Bob, Xueshan, others,

This is an issue that I think more terminological than anything else, and I think that there is no correct answer. The problem is more to find the relations between different uses of information that are current in science ( Kinds of Information in Scientific Use. 2011. cognition, communication, co-operation. Vol 9, No 2 ). For example in astrophysics and cosmology it is useful to speak of information as a conserved quantity that is related to energy but is not the same (not two sides of the same coin as some would have it).

Tom Schneider has done a lot of work on molecular machines ( in which he sees a computational model using information to keep track of computations as useful. Sure it al is grounded in energy, but this is not the most perspicacious way to view what happens in these macromolecular interactions. I have argued in Information in biological systems (Handbook of Philosophy of Science, vol 8, Philosophy of Information, 2008, Chapter 5f)  that we should distinguish between the instrumental use of information in biology and a substantive use, in which information is treated as such by the system. This is a stronger requirement than in the astrophysical and cosmological uses of information (in a different substantive way, and also stronger than Schneider's use). This is a useful distinction in biology, or so I argue. However, in an earlier paper, Intrinsic Information (1990)  I argued that in order to understand what it is to mean that we get information about the world, we must understand what it is that makes the world capable of providing us with information. This leads to a natural description of the world as containing information (see also Dretske, knowledge and the flow of information, and Barwise and Perry, Situations and Attitudes and following work of theirs) that flows into our minds, given the right coordination. See also Barwise and Seligman, Information Flow for a general account not mind dependent.

What you want to treat as information depends very much on what you are considering and how. I would argue that a unified theory of information should recognize all of these usages, and put them in their place relative to each other. Some usages, I believe, are dispensable in some context, and some may be dispensable in all contexts. But I doubt that information talk can be dispensed with entirely in favour of energy talk when boundary conditions are important to system behaviour. This happens especially with complex systems, but physicists have  found it useful in talking about boundary conditions of black holes, among other things, that aren't obviously complexly organized.


At 02:43 PM 2013/04/15, Bob Logan wrote:
Dear Xueshan - re Nalewajski's conjecture that molecular systems have information I am skeptical. The word information originated with the idea of forming the mind according to the OED. Information as far as I am concerned requires a sentient being to receive and understand it. Molecules and atoms react to forces not information. They have no idea of the forces acting on them. They are not informed as they have no sentience that can be informed. Information requires an interpretant for which the signal has meaning. Shannon's  information theory is merely signal theory as all he is concerned with is how well a set of symbols or a signal are transmitted from the sender to the receiver. The ability of the receiver to decipher the signal or interpret the signal  has no bearing on the reception of Shannon information. Shannon information has nothing to do with meaning. A set of random numbers has the maximum amount of Shannon information and yet has no meaning. If my set of symbols have meaning for you, whether or not you agree with the premise they represent, then they are information. As for a molecule or even a flower or a penguin they are not information. In other words information has to inform as a grammatical analysis of the word information implies. A representation represents, a contradiction contradicts, a saturation saturates and in general an "X"tion "X"es and therefore information informs or at least has the capability of informing. So while a text in the Basque or Albanian languages might not inform me because of my inability with these languages they are capable of informing those familiar with the Basque and Albanian languages respectively and are therefore informaton. A random set of letters cannot inform anyone yet they have maximum Shannon information. Information is a tricky thing. 

This line of thought raises the question of whether or not DNA is information. DNA does not inform a sentient being yet it does catalyze and hence instructs how RNA is produced which in turn catalyzes and instructs how proteins are created which in turn gives rise to bodily functions. Therefore we suggested that DNA represents a different form of information from Shannon information which we called biotic or instructional information. The argument can be found in the paper  Propagating of Organization: An Inquiry by Stuart Kauffman, Robert K. Logan, Robert Este, Randy Goebel, David Hobill and Ilya Smulevich. published in 2007 in Biology and Philosophy 23: 27-45. I am happy to share this paper with anyone requesting it.

Bob Logan

On 2013-04-14, at 9:59 PM, Xueshan Yan wrote:

Dear Michel,

Thank you!

I am very familiar with your FIS 2005 website long before.

Have you read the Polish chemist Nalewajski's book:
Information theory of molecular systems (Elsevier, 2006), I
really want to know if there are INFORMATON that play a role
between two atoms, or two molecules, or two supramolecules
as Jean-Marie Lehn said.

As to FIS 2005, I need every review about all four FIS
conferences held in Madrid, Vienna, Paris, and Beijing, but
only a general review about FIS 2005 not be given by people
so far.

Best regards,

9:59, April 15, 2013      Peking University

-----Original Message-----
From: Michel Petitjean []

Sent: Sunday, April 14, 2013 6:19 PM
To: Yan Xueshan
Subject: Re: About FIS 2005

Dear Xueshan,
As far as I know, there is no longer report, but I am at
disposal if you wish to get more: please feel free to ask
Also you may have a look at the programme, the
and all what is available from the main welcome page: Best, Michel.

2013/4/14 Xueshan Yan <>:

Dear Michel,

May I ask you a favor?

Do you have any more detailed review about FIS 2005,
your FIS
2005 brief conference report published in

Best regards,

17:47, April 14, 2013


Robert K. Logan
Chief Scientist - sLab at OCAD
Prof. Emeritus - Physics - U. of Toronto

Professor John Collier                           
Philosophy and Ethics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041 South Africa
T: +27 (31) 260 3248 / 260 2292       F: +27 (31) 260 3031
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