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FQXi FORUM
May 30, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Informational Unification of Intelligent Life with Fundamental Physics. by Jesse Liu and Sonali Mohapatra [refresh]
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Author Sonali Mohapatra wrote on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 15:11 GMT
Essay Abstract

The appearance of informational ideas across the natural sciences is highly suggestive. This essay argues that the conceptual dichotomy between fundamental physics and the emergence of intelligent life will be reconciled in a framework underpinned by physical information. Case studies from foundational physics to non-equilibrium thermodynamics and the origin of biology to consciousness draw from recent advances in the literature. By systematically synthesizing the rich phenomenological roles of information, we pinpoint a series of informational phase transitions that engendered life and high-level cognition. Natural language emerged as an additional channel of information transfer on top of genetics, allowing agents to plan from ancestral experience unencumbered by neural memory or lifespan.

Author Bio

Jesse Liu is a PhD student in Experimental Physics at the University of Oxford. Sonali Mohapatra is pursuing a PhD in Theoretical Physics at the University of Sussex, with research interests in Quantum Gravity. They met while studying at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Download Essay PDF File




Lorraine Ford wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 04:46 GMT
Dear Jesse and Sonali,

Re “Practically, information has two hallmarks: 1) substrate independence - we regard information without referring to its medium of instantiation; 2) interoperability - we move information across media and its properties are unchanged. These traits seem universal, whether we speak of magnetic tape or genetic material.”

Then why not take the DNA out of a cell and replace it with magnetic tape? And why not take the magnetic tape out of a tape-reading machine and replace it with DNA?

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 16:29 GMT
Dear Lorraine,

Thank you for your interesting question.

An instructive way to understand it is that even though information may be instantiated on nucleic acids or tape, the hardware-software matters if information can be read, understood and transferred - an idea we briefly discuss later in the essay. Another example is that we cannot play the song off a CD using an MP3 player even though it's the same song (and essentially same information), because the hardware and software are incompatible. Similarly, a cell does not have the hardware or software to directly decode the information on tape and vice versa.

Best,

Jesse

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Lorraine Ford replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 00:50 GMT
Dear Jesse,

But, are you claiming that information can simply exist in an objective or Platonic way, without local physical instantiation, and without being fully embedded in the universe via relationship to other aspects of physical reality?

Best,

Lorraine

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 10:22 GMT
Dear Lorraine,

Interesting question. Actually quite the contrary - information must exist physically, as we argue in say section IIIA. Substrate independence does not imply information need not have local physical instantiation. The media of instantiation is unimportant for the content of the information, but information still requires a physical medium to exist. A state with information is physically distinct from one without - indeed Landauer's principle implies erasing one bit results in energy dissipation. Information is related to other aspects of physical reality via the fundamental interactions (forces). After all, if a non-interacting physical object cannot change, it cannot be distinguished from a state without information.

Best,

Jesse

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 15:00 GMT
Jesse and Sonali –

A very interesting and well-informed essay, with a tremendous scope. My only criticism would be that the level of detail often seems to overwhelm the broad picture you’re sketching. But the details are all relevant, and I appreciate the references.

I hope you’ll find time to look at my essay and let me know what you think, since it deals (at a higher level...

view entire post


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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 11:10 GMT
Hi Conrad,

Thank you for taking the time to read our essay and your kind comments. You certainly raise interesting issues and we appreciate your interesting take on this subject so I'll read yours in due course.

Quantifying degrees of perception and environmental interaction in a continuous way is certainly consistent with integrated information theory's 'Phi' measure (indeed there...

view entire post


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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 15:51 GMT
Jesse, thanks for your response, and I’m sorry I didn’t see it a few days ago.

First, going back to look at your essay again, I was struck by the first paragraph. My essay makes a similar point, with the opposite emphasis – that is, though the principles and predictive precision of physics are unmatched, we have no clarity at all as to why physics works the way it does; in fact this...

view entire post


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Author Sonali Mohapatra replied on Mar. 23, 2017 @ 19:46 GMT
Hi Conrad,

Thank you for your very interesting comments. If I may add a little bit more to your discussion on language:

"As to natural language, I fully agree that “natural language may have the same informational importance for human intelligence as genetics has for life.” I would say that language was certainly necessary for the emergence of reflective thought in any form, and...

view entire post





Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 23:25 GMT
Dear sonali Mohapatra

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They usually enjoy this wander of their searches around it.

3) For millenniums this wander has been shared by a lot of creative people around the world.

4) What if suddenly, something considered quasi impossible to be found or discovered such as “Time” definition and experimental meaning confronts them?

5) Their reaction would be like, something unbelievable,… a kind of disappointment, probably interpreted as a loss of wander…..

6) ….worst than that, if we say that what was found or discovered wasn’t a viable theory, but a proved fact.

7) Then it would become offensive to be part of the millenary problem solution, instead of being a reason for happiness and satisfaction.

8) The reader approach to the news would be paradoxically adverse.

9) Instead, I think it should be a nice welcome to discovery, to be received with opened arms and considered to be read with full attention.

11)Time “existence” is exclusive as a “measuring system”, its physical existence can’t be proved by science, as the “time system” is. Experimentally “time” is “movement”, we can prove that, showing that with clocks we measure “constant and uniform” movement and not “the so called Time”.

12)The original “time manuscript” has 23 pages, my manuscript in this contest has only 9 pages.

I share this brief with people interested in “time” and with physicists who have been in sore need of this issue for the last 50 or 60 years.

Héctor

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 16:14 GMT
Dear Jesse Liu and Sonali Mohapatra,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Willy K wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 05:49 GMT
Hi Jesse/Sonali

I found your essay to be quite on the mark regarding its treatment of intelligence. I am in total agreement with the three phase transitions you suggest – life, consciousness and language. My essay looked more at extrinsic intelligence (Constitutional nation state) since intrinsic intelligence (brains) required a lot more expertise.

The model that I ended up suggesting for extrinsic intelligence could also be construed to agree that consciousness is at a different stage compared to language. This becomes possible if 'consciousness' can be understood as Constitutional Democracy, while 'language capacity' is understood to be technological prowess triggered by the fourth Right in the model (Economics of Hayek and Smith).

It may help to know that the model originally only had seven stages; two stage (the fourth and seventh) were added later on, in order to add more sophistication. The essay did not permit enough space for me to add this nuance of a two phase wrinkle being present within it. But since your essay addresses this squarely (albeit at the intrinsic level of brains), I thought it would be good to point this out.

Warm Regards, Willy

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 18:35 GMT
Thank you for your kind comments and pointing out the interesting mapping between our and your interesting essay. What you call 'extrinsic intelligence' motivated by social systems is certainly something we were thinking about during the writing process, though we did not discuss it extensively beyond referring to humanity influencing the natural environment. Viewing collective systems (of intelligent agents) and its structures as having its own intelligence is certainly interesting for us to think about further.

Best,

Jesse

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Willy K replied on Mar. 30, 2017 @ 08:33 GMT
Hi Jesse

I think your essay is written to high scholarly standards and moreover, unlike many other essays in this contest, it is dealing with the topic of this contest in a fairly direct manner. I rate your essay very highly as a consequence.

Do you think a work on Constitutional Democracy can be supported by Conant's Good Regulator Theorem or Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety? I tend to think so. For instance, Good Regulator Theorem was created with the brain as a case study. If you disagree and it is not too much trouble, please do let me know why it can't be used in the social domain.

http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/books/Conant_Ashby.pdf

Regards, Willy

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 14:05 GMT
Nice essay Sonali Mohapatra,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent, but I want have some discussion on some points like…

Fundamental physics enjoys spectacularly principled and predictive success. The recent direct observations of the Higgs boson [1, 2] and gravitational waves [3] are among the most exquisite experimental tests of the Standard Model and General...

view entire post


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Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 10:09 GMT
Dear Jesse and Sonali

You present a general approach to the problem, interesting, well written. This is a starting point, a wandering, it does not really “explains” the evolution to complexity displayed by the universe, but it points to a road.

I recognize part of your reasoning, as I also wandered by similar paths long ago. But it comes a time when one has to reach results. That time has arrived to me, and I have clear results to present. Maybe you would be interested in seeing my essay because, as you are young, so I think, and you have already pretty consistent ideas on the subject, you may benefit from my work and advance in your understanding of the subject.

All the best,

Alfredo Gouveia Oliveira

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 18:41 GMT
Thanks Alfredo for your kind remarks. As you say, this essay was our first survey of what phenomena an 'explanatory theory' must be able to derive, tackling the question holistically from a natural science stance. We certainly consider developing our ideas further in the future, where we can profit from your ideas.

Best,

Jesse

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William B Goodwin wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 19:51 GMT
Jesse and Sonali,

I read your essay with great interest. Certainly the development of language and mathematics provided a tremendous boost to human learning. I like your phases of development: life, consciousness, language and high intelligence. In my essay I noted the brain development from a stimulus-reaction, to remembering past events (hence learned behaviors) and to the ability to imagine future events. If I were to rewrite it, I would include language development.



For my use of aims and intentions, the person needs to imagine future outcomes and select a path to achieve the most desirable outcome. I ignore the weak use of intentions as in “I intend to lose weight” with the hidden meaning that “I probably won’t lose it”.

In my essay I pose some new ideas. I raise the possibility of an information dimension where our thoughts, imagination, and emotions are stored. Think of the emotions around your first teenage love and the subsequent breakup. The brain uses its power in the physical dimension, such as its electromagnetic impulses, to access this dimension. But this information dimension does not have to follow the physical laws. We can imagine things that are not true in the physical world. For the most part, humans use this dimension that is within the brain. In some rare cases, people can access information beyond the individual brain.

While this is not part of my essay, I mention it to stimulate your thinking. In the quantum world, one experiment was to separate entangled particles by a large distance, then simultaneous measure their spin. The knowledge of the first particle’s measurement was conducted faster than the speed of light to the second particle. So if this pair-wise knowledge occurs in the information dimension, then maybe the information dimension is not bounded by the speed of light, i.e. information could have different properties than in the physical world.

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 18:51 GMT
Thank you William for your interest in reading our essay. We certainly are in agreement in thinking there's something more to information in addressing the question at hand, though our approaches differed. Of course, we argued that information must ultimately obey the laws of physics in contrast to what you propose in your intriguing 'information dimension' idea. I suppose one might argue the fact our human imagination has the ability to invent new hypothetical situations or laws of physics that may or may not be realised in the universe as some loose way of arguing some abstract/emergent structure encodes these ideas. Call it our imagination - facilitated by the richness of information we can hold in our natural language - certainly helps with our agency. You present interesting ideas for me to ponder over so thanks again!

Best,

Jesse

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Natesh Ganesh wrote on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 03:20 GMT
Hi Jesse and Sonali,

An extremely well written essay. I enjoyed it a lot. I agree that information is the necessary link to answer a lot of these fundamental questions, and that information is physical. I would suggest reading "Information as a Physical Quantity" by Neal Anderson. I think you might enjoy that paper.

I have not quite wrapped my head around (or agree) with top down causation yet but I see it is very popular, and exploring it further will be a major takeaway from this contest. I wonder if the consciousness box in Fig.1, should have 'lower intelligence' written within in. I am not quite sure we can any consciousness without some amount of intelligence accompanying. However consciousness as form of information phase transition is something I concur with and discuss in detail with the associated math in my own submission "Intention is Physical".

"What are the theory-independent observable phenomena and informational links behind the origin of life and intelligence that a unifying framework must contain?"

I suggest some thermodynamic constraints, inspired by derivations based on the Landauer Principle to explain emergence of both learning and intelligence, as well goal directed agency in agents modeled as Markov finite state machines. Have a look if can.

Cheers and good luck.

Natesh

PS: I rated your essay, deservedly high because I think this is top-notch work. And I also got introduced to Goldenfeld and Woese's work from your references. Thanks for that.

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Jesse Liu replied on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 19:14 GMT
Hi Natesh, Thank you for your very kind comments. Goldenfeld and Woese is a fine read and we thank you for your reference. Having a quick look at it, it certainly looks consistent with our argument. Yes I came across your extremely well-written essay some weeks ago on the minimal dissipation hypothesis (but have yet to digest the details!) for manifesting learning like phenomena and enjoyed your engineering perspective.

From my particle physics background, the use of 'top-down' confused me at first (as it means underlying microscopic theory in my field) whereas in this context it is quite the opposite. The ideas of top-down causation certainly appear in some of the literature we surveyed, but my understanding is that it is a feedback mechanism of the macroscopic structures imposed on the microscopic, when the reductionist would usually study the inverse. I would personally have to read and think about it more to appreciate it, but the approach is usually very absent in particle physics so I was quite intrigued.

I'm glad you agree with our stance that consciousness is a distinct phase transition. While we do not develop this idea very deeply or concretely given the constrained scope, it does not seem far-fetched. And yes we thought quite a bit about how we wanted to distinguish consciousness from 'lower intelligence'. We used the Legg-Hutter definition of intelligence, which seems somewhat independent to perhaps the integrated information theory of consciousness, so we settled for now on them being separate concepts. One might imagine a somewhat sophisticated AI on our phone, but at least intuitively it doesn't seem conscious. I think this is far from unambiguous though.

And thanks for your suggestion to that question - we'll certainly think about it!

Best,

Jesse

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 30, 2017 @ 23:33 GMT
Jesse and Sonali,

Thank you, Jesse, for your kind comments regarding my essay. It is a special treat when someone reads your work and comments rather than rate w/o reading.

My thoughts on your essay is a well-thought-out process analysis with roles of information, evolution, natural law, and humans. Some notable thoughts include "Life begins as a phase transition when information gains top-down causal efficacy over the matter that instantiates it." Matter giving instance to life and its cognizant causes has meaningful fluency.

Somehow I think other sciences are left out when you say, "One speculates that we are witnessing the start of a profound informational unification in the natural sciences. Certainly biology and quantum biology involve agents in the process, and consider the blossoming role of quantum biology, the importance of quantum coherence in the high efficiency of photosynthesis and the migration of the European Robin. New discoveries seem to feature situations where even environmental noise fails to cause decoherence in some processes like photosynthesis, " Neural processes typically arise on time scales of order 100 ms and there is consensus that quantum effects decohere too quickly for any relevance" Is this true regarding the human brain, utilizing a type 0 civilization technology?

Jim Hoover

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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 18:03 GMT
Jesse and Sonali,

As time grows short, I have a practice of returning to essays I have read to determine if I have rated them yet. I discovered that I hadn't rated your very well-done essay and rated it today.

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

Jim Hoover

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Member Marc Séguin wrote on Mar. 31, 2017 @ 02:42 GMT
Dear Jesse and Sonali,

Very interesting and ambitious essay --- and quite "concentrated" too, as you seem to bring forth a new idea every few lines! I agree with you that information is a key concept that must be better understood if we hope to come up with a complete theory of the Universe. By the way, I really like the way you define the two "hallmarks" of information, "1) substrate independence --- we regard information without referring to its medium of instantiation; 2) interoperability --- we move information across media and its properties are unchanged." It is by reasoning along similar lines that I have come to the conclusion that deep down, everything can be understood in terms of abstract structures --- even more than that, EVERYTHING is an abstract structure! To Lorraine Ford's objections above in your essays' thread, I would say that indeed, information is physical, but to be physical is to be observed by a conscious observer, and consciousness, in the end, is nothing but an idea --- an abstract structure.

One thing is for sure: since information can be understood in terms of entropy and thermodynamics, it turns out that thermodynamics is as central as quantum mechanics and general relativity to the big, fundamental questions of existence! I will reread your essay and ponder these issues further. Meanwhile, I've bumped you higher in the ratings so that your essay gets more well-deserved exposure!

Good luck in the contest,

Marc

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Author Sonali Mohapatra replied on Mar. 31, 2017 @ 08:08 GMT
Hi Marc,

Thank you very much for your very kind comments.

Yes, we definitely agree with you that thermodynamics is as central as quantum mechanics and general relativity, in fact, this was one of the issues we were pondering while writing up the essay. A brief literature survey reveals that even blackhole structures and interiors are being probed in terms of thermodynamic quantities now (the whole field of blackhole thermodynamics) and there is much discussion on how to define thermodynamics consistently in both the quantum and the classical regimes.

One of the ways in which we deemed this going forward was to look at information theories at each level as an EFT and perturbatively connect the various energy scales. But in order to carry out this process seamlessly, there is so much more scope of work to be done. In fact, contructor theory of information (which we have referred to in our essay), tries to look at similar ideas.

Thank you very much once again and good luck on your essay to you as well!

Regards,

Sonali




Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 07:11 GMT
Dear Sirs!

Physics of Descartes, which existed prior to the physics of Newton returned as the New Cartesian Physic and promises to be a theory of everything. To tell you this good news I use «spam».

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. Can put me 1.

Sincerely,

Dizhechko Boris

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Aron Barco wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 21:53 GMT
Dear both,

I really enjoyed your essay. It was recommended to us by Willy K.

I agree with you as the conclusion in our essay seem to align with your proposal and moreover you seem to further extend our conclusions by proposing information as the underlying concept which can link language and consciousness.

I would like to ask you if you also see mathematics as part of natural language or it may be interpreted as another phase transition. Or if this is not the case where is mathematics place in your discussion?

Once, again brilliant essay.

Kind Regards,

Yafet

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Author Sonali Mohapatra replied on Apr. 15, 2017 @ 12:57 GMT
Hi Yafet,

Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am glad you enjoyed our essay.

The question of mathematics, that you raise, is indeed a very interesting question.

I would naively imagine mathematics to develop hand in hand with the development of language as the underlying language for developing physical theories and a way to encode them for bookkeeping. Thus, in my view I would see mathematics as maybe the conscious development of a high-level language. I am not sure whether to see it as another phase transition, but maybe that can only be answered if we manage to write down the critical parameters of information which drive phase-transition in our theory.

Would you agree?

Sincerely,

Sonali




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