*THE NATURE OF MICROPHYSICAL INFORMATION:*
*REVISITING THE FLUCTUON MODEL*
*Kevin G. Kirby
*Department of Computer Science
Northern Kentucky University (US)
International Center for Transdisciplinary Research
1. OPENING REMARKS
In the standard view, taken for granted so completely it is rarely
articulated, the fundamental physics of particles and fields is a mere
"platform" for life. Physics and biology are surely deeply different:
the extreme ends of the scales simply don't match up. For example, the
notion that somehow the incompatibility of general relativity with
quantum physics has some relevance for life seems nonsensical.
But is it? In a series of papers published throughout the 1990s, Michael
Conrad put together a theory in which life was, as he often put it, an
image of the underlying physics of the universe. The mere title of one
of the final papers in the series, and the title of the book he wanted
to write, "Quantum Gravity and Life," seems almost like a non sequitur.
And indeed, the theory he put forth was difficult. But the claim I would
like to put forward is that there are deep ideas here that -- even if
the full details of the theory are not correct or not well-defined--
help us reach a more satisfying theory of information in the natural world.
Tragically, Conrad passed away in 2001, and was unable to complete his
book. Yet a very thorough description remains of his ideas in a series
of sixteen papers from 1989 through 1998. This work centered on what he
called fluctuon theory. The main exposition was in a series of papers
"Fluctuons I,II, III" published in Chaos, Solitons and Fractals during
1993-1996. For the purposes of this discussion, two briefer papers can
be recommended as providing good summaries of his ideas here:
* Conrad, M., 1995, Multiscale synergy in biological information
processing. Optical Memory and Neural Networks 4(2), 89-98.
* Conrad, M., 1998, Quantum gravity and life, BioSystems 46, 29-39.
The fluctuon theory asserts that the universe is a kind of giant
homeostat, but one in which the ground state is always in flight. The
universe slides in and out of consistency. His starting point was the
Dirac sea of negative energy particles: his vacuum was a plenum. There
was more than one sea. One was of electrons and positrons, where photons
are chains of such pairs. The gluons of the strong nuclear force were to
be chains in a quark/anti-quark sea. Gravitons were chains that arose
from all massive particles in these seas. Viewed this way, these chains
of virtual particles, disturbances in the sea --which as a class he
called "fluctuons" -- are responsible for all fundamental forces. He
described fluctuons as skipping along the energy surface of the vacuum
sea as analogous to a stone skipping along the surface of a pond.
This theory is daunting not because it is mathematically complex; in
fact, its mathematics mostly resembles elementary perturbation theory.
It is daunting because it is so discontinuous with the standard model of
particles and fields. For example, even though gluons play a role,
there is no use of group theory or symmetry principles.
What the fluctuon theory does have, however, is a mechanism for seeing
the "lifelike" in the "un-lifelike". Central to the theory is that
there are vertical flows, up and down, across microscopic, mesoscopic,
and macroscopic levels. In particular microscopic decorrelation and
recorrelation processes are amplified up the scale, and this is
characteristic of life. These flows in fact are information flows.
(Information also plays a role in the fluctuon theory through the notion
How does logic connect to this? None of Conrad's work dealt with logic
per se. But the fluctuon theory allowed Conrad to talk systematically
about percolation networks, and the nested, hierarchical, compartmental
structure of interactions is one way a logical approach could take hold
here. To what extent can we see this as "ontological levels of
reality"? In fact, could the dynamic oppositions discussed by Joseph
Brenner in his LiR theory be aligned with the
decorrelation/recorrelation concept in the fluctuon theory as it reaches
Overall, within fluctuon theory "the interaction between the manifest
organism and its unmanifest vacuum sea image abets the evolution,
persistence, and maintenance of this unique complexity [of life]". This
is a fascinating and rich notion. What can we unfold from this notion
now in 2010?
2. IMPLICATIONS FOR LOGICS IN REALITY
In a Wheeler model of the universe, information as an abstract entity
(bit) is ontologically prior to any material-energetic entity (it). If,
however, energy or its effective quantum field or string equivalent is
primitive, as I believe, interpretations of information in terms of
energy become much more plausible. The physicist/biologist Michael
Conrad proposed a cosmological model in which energetic interactions are
possible between our everyday 'manifest' world and the complex
'unmanifest' world constituted by vacuum conceived of as a plenum of
potentialities for particle-anti-particle pair production. This would
correspond to a De Sitter-type model of the universe.
The most fundamental manifest quantum entities (photons, electrons,
quarks, perhaps others) and their field equivalents are characterized by
their self-duality and/or wave-particle duality. In another domain
involving a minimum of two interacting entities, /e.g./, a hydrogen
atom, non-separable physical dualities provide the basis for further
relations and interactions resulting in thermodynamic change and
evolution up to and including the universe of ordinary matter-energy as
a whole. Entities in which self-duality is expressed are 'timeless' and
undergo no change into others of the same kind without massive external
inputs of energy. It is an open question, however, whether fluctuations
in the quantum vacuum constitute changes of state in the thermodynamic
conception of change, that Hawking showed applied to black holes.
What Conrad achieved was a deeper level of explanation which provides
for the differentiation of the universe into vacuum and non-vacuum
domains. Conrad divides his scheme into 1) a model of the vacuum /per
se/, the fluctuon model, in which interactions between observable or
manifest particles are mediated by transient excitations of unmanifest
vacuum fermions that propagate through the sea of unmanifest fermions in
a chain-like manner, and 2) a biomolecular model that links the
macrophysical actions of organisms /via /transduction and amplification
schemes to the microphysical dynamics of sub-cellular components down to
the most microphysical level of the indicated dynamics of the vacuum. In
the Conrad cosmological picture, the primordial energies of the manifest
universe evolve with differentiation into the electromagnetic and
gravitational forces, and the vacuum evolves to yield particles with
charge-masking properties into a state of mutual consistency.
Biological organisms can "unmask" the recursive, irreversible processes
that dominated the evolution of the early universe and real-time
cognitive capabilities (consciousness) derive from this unmasking. The
hypothesis is that the vacuum makes an indispensable contribution to the
real-time capabilities of biological systems. Unlike the discredited
concept of consciousness mediated directly by quantum entities, the
unmanifest influences in this theory are not sensitive to being washed
out by thermal fluctuations due to the self-correcting properties of
inconsistencies in the cell between the manifest and unmanifest structure.
From the standpoint of my extension of logic to real systems, Logic in
Reality, in which the Principle of Dynamic Opposition describes the
alternating contradictorial actualities and potentialities of real
systems, Conrad's conceptions are extremely interesting. For example, at
the cosmological level, feedback processes in the neighborhood of black
holes have an a-periodic spiraling aspect, with many local collapses and
reversals of collapse that correspond exactly to the Principle of
Dynamic Opposition in LIR, also avoiding hypothetical singularities
required in classical physics.
In order to evaluate the relevance of Conrad's work to information
science, and in fact science in general, the most important question is
whether there is recent or current research in physics that /directly/
addresses the existence of the interactions postulated by Conrad. I hope
that further contributions can help to disentangle the fascinating
interplay of philosophical, physical and biological questions posed by
For completeness, let give my two, different references:
1993. The Fluctuon Model of Force, Life and Computation: A Constructive
Analysis. In Applied Mathematics and Computation 56 (2-3), pp. 203-259.
2000. Closure and Anticlosure in the Realm of Quantum Gravity: Why
Evolution Needs No Origin. In Closure. Emergent Organizations and Their
Dynamics, J. Chandler and G. van de Vijver (eds.). Annals of the New
York Academy of Sciences, 902, pp. 244-256.
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