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Larissa Albantakis : on 4/7/17 at 14:20pm UTC, wrote Dear Carlo, Thank you for a well written and interesting essay. I don't...

Bruce Amberden: on 4/7/17 at 4:54am UTC, wrote Hello Carlo Rovelli, I very much enjoyed your essay; I think that you are...

Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 4/5/17 at 4:00am UTC, wrote Dear Sirs! New Cartesian Physic based on the identity of space and matter....

James Hoover: on 4/4/17 at 4:47am UTC, wrote Carlo, Since it nears the end, I have been returning to essays I have read...

Vladimir Tamari: on 4/4/17 at 2:05am UTC, wrote Dear Carlo I have read the first part of your essay with interest and as...

Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 4/2/17 at 8:54am UTC, wrote French scientists have no right to ignore the Descartes.

James Stanfield: on 4/1/17 at 1:02am UTC, wrote Dr. Rovelli, Your essay is one of the best I've read so far. How...

David Pinyana: on 3/28/17 at 11:27am UTC, wrote Carlo, I see you will be the winer of this first essay contest......


Georgina Woodward: "John, I reported your post as inappropriate as it is mostly irrelevant to..." in What Is...

Scott Gordon: "This article states,"Carroll believes the misfit between the two theories..." in In Search of a Quantum...

thuy lien: "Your article completely convinced me. Thank you for sharing. vampyrgame ..." in Agency in the Physical...

thuy lien: "Thanks for sharing, very useful information. You can visit my site for more..." in What Is...

thuy lien: "VAMPYR: You can feed on literally anyone in the game VAMPYR was revealed..." in Collapsing Physics: Q&A...

Nishant Gaurav: "Want to get free playstation plus codes, Yes now these psn plus codes are..." in Jacob Bekenstein...

Nishant Gaurav: "The best to win among hustle for online live gaming platform, is online..." in Quantum Replicants:...

Nishant Gaurav: "When it come to paypal user look for various information and also look for..." in Retrocausality,...

click titles to read articles

The Complexity Conundrum
Resolving the black hole firewall paradox—by calculating what a real astronaut would compute at the black hole's edge.

Quantum Dream Time
Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

December 14, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Meaning and Intentionality = Information + Evolution by Carlo Rovelli [refresh]
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Author Carlo Rovelli wrote on Jan. 10, 2017 @ 21:50 GMT
Essay Abstract

Notions like meaning, signal, intentionality, are difficult to relate to a physical word. I study a purely physical definition of "meaningful information", from which these notions can be derived. It is inspired by a model recently illustrated by Kolchinsky and Wolpert, and improves on Dretske classic work on the relation between knowledge and information. I discuss what makes a physical process into a "signal".

Author Bio

Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicists working at the University of Aix-Marseille in France. His main interest is in quantum gravity.

Download Essay PDF File

Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 02:57 GMT
Fred Dretske is also cited in "Information and Impossibilities" by Jon Barwise.

Another term of interest might be "self." For example in the equation of a non-wellfounded set: "self=(thinking, self)." Are you saying there are items on your list which do not depend on the existence of a "self"-- that something other than "self" would be the first step?

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 07:00 GMT
Dear Master Rovelli,

You write:

"As long as an organism is alive, S(xn) remains far lower than its thermal-equilibrium value Smax. This capacity of keeping itself outside of thermal equilibrium, utilising free energy, is a crucial aspects of systems that are alive. Living organisms have generally a rather sharp distinc- tion between their state of being alive or dead, and we can...

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Anonymous wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 09:18 GMT
Dear Professor Rovelli,

thank you for an intriguing and original contribution to this debate. Your basic strategy strikes me as distantly related to the one championed by Terrence Deacon: while you focus on the notion of correlation, he frames things in terms of constraints, which are, to him, 'absences' that nevertheless may be causally efficacious. Of course, both notions are, in some...

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Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 09:21 GMT
I'm not quite sure why the above comment doesn't show my name; I must've gotten logged out somehow. But anyway, anonymous above is me.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 17:26 GMT
Dear Professor Rovelli.

As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. There is no gap in any sensible person’s “understanding of the world” providing he or she avoids abstract complexity and practices simplicity.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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David Brown wrote on Jan. 15, 2017 @ 05:46 GMT
"We do not need something external to the workings of nature to account for the appearance of function and purpose." The preceding seems to me to be an important idea. "A signal is a physical event that conveys meaning." It seem to me that the preceding is a satisfactory definition for Einsteinian special and general relativity but not for the Copenhagen interpretation. I think that the definition should be: A signal is a physical event that conveys meaning or might convey meaning in a physical experiment long after the event. I say that that my 3 most important ideas are:

(1) Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology.

(2) The Koide formula is essential for understanding the foundations of physics.

(3) Lestone's heuristic string theory is essential for understanding the foundations of physics.

I would appreciate any feedback concerning the 3 preceding ideas.

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Joe Fisher replied on Jan. 15, 2017 @ 15:12 GMT
Dear Brown,

Natural reality is not composed of complex abstract ideas. One real Universe must have only one reality. As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Reality am not a conundrum.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 16, 2017 @ 22:22 GMT
Carlo Rovelli,

What you say is all very well, but you and other physicists like Kolchinsky and Wolpert have made a mistake in your most basic assumptions. Physics likes to claim that fundamental-level reality is mindless, but on the other hand physicists assumes that the universe somehow “knows itself”: the universe in some sense “knows” the law-of-nature regularities, the universe in some sense “knows” the parameter numeric values that are the unpredictable physical outcomes of quantum randomness.

Physics contains a hidden and unacknowledged assumption: that the universe has information about itself; that the universe already knows the same aspects of reality that we humans represent with law-of-nature equations and parameter value numbers.

But what “knows” the most primitive levels of reality? The universe is seemingly not a single entity, but a collection of interacting entities: particles, atoms, molecules, cells and other living things. These entities are the only candidates that could know, that could have information about (i.e. subjectively experience) reality.

Then you get to the question of whether there are 2 aspects of reality (physical reality and experience of physical reality, and a relationship between the 2 aspects) or only one aspect of reality (subjective experience of reality).

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Joe Fisher replied on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 17:12 GMT
Dear Ms. Ford,

Natural reality does not have abstract levels.

Simple natural reality has nothing to do with any abstract complex musings such as the ones you effortlessly indulge in. As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Reality am not as complicated as theories of reality are.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 02:12 GMT
This is interesting. I will reread your paper in a couple of days. I seems though you are arguing for a sort of selection mechanism for quantum states. Maybe this is a way of getting a form of "pink noise" from quantum fluctuations, by selecting certain fluctuations, to promote information into the future.


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Steve Dufourny replied on Jan. 20, 2017 @ 08:32 GMT
Hi Lawrence, happy to see you again on FQXi ,but where were you :) ?

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 18:56 GMT
Carlo –

There are several things here that I find very good, e.g. your explanations of emergence and of signaling. It’s a particularly important idea that physics is “modal” – about structures of possibility, not just structures of given fact. This needs further development from a philosophical point of view, since we still tend to think of possibilities as facts that just...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 14:47 GMT
My essay comparing the dimensions of meaning in physics, biology and human communication is now available here.

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H Chris Ransford wrote on Jan. 18, 2017 @ 17:04 GMT
Dear Prof. Rovelli,

Very interesting - perhaps a bit too technical however for the purposes here (in other words, it's well above what would be deemed Scientific American material.)

Sometimes as scientists we write for colleagues, and sometimes to draw in a more 'lay' audience - as you did in your recent 'Reality Is Not What It Seems'

very well done anyway

Kind regards

H Chris

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Steve Dufourny wrote on Jan. 19, 2017 @ 18:43 GMT
Dear Mr.Rovelli,

I have liked a lot your papper and how you interpret these informations.One of my favorite,you are going to win a prize :)The technical method is relevant,I didn't know the works of Wolpert and others.I know the Shannon works a little.Thanks for sharing in all case,I learn in the same time these methods.

Good luck in this contest.


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Steve Dufourny replied on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 09:53 GMT
Mr Rovelli,

I see that you work about quantum gravity.I search also answers,I beleive in all humility that I found but of course I must formalise and test ,experiment.All this to tell you that we arrive so at what are the main gravitational codes of evolution.Of course we arrive at a debate about what is the meaning of informations and of our consciousness.The debate is also about what is the main cause,gravitational.So we arrive at a philosophical analyse.The sciences community is divided in two roads, a road considering a main cause creating an intelligent design if I can say and we have the atheists utilising the emergence of consciousness and lifes with others causalities.Personally I beleive strongly that a real understanding of what is infinite entropy above our physicality and gravitation is essential.We cannot encircle these steps of encoded particles waves énergies without this foundamental, but it is just my opinion of course.The main codes are gravoitational and our singularities are not approachables.The quantum gravitation does not seem to be an emergent electromagnetic force.The standard model is not sufficient in fact.We can so invent an AI but never a consciousness.It is due to our main gravitational codes.The electromagnetic encodings are just a step.We can try to formalise these informations and encodings with maths and variables but it is just electromagnetic.In all case it is a big puzzle, thanks still for sharing your work and good luck also in this contest.Best Regards from Belgium.

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 07:04 GMT
The idea comes from nonstandard analysis, in the works of Naval College Mathematics courseware instructor, Robert A. Herrmann, the great genius of a nonstandard world he calls "theNonStandardNatural" .model of the Universe, versus "theStandardNaturalNumber" Universe, where everybody else lives.

He writes about Relativity. I interpret him here.

There is a Universe of Time where everything in the Univese is an Object.

And then, there is the Universe where everything in the Universe is a Process.

Objects within the Universe of Objects speak a very different language from the language.spoken in the Universe of Processes.

Mysteriously, Einstein had correctly described an "infomorphism" between these two Universes.

And that, was his equation between "local Minkowski ProperTime," and "Coordinate Time."

But since it was an infomorphism, it was only half of the story.

Because an "infomorphism" has to connect to itself by two back and forth channels-- or functions-- or arrows. (Take your pick.)

The other half of the Infomorphism is the "Stream" that's the Universe of Time, where everything in that Universe is a "Stream."

And that's where I come from.

Seems there should be a lot more than just one equation involved!

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Lee Bloomquist replied on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 07:22 GMT
Objects and Processes swim in the Stream.

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Joseph J. Jean-Claude wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 14:33 GMT
The author proposes that correlation between objects is ground for meaningful physical information. Meaningful information nurtures aims and intentions experienced by the living. If we can describe mathematically meaningful physical information, we then have found at the very least a remote mathematical description to aims and intentions, as I understand. The author further proposes a variation of the formula for entropy for said mathematical formulation. I should add that the author has asserted several key aspects of a physical definition of the living. In my sense, this thesis should be well received although the argument is somewhat weak. Several flaws in style and grammar should be noted.

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 23:35 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli,

you made a nice effort to describe the first tender emergence of some ‘meaning’ on our planet, as you imagine it to have possibly happened, so i like to leave some comments about what came to my mind by reading your essay.

In your essay abstract you wrote „I discuss what makes a physical process into a "signal".” You also wrote in this abstract “I study...

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Mark Pharoah replied on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 21:02 GMT

I think you make an important point here.

What I would say in response is that the individual organism does not, itself, discriminate when interacting with the environment. Rather, the discrimination occurs over a generational timeline as the replicating lineage presents its templates (i.e., its individual organisms) to the environment. To explain... the consequences of survival pressures on the survival of a lineage's individuals make each individual, effectively, an interactive mechanism that serves to measure the merits of that individual's functional template in respect to the survival of the lineage. The discrimination is a generational process instituted by replication over a generational timeline. The consequences are physiological adaptations in which the lineage evolves increasingly complex discriminatory mechanistic individuals.

Of course, Carlo did not say this, but I am suggesting a solution to this issue.

Conscious agency in individuals is a feature of more complex interactive mechanisms which the mathematics does not address but I do believe that the mathematics can be extrapolated to do so.

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 23, 2017 @ 01:11 GMT
In the Kyoto lecture of 1922, Einstein said:

"There is an inseparable relation between time and signal velocity."

Wikipedia states that: "The signal velocity is the speed at which a wave carries INFORMATION.

It describes how quickly…"

"…a MESSAGE can be communicated between two separated parties."

An "informationalist"— as I understand it— might read the...

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Jan. 25, 2017 @ 23:30 GMT
Dear Prof Carlo Rovelli,

I very much enjoyed your essay and rated it very highly. I think you do an excellent job of narrowing in on the subject, as I have tried to do in my less formal entry. Perhaps you could take a look at this, I wonder what you think of Leslie Valiant's idea of ecorithms and there potentiall 'internal role'. You seem to present an alternative way in which meaning or intention arises from just physical relata. From my reasoning I couldnt determine a way in which this math of intention (information by your account) could be used to reveal consciousness.



"The definition of ‘meaningful’ considered here does not directly refer to anything mental. To have something mental you need a mind and to have a mind you need a brain, and its rich capacity of elaborating and working with information. The question addressed here is what is the physical base of the information that brains work with. The answer suggested is that it is just physical correlation between internal and external variables affecting survival either directly or, potentially, indirectly."

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James Arnold wrote on Feb. 2, 2017 @ 10:47 GMT
Carlo, although your essay is highly intricate, I fail to see any link or bridge between what you define as meaningful information and processes involving agency, purpose, or intentionality. Certainly, “downright crude physical correlation” can be compared with the cognitive interpretation of information, but to call a physical response to a stimulus a meaningful event, or to regard survival reflexes as purposeful behavior, is to trivialize what needs to be explained.

Intentionality involves a resourceful purpose to effect some end, which significantly, profoundly, does not yet exist – it precedes the end. The challenge here is to somehow reconcile intentionality with “mindless mathematical (physical) laws.” The correlation of stimulus and response is not adequate even to ground such a task.

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 12, 2017 @ 00:27 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli

A good essay nicely analyzing the information, meaning, signal, intentionality and these are not covered in Physics. And you are correct again…as in your words…”We are undoubtedly limited parts of nature, and we are so even as understanders of this same nature”

The real question is who programmed us to try to understand the nature itself……..?

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Member George F. R. Ellis wrote on Feb. 12, 2017 @ 06:24 GMT
Hi Carlo

nice thoughtful essay. I need to cogitate on how much I buy it, but it is a thoughtful piece of work that is useful to reflect on.

Best regards


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George Simpson wrote on Feb. 13, 2017 @ 19:23 GMT
Hello Carlo, I am enjoying studying your essay. Two of your books are by me, and I have taken a quote from "Seven Brief Lessons" as a subtitle for my own submission. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Yehuda Atai wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 13:00 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli

I agree with you that there is a difference between meaning information and pure data. Meaning information is of the type of information that exists in the ratio (correlation) between two existants, where the information holds at least one mode of action (non action is also an action) to at least one existent in the relation. If there is no potential action associated with the meaning information there is no relations between the 2 existants. I do see the phenomenon occurs in ever changing present maintaining its uniqueness of its self organization. The meaning base information allows to choose an action which is potentially in the relation and convert it to a subjective action with the unique attributes it has in its movement. (see my essay) causality is a special case in the occurrence of the phenomenon.

Thanks for the fine essay.

yehuda atai

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Avtar Singh wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 23:58 GMT
Dear Prof. Carlo Rovelli:

I enjoyed reading your thoughtful essay and was particularly impressed with your approach liking the meaningful information with Darwin’s Evolutionary survival as you say…….”The idea put forward is that what grounds all this is direct meaningful information, namely strictly physical correlations between a living organism and the external environment that have survival and reproductive value. The semantic notions of information and meaning are ultimately tied to their Darwinian evolutionary origin. The suggestion is that the notion of meaningful information serves as a ground for the foundation of meaning. That is, it could cover the link between the purely physical world and the world of meaning, purpose, intentionality and value. It could bridge the gap. “

What if your idea is extended from Darwin to the Universe evolution and survival? How could such an extended model be represented in an integrated physical theory of the matter, species, mind, and consciousness? This is described in my contest paper – " FROM LAWS TO AIMS & INTENTIONS - A UNIVERSAL MODEL INTEGRATING MATTER, MIND, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND PURPOSE by Avtar Singh. My paper investigates the physical reality of consciousness via integrating matter and consciousness described as the free-willed mechanism of the spontaneous decay of quantum particles that leads to the ultimate survival of consciousness in a fully-dilated space-time as a constant universal field (Zero-point State) of Oneness or connectivity that exists as a complimentary relativistic state to the matter dominated states within the unity of a single physical model that also predicts the observed empirical universe.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could please provide your comments on my paper and let me know if it gainfully and properly extends Darwin’s limited survival in a universal or cosmic sense rather than species on earth.

Best Regards

Avtar Singh

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 20:32 GMT

An excellent essay and analysis. Much is very close to my own which I hope you'll read and comment on.

I agree and expand your N/S pole example, with only left (L) OR right (R) 'curl' and hope you'll consider; If you encounter a sphere at it's equator and have to decide if the momentum is L or R can you decide? Yet a tangentially linear momentum is maximised there, tending to ZERO at the poles. Of course as Maxwell the rotation couples with both the Elec. and Mag. of EM.

But where did that second state go in QM's 'spin' (QAM) assumption!? I identify it as hidden before our eyes, re-appearing in actual findings as Diracs complementary 'offset' state, so included in QM's formulation. The classical analogue of QM then re-appears to remove a tranche of bizarre interpretations and allow logical teleological complexities. My essay analyses consequences.

But thank you for yours, which I found in wide fundamental agreement.



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Gene H Barbee wrote on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 22:23 GMT
I am quite impressed with your standing in the scientific community and thoughts you expressed in your essay. May I ask you a question? There are many like myself (some on this website) that find ourselves powerless when trying to contribute in some small way. For example, I disagree with the WMAP and PLANCK conclusions regarding dark matter and dark energy. Is there any way to interact with them?

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basudeba mishra wrote on Feb. 17, 2017 @ 18:23 GMT
Dear Sir,

Your paper was quite thought provoking. You have rightly described Shannon’s “relative information” as “correlation” or as you say “downright crude physical correlation”. In a previous contest here in our paper “INFORMATION HIDES IN THE GLARE OF REALITY”, we had written “Information Theory is based on the concept of writing instructions that will make the...

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Feb. 18, 2017 @ 16:46 GMT
Hi Carlo,

I greatly enjoyed this essay. I think that incorporating survival potential as a measure of fitness yields a good approximation of how useful or meaningful the information conveyed really is. I liked very much that you could adapt Wolpert's formulation to treat the essay question, and I agree that having a concrete definition for meaningful information could serve as a basis for future advances applying information theory to cognition.

Kudos for readability and making the technical concepts understandable. I think you communicated the meaning better than the last contest essay, and you show an increasing command of the English language. As with George's comment above; I am on the fence as to whether your formulation flies - but it certainly offers some valuable food for thought. I hope you fare well, this time around.

All the Best,


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Kigen William Ekeson wrote on Feb. 20, 2017 @ 13:19 GMT
Dear Dr. Rovelli,

Thank you so much for your well-written and insightful essay. My own essay on complexity will be published soon and I suggest many of the same points that you do, although admittedly, not in such a polished and professional way. It's actually quite astounding to me, that the ideas about information and meaning that you touch upon are not common knowledge, i.e. their elegance and simplicity seems so apparent. My only suggestion for your work is to keep going. That is, I believe that there are lower levels of complexity/information that you might describe with equal eloquence. I wish you luck in the competition and would appreciate any comments you might share about my own essay.


Kigen William Ekeson

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Feb. 24, 2017 @ 01:35 GMT
Quite impressive, Carlo. You say "the structure could be generated precisely by the structure of the very "meaningful information" we have been concerned with here." Wolpert and Kolchinsky speak of a correlation between the state of the organism and its environment and it’s this information that helps the organism stay out of equilibrium. What if the information breaks down in your equation: Meaning and Intentionality = info + evolution. The organic source of information, DNA, has errors over time and the renewal process yields flawed copies, especially after organisms and a flawed environment interact. What does this do to your equation?

Jim Hoover

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James Lee Hoover replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 00:48 GMT

Hope you check out my essay and provide your own comments.


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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 04:47 GMT

Since it nears the end, I have been returning to essays I have read to see if I've rated them and discovered I rated it on February 24th.

Hope you have enjoyed the interchange of ideas as much as I have.

Jim Hoover

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Rajiv K Singh wrote on Feb. 24, 2017 @ 06:07 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli,

The essay correctly identifies the difference between probabilistic correlation with an information, and the semantic value (meaning) of the information, and that it is the correlation with the specifics of information that is central. It also brings out the distinction that dealing with the quantity of information as per Shannon, is not the same as description of the semantics of the information. While, it correctly places bounds on the domain of information, yet it does not go all the way to specify or quantify the semantics of the same information. I do agree with the importance of information as a link between different structures in science, but the first level task is to lay down a general method of expressing the semantics of universally all possible expressions that convey information.

With respect to a DNA encoding the information on the structure of the organism, I suppose, at best, DNA can be said to encode the function and processes in highly specific contexts. It is entirely possible that in a different environment, different structure and phenotype may emerge. That is, the code is just one of the necessary elements for a specific structure to emerge.

I restate that the path Carlo Rovelli identifies to describe the meaning of information is in the right direction.


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Member Rodolfo Gambini wrote on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 13:37 GMT
This is an interesting essay that introduces a way of quantifying the notion of meaningful information. It is not clear to us that quantifying the notion of striving for survival in terms of comparisons of entropies will help with the problem of how organisms endowed with intentionality arise.

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Member George F. R. Ellis replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 07:10 GMT
I agree with you, Rodolfo


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Mark Pharoah wrote on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 20:22 GMT
I have two questions:

Your essay describes a connection between mathematics and certain characteristics of agency (purpose and meaningful function). The mathematics is intended to parallel our knowledge that biochemical mechanisms facilitate, through their function, a meaningful and informational relation to or "about" the environment. The complexity of this relation inevitably increases over generations at the behest of survival pressures.

Q1. Are you not tempted, therefore, to suggest further that over generations biochemical mechanisms become increasingly inclined to delineate environmental particulars in qualitative terms? In other words, if there is a value to be place on environmental particulars—expressed in the functions of an organism's physiology—are you not tempted to propose that the merit of any delineation towards environmental particulars will lead to physiologies that express a range of qualitative attributions towards those particulars (attributions that are qualified by their survival relevance); that such attributions might evince a ‘qualitative feel’ in the organism towards particular environmental characteristics as qualified by their comparative merits and relevance?

Q2. If one then factors into an affirmative answer to Q1. the idea that such qualitative mechanisms might be assimilated, evaluated and prioritized through the operations of neural networks, can your mathematics serve to provide the foundations to solving Chalmers' (1995 - Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness) Hard Problem?

If this sounds reasonable to you, I can provide you with the model which will successfully guide the application of your mathematical foundations to this end.

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Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 16:12 GMT
Congratulations, this is an excellent essay, truly original. I have 2 questions:

- would it be right to formulate darwinian evolution as: Species evolve by modifying p(x|y) in such a way as to guide the joint distribution p(x, y) in the direction of increasing M? This makes sense to me, at least, when considering a single species evolving in a static environment. When many species are coupled, and the environment of each species is defined by the state of all the others, recursiveness may abolish the existence of a global landscape to maximize. For example, it could happen that by adjusting p(x|y) in the direction of increasing M, a species may end up changing y, and producing a catastrophic effect on itself.

- P and P-tilde have been defined in terms of the probability of not surviving (S > Sthr), which makes the theory adequate to describe natural selection in living organisms. But could it be extended to more broad-directed behavior, encompassing all systems (not necessarily biological) that decrease their entropy as time goes by? Could the condition inside the integrals of Eqs. 7 and 8 be (Sinitial – Sfinal)? It seems to me that the meaningful information would in this case measure the degree up to which correlations contribute to a generalized goal, not necessarily survival. Or am I missing something?

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Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 07:27 GMT
carlo, hi,

i was pleased to see that you explore the importance of evolution - the ability of a bacteria to increase its chances of survival (and thus propagation) through awareness of its external environment. i would love to have seen this explored further in connection with the essay's goal. in what way could your essay be an answer to the main question (or a variant of the same), "how can mathematical laws give rise to aims and intentions?".

apologies if i have missed how your essay already answers that question.

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Member Jarmo Matti Mäkelä wrote on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 14:31 GMT
Dear Colleague,

This was a very interesting essay, even though I was hoping that you could have found a connection between the concept of relative information and your relational interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Jarmo Makela

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William B Goodwin wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 03:29 GMT

Your good paper was thought provoking, in particular your distinction between meaningful information and directly meaningful information. This covers the stimulus-response relationship well. I was hoping to read how this relates to aims and intentions which encompass a not-yet achieved future state and encompass a strategy to achieve that desired future.

William Goodwin

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 13:36 GMT
Dear Carlo,

one of the (many) merits of you essay is, I believe, to draw attention to a concept - meaning, or meaningful information - that was left a bit in the shadow in the Context Guidelines (the keywords there being long-term goals, intentions, agency etc.), and to convincingly argue that this concept could indeed represent a first crucial step in the path from physical to mental, which is of course much relevant to the contest objectives.

Once the entropy-based notion of useful correlation between internal and external variables is given, it is easy to see how the human brain, enjoying memory and the ability to model the external world, can take advantage of these correlations even in a conscious manner, e.g. by playing simulations internally before triggering external actions.

But I would be much interested in the opposite extreme: how far down can your idea be pushed?

In a world conceived as a bunch of atoms of spacetime, or a causal set, rather than a network of cells or animals, when and how could I start spotting meaningful mutual information at work?

Prerequisites include the emergence of sufficiently persistent regions (X, Y…) with an inside and an outside, and macro-variables (x, y, …) on top of the available micro-levels, which enable entropy notions. Talking about correlations between variables x and y also requires many instances of their value pairs in ‘time’ and/or in ‘space’ (thus, persistent or multiple copies of X and Y).

I am much attracted by the search for the most elementary formal systems -- possibly intended as models of a (young) universe -- that support your definition of meaningful mutual information, and its fruitful operation in evolutionary sense. I would be grateful if you could share your opinion on this issue.



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Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 02:51 GMT
Hi Carlo,

“We can easily imagine an alternative version of life where the meaning of two letters is swapped in the genetic code.” Carlo Rovelli, 2017

This doesn’t quite work because it is the chemical structure of the mRNA that is the template for protein construction. A change in the code is a mutation that would give a different product that may or may not be functional. There might however be alien life that operates with a different genetic code building alien life proteins. Synthetic life with extra base pairs has been developed in the lab, with the idea of building novel chemical structures. And there is the remote possibility of undiscovered Earth life that has a different cipher from all currently known Earth life.

The DNA can be regarded as a causal actor in eventual protein assembly. Looking back, the sequence of the DNA is an important underlying cause of the sequence of the protein. (It can’t cause it alone though, as the cell apparatus and raw materials and energy supply are also needed). Does it add anything saying the DNA had this (protein sequence) meaning? Likewise, a signal carried by the optic nerve may cause a particular activation of the visual cortex. Does it add anything to say the signal had that meaning rather than it was cause of that activation?

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Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 21:13 GMT
A signal is a physical event that conveys meaning. A ring of my phone, for instance, is a signal that means that somebody is calling. When I hear it, I understand its meaning and I may reach the phone and answer. Carlo Rovelli 2017

Does it covey meaning or is meaning produced from the sound signal on arrival? There is no labelled attached to the sound waves that has its meaning. The information is only what it is. That could be, as examples, a pattern, a structure or a simple physical characteristic such as a frequency of light or frequency of sound. Only if the means to produce the meaning exist is that, which is transmitted, meaningful. That red means stop must be learned before it has that meaning. Stop is not transmitted but the red frequency light is. Likewise, DNA is just a chemical. The protein product is the meaning, that doesn’t exist until it is produced. It would probably be better if we stopped saying meaning is transmitted or conveyed and say instead meaning is translated, extracted or produced, only the carrier of the information is transmitted.

What distinguishes its being a signal, from its being a simple link in a physical causation chain? Carlo Rovelli 2017

I think that is a good question. I also think that is a person/people deciding to classify it as a signal because there is clearly transmission happening and specific (receipt)-response correlation. There are very many specific chemicals in biology that are considered to be signals; that bind with specific receptors causing recognized effects. Which works against your next point that the carrier could be different. While in some situations that is true, any buzzer or bell could call an assistant, and in other situations such as ’finely tuned’ biochemistry it is not.

Thanks for a thought provoking, well written presentation.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 22:17 GMT
I wrote "meaning is translated, extracted or produced," extracted is definitely not the right word there . I should have said translated, inferred or produced, as i am saying meaning is not carried.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 08:57 GMT
Better still:'...obtained by translation, inference or production.'

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Miles Mutka wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 17:45 GMT
Your essay was very readable and held to the boundaries of its topic.

I did not see you discuss the boundaries between the life form and its environment, only correlations between "system A" and "system B". If this means what I think it means, I find it interesting that you find the meaningfulness of information in the correlations that cross the boundaries between life and non-life.

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 07:08 GMT
Hi Carlo,

I do have the feeling you are trying to convince me that the emperor (physics) could be clothed in the ultimate source of meaning.

Working on the "could be" is a good idea. And many of these essays offer some thoughtful ideas. However, at this present moment in history (IMHO) the emperor is Tutta Nuda.

1. You suggest that "to know is to have information...

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Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 19:21 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli

I found really interesting the concept of “meaningful information”, which allows quantifying the relative importance of information, a quality measurement essential to support the analysis of global properties of systems, namely of systems of connecting elements, the importance of which I show in my essay. Thermodynamics concerns only systems with non-connecting elements; analyzing systems with connecting ones is much more complex and needs concepts like this “meaningful information”.

Your essay is extremely well written, the ideas being presented with such clarity that what is subtle becomes almost trivial. It is focused on how to process information that we know to exist. My essay is somewhat the opposite because I present new information, an information that is critical for understanding the creation and evolution of life. Your essay provides a tool for analyzing the new information I present, while my essay provides new information that may show the importance of the tool you created; namely, the concept of meaningful information seems to be essential for quantifying the “intelligence” of physical systems, considering the non-anthropomorphic definition of intelligence I use.

Given your apparent special aptitude to analyze the subtle side of things, I think that you may find my essay interesting.

Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 15:02 GMT
Thanks Carlo for a thought provoking essay.

It is apparent that you have a keen interest in the interplay between living organisms and the external environment and the mechanism that can affect survival. Let me therefore seize the opportunity of this essay contest to extract expert comment from you on two ideas:

(1) If I may paraphrase your statement, “A life form that increases in mass, as the universe increases in mass, and reduces in mass, when the universe is reducing in mass prospers; while that life form that reduces in mass when the universe is increasing in mass, and increases in mass when the universe is reducing in mass has less chances…. Therefore we see many life forms are of the kind that grow in mass, rather than reduce in mass”

What do you think of the idea that dinosaur survival was affected by the later increase in Earth gravity?

(2) The cosmological history of the parameter, Ω being approximately one. This approximation as you know is described as the ‘flatness riddle’. This ratio of the density of the universe, ρ (or when multiplied by volume, the mass, M) to the critical density, ρc (or critical mass, Mc) suggests a universe whose mass is increasing with its expansion.

I touch on these two ideas in my paper and would value an expert's commentary.



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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 00:08 GMT
Dear Carlo Rovelli

I inform all the participants that use the electronic translator, therefore, my essay is written badly. I participate in the contest to familiarize English-speaking scientists with New Cartesian Physic, the basis of which the principle of identity of space and matter. Combining space and matter into a single essence, the New Cartesian Physic is able to integrate modern physics into a single theory. Let FQXi will be the starting point of this Association.

Don't let the New Cartesian Physic disappear! Do not ask for himself, but for Descartes.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential in understanding the world. To show potential in this essay I risked give "The way of The materialist explanation of the paranormal and the supernatural" - Is the name of my essay.

Visit my essay and you will find something in it about New Cartesian Physic. After you give a post in my topic, I shall do the same.


Dizhechko Boris

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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich replied on Apr. 2, 2017 @ 08:54 GMT
French scientists have no right to ignore the Descartes.

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Shaikh Raisuddin wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 15:57 GMT
Carlo Rovelli,

Can we see from perspective of matter? Why matter sustain (survive)? What is that makes atom resist to disintegration?

Why matter has inertia?

Anything that exist has to have the goal of survival.

What are differences between animate goals and inanimate goals?

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James A Putnam wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 04:01 GMT
Dr. Carlo Rovelli,

"The first is Darwin’s theory, which offers evidence on how function and purpose can emerge from natural variability and natural selection of structures [2]. Darwin’s theory provides a naturalistic account for the ubiquitous presence of function and purpose in biology." (2) [2] C. Darwin, On the Origin of Species. Penguin Classics,



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James A Putnam replied on Mar. 26, 2017 @ 03:39 GMT
Dr. Rovelli,

I withdraw my questions. Good luck to you.

James Putnam

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Robert Groess wrote on Mar. 26, 2017 @ 20:17 GMT
Dear Professor Carlo Rovelli,

Thank you for a richly stimulating and most enjoyable essay. I relate to your approach toward finding the link between the physical world and abstract concepts such as mathematics more easily that many of the other essays I have read in this contest. Claude Shannon and David Wolpert have done great work and I would like to add Charlie Bennett (IBM TJ Watson Research Center, NY) as being a pioneer in this regard.

I have a question regarding the exchange of information across different levels of emergence. Do you have any indication if the same process occurs when going down beyond the sub-elementary particle level? For example, how do electrons know their charge, mass, spin, etc.? Said in a different way, if we have a computer simulation of a physical process, we can say the program operating on top of the hardware level (actualized as traveling voltages) is what drives the simulation. But what about the physical world? How do the elementary particles know how to behave? Where does that information originate?

I wanted to let you know I enjoyed your essay very much and have in the meantime rated it as well.



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David Pinyana wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 11:27 GMT
Carlo, I see you will be the winer of this first essay contest... congratulatios, I already read your essay and rated it.

Please, consider to have into account my essay which main proposal is:

"A essay that could revolutionize the future of Cosmological Physics: Aristotle, Newton, Einstein,…"

The Dynamic Laws of Physics (and Universal Gravitation) have varied over time, and even Einstein had already proposed that they still has to evolve:


NEWTON: F = m.a

EINSTEIN. E = m.c2 (*)

MOND: F = m.a.(A/A0)

FRACTAL RAINBOW: F = f (scale) = m.a.(scale factor)

Or better G (Gravity Constant) vary with the scale/distance due to fractal space-time: G = f ( Scale/distance factor)

(*) This equation does not correspond to the same dynamic concept but has many similarities.

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James Gordon Stanfield wrote on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 01:02 GMT
Dr. Rovelli,

Your essay is one of the best I've read so far. How information comes to be processed does seem to be one of the main puzzle pieces to the mystery of agency in evolution. I really like the concept of relative information as a way of narrowing down the phase space of a given system to only its possibilities. It confuses me a bit here as it would seem that subtracting the...

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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 02:05 GMT
Dear Carlo I have read the first part of your essay with interest and as always in your writings you present your ideas carefully with due regard to the reader. In the second part things get rather too technical for me, so I will just write of what first came to mind when reading of your notion of "meaningful information". What popped in my mind is a concept in aesthetics that came out a century ago: significant form

For what its worth I mention this here, because in both your and Bell's definition (not *that* Bell !) it is the conscious human mind that is at work - to be sure in very different ways in physics and in art, nevertheless with some similarities.

I will be honored if you have a look at my fqxi essay

Best of luck.


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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Apr. 5, 2017 @ 04:00 GMT
Dear Sirs!

New Cartesian Physic based on the identity of space and matter. It showed that the formula of mass-energy equivalence comes from the pressure of the Universe, the flow of force which on the corpuscle is equal to the product of Planck's constant to the speed of light.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential for understanding the world. To show it, I ventured to give "materialistic explanations of the paranormal and supernatural" is the title of my essay.

Visit my essay, you will find there the New Cartesian Physic and make a short entry: "I believe that space is a matter" I will answer you in return.


Dizhechko Boris

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Bruce M Amberden wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 04:54 GMT
Hello Carlo Rovelli,

I very much enjoyed your essay; I think that you are spot on. I think that you have written an excellent foundational essay. You have a great beginning.

I think that there is a lot more to say about the emergence of semantics. Beyond Shannon information theory and Turing machines, there are semantics machines that operate with semantics analogous to how computers operate on symbols. Human thought and language are just two examples.

Thanks for the good read.


Bruce Amberden.

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Member Larissa Albantakis wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 14:20 GMT
Dear Carlo,

Thank you for a well written and interesting essay. I don't know if you had a chance yet to have a look at mine. My goal was to explore how far a correlation between the environment and the agent can really get us towards intrinsic meaning and in short I do not think it is possible to create intrinsic meaning through such correlation. There is no rush, but if you would eventually have a look at it I would love to hear what your thoughts are about it.

Best regards,

Larissa Albantakis

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