Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.


Considering the other day’s post, I thought I would post something a little less flame-y and defensive.  My interest in information does actually go further than only making debate against those who have a differing opinion.  I’ve been working on a work to be entitled “This is Information” that I imagine to be a kind of unification of the concepts of information between physics, communication theory, artificial intelligence, psychology, design, and various other disciplines.  There are a lot of varying concepts on the subject of information, which should come as a surprise to no one given we are only still in the dawn of this “third wave” of civilization.  A project that pulls it all together has seemed to me like a good use of time for a while now, so without further ado, I present the introductory section to the chapter on entropy and anentropy:

Consider a simple glass. It is not a complex object in shape. And it is not relatively complex into terms of its materials. To simplify it, we can just say that a glass is made out of sand. But that’s not all that makes a glass. To construct a glass requires energy. It also requires information. The glassmaker must know the temperature to heat the glass to, how to cool it, and numerous other things. The more complex the structure of the glass, the more the glassmaker must know. But the information is not transferred to the glass. The energy it takes to sustain the glassmaker, the energy his motions require, that energy is transferred to the glass. Gradually, if that glass were left on a sandy beach somewhere, natural forces would tear it apart. We call this increase in disorder in the universe entropy. Glasses tend to shatter and not form themselves from nothing. It is as if the natural resting state of the universe is total disorder and randomness and everything is moving in that direction. Everything except the glassmaker, that is.

Archaeologists are quite able to find human tools that are tens of thousands of years old. They are able to identify the tools because of the telltale signs of work that were performed on the stones. But the stones don’t possess information. They retain the structure leftover after forces had done their work. And you can further illustrate this fact by not asking an archaeologist if the stone was made by a human but how the human made the tool. A good scientist will tell you that she can only speculate on that, however. And given the simplicity of the task, she might even likely be right. But the reality is, the information on how any particular stone tool was made, is lost forever when the cybernetic organism that built it finally succumbed to entropy—just like the glass or the tool that it made. And its not just us; spider webs follow the same path along with the spiders that made them.

What is this force, then? Or rather, what is this particular locality of a lack of entropy? In fact, one would have to go so far and say anentropy. It’s not really a word, don’t look it up in the dictionary, but I’ve seen it tossed around and I think its fair to refer to life as an anentropic arrangement of the universe. Life seems to do little else in common other than replicate itself in a defense against entropy. If the individual organism cannot be sustained, then parts of it can be used to make new life. And so far as we know, it is an extraordinarily fleeting arrangement of matter and energy. Consider the vast stretches of nothing between galaxies and between stars. Consider the relative densities of stars versus galaxies (stars are much more dense). Consider the acres and acres and acres of barren rock and gas on all the other planets accept for our own. And even on our own, the biosphere, is nothing but a fragile and thin skin on the surface of a massive iron and dirt orb filled with magma. Places in the universe where entropy is decreasing are very hard to come by—even if there are more worlds out there like our own—we are vastly outweighed by a Universe that would prefer to scatter our atoms evenly across the Cosmos.”

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