Monday, November 28, 2005
Origin of Life and Shannon Information Systems
For information on the Shannon Information model, see Shannon's original paper on the subject or this summary. Note that Shannon's theory was primarily a theory of communication, but it also included a concept of information that has been foundational for information theory.
The paper basically described the operation of a cell as being similar to a computer system, consisting of programming instructions (genes), written to a specific coded language (DNA/RNA translational mechanism), running on an operating system/hardware platform (the cellular structure).
It also points out that the cell operates as a Shannon communication system.
The points they made were that:
- Determinism does not have enough shannon uncertainty to be a communication mechanism. The amount of shannon information a channel contain is based on the amount of uncertainty available within the channel. If the organization of the genome is based on determinism (where a probability approaches 1.0), there is not enough variability to allow information to come through.
- Chance does not give itself to generating highly organized networks of enzymes. They pointed out that a cell is not merely a bag of enzymes, but a highly structured set of pathways. Such structure does not arise by chance processes.
- The cell consists of many translational, encryption, and decryption pathways, all of which must be in place along with the cellular structure all at once for anything to occur at all. In order to go from prebiotic to biotic there exists a need for integration management, to get all of the parts to work together.
A good quote from the paper:
No amount of time proposed thus far, can explain this type of conceptual communication system. It is not just complex. It is conceptually complex. First, the ribosome/tRNA/aminoacyl tRNA sythetase/amino acid holistic translative system would have had to pre-exist any messages. Then we have to explain how the DNA and mRNA sequence provided the codon-encrypted instructions for the correct proteins to be synthesized. Only then could the receiver and destination have known what those instructions meant.
The appearance of genetic control does not seem possible unless the transmitted message and the decoded outcome were pre-arranged.
So what does all of this mean? I think that what creationists need to be attacking is the age-old question of where information exists -- is it outside of matter in platonic forms, or is it in the matter itself? I think the answer that Christians bring is that intelligent agents impose information onto matter. The information comes from something marginally platonic-like (not that the forms are necessarily pre-existing and eternal, but that ideas are essentially non-material), but is imposed in matter separate from the idea itself.
Basically, this paper provides many of the theoretical justifications for including teleology in biology. Namely, it is the only thing, as Demski says, with enough causitive force to produce what is seen. Then, with a teleological view, we can view biology with fundamentally new glasses that ask, specifically, "for what purpose?"
I think studying informational systems and entities and relating them to biology is one of those areas that are fundamentally tied to Creationist principles (or ID at minimum), even if many of those engaged in researching it don't see the connection.
Ultimately, the whole idea of information and purposeful action needs to be put under a microscope and examined to the greatest degree possible. That is the goal of the ID movement.
Werner Gitt has proposed some extensions to information theory that include semantics. It is quite a good beginnning. Unfortunately, I think some creationists see Gitt's work as an end, rather than a beginning. This needs to be examined, re-examined, pushed, molded, and extended. This is fundamental to what we are saying and doing, and therefore our models of information of all types (semantic, algorithmic, etc.) need to be rock-solid.
"What if Gaia's phylogeny were contained as a phase within an overarching ontogeny?"
Well, I don't believe in Gaia, but Christianity does view the history of the world as an unfolding/unveiling.
"For more on this line of thinking visit www.starlarvae.org"
Looked at it just a bit. One thing to point out, while the site says "beyond darwinism and intelligent design" but it seems to be actually inline almost exactly with intelligent design.
Also, you might be interested in Richard Sternberg's evolutionary writing. Specifically, see Genomes and form. The case for teleomorphic recursivity. I plan on doing a feature on Sternberg eventually, but not yet.