information, evolution

[Avery Andrews 930410.1930]

A thought on what information might be good for.

A lot of the heat in the info dispute has been generated in a sort of
slip-zone between the claims that information is somewhere (p(t), for
example), and claims that it does or doesn't get used by someting
(like an organism or ECS). Here is a bit of motivation for thinking
of information as being present somewhere, even when it isn't used.

Imagine a primitive organism moving around in a mostly transparent,
illuminated environment, containing opaque objects. Onto a
random patch of the organism skin will fall light, which, from a
standard `objectivist' point of view, carrys a large amount of
information as it varies. But the organism might not use any of it.

Nonetheless, the presence of the information is reflected in the evolutionary
potential of the situation: for such an organism, some patch of skin
might evolve into an eye, which can extract at least some of the available
information. On the other hand, if the illumination is constant, this
won't happen, and, in fact, pre-existing eyes tend to de-evolve in such
environments (e.g. caves with illumination level constant at zero). On the
other hand in a very turbid environment with varying illumniation levels,
it would not be a big surprise to see a patch of skin evolving into a
light-meter, but it would be very surprising to see something like an
eagle's or a human's eye developing.y