PROPOSITION: With its visual language, humankind has liberated “information” from its prior embedment in matter/energy systems. We know of this phenomenon only among humans on Earth and not in any known physical system in our universe, from quark to quasar. This phenomenon may exist in other biospheres in the universe. If correct, the significance of this proposition is very great. It doesn’t return humankind to the “center of creation” as our many Earthly originated religions claim (and as many of our 21st Century leaders believe, as evidenced by their practice); but it does mark our place in the whole cosmos as both unique and with high responsibility.
Is this a freak event that will self eliminate, or does it herald the emergence of a new cosmic dimension?
If valid, will this insight assist humankind through its Crisis-of-Crises and set a direction for humanity’s emergence from humankind?
I am not conversant with the details of “information science” and need feedback on this speculation. Nor am I conversant with the literature of semiotics, linguistics, or other disciplines that involve symbols. However, I have positive ignorance (knowing OF what I don’t yet know or comprehend, or can’t yet appreciate or do) of this large and complex knowledge domain – that penetrates everything we know or do.
Please take 5 minutes and view this video of the distribution of galaxies in super clusters to gain some perspective for comparing relevance as to size vs something else.
Extracted from my NU GENESIS post:
Humankind is the budding frontier for the next major advance of Gaia’s self-organizing/learning/creating (as a whole and for its various parts). With humankind, the domain of information is liberated from the domains of matter/energy. Until the emergence of humankind within Gaia, information was bound in the matter/energy domain. Example: inheritance information is bound in the physical structure of DNA molecules. Today we can play with this information on our computers and can use that information to create new DNA sequences in molecules. InFORMation gives specific form and structure to our material world; inFORMation is embedded in the fundamental laws of physics. If this assertion is correct, the advent of humankind is a major cosmic event in the many billion year history of the cosmological universe. Humankind is very much more than another species new in the biosphere, even with all its advanced competencies. Humankind represents a discontinuity in the emergence of Gaia, a value now at risk being lost.
The emergence of humankind represents a major shift in the nature of Gaia of significance compared with prior shifts: the consolidation of the DNA/Protein molecular mapping (triads of nucleic acids in DNA matched to amino acids in Proteins), the innovation of photosynthesis, the emergence of multi-cellular and social organisms, and the emergence of neural networks.
With symbolic language humans create patterns (inFORMation) on matter/energy substrates. Examples: sound/pressure patterns from speech in air or symbols carved in stone, inked on paper, or pixelated on computer screens. These inFORMation patterns are independent of the physical nature of the substrate. I call these patterns semiotic structures (sems) when they serve as “exchange tokens” between human mind/brains. This is a truly COSMIC innovation, even if occurring on the surface of a small planet in a galaxy in a cosmological expanding universe; and within a recently emergent subspecies of primate/mammal/vertebrate.
SEM = Semiotic Structure
(exemplar: the text on the screen you are reading).
A sem is any perceivable pattern, initially created by a human system (individual or group) with intention.
Perceiving a sem can generate “meaning” in humans prepared to read that type of sem. (“meaning” undefined at this time)
Sems can be reproduced and copies convey the same “meaning”.
All normal humans can accurately copy the pattern of a sem, even when they are unable to gain “meaning” from it.
The pattern of a sem is imposed on a material substrate or surface, whose nature is not relevant to the sem.
Sems can be composed of other sems.
The sharpness of a boundary of what is or is not a sem is not important for this exploration. Architecture and city layouts might be sems, although their accurate reproduction may be difficult and their meaning fuzzy. Garden layouts could be sems, as might be genetic engineered plants and plants whose growth has been manipulated. However, if living beings are part of the substrate of sems, it is only their form and not that they are alive, that is relevant. Recorded music and speech are sems, as are some videos. Digital data are sems. A specific sequence of sems is a sem. Exemplar sems are visible languages, mathematical expressions, diagrams & graphs, paintings. A pattern of roads would usually not be a sem, as they are determined primarily by landscape.
Are there sems in nature? Humans project patterns on star constellations, and can assign meaning to them. The assignment and identification of the pattern is equivalent to making that a sem, even though the stars were not arranged by humans. Are the trails marked by animals and insects sems? Ants and bees can be informed by these marks, so they might be taken as pre-sems – not full sems, as many of the human uses of sems are absent. I would not classify bird’s nests or beaver’s dams as sems.
Are unrecorded speech sems? Are bird songs sems? Might human memory involve invisible (under ordinary means) sems? This boundary issue is probably not relevant to the issue of the special relevance of sems in the cosmos and for the future of humans.
MORE ON SEMS
Visible sems emerged in humankind in three forms: drawings, economic transaction records, and phonetic guides for speech. We have no conclusive knowledge about how the emergence of these three forms were related. The construction of tools, clothing, habitats, fires may also be related to the origins of sems, although these are probably not sems, in our definition. Are body adornments sems?
The use of sems became a radical technology. Sems enabled communication at a distance and over time duration. Sems recorded and became archives and libraries. Sems codified instructions and later enabled simulations. The expansion of sem use in the population was very significant, and its manifestation in different media – now in digital forms.
Sems convey information. Am I correct in claiming that all other instances of information in our known universe has the information embedded in the structure of matter or in space-time patterns of energy potential and transmission? We say information is stored in physical structures, or is integral to the physical structure itself, in the laws that govern the physical systems.
Information in DNA and proteins play a special role. Their specific patterns have implications up the holarchy, but it is through physical or chemical processes specific to their molecular structures and not by an independent transmission of information as humans do via sems.
Physical systems with moving components that are electrically charged can emit patterns of EM radiation. This radiation can induce resonance in similar systems. Should this be viewed as pre-sem activity? I would say no, unless we can ascribe intention to the vibrating molecules. Yet, I speculate on how assemblies of organic molecules may mutually resonate with emergent patterns within the assemblies. Even if so, there appears to be no way the information is externalized and stored, as are sems.
The form of sems are not created according to laws of material reality. Sems may be made by muscle movement directed by neural patterns from a complex brain, but the pattern is not “caused” by the biological, chemical, or physical laws of brain activity. Sems are emergent phenomena from human body/brain activity, with humans deeply embedded in social systems. Although sems are usually created by a person and perceived by persons, the tribal/social systems with human beings as components are what gave rise to sems.
I will not elaborate here on details about what I have labeled “semfields”. It would contain, in a sophisticated access and participation system of apps, all the sems produced by humankind, and all that are and will be created. Work on a “Global Brain” or “World Brain” are weak approximations.
I expect that the “nature” of sems will change radically, as we are liberated from the constraints of print on pages and utilize the full powers of digital. I imagine semfields emerging experimentally as a primary activity of the UPLIFT Movement.
Future humanity may be imagined as an emergent cyborg, with human systems interacting with a changing semfield. Semfields will not compete with or replace “natural Gaian biomes”.
Evolution of sems in other animals
Animals can be conditioned to associate specific behaviors to visual and auditory words. Whether we want to call their activity the perception of sems is a matter of definition – they haven’t yet demonstrated the ability to create new sems for themselves. However, bird songs, animal sounds, and the songs of whales inform us that there is pattern creation beyond humankind. However, there is no evidence of the creation and use of semfields by life other than by humans. Humanity’s application of semfield technology, in the distant future, may uplift other animals to use and eventually create a Gaian Semfield. SciFi author, David Brin, approached this concept in his Uplift Trilogy.
The evolutionary path to humankind and all our special abilities is not yet fully known, although there are many contributory factors. The very rapid emergence of symbol use some 50,000 years ago remains without adequate explanation. What tipped the balance from prior to post performance propensities is yet unknown. We also need more details on the evolution of languaging and social evolution within tribes and between tribes.
One possibility is that we crossed a threshold where some patterned activity within a brain became “perceived” and “processed” by the same neural systems as had processed sensory information. This may have entailed an integration of inner-body-emotion information (considered by Antonio Damasio) with the sensory information from the environment. The patterns of info flow within neural-molecular systems is not strictly determined by the matter/energy structures/processes of those system. In analogy, the brain is a musical orchestra playing musical compositions; but the compositions are not stored materially within the orchestra/brain.
There is also speculation about the distinct evolution of mammals and primates, beyond what would be probably by conventional neo-Darwinian, mutation/selection processes (when we might discover how to better estimate these). Rupert Sheldarke’s formative causation hypothesis (morphogenetic fields ) might be called in if needed. Elsewhere I have proposed an African Galapagos hypothesis to account for the special split of humans from their near primate relatives.
If living systems interacting with their created semfields are confirmed “real”, we might expect nu phenomena to be observed, such as so-called “psychic phenomena”.
This enhanced gaze on the emergence of humankind may shift our gaze anew on the origins and evolution/emergence of life, as has been suggested by Kevin Kelly. Elsewhere I have proposed that living systems may have a different type of “temporal nature” than non-living systems. Living systems might have “temporal texture” rather than a “linear temporal sequence of momentary states”. Information, not matter/energy may flow back&forth within different duration frames. Some have called this “temporal integration”, but without hypothesizing “leaking info” Past<>Future. I have labeled this “Feedpast Bootstrapping“.
IS IT REALLY “INFORMATION” WE ARE TALKING ABOUT?
The term “information” has as many confusing uses (let alone meanings) as the term “consciousness”. Consider a few urls:
Physical Relationships among Matter, Energy and Information, Stuart A. Umpleby
(Published in Systems Research and Behavioral Science Vol. 24, No. 3, 2007, pp. 369-372). Available free as a WORD doc by clicking on the top item in this Google list.
#2 From “Information” to “Difference”
An early formulation of the ideas in this paper used the term “information.” [Umpleby, 1975] Indeed the works of Szilard and Bremermann also use the term “information.” But because of the complexities introduced by having to specify one or more observers, the term “information” is not an elementary concept. “Difference” denotes the elementary building block of data or signal or information. Hence, when dealing with physical foundations, I believe it is preferable to speak in terms of matter, energy and difference. To define terms, a “difference” is a physical entity that can be noted by an observer. Drawing a “distinction” is a purposeful act that creates two categories.
Scientists today understand phenomena related to matter and energy more thoroughly than phenomena related to information. Perhaps reflecting on the physical relationships among matter, energy and information can help natural scientists and social scientists understand better the nature of their disciplines. Efforts to apply the methods of the natural sciences to social systems have led some people to conclude that matter and energy relationships are the appropriate subjects of attention for social scientists. However, in social systems, distinctions are essential. Bateson  made this point as follows:
“(my colleagues in the behavioral sciences) have tried to build the bridge to the wrong half of the ancient dichotomy between form and substance. The conservative laws for energy and matter concern substance rather than form. But mental process, ideas, communication, organization, differentiation, pattern, and so on, are matters of form rather than substance. Within the body of fundamentals, that half which deals with form has been dramatically enriched in the last thirty years by the discoveries of cybernetics and systems theory.”
As civilization has progressed from agricultural societies to industrial societies to post-industrial societies, there has been a shift of attention from matter to energy to information. No doubt our scientific knowledge of information will improve as information societies continue to develop. This article points out that signals, distinctions, data, information, and communication depend upon matter and energy and that a physical difference is a more elementary phenomenon than information.
Bremermann [1962, 1965] suggested that there is an upper bound on the rate at which symbols can be processed by matter. They can be processed at speeds not exceeding Bremermann’s limit of 1047 bits/gram/sec. Bremermann’s limit is derived from the equations E = mc2 and E = hf, when one photon is considered equivalent to one bit. [Ashby, 1968] That is, combining the relationship between matter and energy with a relationship between energy and information yields a new relationship between matter and information, at least at the atomic level. Ashby used Bremermann’s limit in pointing out the dramatic physical impossibility of some pattern recognition strategies used in the early days of artificial intelligence. He urged more attention to how the human brain functions.
What I offer here is not intended to be a definitive formulation for meanings.
Instead, only a functional platform to facilitate dialog on the issue.
First, the term “information” in “Information Theory (IT)” is not the same as “information” in more common usage. Umpleby acknowledges this when he recommends the term “difference” instead of “information” and that IT is about patterns in transmission and is related to statistics, uncertainty, and disorder. How do we detect message from noise? Kevin Kelly, expounding on “extropy” (see url above): ”‘The physicist John Archibald Wheeler claimed that, fundamentally, atoms are made up of 1’s and 0’s.., “Its are from bits.” He elaborated: “Every it – every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself – derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely from binary choices, bits.” “All movement, all actions, all nouns, all functions, all states, all we see, hear, measure, and feel are elaborate cathedrals built out of bits. After stripping away all externalities, all material embellishments, what remains of the primeval “it” is the purest state of existence: here/not here. Am/not am.”’
Wheeler’s “are made up of” is typical of many scientists confusing their “representations of reality” with the full “essence of reality”. Of course, they can claim that there is no way to distinguish “the real” from “the representation”, especially when we consider “the knower” on par with “the known”. Certainly, Wheeler is not imaging chains of 1’s and 0’s out there in space-time. All knowledge, which is related to “information” can possibly be coded in binary – a universal language for all messages.
Yet, Kelly chooses his second definition for “information”, (2) “a meaningful signal”, instead of (1) “a bunch of bits”. Is information in an object with shape perceived, or the “information” only in the signal?
Second, is the reference to FORM in inFORMation. There is the Platonic ideal of FORM. There are the spatial patterns, FORMs we perceive and can describe. Measured change can be mapped into static form. Complex static forms are visually scanned/processed over time. Processing-Structures complements Structuring-Processes. [url to Processing Structures / Structuring Processes] FORMS are treated as “out there” in an “objective world” to be observed and experienced by human mind/brains. FORMS can be sequences and arrays of smaller forms or symbols. Protocols are needed as to the order of scanning or reading: left to right, top to bottom, center to outside, etc.
Third, is the information IN a form, such as this text (sem), or does it depend on being read by a person already knowing the language of the text? Does the fact that humans have deciphered texts from ancient languages imply that the texts contained information. Or, is it dependent on the text having been composed by humans, and sems composed by aliens may never be deciphered by humans? The term “inform” implies an action, the sending and reception of a message (form). Yet, the form of the signal from this text is different from the form of the text “on the page”.
Fourth, there are a number of different terms (and concepts) that are related to this issue: pattern, form, symbol, data, knowledge, wisdom, comprehension, understanding, meaning, communicate, conversation, dialog, discourse, parameters, variables, values, relations, systems, formats, signals, messages, sending, receiving, transmitting, contexts, etc. Whatever the specifics of all these, they all relate to sems, their creation and their processing from perception to meaning.
As far as we know,
do these terms relate only to processes occurring
on Planet Earth and by humans?
Again, are sems unique to humans? and unique to Earth?
Kevin Kelly states: “With the rise of life (in our immediate neighborhood) information ascended in influence. The informational process we call life took control of the atmosphere of Earth several billion years ago. Now the technium, another informational processing, is reconquering it.” Without question, the complexity of information (however we define it) has greatly increased with living processes, increasing with evolution, and even more with the human “technium”. Yet, I query, until we started composing sems, wasn’t information always embedded in the structure/process of matter/energy systems?
Kelly: “The technium can be understood as a way of structuring information beyond biology. Foremost among all inventions is language, and its kin writing, which introduced a parallel set of symbol strings to those found in DNA. But the grammar and syntax of language far outstrips the flexibility of the genetic code. Literary inventions like the book index, punctuation, cross-references, and alphabetic order permitted incredibly complex structures within words; printing broadcast them. Calendars and other scripts captured abstractions such as time, or music. The invention of the scientific method in the 17th century was a series of deepening organizational techniques. Data was first measured, then recorded, analyzed, forecasted and disseminated. The wide but systematic exchange of information via wires, radio waves and society meetings upped the complexity of information flowing through the technium. Innovations in communications (phonograph, telegraph, television) sped up the rate of coordination, and also added new levels of systemization. The invention of paper was a more permanent memory device than the brain; photographic film even better. Cheap digital chips lowered the barrier for storing ephemeral information, further intensifying the density of information. Highly designed artifacts and materials are atoms stuffed with layers of complex information. The most mechanical superstructures we’ve ever built – say skyscrapers, or the Space Shuttle, or the Hadron Supercollider – are giant physical manifestations of incredibly structured information. There are many more hours of design poured into them than hours in manufacturing. Finally, the two greatest inventions in the last 25 years, the link and the tag, have woven new levels of complexity into the web of information. The technium of today reflects 8,000 years of almost daily incremental increases in its embedded knowledge.” In my terminology, Kelly’s “technium” emerged from the human cyborg: humankind+semfield. (explication later)
In Kelly’s scenario of our universe, we started with only energy, soon matter materialized as interacting elementary particles in a quantum world and then creating space-time & gravity of macro matter with galaxies, starts, and planets. Then a radical new process emerged, a form of self-organizing, that led to the emergence of living systems. Paul Davies summarizes it well: “The secret of life does not lie in its chemical basis…Life succeeds precisely because it evades chemical imperatives.” Living systems involve many orders of magnitude of information than non-living systems. The technium involves much more info that living systems.
Kelly, and others, appear to view the emergence of DNA/Protein life & our biosphere (Gaia), and the emergence of our technium as successive instances of information break-throughs. What I am proposing with sems and semfields is a different type of “shift” than for the emergence of self-organizing/reproducing systems and life. For living systems, the new information was stored in molecular structures (matter/energy systems). With sems, the information is “printed” on matter/energy substrates. The amount of matter/energy required for this “printing” is very small compared to that involved in molecular changes in biological systems. And, as I hope to explore, the future of the technium is just beginning, in comparison to the 4 billion years story of Gaia’s emergence.
The emergence of the DNA/Protein “language” systems, may have occurred much earlier in the universe, well before the formation of our solar system and planet Earth. I speculate that the DNA/Protein system emerged in water droplet rings around second generation stars, a parallel emergence in all galaxies. Cells emerged on Earth as it cooled, using the component organic molecules from space.
In a very real sense, we have two unique happenings here in our solar system: the emergence of Gaia, and the emergence of humans with semfields and an infant technium, but growing rapidly – maybe far too rapidly. These are unique to us, but both may be very frequent in the universe – as there appears to be very many planetary systems in our galaxy and probably other galaxies. However, given that a technium may be very unstable, many attempts before us, in the universe, may have failed. Rupert Sheldrake’s formative causation may enable each attempt at stabilizing a technium to be closer to success. May we be successful here on Earth!
We have sent sems into space in hope that other beings capable of perceiving and interpreting sems would be informed of our existence. Crop Circles may be sems imprinted on fields of vegetation. Many have been done by humans; others may not have been created by humans. Skeptics and supporters of the belief that all crop circles are man made never attempt to refute the evidence reported by those who claim some crop circles are authentic, not human made. To me, the issue remains unresolved. If crop circles are sems, we might examine the temporal progression of the different patterns.
The Anthropocene – The Dark Side
Recently geologists have confirmed the Anthropocene/Holocene boundary, to their criteria: clear breaks in rock stratification. Also, (a controversial estimate) that 98% of terrestrial vertebrate biomass is currently due to humans, pets, and livestock, is a striking indicator of how much humankind has altered the biosphere. Climate change is only beginning to make its mark. Human impact on the biosphere, in excess of what any species increasing in number and range might cause, began early, and the first to have global impact. Our ecological footprint is great and growing. Yet, if we gathered all 7 billion humans to stand on a grid 1’x1′ (babies and small children would compensate for fat persons), they would all fit well in the valley hosting Tucson, Arizona.
(7,000,000,000 ft2 x mi2) / (5280×5280 ft2) = 251 mi2 15.8 mi to a side.
See a pictorial view of the dark side of humankind .
Humans are wired to find comfort in the fractals of natural settings. Crowded urban settings (Times Square and the centers of all world cities) are the antithesis of nature. All of human altered settings are not composed of sems; but they all result from humans creating and interacting with sems. For contrast, imagine rows and rows of large, bright electronic billboards in the middle of a beautiful natural setting.
What percent of human waking moments are devoted to 1) viewing natural settings, 2) viewing human created settings, 3) viewing sems? Eyes and fingers glued to mobile devices and games; couch potatoes mesmerized by TV imbibing sports and violence; factory farms processing chickens and pigs in robotic conveyor terminators; acres and acres of Chinese humans, row upon row in mechanistic routine work making gadgets for Americans; refuges moving and in camps, fleeing the terror of what once was their homes; young men killing and dying; the homeless and the starving – are the images I have of how warped we are and how much we have hurt ourselves and Gaia. I am one of the more fortunate, only living within a dysfunctional family and in debt – but I have a roof over my head, food to eat, computer and cyberspace, friends and colleagues. No one is trying to kill or hurt me and I live in one of the most stable regions of the Earth, even not expecting major natural disasters from climate change.
Can we gain some solace imagining this period as the birth pains and struggle for a significant emergence? Gaia has experienced a few major shifts, catalyzed either by violent events from outer space or tectonic. The EVENT that brought us to this juncture was a genome “mutation” that led to our uniquely human attributes – which I am proposing resulted in the emergence of languaging and semfields.
Beyond the Anthropocene – The Bright Side
This story requires a new document, with references to many other sems within the exploding potential of humankind: NU GENESIS What is most important, is that those who live in the emergent humanity, during UPLIFT, will live in joy and love (within the emergent butterfly), even while those not yet part of the emergence may be suffering.
It has been a pastime for humans to propose what made us unique. The opposable thumb, our upright posture with great respiratory prowess to chase down game, our large and complex brains leading to art, language, tools, technology. Many of the traits we attribute uniquely to humans are actually mammalian, such as interpersonal relating, loving, caring, raising our young, playing, even grieving.
Is there a perspective that might give us “leverage” on how to “leap forward”, out of our Crisis-of-Crises and on a path commensurate with our Gaia Given Potentials? I propose that to view our semfield as a real domain, distinct in useful ways from “nature”, in a positive way complementary to “nature”, we will begin to learn how to use our semfield as our ultimate tool/technology. It will help us distinguish between the social and the societal, and not attempt to treat one as if they were the other. It is a perspective that approaches our challenges as systemic, and not due to human failings or blaming others. Our journey from the semi-isolated tribe to modern globalization can be viewed as an era of humankind as a civilization-caterpillar. We are now beginning the process of metamorphosis, actualizing our near infinite potential (acquired through much pain and suffering), to emerge as a butterfly-of-humanity.
I am in no way opposing the excellent movement of learning from nature to apply to our technology, such as biomimicry. Nor am I calling for a hi-tech future with exclusively human created settings. Indeed, I feel we need a balance between human created setting and fractal setting of nature.
There are two important limits to the metamorphosis analogy.
1) The whole process is in the dual genome of the caterpillar/butterfly, and the forms cycle many times. For humankind (caterpillar) to humanity (butterfly), there will be only one metamorphic emergence.
2) The biological butterfly doesn’t grow or develop, it mates, lays eggs, and eventually dies in a form much as it emerged. Humanity will be more as a newborn infant with a long multi-millennial future for development. Indeed, there are potentially a few billion years remaining for Earth before our sun “explodes”, and humanity may creatively assist the whole of Gaia to create a planetary semfield and the competencies of conscious intelligence.
Evaluating this Proposition and its Implications
I seek useful feedback on this proposition. Please, prove me wrong if you can. Or, provide further evidence for my claim. Point out others who may have also proposed this, who I don’t know. Is this proposition a “key” to catalyze UPLIFT and Societal Metamorphosis?
Specifically, I need assessment of my primary claim, that sems are unique, and that all other information is embedded in matter/energy systems.
UPLIFT and Societal Metamorphosis are complex conceptual schemes that provide humankind with alternative future paths. I seek others who are willing to devote some time (not full time nor long term commitment) to self-organize as a team to work with these ideas, in an attempt to evaluate their viability, based on the full conceptual scheme. When “objections” are made, treat them as a “factors”, not a “distractors” (one strike and you’re out). Somewhere else in the conceptual scheme there may be other information to “answer objections”.
Consider exploring a “Plan B”. At 81, I recognize that I can’t create the requisite team. I will continue to create and distribute sems as long as I am able, and am open to be “used” by an “acceptable” team.