Chapter 1 Living Information

To understand the theory of the behavior of information, we have to place ourselves on the point of view of information itself. To facilitate the transition from our classical "self-centered" point of view to this new point of view, this chapter will show some analogies between the life of information and the life of some living species we all know about.

1.1 Information spreads.

A tale is told. The audience appreciates the story. Later on, several members of the audience repeat it in other company. By this, a good tale is spreading all over the world and will be memorized by so many people that its survival is guaranteed for a long time.

Information is spreading like fire. In some cases it seems that information is using the people to spread itself similar to the way virus spread.

It is remarkable how difficult it is not to repeat some fresh gossip or a good joke.

1.2 Information evolves.

Information is not always repeated exactly as it was received. The spreading information is affected by the environment or by other information in the minds of the "used" people.

A tale is not always repeated as it was received. Sometimes names of persons and places are changed, sometimes a part of the tale is replaced by a part of another tale.

The new tale will spread also. Some people will hear both the original tale and the modified one. When they repeat it, they chose one of the two versions.

The selection process illustrated in the example above makes "the best" information spread wider. "The best" means "the one that is selected most likely".

1.3 Natural selection.

The tale which is well adapted to its environment is more likely to spread. On longer term these environmental conditions change. The tale which is best adaptable to many different circumstances is more likely to survive the changing conditions.

The process of spreading, mutations and selection of information is similar to the process of natural selection of living species.

1.4 Crossing.

Most of the changes in a set of information are not accidental. The changes are substitutions of elements of information. When someone modifies information before communicating it, the modification is often used to put some expression of oneself in the new set of information. We can describe this as a crossing of the information we pass on with other information present in our mind.

When a tale arrives in the mind of a person, it can cross with other information in the mind. This other information can for example be another tale, or information about the environment.

1.5 Flowering.

The speed of spreading of a particular set of information is not always the same. The success of a particular information set depends largely on the environmental conditions. During the time frame in which the conditions are not favorable, the information can be memorized in a non active, a dormant form. A favorable change in the environmental conditions causes the flowering of the set of information.

When a child enjoys a tale, he memorizes it. As he grows up, life conditions change and he does not tell the story because he has become "to old for it". When, at later age, he has children by his own, conditions become favorable for the tale and he tells it again. The tale is suddenly flowering due to the changed conditions.

The state between the favorable conditions is comparable with seed being stored in dry conditions. Only when the humidity raises, it takes root and flowers again.

1.6 Birth and death.

It is important to distinguish the difference between the life of a specimen and the life of a species. When referring to the life of a set of information such as a tale, we rather refer to the life of a species than the life of a specimen.

When burning a book, we destroy one copy, one specimen, but we did not extinguish the information of the book.

When killing one individual bacterium of a kind responsible for a disease, we have not extinguished the disease.

When creating a new set of information, a new idea, we give birth to a new species of information. Once the idea has caught on, there will be many copies of it living their own life as specimen. Before this point, the new information is very vulnerable. Birth and death can be recognized at both planes, on the level of species and as a specimen. A single copy, a specimen is born when it becomes insulated from its origin and it dies when it becomes unable to manifest itself. The species dies only when there are no specimen any more.

1.7 Living information.

Information spreads and evolves. It is subject to natural selection. It interacts with other information and it generates offspring. Because of all these similarities with biological life we can easily describe information as something alive.

Critical readers could remark that the information `lives' only because of us, and that it is thus only a side product of our life. The fact that information in the examples needs human beings to spread and evolve is not a reason to think information is not alive. We, humans do also need very special conditions to survive.

We need very complex organic food, we need some bacteria to help digesting our food, etc., still we say we live.

Some self-centered bacteria in our intestine think that human bodies are only a side effect of their noble work.

1.8 Active aspect of information.

Considering information as something alive implicates of course the recognition of the inherent active aspect of information. It is very natural for (human) beings to consider the environment from an egocentric point of view. However, when attempting to understand the behavior of other beings, other people or animals, it is very useful to imagine ourselves inside the studied object.

From our point of view, we use information to determine our behavior.

From the information point of view, the information enters our mind, gains control and affects our behavior.

1.9 Usage.

Calling information living is more than a game of words. It is a step towards a point of view that will guide our search for fundamental properties of information. As we know a lot about life and the behavior of living species, we can attempt to apply this knowledge on information and check the result.

Living species go through a complex sequence of unfolding organization in the embryonic stage before birth. Based on this knowledge, we can for example investigate the development of set of information in our mind. This parallel will shed new light on communication of information in general and the comprehension process in our mind.

The reversed reasoning can be useful as well. We can apply knowledge we have about information on biological life.

Propagation of information takes place in an encoded form e.g. human language. Propagation of biological life takes place by means of the encoded information in the heredity material (genes). By drawing more parallels between these particular areas, we can learn more about the encoding of the information in the genes using the knowledge which linguists have gathered.

From the scientific point of view, understanding the origin of the parallels between these areas can be used to draw them in a more systematic way. By transferring knowledge of one area to another through such parallels, hypothesis can be generated in a systematic way. The verification of the resulting hypothesis can be done in the classical scientific way. By this, science does not has to recognize the theory as a whole to use the fruits.

More in next chapter on Information beings

This is Chapter 1; Living Information of Behavior of Information

Author: Luc Claeys. All comments welcome, mail to lcl at this site:

Last updated on Nov 12, 1997