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FQXi FORUM
May 27, 2019

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: It, Bit, and Something More by Laurence Hitterdale [refresh]
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Author Laurence Hitterdale wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 16:39 GMT
Essay Abstract

The terminological contrast between “it” and “bit” marks at least three distinctions. Using this language, we might be talking about the differences between analog and digital structures. We might be talking about the differences between physical principles and more abstract informational and computational principles. Somewhat nebulously but perhaps also intriguingly, we might be trying to reach for something about a relationship between “every item of the physical world” and “an immaterial source and explanation”. Because the first distinction (i.e., analog versus digital) has been extensively discussed earlier, this essay focuses on the other two contrasting pairs. With respect to the contrast between physical and informational-computational principles, two conclusions are reached. Nature does not in general operate computationally. Nonetheless, the informational concepts of complexity and entropy are significant for our understanding of existence, although the respective roles of information and of matter and energy are unclear. The last topic is approached by considering the possibilities for computation and complexity as factors in the explanation of consciousness. Neither proposed explanatory factor is helpful. It seems that consciousness does not reduce either to “it” or to “bit” or to any combination of them. The final conclusion is that, if we could better understand the connections among “it”, “bit”, and consciousness, then we might also make some progress on the even grander question, “How come existence?”

Author Bio

Laurence Hitterdale holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. Having worked for both business firms and academic institutions, he is currently a professor of information systems at Glendale College in California. His philosophical work is focused on ontology, philosophy of cosmology, and philosophy of mind.

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Zoran Mijatovic wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 23:58 GMT
Hello Dr. Hitterdale.

I found your essay informative, but I disagree with your characterization of "observer-participants", i.e. conscious beings, as not belonging to the question of "It from Bit or Bit from It", and in that sense not central to the enquiry stimulated by this competition. But then, I agree with you when you say that consciousness is not to be identified with complexity. Within the context which my essay provides, I answer questions posted, and in one post I answer the essay question, the answer is "It from Bit", but this answer does not contradict the "Bit from It" proposition, and in not being a conundrum it offers up an answer to the nature of consciousness and the nature of our participation as conscious observers. Moreover, in my essay conclusion, which offers up a new version of cosmology, there is a prediction which if found to be actual, will add weight to the nature of our participation in the conservation of creation. And if not found actual will shoot me down in flames. I enjoyed your essay, and I hope you enjoy my essay and find it informative. I also welcome your comments because my work is in essence a work of philosophy; right up your alley.

Good luck in the contest.

Zoran.

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 8, 2013 @ 18:16 GMT
What I meant to say is that the topic of observer-participants is not obviously related to a question about the relations of "it" and "bit". At a deeper level, however, there is a connection, because it (physical existence), bit (informational order, more comprehensively viewed as abstract mathematical order), and consciousness all three seem to be fundamental factors in reality. But to elaborate this guess about the nature of things is a difficult task.

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Manuel S Morales wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 00:59 GMT
Laurence,

"Here is the clue: Look for how come in how."

Well said! If you are looking for evidence to support your position I have presented such evidence in my essay. I hope you will find value in it towards your research. The how is indeed paramount.

Best wishes,

Manuel

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 07:39 GMT
Dear Laurence,

Two birds with one stone. If that's not worth a 10, I don't know what is! You handle both "bits as fundamental" and "universe as computer" masterfully. I don't see how anyone reading your essay could believe in either when they finished. You sliced and you diced!

I like the way you held time out as special. Wheeler recognized time as the fly in the ointment. Time...

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 8, 2013 @ 19:31 GMT
First, my thanks for the kind and generous over-all judgment. I much appreciate your comments.

The subject of time is, it seems to me, fundamental to any understanding of how things are. I would distinguish two basic strategies for dealing with time. One is to accept all the apparent properties of time as fully real and objective in nature. The other is to consign some of time's properties to mere appearance. Passage or flow (i.e., the river of time) and asymmetry between past and future are two features that many thinkers have tried to explain away. As I understand the situation, time as experienced and normally understood is hard to reconcile with reality as presented in contemporary physics. On the other hand, features of time demoted from objective reality have to have their apparent reality explained somehow, and that is not easy to do.

In particular, if the flow of time is not objectively real, the obvious explanation for the "illusion" of flow is to say that subjective consciousness projects a sense of passage onto the world. This proposed explanation is evidently inconsistent with the position that consciousness itself is not a fully real aspect of existence. Sweeping something under a rug is not a useful technique when the rug has already been sold as surplus.

Finally, on information, I think the concept of information which is the basis for these essays is the minimal structural notion of distinguishable states. This is not information in an ordinary sense. Information in the very abstract sense of Shannon does not say what we are talking about. The compensating advantage of this concept of information is its comprehensive applicability. We can use it to measure the "bits" necessary to describe anything. The essay topic, as I interpret it, is about the relationship between such an abstract structural order and the more concrete existence that we think we find in nature.

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Edwin Eugene Klingman replied on Jul. 9, 2013 @ 02:43 GMT
Laurence,

You say, "The subject of time is, it seems to me, fundamental to any understanding of how things are." I fully agree. I would also point you to a current essay, Time is the denominator of existence, and bits come to be in it by Daryl Janzen. In this and his previous essay, he develops a 'presentist' view that is nevertheless consistent with General Relativity (his specialty).

I also agree with you that: "I think the concept of information which is the basis for these essays is the minimal structural notion of distinguishable states. This is not information in an ordinary sense. Information in the very abstract sense of Shannon does not say what we are talking about."

Thanks again for your excellent essay, and good luck in the contest.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 14:46 GMT
Dear Laurence Hitterdale,



Thank you for presenting a beautiful essay here. You have nicely concluded it by saying, ''''' The final conclusion is that, if we could better understand the connections among 'it', 'bit', and consciousness, then we might also make some progress on the even grander question, 'How come existence?' '''''

We form a picture of every matter in the...

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 12, 2013 @ 16:28 GMT
The second paragraph of this comment poses the mind/body problem. What is the relationship between "in the brain" and "in the mind"? I don't think we really have a definitive answer to this question yet. The third paragraph asks whether I believe information is sufficient to create matter from nothing. No, I do not. Information, in the abstract sense understood for these essays, is a type of abstract mathematical structure. Which mathematical structures apply to physical existence is a fact external to the mathematical structures themselves. It is a further fact, the fact of contingent existence. One way to see this is to notice that some mathematical structures are physically relevant, but others, which as pure mathematics are just as good, have no physical relevance at all. The only way to evade this conclusion, it seems to me, is to embrace modal realism. That doctrine has problems of its own.

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 06:24 GMT
Dear Hitterdale,

I am sorry in the delay in replying you. I did not check the replies. You also did not intimate,

It was not mind body problem, Brain is Hard ware, Mind is software.

It was my proposition, it was not an inference to your essay. What I mean is that we should be more close experimental results for our propositions.

I think we form a picture of anything in our mind, and keep them in our memories. We communicate about that picture to others, which we call information. When we die we loose all these pictures and memories.

Now in this context, can we create material from information...?

You can discuss with me later after this contest closes also.

Best

=snp

snp.gupta@gmail.com

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Michel Planat wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 14:56 GMT
Dear Laurence,

You wrote an interesting survey of several important questions Wheeler put on the table. Below are a few comments.

You: If my world is computed, am I computed too?

Me: Very good question. I suspect many things are not computed as discussed in other essays of this contest (Szangolies, Crowell, Heinrich...)

You: the hypothesis that consciousness is a form of computation seems as implausible as ever.

Me: may be a kind of quantum computation, or a kind of neuronal computation like in the perceptron.

You: When we talk about “observer-participants”, we are talking about conscious beings.

Me: I don't think so. Currently, quantum contextuality is a way to understand Wheeler's sentence. I does not need consciousness of the observer.

You: “How come existence?” So, I propose to look at consciousness alongside “it” and “bit”.

Me: I agree, I also found the idea of self-awareness in some essays. But it seems to be non-physical despite Wheeler's viewpoint.

Even worse the "law without law", but you did not look at this Wheeler's concept.

Best wishes,

Michel

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 12, 2013 @ 16:58 GMT
Responses to three items in this comment:

(1) Whether consciousness is any kind of computation would seem to be an important question. So far it doesn't look as though the kind or location of the computation ("a kind of quantum computation, or a kind of neuronal computation") would make a difference.

(2) I agree that some thinkers believe that non-conscious, strictly physical processes, reduce the quantum wave function. As I understand it, this view is often called an "objective reduction" interpretation. Hence, on objective reduction interpretations, conscious observer-participants are not needed for this important transition. I suppose it is a matter of semantics whether or not one chooses to call these reducing entities "observer-participants."

(3) In his original article Wheeler did not talk about "law without law." You say that concept of his is "even worse." It does seem to me that the concept will not work as a foundation for the existence we see. I do not see how pure indeterminacy and indefiniteness can lead, either in time or in logic, to specific details. "Law without law" sounds too much like Hegel's attempt to derive everything from pure and empty being as such.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 18:04 GMT
Laurence

If given the time and the wits to evaluate over 120 more entries, I have a month to try. My seemingly whimsical title, “It’s good to be the king,” is serious about our subject.

Jim

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 19:29 GMT
Dear Laurence

You are very assertive in the analysis, but unfortunately that be timid in conclusions ,

And to change the atmosphere "abstract" of the competition and to demonstrate for the real preeminent possibility of the Absolute theory as well as to clarify the issues I mentioned in the essay and to avoid duplicate questions after receiving the opinion of you , I will add a reply...

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john stephan selye wrote on Jul. 4, 2013 @ 14:32 GMT
I found your essay very interesting on many points. I like the notion that time is a factor common to both It and Bit. In my view, this leads to the conclusion that It and Bit are correlated, whereas whatever other relationship they may have is more open to conjecture.

As you say, the universe can't be all Bits, and we must reject 'computationalism'. However, the universe is a projection...

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 12, 2013 @ 17:30 GMT
This posting raises a number of issues, and it would not be possible to respond to all of them. However, to items can be discussed. First, I am not sure what proposal is being made about the relationship of the cognizing mind to the external world. "The universe is a projection of our processes of cognition" sounds like some sort of subjective idealism. However, this is immediately modified to something that sounds like representational realism. The latter view seems more plausible to me. Second, I agree that reality as we encounter it appears to contain diverse elements. We think these elements fit together in ways that we do not understand. There seems to be a proposal here to postulate a large "master field" which will hold all other things together. This raises such questions as the evidence for this field, the nature of its intrinsic properties, and an explanation for the capacity of the field to act upon the lesser entities immersed within it.

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Anonymous wrote on Jul. 8, 2013 @ 12:40 GMT
Hello Dr Hitterdale

I very much appreciate the care you took in teasing out the very complex, some might say unwieldy, synthesis of concepts Wheeler used in his talk. I too found the connections in that talk to be quite nebulous, perhaps even disconnected.

I found the section on consciousness to be the most interesting, especially the allusion to the mind-body problem, in the recognition that the experience and the underlying computation cannot be the same thing. Unfortunately I was unable to address this issue in my essay due to a lack of space. I see what you mean about the illusion of the illusion of seeing, as an infinite regress, implying that conscious experience cannot be a type of information processing.

Because of your connection to philosophy, I am keen you will consider my essay also. Feel free to challenge it.

Best wishes

Stephen Anastasi

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Stephen James Anastasi wrote on Jul. 8, 2013 @ 12:51 GMT
Bother!

The last post was not intended to be anonymous; the system logged me out.

Stephen James Anastasi

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Jennifer L Nielsen wrote on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 17:22 GMT
I enjoy your appreciation that the problem of consciousness doesn't seem to reduce to bit, and your proposal that it doesn't reduce to "it" either. There's been some speculation that the "Something More" is perhaps quantum at some level in nature (in my paper I neglect much dealings with consciousness, but I talk about a similar issue of the problems of describing some aspects of reality). Your ideas are reminiscent of the ideas of Chalmers who I admire- I'm glad we have some philosophers in here as well as the usual physics/engineering crowd :)

Have skimmed so far since I'm trying to take in a number of interesting essays, but wanted to let you know I appreciate what you're working on here. I'm not going to beg you to read or rate my essay but I would enjoy any discussion from a philosopher's perspective if you find my approach interesting or enjoyable :)

Good luck !

Cheers,

Jennifer

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 22:37 GMT
Thank you for your comments. I will try to read your essay, and will comment on it there.

With respect to quantum approaches to consciousness, as for example, the ideas of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, I would question whether such an hypothesis, if true, would of itself solve the problems of (1) what consciousness is and (2) how it is connected to the rest of things. It is not easy to see how quantum states could actually be conscious, particularly when other seemingly similar quantum states are not. The problems are not solved, but are merely transferred from neurons and neuronal assemblages to smaller and stranger constituents of nature.

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Hugh Matlock wrote on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 04:02 GMT
Hi Laurence,

I enjoyed your essay and thought that you brought up some valid points. Overall, though, I would have to classify myself as a "computationalist" and so will play devil's advocate to your position here. You wrote:

1. "Clearly the cosmos could not contain the information describing such a small though intricate subpart of itself. Still less could the cosmos compute that...

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Jul. 15, 2013 @ 17:44 GMT
Since points 2 and 4 could be better addressed with reference to the "Software Cosmos" essay, I do not reply to them here.

On point 1: I agree with the comment insofar as it applies to a virtual world. When we consider computational universes, we need to draw distinctions and go into details. In my essay, I left out almost all of that. Specifically, we need to distinguish (1) a universe which uses computation as part of its normal mode of operation and (2) a universe which is a virtual product of some domain external to it. Seth Lloyd seems to regard our universe as a case of type (1). Nick Bostrom has discussed the possibility of type (2). For type (2), we would also want to distinguish between (2-a) a universe which is fully realized down to the unobserved details and (2-b) a universe which is sketched in just enough to convince creatures such as us who inhabit it. I think both Bostrom and David Chalmers have talked about these two varieties. Only for type (1) computationalism does the universe have to contain enough computational capacity for compute itself. For type (2) universes all the computation is done externally, and so the universe need not contain any computational capacity--or any actual powers of any sort. It might be argued that a virtual universe has few properties (or at least it does not have the properties it seems to have). It might be said that a virtual universe lacks even the kind of existence it seems to have. However, if we assume that a given universe (for example, our own) is a virtual construction, we might be able to estimate the computational capacity which would be required for it externally.

On point 3: Once again, I can to some extent agree with the comment, but I think there still is an important issue here. Yes, the computational model can be understood as a way in which natural laws are implemented. I would emphasize that, before we can assess it as better or worse than some other model, we have to ask, What is the other model? How else might natural laws be implemented? This is something which Paul Davies talks about in his essay, "Universe from bit". It would seem that, on a computational view, the implementation of laws is more complicated than on a non-computational approach. On either view, there would still be an "explanatory gap". The "lowest level particles" just behave one way rather than another. On both the computational and non-computational views, natural laws and antecedent conditions jointly determine what happens next in a particular situation. But how does the world get from laws and antecedent conditions to what happens next? On the computational view, there is in nature some type of process of figuring out what to do. The process is at least somewhat analogous to what a human observer might do to figure out what will happen. (If our world is a virtual reality, then the figuring out is done outside the world so as to simulate the operation of laws which do not really apply.) On the non-computational view, the next step in the world process happens automatically. I think these two pictures are distinguishable, and I think we can at least explore the implications of each of them.

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Hugh Matlock replied on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 04:07 GMT
You wrote:

> I think these two pictures [i.e. virtual/non virtual] are distinguishable, and I think we can at least explore the implications of each of them.

How might we distinguish them? One possible model system (or analogy) that occurs to me comes from the computer industry: There are several situations in which we simulate the operation of a CPU: that is, we create a virtual...

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Sreenath B N wrote on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 08:34 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I have down loaded your essay and soon post my comments on it. Meanwhile, please, go through my essay and post your comments.

Regards and good luck in the contest,

Sreenath BN.

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1827

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Antony Ryan wrote on Jul. 15, 2013 @ 04:46 GMT
Dear Professor Hitterdale,

Congratulations on an intelligent and well written essay. I've added a few new words to my vocabulary! I really like that you've included consciousness, after all it is us human beings taking part in the contest!

I think that you are dead right that we need to ask "How come existence?".

Wishing you well in the contest. If time permits - please take a look at my essay.

Best wishes,

Antony

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 10:27 GMT
Dear Professor,

Your essay is written on properly/professionally level and honest polemical style. However I am afraid that I am understand it not well and fully. (Maybe because of my not so perfect English, and I am not philosopher) I need to read it more and to spend more time. However, I think that I find one important confirmation to my own conclusion. You says about important factor for the science: about dependence of its significance from initially accepted criterions of its construction. I.e. the science will too much depend from the brain constructing it. It is my point also. However, I come to confidence that there are other trivial factors also that we do not care usually. But those may have huge significance too. I have rated your work as a valuable for me (with nine point) And I hope get your opinion/impression on my work Essay, that will be valuable for me.

Best Regards,

George

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David Levan wrote on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 22:19 GMT
Hi Laurence,

there is something available

David

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 15:29 GMT
Dear Laurence,

You have a briiliant essay taking us through an excursion to 'bit from it' or 'it from bit' territory. However, can you really get a satisfactory answer to this question without knowing what the fundamental 'it' is? If we take Leibniz by his words (especially the first 8 paragraphs of his Monadology) and I quote, "...So monads are the true atoms of Nature—the elements out of which everything is made".

Then again, that age old question, ...how come existence? You may find Paragraph 6 of that monadology and a few ideas in my essay of interest. My essay also has a dose of philosophy so your comments are particularly welcome.

Best regards,

Akinbo

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 16:43 GMT
Professor Hitterdale,

I thought that your essay was quite absorbing. Please do excuse me for I am a decrepit old useless realist. You wrote: “ In order for there to be a genuine question here, we need to understand what a non-computational universe would look like. Unless we can describe an alternative to computation, then we do not know what we are trying to discuss."

Please behold the non-computational real Universe sir.

The real Universe only deals in absolutes. All information is abstract and all and every abstract part of information is excruciatingly difficult to understand. Information is always selective, subjective and sequential. Reality is not and cannot ever be selective subjective and sequential.

One (1) real unique Universe can only be eternally occurring in one real here and now while perpetually traveling at one real “speed” of light through one real infinite dimension once. One is the absolute of everything. (1) is the absolute of number. Real is the absolute of being. Universe is the absolute of energy. Eternal is the absolute of duration. Occurring is the absolute of action. Here and now are absolutes of location and time. Perpetual is the absolute of ever. Traveling is the absolute of conveyance method. Light is the absolute of speed. Infinite dimension is the absolute of distance and once is the absolute of history.

Good luck in the contest,

Joe

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Than Tin wrote on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 04:29 GMT
Dear Dr. Hitterdale

Richard Feynman in his Nobel Acceptance Speech

(http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/19
65/feynman-lecture.html)

said: “It always seems odd to me that the fundamental laws of physics, when discovered, can appear in so many different forms that are not apparently identical at first, but with a little mathematical fiddling you can...

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 20:00 GMT
Dear Lawrence,

Very enjoyable essay, and a rare (this year) and refreshing philosophical viewpoint. Nicely organized, highly logical and a pleasure to read.

I could take issue on some points but it would greatly help communication if you could read my essay first. I make some radical points, mostly consistent with your views.

My high points from yours; "Nature does not in general operate computationally." and; "we usually talk about bits, but have we really determined that nature computes in the binary system?" (I give that concept a tight definition).

"The problem is to determine what coding scheme or schemes nature itself uses." I define one with empirical support, and on the basis that; "the experience and the underlying computation cannot be the same thing." ...which I find not as fully analysed as we assume. An EPR paradox solution without FTL emerges.

Well written and thank you, a suitable 'heap' of points being applied. I very much look forward to your views on mine (It's foundations in last years essay were well supported philosophically).

Best wishes

Peter

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 20:48 GMT
Laurence,

It is refreshing to read an essay that deals with Wheeler's aspects of "It from Bit," like consciousness. The attribute and behavioral ambiguities of consciousness, the subatomic world, and the macro world are not dealt with in many analyses of the "Anthropic Principle."

No one seems to analyze the nature of consciousness either -- "What we have learned, I think, is that consciousness is not a phenomenon of “bits” as you do and I do.

I would like to see your thoughts on my essay: "It's Good to be the King."

Jim

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Than Tin wrote on Aug. 1, 2013 @ 05:46 GMT
Dear All

A standard-issue big city all-glass high-rise stands across the street from my usual bus stop. When I look up the high-rise facade, I can see the reflections of the near-by buildings and the white clouds from the sky above. Even when everything else looks pretty much the same, the reflections of the clouds are different, hour to hour and day to day.

After I boarded the bus,...

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john stephan selye wrote on Aug. 2, 2013 @ 01:52 GMT
Having read so many insightful essays, I am probably not the only one to find that my views have crystallized, and that I can now move forward with growing confidence. I cannot exactly say who in the course of the competition was most inspiring - probably it was the continuous back and forth between so many of us. In this case, we should all be grateful to each other.

If I may, I'd like to...

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eAmazigh M. HANNOU wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 00:13 GMT
Dear Laurence,

We are at the end of this essay contest.

In conclusion, at the question to know if Information is more fundamental than Matter, there is a good reason to answer that Matter is made of an amazing mixture of eInfo and eEnergy, at the same time.

Matter is thus eInfo made with eEnergy rather than answer it is made with eEnergy and eInfo ; because eInfo is eEnergy, and the one does not go without the other one.

eEnergy and eInfo are the two basic Principles of the eUniverse. Nothing can exist if it is not eEnergy, and any object is eInfo, and therefore eEnergy.

And consequently our eReality is eInfo made with eEnergy. And the final verdict is : eReality is virtual, and virtuality is our fundamental eReality.

Good luck to the winners,

And see you soon, with good news on this topic, and the Theory of Everything.

Amazigh H.

I rated your essay.

Please visit My essay.

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Charles Raldo Card wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 03:56 GMT
Late-in-the-Day Thoughts about the Essays I’ve Read

I am sending to you the following thoughts because I found your essay particularly well stated, insightful, and helpful, even though in certain respects we may significantly diverge in our viewpoints. Thank you! Lumping and sorting is a dangerous adventure; let me apologize in advance if I have significantly misread or misrepresented...

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