Entities and attributes in science

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by James R, Mar 23, 2023.

  1. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Yes, they do. What does the light from a star tell you?
    If it tells you anything. How does it do that?
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Yes. That doesn't make the fire/light itself information. Fire/Light is simply the medium. The on/off is the signal; that is the information.

    One way of thinking of information is unpredictability. If you can predict what's coming, then there's no useful information in it.

    "There is a fire over there." That is one bit of information. You will gain no more information unless the fire does something unexpected. Like get a blanket briefly thrown over it.

    The fire/light is not information. The flicking of the light on and off, in a sequence that is not regular, is the information.
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  5. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    James is right; you are confusing the map for the territory. The light of a star is not information. Certainly, there are properties we can tease out of the light that we can analyze, but the light is simply the medium that contains information.
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  7. Guestfornow Registered Member

    When the sun is in the sky overhead, that doesn't tell you it's daytime? The presence of sunlight isn't information? Moreover, the position of the light from the sun itself, doesn't inform you of anything?
    Last edited: May 25, 2023
  8. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Is the position in the sky of the light from a star, information?

    What about sound? Sound isn't information either? But sound carries information?
    In radio sending and receiving, there is a carrier frequency which is modulated. With no modulation you claim there is no information. But there is, it's the carrier wave, it is information because a radio receiver can still pick it up,
    About now, I seriously would not consider anyone else who's posted in this thread a good candidate for a signals officer, in any kind of corps.
    I'd say you would all fail the entrance test.
  9. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Another example. A military commander wants to deliver a dispatch to another base.
    So he puts the paper dispatch in a satchel and orders one of his men to get the satchel to the other base, ASAP.

    Is the dispatch information? Is the satchel information? What about the man carrying the satchel?
    Would the enemy be interested in any of it? why, if the presence of the satchel and its carrier aren't information?

    Can anyone explain this apparent contradiction?
  10. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I don't know how I came to that conclusion. It would have been very early in my childhood and I simply don't recall. A child has an intuitive grasp that things like ideas and thoughts are not material objects. It seems only certain adults who are obtuse enough to lose that, for some reason.

    Every piece of information is "stored" (by which I mean represented in some way) in some kind of physical substrate, as far as I'm aware. My knowledge is stored in my brain, for instance. The information your device uses to put this text on the screen so you can read it is encoded in some silicon chips.

    When the information content of this post is transferred from the screen into your brain, you may notice that the only physical transfer involved photons moving from the screen into your eyes. Yet, right now, you sit there with a mental picture in your brain of little particles flying from a screen to your eyes.

    Do you agree that a mental picture is a concept? Or do you think it is a physical object?

    How do you usually go about telling the difference between physical objects ("matter", to take a simple example) and concepts? I'm interested to learn.

    If you're confused, you could try my little test. I note that you can't put information in a bottle by itself and detect it. That suggests to me that information is not an entity. How about you?
    See above regarding the photons of light carrying information from the silicon chips in your device into your eyes, after which your brain does some processing to "store" the received ideas.
    That sounds like an action to me, not a concept.
    If you're asking about how photons of light turn into information, my answer is: they don't. It would be better to assume that they are capable of carrying information, though even that is technically an analogy.
    A carrier pigeon can carry a message from one place to another. But I don't see you arguing that the pigeon is a form of the information in the message.

    It seems to me that, to make your argument consistent, that's what you'd need to be saying about pigeons carrying messages.

    Do you understand the mistake you're making yet?
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    It seems like maybe you're thinking this through and maybe getting somewhere.

    In your example, we have the man carrying the satchel, the satchel, the paper in the satchel and the dispatch. Which of these things is the relevant information?

    It seems that the message could reach the other base without needing the satchel, for instance. We could just send the man with the piece of paper (in a pocket, or just in his hand). So, wherever the "information" is, it doesn't seem to be embedded in the satchel.

    Is the information embedded in the man, then? The man seems be be important; we can't get the message through without him. Or wait! Maybe we could! We could roll up the paper and attach it to the leg of a carrier pigeon; it could still get through that way. So, it looks like the man isn't the information.

    What's left? Is the paper the information? No. The message could be remembered by the man - no paper required! The message could be verbally communicated instead of written on paper. It looks like the paper isn't the information.

    What's left? We've ruled out the man, the satchel and the paper as being the information. There remains only the dispatch itself - the message. But, as we've seen, the message can be "encoded" in different substrates. We can write it on paper. We can write it as a memory in the man's head. We could write it in a loud enough sound wave broadcast from a loud speaker. We could encode it in a radio wave and send it that way.

    It seems like none of these substrates is the information. Sure, we need to pick at least one substrate for the message to get through, but the available substrates are so many and varied that there must be something about the message that is "substrate-independent".

    Okay. I'll put you out of your misery and tell you the secret. The information (the message) is not the man, or the satchel, or the paper it is written on, or the carrier pigeon, or the radio wave, or the flashing light from the torch. The information is a concept that can be "stored" in lots of different substrates.

    Does that make sense to you? New idea?
  12. Guestfornow Registered Member

    It makes sense that, if you want to transmit a message you will need to store it and make sure the store isn't degraded. This is actually the classical problem with transmission, in that, the physical world can interfere with it.
    You appear to be saying so far, that information requires a physical medium.
    Regardless of whether I know or understand why I can read ordinary English words on a computer screen, I can still recognize English words. This is, as I have learned, because of how LEDs generate light. And because of digital logic.

    Like a piece of paper I can write on, the important takeaway is, if I want to make patterns that are readable, recognizable English words there is a physical substrate that allows me this.
    I'm not confused about what information is. It isn't some abstract mental thing. The world is full of information--classical information.
    This isn't an idea. You need to process some of it in order to avoid danger; to decide what is and what isn't food; to function normally.
    I don't think I'm the one making mistakes here.
    Last edited: May 25, 2023
  13. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Relevant to who or what? Who decides if the message even has any relevance?
    You suggest there are other ways to get the message to the required destination. Then without explaining how or why, you say that means the information isn't in the satchel. But it is. The message with the information, is in the satchel. The commander has chosen how to send the message.
    What logic are you using there?
    How? The paper has a message written on it. A commander has decided to send this to another military base, so most likely believes the information in the message is relevant.
    The man carrying the satchel, is something the enemy would see as valuable--information. It would be--relevant. The existence of a radio signal or its carrier frequency, is intel for the other side.
    Last edited: May 25, 2023
  14. Guestfornow Registered Member

    The characters written on the paper--the actual message--is a concept? Ink is a concept?
  15. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Ink is obviously not a concept. The meaning humans attach to patterns of ink on paper is a concept.
  16. Guestfornow Registered Member

    You mean, in much the same kind of way humans attach meaning to pretty much anything? Interference patterns? Cave paintings?
    Forensic evidence of a crime?

    People get life sentences for murder because some detectives had some concepts?
    Especially the concepts they had about blood spatter, say.
  17. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Humans attach meaning to patterns. Yeah I can go with that.
    I can't agree with James R's stance that information is a concept, however.
    Since, in order to conceive the meaning of a message, you need the message.

    Meaning is a concept. I guess. So if it is, then what is a concept? Is it a pattern too?
    I mean it kind of makes sense that you recognize you have a concept.
  18. exchemist Valued Senior Member

  19. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    No of course not.
  20. Guestfornow Registered Member

    I don't understand what you mean.
    No of course, humans attach meaning to patterns when they write them.
    But they don't otherwise?

    That blood spatter evidence isn't information, or not something we can attach meaning to?
  21. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    I actually think that "ink" is very much a concept.
    Sure, you can point to a bottle of it, but that is just an instance of the concept.
    The concept of ink is the idea of something to colour a surface with (similar but different to paint).
    When we call something physical "ink" we do so because we recognise it as fulfilling the concept of "ink" that we have.
    If it didn't, we would call it by whatever concept we did recognise it to be, or say "I don't know what that is" etc.

    Sure, we also call the physical object "ink" but that just means that this object fulfils the commonly held concept.
  22. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    I'd also say that information is also very much a concept.
    If you can recognise something as being one thing and not another, it is because you have a concept of those things against which to compare the observation.
    You have an object in front of you that you recognise as a duck, and not as a car.
    How can you do this?
    It is because you have a concept of "duck" and "car" against which you're comparing it.
    The duck you're actually observing is just a specific instance of the concept.

    Similarly information can be recognised as such because it is the concept of that which is able to inform.
    If it doesn't inform, if it doesn't add to the data you hold, or enable you to reason differently, then it is not recognised as information.
    Again, this is because of the concept of what information is.

    Some view concepts as being that which gives words the meaning we understand from them.
    But maybe others have different views.
  23. Guestfornow Registered Member

    Here is some information:


    I can copy it. Except the copy will not be an exact copy (for reasons explained by quantum mechanics).
    I can transmit it so it's received as is, over a reliable comms channel. I can store it. I can do all the things anyone can do with "digital information".

    So far it means a string of 1s and 0s with a fixed length. A pattern can be seen; it isn't a regular pattern, more kind of random . . .

    How many different "data objects" might it be? A number? A machine instruction? A secret message?
    I need to know what context is required, to squeeze any more meaning out of the string.
    Ergo meaning is context-dependent. Information by itself, isn't but it is physics-dependent in that a material substrate is required such that a pattern can be made.

    p.s. modern physics theorists might point out that if information is a concept, not a real physical resource, then quantum entanglement is a concept too. This appears to be contradicted by reality.
    Last edited: May 25, 2023

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