Perhaps, it is helpful to compare with the question whether the centimeter is physical. The meter is calibrated on a physical measure, but the centimeter is just a measure. We can provide it with a physical referent: "This is a centimeter".

Information is perhaps even more complex: a distribution can be expected to contain information. Is an expectation physical? a distribution?

I tend to disagree with Mark by cutting the world into physical / mental / structural, unless the structural includes our codified conventions such as what is "a centimeter"? We can entertain the concept mentally, but therefore it is not yet mental. It is codified at an above-individual level as a structure in language. Is language physical? I doubt it: language carriers (human beings) are.


Loet Leydesdorff

Professor emeritus, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) <>; Associate Faculty, SPRU, <>University of Sussex;

Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ. <>, Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC, <>Beijing;

Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck <>, University of London;

------ Original Message ------
From: "Jose Javier Blanco Rivero" <>
To: "Burgin, Mark" <>
Cc: "Fis," <>
Sent: 5/17/2018 12:47:04 PM
Subject: Re: [Fis] Is information physical? A logical analysis

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" <> 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 representation. Besides, it is possible to call all three faces of information by the name energy - physical energy, mental energy and structural energy.

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 elucidations.

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 tautology.

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.


<> schrieb am Do., 10. Mai 2018 15:24:
Dear Bruno,
You state:
"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 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 <>

(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 <> wrote:

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 notion.

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 others!).

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 doubt).

My opinion is presented below:

   Why some people erroneously think that information is physical

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 information. 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. 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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