Along with Systems Theory and Cybernetics, there was another basic concept necessary for the design of computer networks. Pioneered by folks like Gregory Bateson, this conceptual territory deals with mathematical theories of information management. One important aspect identified by this line of thinking was the task of identifying discreet information in raw data. Bateson called it, “The difference that makes a difference.” In a dynamic system, everything is in a constant state of change, so it is the deviation from the dynamic pattern that registers as the difference that matters.
In order for accurate predictions to be made for a dynamic system, past performance must be known and plotted through time. It is deviation from the past dynamic action that differentiates between normal cyclical variation and meaningful change. To identify the deviation, one must be able to identify the difference that makes a difference. To spot this deviation is a very sophisticated undertaking, and yet routine for biological systems.
Imagine you are running to catch a ball. The information coming in to the brain from the eyes is constantly changing. Everything in your line of sight is moving as you run. Your brain identifies the ball as moving against the background movement, the difference that makes a difference. From that information, your brain calculates a trajectory. It tells your body how to get to a point where you can intercept the ball. All of this is done by analyzing information brought in by the senses. Our human biological systems would not function without processing information. Not only is information processing essential for internal brain functioning, it is fundamental to the physical universe as well.
In an information processing system, everything within the system is seen as information. Diehard materialists will insist that this is not the case, but we can soften their argument by saying that all matter has an information component. The information component is whatever it takes to organize light energy into matter. It is the rules or laws that trap light energy into atomic structure.
We are going to let others argue about the details of those laws. At this point, it doesn’t matter to us whether the Earth sucks or the heavens blow, we care that there exists a set of invisible laws that govern the operation and interaction of matter, energy, time and space. These laws are invisible to the naked eye, but are defined in the universal structure we seek.
Everything we see around us is information. Tree rings are a good example of matter as information. The structure of the tree is a result of the interaction between its DNA and the environment, over time. The rhythm of the environment is captured along with samples of available minerals from the ground and gases from the atmosphere. The moisture cycles are recorded as surely as if it was being done by a weather station graphing pen. We have multiple levels of information stored in the same location. A tree is a living logbook of the activities of billions of cells doing their thing. Even when the tree dies, much of the information stays intact. Even when the tree is petrified, the tree rings still hold on to their information.
If we take a look at the tree rings of a lot of different trees in the forest, we can see that the patterns recorded in the rings can be synchronized with trees of different ages. In this way scientists can produce a continuous record of environmental cycles.
Since we know a lot about the chemistry of trees and how they process light, we can look back in time and learn a great deal about how weather conditions fluctuate over time. We can learn these things by deciphering the information stored in matter.
Information is All
Some folks want to make a distinction between information and noise, or biological or non-biological sources, or transmitters and receivers, but all transmissions of energy and all bits of matter carry information.
When we look at all matter and energy as information we get another bonus. It easily explains how so many diverse viewpoints can all be true: as information, both matter and energy can be viewed in an infinite number of accurate, though incomplete, representations. Like a database can be viewed in different ways to gain perspective on the relationships involved, so reality can be looked at from different perspectives. Any view that doesn’t include the “Whole” is incomplete, and therefore not really accurate, yet viewing the Whole at once provides no useful information.
Cause and Effect
Linear concepts are handy tools for focusing on details, but can’t be used to accurately describe reality. It can be convenient to think of cause and effect relationships as isolated sequences that follow set patterns. We can modify steps and change the outcome, but as a process within a system, the causative factors are really found in the system protocols which apply equally to all elements. The true causation exists on a higher level than the events themselves. For example, the cause of the tree falling in the forest was far more than just the ax and lumberjack. It was caused by a web of influence that expands to include the financial forces that put the lumberjack in the forest, as well as the history of the relationship between trees and human beings.
The key to being able to deal with relationships between phenomena is to be able to isolate them from other relationships. We just need to remember that the isolation is an illusion, it’s sort of a “what if” used for convenience of mind, but not the reality of the situation. The truth is that every event is connected to every other event. Like our tree falling in the forest, nothing falls alone.
It is all in how you look at it. That’s the idea here; take a look from this perspective, as if all Matter and Energy are the expression of Information. You don’t have to believe it to look at it from this angle. All you need is an open mind and a fearless heart.