What is a 'thing'?

Perhaps it is more reasonable to think that  only processes exist, and that for human convenience in living in the world we put conceptual membranes around some parts of those processes and call them 'things'. From this point of view we do not have two aspects (things and predictions about those things), but simply the monitoring of processes, and theorising about what we find. This does not preclude a taxonomy of processes (e.g. mechanisms might be a special kind of process).

Perhaps our "Is information physical" problem could be usefully reformulated as "Is information a thing?".


On 17/05/18 11:47, Jose Javier Blanco Rivero wrote:

Dear FISers,

I recently came across an old interview to W. van Orman Quine and I got an idea -maybe  not very original per se. Quine distinguishes two kind of philosophical problems: ontological (those referred to the existence of things) and predicative (what can we say and know about things). Against Quine materialism I came across the idea that ontological problems are undecidable -I think of Turing's Halting problem. The fact is that we cannot leave the predicative realm. All we have as scientists is scientifical statements (therefore I think of Science as a communicative social system differentiated from its environment by means of a code -I think Loet would agree with me in this point). As a system (I mean not the social system, but the set of statements taken as a unity) they all are incomplete. There are many ways to deal with it, as logicians have shown (in this point I confess I would need to examine carefully B. Marchal's ideas. I think I have many points of agreement with him but also of disagreement -but honestly I currently lack the knowledge to undertake a thorough discussion). Self-reference, I think, is one of the most coherent ways to deal with it. But this means we have to learn to deal with paradoxes. Accordingly, as information theorist we would need to identify the constitutive paradox of information and next unfold that paradox in a set of statements that represent what we know about information. The problem is that although we can have the intuition that information is real, physical as has been said, it cannot be proved. An external reference like "reality ", if we look carefully, acts as regulatory function within the system. I remember that in the "Science of the Society", Luhmann devised the concept of consistency proofs (Konsistenzprüfung).But reality as such, the Ding an sich, is inaccessible. In conclusion, Quine would say that we should not be asking us a question that cannot be answered.



El may 16, 2018 11:24 PM, "Burgin, Mark" <mbur...@math.ucla.edu <mailto:mbur...@math.ucla.edu>> escribió:

       Dear FISers,
       It was an interesting discussion, in which many highly
    intelligent and creative individuals participated expressing
    different points of view. Many interesting ideas were suggested.
    As a conclusion to this discussion, I would like to suggest a
    logical analysis of the problem based on our intrinsic and often
    tacit assumptions.

       To great extent, our possibility to answer the question “Is
    information physical? “ depends on our model of the world. Note
    that here physical means the nature of information and not its
    substance, or more exactly, the substance of its carrier, which
    can be physical, chemical biological or quantum. By the way,
    expression “quantum information” is only the way of expressing
    that the carrier of information belongs to the quantum level of
    nature. This is similar to the expressions “mixed numbers” or
    “decimal numbers”, which are only forms or number representations
    and not numbers themselves.

      If we assume that there is only the physical world, we have, at
    first, to answer the question “Does information exist? “ All
    FISers assume that information exists. Otherwise, they would not
    participate in our discussions. However, some people think
    differently (cf., for example, Furner, J. (2004) Information
    studies without information).

       Now assuming that information exists, we have only one option,
    namely, to admit that information is physical because only
    physical things exist.
       If we assume that there are two worlds - information is
    physical, we have three options assuming that information exists:
    - information is physical
    - information is mental
    - information is both physical and mental

    Finally, coming to the Existential Triad of the World, which
    comprises three worlds - the physical world, the mental world and
    the world of structures, we have seven options assuming that
    information exists:
    - information is physical
    - information is mental
    - information is structural
    - information is both physical and mental
    - information is both physical and structural
    - information is both structural and mental
    - information is physical, structural and mental

     The solution suggested by the general theory of information tries
    to avoid unnecessary multiplication of essences suggesting that
    information (in a general sense) exists in all three worlds but …
    in the physical world, it is called *energy*, in the mental world,
    it is called *mental energy*, and in the world of structures, it
    is called *information* (in the strict sense). This conclusion
    well correlates with the suggestion of Mark Johnson that
    information is both physical and not physical only the general
    theory of information makes this idea more exact and testable.
       In addition, being in the world of structures, information in
    the strict sense is represented in two other worlds by its
    representations and carriers. Note that any representation of
    information is its carrier but not each carrier of information is
    its representation. For instance, an envelope with a letter is a
    carrier of information in this letter but it is not its
       Besides, it is possible to call all three faces of information
    by the name energy - physical energy, mental energy and structural

       Finally, as many interesting ideas were suggested in this
    discussion, may be Krassimir will continue his excellent
    initiative combining the most interesting contributions into a
    paper with the title
    *Is information physical?*
       and publish it in his esteemed Journal.

       Mark Burgin

    On 5/11/2018 3:20 AM, Karl Javorszky wrote:
    Dear Arturo,

    There were some reports in clinical psychology, about 30 years
    ago, that relate to the question whether a machine can pretend to
    be a therapist. That was the time as computers could newly be
    used in an interactive fashion, and the Rogers techniques were a
    current discovery.
    (Rogers developed a dialogue method where one does not address
    the contents of what the patient says, but rather the emotional
    aspects of the message, assumed to be at work in the patient.)

    They then said, that in some cases it was indistinguishable,
    whether a human or a machine provides the answer to a patient's

    Progress since then has surely made possible to create machines
    that are indistinguishable in interaction to humans. Indeed, what
    is called "expert systems ", are widely used in many fields. If
    the interaction is rational,  that is: formally equivalent to a
    logical discussion modi Wittgenstein, the difference in: "who
    arrived at this answer, machinery or a human", becomes irrelevant.

    Artistry, intuition, creativity are presently seen as not
    possible to translate into Wittgenstein sentences. Maybe the
    inner instincts are not yet well understood. But!: there are some
    who are busily undermining the current fundamentals of rational
    thinking. So there is hope that we shall live to experience the
    ultimate disillusionment,  namely that humans are a combinatorial

    Accordingly, may I respectfully express opposing views to what
    you state: that machines and humans are of incompatible builds.
    There are hints that as far as rational capabilities go, the same
    principles apply. There is a rest, you say, which is not of this
    kind. The counter argument says that irrational processes do not
    take place in organisms, therefore what you refer to belongs to
    the main process, maybe like waste belongs to the organism's
    principle. This view draws a picture of a functional biotope, in
    which the waste of one kind of organism is raw material for a
    different kind.


    <tozziart...@libero.it <mailto:tozziart...@libero.it>> schrieb am
    Do., 10. Mai 2018 15:24:

        Dear Bruno,
        You state:
        "IF indexical digital mechanism is correct in the cognitive
        THEN “physical” has to be defined entirely in arithmetical
        term, i.e. “physical” becomes a mathematical notion.
        ...Indexical digital mechanism is the hypothesis that there
        is a level of description of the brain/body such that I would
        survive, or “not feel any change” if my brain/body is
        replaced by a digital machine emulating the brain/body at
        that level of description".

        The problem of your account is the following:
        You say "IF" and "indexical digital mechanism is the HYPOTHESIS".
        Therefore, you are talking of an HYPOTHESIS: it is not
        empirically tested and it is not empirically testable.  You
        are starting with a sort of postulate: I, and other people,
        do not agree with it.  The current neuroscience does not
        state that our brain/body is (or can be replaced by) a
        digital machine.
        In other words, your "IF" stands for something that possibly
        does not exist in our real world. Here your entire building
        falls down.

        Inviato da Libero Mail per Android

        giovedì, 10 maggio 2018, 02:46PM +02:00 da Bruno Marchal
        marc...@ulb.ac.be <mailto:marc...@ulb.ac.be>:

            (This mail has been sent previously , but without
            success. I resend it, with minor changes). Problems due
            to different accounts. It was my first comment to Mark
            Burgin new thread “Is information physical?”.

            Dear Mark, Dear Colleagues,

            Apology for not answering the mails in the chronological
            orders, as my new computer classifies them in some
            mysterious way!
            This is my first post of the week. I might answer
            comment, if any, at the end of the week.

            On 25 Apr 2018, at 03:47, Burgin, Mark
            <mbur...@math.ucla.edu <mailto:mbur...@math.ucla.edu>>

            Dear Colleagues,

            I would like to suggest the new topic for discussion

            Is information physical?

            That is an important topic indeed, very close to what I
            am working on.

            My result here is that
            *_IF_* indexical digital mechanism is correct in the
            cognitive science,
            *_THEN_*  “physical” has to be defined entirely in
            arithmetical term, i.e. “physical” becomes a mathematical

            The proof is constructive. It shows exactly how to derive
            physics from Arithmetic (the reality, not the theory. I
            use “reality” instead of “model" (logician’s term,
            because physicists use “model" for “theory").

            Indexical digital mechanism is the hypothesis that there
            is a level of description of the brain/body such that I
            would survive, or “not feel any change” if my brain/body
            is replaced by a digital machine emulating the brain/body
            at that level of description.

            Not only information is not physical, but matter, time,
            space, and all physical objects become part of the
            universal machine phenomenology. Physics is reduced to
            arithmetic, or, equivalently, to any Turing-complete
            machinery. Amazingly Arithmetic (even the tiny
            semi-computable part of arithmetic) is Turing complete
            (Turing Universal).

            The basic idea is that:

            1) no universal machine can distinguish if she is
            executed by an arithmetical reality or by a physical
            reality. And,

            2) all universal machines are executed in arithmetic, and
            they are necessarily undetermined on the set of of all
            its continuations emulated in arithmetic.

            That reduces physics to a statistics on all computations
            relative to my actual state, and see from some first
            person points of view (something I can describe more
            precisely in some future post perhaps).

            Put in that way, the proof is not constructive, as, if we
            are machine, we cannot know which machine we are. But
            Gödel’s incompleteness can be used to recover this
            constructively for a simpler machine than us, like Peano
            arithmetic. This way of proceeding enforces the
            distinction between first and third person views (and six

            I have derived already many feature of quantum mechanics
            from this (including the possibility of quantum computer)
            a long time ago. I was about sure this would refute
            Mechanism, until I learned about quantum mechanics, which
            verifies all the most startling predictions of Indexical
            Mechanism, unless we add the controversial wave collapse
            reduction principle.

            The curious “many-worlds” becomes the obvious (in
            arithmetic) many computations (up to some equivalence
            quotient). The weird indeterminacy becomes the simpler
            amoeba like duplication. The non-cloning of matter
            becomes obvious: as any piece of matter is the result of
            the first person indeterminacy (the first person view of
            the amoeba undergoing a duplication, …) on infinitely
            many computations. This entails also that neither matter
            appearance nor consciousness are Turing emulable per se,
            as the whole arithmetical reality—which is a highly non
            computable notion as we know since Gödel—plays a key
            role. Note this makes Digital Physics leaning to
            inconsistency, as it implies indexical computationalism
            which implies the negation of Digital Physics (unless my
            “body” is the entire physical universe, which I rather

            My opinion is presented below:

            Why some people erroneously think that information is
            The main reason to think that information is physical is
            the strong belief of many people, especially, scientists
            that there is only physical reality, which is studied by
            science. At the same time, people encounter something
            that they call information.
            When people receive a letter, they comprehend that it is
            information because with the letter they receive
            information. The letter is physical, i.e., a physical
            object. As a result, people start thinking that
            information is physical. When people receive an e-mail,
            they comprehend that it is information because with the
            e-mail they receive information. The e-mail comes to the
            computer in the form of electromagnetic waves, which are
            physical. As a result, people start thinking even more
            that information is physical.
            However, letters, electromagnetic waves and actually all
            physical objects are only carriers or containers of
            To understand this better, let us consider a textbook.
            Is possible to say that this book is knowledge? Any
            reasonable person will tell that the textbook contains
            knowledge but is not knowledge itself. In the same way,
            the textbook contains information but is not information
            itself. The same is true for letters, e-mails,
            electromagnetic waves and other physical objects because
            all of them only contain information but are not
            information. For instance, as we know, different letters
            can contain the same information. Even if we make an
            identical copy of a letter or any other text, then the
            letter and its copy will be different physical objects
            (physical things) but they will contain the same
            Information belongs to a different (non-physical) world
            of knowledge, data and similar essences. In spite of
            this, information can act on physical objects (physical
            bodies) and this action also misleads people who think
            that information is physical.

            OK. The reason is that we can hardly imagine how
            immaterial or non physical objects can alter the physical
            realm. It is the usual problem faced by dualist
            ontologies. With Indexical computationalism we recover
            many dualities, but they belong to the phenomenologies.

            One more misleading property of information is that
            people can measure it. This brings an erroneous
            assumption that it is possible to measure only physical
            essences. Naturally, this brings people to the erroneous
            conclusion that information is physical. However,
            measuring information is essentially different than
            measuring physical quantities, i.e., weight. There are
            no “scales” that measure information. Only human
            intellect can do this.

            OK. I think all intellect can do that, not just he human one.

            Now, the reason why people believe in the physical is
            always a form of the “knocking table” argument. They
            knocks on the table and say “you will not tell me that
            this table is unreal”.

            I have got so many people giving me that argument, that I
            have made dreams in which I made that argument, or even
            where I was convinced by that argument … until I wake up.

            When we do metaphysics with the scientific method, this
            “dream argument” illustrates that seeing, measuring, …
            cannot prove anything ontological. A subjective
            experience proves only the phenomenological existence of
            consciousness, and nothing more. It shows that although
            there are plenty of strong evidences for a material
            reality, there are no evidences (yet) for a primitive or
            primary matter (and that is why, I think, Aristotle
            assumes it quasi explicitly, against Plato, and plausibly
            against Pythagorus).

            Mechanism forces a coming back to Plato, where the worlds
            of ideas is the world of programs, or information, or
            even just numbers, since very elementary arithmetic (PA
            without induction, + the predecessor axiom) is already
            Turing complete (it contains what I have named a
            Universal Dovetailer: a program which generates *and*
            executes all programs).

            So I agree with you: information is not physical. I claim
            that if we assume Mechanism (Indexical computationalism)
            matter itself is also not *primarily* physical: it is all
            in the “head of the universal machine/number” (so to speak).

            And this provides a test for primary matter: it is enough
            to find if there is a discrepancy between the physics
            that we infer from the observation, and the physics that
            we extract from “the head” of the machine. This took me
            more than 30 years of work, but the results obtained up
            to now is that there is no discrepancies. I have compared
            the quantum logic imposed by incompleteness (formally) on
            the semi-computable (partial recursive, sigma_1)
            propositions, with most quantum logics given by
            physicists, and it fits rather well.

            Best regards,

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