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Biological Theory

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 243–249 | Cite as

The Biological Nature of Meaningful Information

Article

Abstract

One of the major impediments to understanding the concept of information is that the term is used to describe a number of disparate things, including a property of organized matter and messages sent from a sender to a receiver. Information is essentially an attribute of the form that matter and energy take, not of matter and energy themselves. Intrinsic information is a theoretical measure of the degree to which an entity is organized, the opposite of entropy. Meaningful information, however, involves the detection of a pattern of organized matter or energy by an animate or a man-made receptor, which triggers a change in the behavior, function, or organizational structure of the receiving entity. The ability to detect and respond to meaningful information is one of the defining characteristics of living entities; the process that enables cells and organisms to receive their genetic heritage, regulate their internal milieu, and respond to changes in their environment. Although energy and information are the two fundamental causal agents in the natural world, they bring about change through completely different mechanisms. The energy involved in physical interactions is supplied by the originating entity, while the energy involved in informational interactions is provided by the recipient. There is no predictable relationship between the nature of the informational stimulus and the response it engenders, for this is primarily determined by the pattern of connections between the involved receptors and effectors that evolution and learning have fashioned. As a result, a living entity’s response to information cannot be predicted on a purely mechanical basis. The laws that describe the physical interaction of organized matter apply to the transfer of energy, not to the transfer of information. This is why biology cannot be reduced to physics.

Keywords

biology cause and effect energy and information evolution information information detection information storage information transmission meaning 

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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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