and Tetracentra Trochodendran, and all species
of Magnoliaceae and Winteraceae among angiosperms-have basic
chromosomes so high that they appear to be of polyploid derivation.
(Dobzhansky T., Ayala F.J., Stebbins G.L. & Valentine J.W.
"Evolution," W. H. Freeman & Co: San Francisco, 1977, p8)

They also say in animals "polyploidy has played a minor role":

"In animals polyploidy has played a minor role for several reasons
(Mayr, 1963; White, 1973). it disturbs the sex chromosome
mechanism, so that successful polyploid animals must be either
parthenogenetic, such as the brine! shrimp Artemia, the moth
Solenobia, and the weevils (Curculionidae), or hermaphroditic, such
as the planarian genus Dugesia." (Dobzhansky, et. al, 1977, p8)

BTW, polyploidy, if it is just a doubling of chromosmes, would also be
according to Information Theory be no actual increase in information,
as the above example shows:

"Let us represent the chromosomes of a cell of a plant by the letters
AABBCC, there being two chromosomes of each kind (one coming
from each of the two parents). If, as in the callus tissue of a tomato,
this number becomes doubled, we would have an autotetraploid with
four of each kind of chromosomes, AAAABBBBCCCC This type of
doubling has been known to occur." (Knobloch I.W., "The Role of
Hybridization In Evolution", in Mixter R.L., ed., "Evolution and Christian
Thought Today", Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1959, p101)

Indeed, if it was all this simple, why didn't Dawkins say so? In fact why
don't you ask him it is the answer he should have given?


"Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented."
--- Dr. William Provine, Professor of History and Biology, Cornell University.

Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)