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                                  (ReALITY IS IN THe MIND)

    A force for Good and Evil

One of

   Truth, what is truth asked jesting Pilate but he did not stay for an answer.1 Similarly there are people
alive today who ask, “Information, what is that?” but; like, Pontius Pilate, they do not stay for an answer.
The answer goes unheeded, or the question is quickly brushed aside. And yet information (which in-
cludes truth and untruth,—and much more besides) is one of life’s great wonders. Arguably it is the most
potent agent in nature and, equal to life itself, it is our most valuable possession. Our ability to use
information as we do is what separates us from other species and distinguishes us one from another.
Some information is always with us; in all places; at all times; and in many forms. We are surrounded
by it. Some information may be accessible to us only indirectly, that is by some medium like the radio.
But, wherever information comes from, whatever its form and wherever it is acted on, it can have vital
consequences not only for human life and the planet but for the whole Universe. Information is the
starting point for everything that we say and do. More than that, it is the fuel of the mind. The infor-
mation that we have in our minds is inseparable from the lives we lead. Sometimes we know we have
information; at other times we have it but are unaware that we have it. Sometimes, just knowing it can
gladden the heart while the absence of it can breed suspicion and distrust. Sometimes information may
be dangerous and unwelcome. Sometimes it is humdrum and unimportant; sometimes it is wisdom;
and sometimes as near to truth as we can get. It may be false and sometimes it is a mixture of them all,
good and bad. But at all times it guides us; it colours our outlook; forms our opinions; and determines
our behaviour. Not only is information the fuel of our mind but it has critical links with our bodies,
our health and our well being. It is reality; and our reason for living. And yet despite its profusion and
significance, information has properties that are at odds with the laws of Science. It is boundless and
infinite and yet seemingly occupies no space. The message it conveys is invisible, colourless, ethereal,
non-stable, intangible, indestructible, and indefinable, although something about it may of course be
retained in our minds or written down and recorded. The following pages will try to throw a little light
on this strange commodity that we call information that plays such an important part in all our lives. In

1   The essays of Francis Bacon

        A philosophy of informAtion

so doing we hope that, unlike Pilate, someone will stay. Perhaps someone may take our story further;
studying, not only the nature and properties of information, but also the effect that it has on all of us

In the
beginning was
the Word

    Information comes to us in endless ways. It comes to us via light waves reflected by physical objects.
It comes to us via our senses, of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. It influences, and is influenced
by, our thinking and our emotions. It is intertwined in both. It comes to us through all the emanations,
particles, and wave forms that abound in nature. In DNA, it is “the book of life”- a chemical blue print
of each of our bodies, that has emerged from the deciphering of the human genetic code3. All objects
in the universe “impart” information of their existence although we should at this stage perhaps talk
about data rather than information. Not until data is structured in some meaningful way can it rightfully
be called information. There is so much data in the Universe that in order to protect us from utter
confusion our senses fortunately are limited. The mass of data that our minds can absorb in a lifetime
is probably finite, although some minds are no doubt better at absorbing it than others. Of all the in-
formation that there is in our Universe probably only a tiny amount of it is sensed or perceived. Some
species are able to detect emanations that the human species cannot; and undoubtedly there are many
forms of emanation still to be discovered. This does not mean that the information we have about the
universe is restricted by the limits of our senses. By using special techniques and tools, by communi-
cating with others, and by using our imagination, we are able to explore much further than our pri-
mary perceptions permit. As our story unfolds we will see that the information that we acquire is often
open to conflicting interpretations. By no means do all things mean the same thing to all people. Some
objects too, such as some nuclear materials, send out data very fast. Some radiation is extremely slow;
and some is hardly perceptible at all; but, in all cases, objects send out data about themselves merely
by being there. The data that all objects hold is a reliable form of memory, and usually far more stable
than human memory. Wherever data comes from and no matter how it is delivered,—in DNA, by light
waves, sound waves, particles, or whatever, it has to be interpreted before it has meaning and before it
can be acted on. The human mind is one interpreter but it is by no means the only one.

Information is

   Information is a part of everything. It permeates every single object, action, thought, or thing in
the Universe and not least the human mind. It is an essential part of our existence, and an essential
part of our consciousness. We may find it in books, newspapers, cartoons, pictures, music, comput-
ers, or anywhere at all. The information that we have about the external physical world, which for the
purpose of this chapter we will call reality, resides in and describes every single object in the universe
including ourselves. To inform, which is a part of the word information, means to impart information.
Information is about the form of an object. A person is a person. A chair is a chair. A desk is a desk.

2   The Holy Bible. St John i
3   James Watson. DNA. The Secret of Life
                                                                     informAtion And reAlity             

Seemingly, without a moment’s thought, when we see a chair, we know that it is for sitting on, and a
desk is for working at. We also have some idea of what a chair and a desk are made of, and how perhaps
they are made. No information is written down but, instinctively—to someone or something that un-
derstands or has a memory of that form, the right information is immediately imparted. Our ability to
identify, interpret, and understand form or shape to which we will return later is an essential part of
our story. Apart from being associated with physical objects, information consists of thoughts, ideas,
and concepts that have come into our minds merely by thinking, or by talking with friends. Sometimes
thoughts appear to have come from nowhere at all. Information is a prerequisite of human conscious-
ness. It has even been asserted4 that all objects (human or otherwise) that process information expe-
rience consciousness. That is probably going too far. However, information, whether in our mind, our
consciousness, or elsewhere, may be repeated and replicated millions and millions of times over. The
proliferation of information is unstoppable. Little wonder it may be claimed that it is everywhere.

A continuous

   It has been said that there are two kinds of information;—one that describes the physical constitu-
ent parts of things like say the frame, canvas, oils and paints that go into the making of a picture; and
the other that attempts to capture the beauty of the picture, the feelings of ecstasy and joy, or even of
horror, that the picture evokes. One kind of information would therefore be about physical things and
Science, while the other would be about Art and the emotions that it engenders. Perhaps one might
say that this latter feeling is metaphysical, a property we will meet again later. A picture is certainly a
good example of two ways of looking at something, in much the same way as we think about people’s
physical appearance and their personal qualities. However on closer inspection we see that we are
dealing with two extreme aspects of one and the same property. In each case, the information we have
is a product of human measurement and perception. At one extreme our perceptions are firm, physi-
cally measurable properties. At the other extreme, our perceptions are less tangible, artistic, emotional,
and subjective. But, no matter how our perceptions arise; whether they are based on Science, Art, or
Inspiration; whether 90% of them are already stored in our memory5; or anything else; they are all,
adequately, inadequately, faithfully, or falsely, described by information. The depth of our knowledge,
our understanding, and the appreciation that we have of anything is nothing more than the informa-
tion that we have about it. The information that we have may extend from one extreme to the other,
from minimum to maximum, from science to art, and from falsehood to fact. The information may
be drab and colourless or it may be stimulating and exciting. The message it contains may be crystal
clear or ambiguous. Interpretations may differ or merge one into another. Access to information may
occur spontaneously or as a result of looking for it; for example, by searching through the countless
wavelengths or frequencies on a radio receiver. But, like the electromagnetic spectrum over which it
may pass, information is always continuous and interconnected.

4   David Chalmers. The Conscious Mind
5   Richard L gregory. Brainy mind. 1998
        A philosophy of informAtion

and foe

   Information is far reaching; it is ubiquitous; it is a vital part of our lives; but it can be both friend
and foe. Like many instruments and tools we use in our daily lives, information may be a force for good
or evil. It tells us about all the wonderful things in the world as well as the bad. It can bring us great
comfort, encouragement, and joy; it can lead us to great discoveries and invention; and it can help us to
solve our problems. It can warn us of great danger and can save us from disaster. It can help us to find
beauty in nature and in the human spirit. It enables us to reason and to philosophise. But, either ac-
cidentally or deliberately, it can also be dangerous. It becomes a hazard when it is blindly and unthink-
ingly accepted as truth; when it is dogma; when it forbids discussion and argument; when people see it
as the only thing in their lives; and when, as sometimes through language, it lays down such hard and
fast customs and ritual that people become slaves to it. even worse, information may be deliberately
used against us. It can be distorted to enable someone to gain power and to take unfair advantage. It
can be spiteful; it can be manipulated; it can be falsified; it can wrongly accuse; it can threaten; it can
demoralise; and, it can frighten. It is more powerful than the sword. In ruthless hands it can be a truly
horrible weapon. We will have more to say about the unsavoury and undignified roles of information
in later chapters.

    Information is our existence

Key to Oneself

   The information that we obtain from the external world, or from our own reasoning, may not be
as sufficient or informative as we would like. We may not be entirely sure what information we want.
The objects on which we seek information may be hard to define. They may appear vague, flimsy, and
shadowy; but, if we are aware at all of an object, then merely by being aware of it we have information
about it. That information is in our minds. Having information in the mind is the only way of knowing
that anything exists at all. It is the key to oneself. In fact, our existence is nothing more than the infor-
mation that we have about ourselves. In his world famous axiom, Cogito ergo Sum (I think, therefore
I am), Déscartes was concerned with proving that he was alive. Pursuing his line of thought, we could
go on to say;
   I have information—therefore I live; and conversely,
   I live—therefore I have information
To know something, to know anything at all, is to live. If we have (and know that we have) information
we may rightfully conclude that we are living. We may also safely say that without information we would
not be living. It continues from the beginning of our lives to the end of them. There are no breaks in
between. It is one long continuous story that matches our lifetime. When we exist, not only do we and
our minds exist but the information that we have also exists. The information is a record of all our ex-
periences, joys, and sorrows. It is the key to our appreciation and knowledge of the world. All the input
that comes to us via our senses and from our thinking is somehow immediately stored as data in our
memory for later recollection, reflection, and comparison. Without this data, and without the ability of

6   René Déscartes. Discourse on Method
                                                                       informAtion And reAlity             

our minds to interpret and understand it, we would have no being. There would, for us individually at
least, be no existence, no consciousness, and no reality. We would not exist.

Key to

    The only way to reality then is through information. Information is our only link with reality. It is
what we accept is reality and it may be as near to reality that we can get. To recognise the touching of
a piece of wood, to bang one’s head against a wall, to breathe the sea air, to see the sun rise, to relish
a tasty meal, to have an idea, to think wise thoughts, in fact to do anything at all, requires the mental
processing of information and its association with all that has gone before. There is an important
biological link between the mind’s information and our bodily senses that is lacking in say computers
to which we will be referring in later chapters. It is this biological link that gives human beings their
emotions, their feelings and their sense of reality. Nevertheless, whenever we experience or feel some-
thing, what we are really doing is processing and evaluating information in the brain. It may seem like
a vicarious way of enjoying our pleasures, of taking food, or of suffering our misfortunes, but without
first routeing this information via the brain we would feel no sensation at all. We would have no be-
ing. As if to prove this point our information may sometimes be false; but then, when it is, so is the
reality. For example,—if a limb or a part of our body is amputated, our brain is often slow to change
its information and we can be led quite wrongly to believe that the amputated part of our body is still
there. The same sort of thing occurs when we have an aching good tooth,—a case of what the dentist
calls referred pain. What better illustration could there be of the misinterpreting of data or of applying
the wrong time and space to it? Such is the strong link between information and our sense of reality.
All the information that we have—on the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the water that we
drink, our likes and our dislikes, all our activities and the state of our being, is transparent to us and is
stored away automatically in our “mind” with very little conscious effort on our part. But without this
information we would have no consciousness. We would be nothing.

Key to
other worlds

   Like the lives that we lead, information is a continuous stream. The information we have runs
alongside and often overlaps with that of other people. It is the lifeblood of all of us. But each human
being, like the totality of information we hold, is unique. each human being (and possibly every creature
on earth) lives in a separate world of its own. In a human being, this is the world of the mind. The only
practical and meaningful way of getting into (or out of) other people’s worlds is through information.
Information is the key that admits us into these secret worlds. At least, it is the key to a limited admis-
sion. We can never know fully and exactly what is there. We observe the same information as do other
people. We share it with people; we derive similar ideas from it; and, we derive even more information
from that which we share. However, the information that we have in our minds can never be exactly the
same as that which is in the minds of other people. each of us, in our own privately developed world,
deals with information differently. We interpret and work on it in our own particular way. We create
our own world. We hold the key that allows others to enter our world, at least partially, if we so wish.
       A philosophy of informAtion

We can do this only by taking in, giving out, or, exchanging information. There is no other way except
perhaps by the use of drugs, a topic that we deal with separately in a later chapter.

Key to truth

   Information as we have seen is an integral part of our existence. The way that we treat information,
organise it, handle it, and pass it on to others, determines what we are and what we become. It is our
only way to truth. It is vital that we should treat information with respect and that in our individual
lives we should keep it as current, correct, and as uncomplicated as we can. The success of plans that
we form, and actions we take, depends on the way we view and organise our information. efficiency and
integrity often go hand in hand with a clarity and simplicity of thought. Like successful businesses, the
most successful living organisms (which include ourselves) are those that organise their information
wisely and work in uncomplicated ways. If our personal information structures and means of access
are complex, if our thought processes are complicated, so are our lives. If we cannot “see” things clearly
we become confused and we are likely to achieve very little. Our minds have had remarkable success
in what they have achieved so far. However, as the amount of our information we have increases enor-
mously from every direction, and as the type and nature of our information changes dramatically with
each passing day, we face increasing difficulties but also new challenges and opportunity. We will have
more to say about better ways of organising and handling information in Chapter 3, and also about the
need to avoid complexity in Chapter 4.

    Beyond the laws of Science

No limits to

   Looked at in its widest sense, information is arguably the most powerful force in the world. From
the smallest mote of information to the greatest volumes of published works, from DNA to the hum-
blest formulae, it can have consequences far beyond the information itself. Once it enters the human
mind it is the basis of our understanding and our consciousness. Information can enlighten and de-
light great numbers of people but it can also set in train earth shattering phenomena for the human
race as well as for the world as a whole. The media that carry information (the Press, Magazines, Radio,
Tv, the Town crier, or ourselves, and so on) are not vital in themselves. It is the information they pass
that counts. Daily newspapers are a good example. The paper and ink of newspapers that convey the
information are trivial and worthless,—except perhaps that households do often find a convenient use
for old papers. The information the papers carry however can set the world alight. It may be information
that can greatly affect the way we live. It may be information that it will become a catalyst for far reach-
ing unpredictable events, confrontation, and the stirring up of emotion. Information and emotion go
hand in hand. Information is a trigger for action and a touch paper for emotion. Understood, ordered,
and properly controlled, information can be of great benefit to every one. Carelessly treated it spells
chaos. We will have much more to say about the emotional power of information throughout our story.
Such is the mystery and power of information that we are exploring.
                                                                      informAtion And reAlity             

No law of

   One of the most basic properties of information is that it is infinite and unbounded. In the physical
world we have the Law of the Conservation of energy and Matter, which is like a two person game of
Zero sum (If I have an object and you take it; you have it and I don’t). There is however no such law
as the Conservation of Information7. In the world of information that we are considering, if someone
gives us information then we both have it. Unlike a parcel that may be passed from one person to an-
other, like Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle (where something is either A or B), information has
no such constraints. It can be a mixture of A and B. It can be duplicated, triplicated, and reproduced
without end. Although human beings have been aware of their ability to pass on information from
earliest times, it is perhaps only with the advent of computers (with their limitless power for reproduc-
ing and changing information quickly and in massive volumes) that the full implication of the endless
nature of information has been fully realised. We will be referring frequently throughout our story to
the computer’s use of information and to some interesting comparisons that we can make between
computers and the human mind. It is ironic that the computer, which we once thought had arrived in
time to save the world from being deluged in paper, should now also be contributing to the mounting
problems of data saturation. It seems to be an eternal paradox of life that inventions intended to save
humankind from problems so often end up introducing more. If however, in this latest twist of inven-
tion, the computer can help us to find out more about the nature of information and how our minds
process it we should be grateful.

and infinite

    Information, whether it is in a computer or in the mind, is in one sense immovable and indestruc-
tible. It may be recorded on some object and that object can be moved but, unlike ordinary physically
separate objects, we never see information move. It does not move physically. To give an example from
computing; it is quite impossible in computing, despite impressions to the contrary, for data to be
moved either within a computer or to another computer. Indeed, electronic data is not moved from one
place to another at all. It is copied. The original data remains at the point of sending. It may if required
be overwritten with blanks or other data, giving the impression that the original data has gone but this
is an illusion. What was originally recorded is still there at the place from where it was transmitted and
there it remains viable and readable until it is written over by new data. In other words, a computer has
to be programmed to forget. But at least a computer, unlike the human mind, can be programmed to
forget. Computer data can be eradicated although even here, as we will note in Chapter 4, some small
physical particles of its memory (like the harmonics of a sound wave) are known theoretically to remain
for ever. In ancient times, they used to say of anything “what’s done can’t be undone.” With informa-
tion, we may say “what is said cannot be unsaid.” Information once released into the world can never be
completely destroyed. It may be modified. It may become inoperative, not applicable, and worthless; but
it can never be deliberately destroyed. It is indestructible. Much to the anguish of people and nations who

7   e. F. glaser. Case-Western Reserve University
       A philosophy of informAtion

would like to remove the past, it is not possible to re-start completely afresh. Information about crimes
and wrong doings, as well as fine achievements, can always be recalled and re-embellished. History is
with us forever. escape is impossible. The human mind too, cannot forget. At least it cannot be made
to forget. Human memory is everlasting, as are the changes and additions that we make to it. every
single thought we have ever had seemingly finds a unique and permanent place in our memory. No
information can be forcibly eliminated from it. Thoughts we have had may come back to us unexpect-
edly and clearly many years later. Trying to persuade oneself to forget is a hopeless task. For the mind
deliberately to forget and start again with a “clean slate” is impossible. It is amusing to wonder where
all the information goes. Could the ceaseless increase in information that we meet with in our lives be
a cause of our expanding universe, or even our expanding girths? Alternatively, could there be perhaps
another universe parallel to our own that consists purely of information? Although this is a fanciful
theme it is one that we may well need to return to in the pages ahead.

Incredible ease
and speed of

    Despite the indestructibility and permanence of information, new information is always being added
to it. Not only that, but the meaning, impact, and significance, of the information we hold is continu-
ally changing. Limitless variations of basically the same information are constantly being created. In
the modern world of computers, the ease and speed with which new versions of data are produced, re-
produced, changed, manipulated and completely transformed, is phenomenal and frightening. There
is no limit to the process. If human beings try to follow the computer too closely they could go mad. It
is true that the human mind also has powerful capabilities for manipulating information but, in order
to protect its sanity, our mind will sometimes put a curb on what it allows us to think. If the topics
that we might like to think about are not within credible or comfortable limits our mind may refuse to
consider them at all. Our thinking is blocked. We have inhibitions. It is a topic that we will look at in
Chapter 8. In every person there is some data that cannot be changed. It is “unshakeable” and unalter-
able or, at the very least, it is slow to change. It may be data inherited in our genes. It is data we use
instinctively. It is imprinted emotionally in our minds, particularly when we were young, before we had
learned a language to record our experience in words. This unshakeable data is a part of our personality.
It is a check on our actions. It may be good common sense and a safety valve saving us, and possibly
the world, from going mad. On the other hand it may be negative and inhibiting, contributing to fool-
ish fear and prejudice. On balance and under normal conditions we should welcome the capability of
the mind to change its information quickly. It is a blessing. It gives rise to our imagination, inspiration,
the solving of problems, and other marvellous mental agility. Together with the computer, our data
manipulating capabilities have advanced enormously. However, unlike the safety valve in our minds,
the computer has no natural safeguards and this greatly increases the possibility of information being
misused. Unless changes in information are properly controlled, they can only add to the confusion,
mistrust, misrepresentation, deception, fraud, and many other evils that beset the human race. Like
other benefits bestowed upon us, the ease of manipulating information has a darker side. It may be a
divine blessing but it may also be evil.
                                                                       informAtion And reAlity             

New worlds
for old

    Unlike the real world, one of the great advantages of information is that if we don’t like the world
we are in, we can change it! We can change it as easily and rapidly as we like. There is no limit to the
thought and fantasy that our minds can engage in; and, if we wish, we can get the computer to help
us. The world of thought is so different from the physical world. Prison bars are no barrier to the
imagination. Prisoners can forget their chains. Whole worlds can come and go in a flash. Time has no
meaning. Depending on our powers of concentration, the strength of our feelings, and on the inten-
sity of our thinking, we can dispense with “reality.” We can believe that we are elsewhere, in another
time, and in another age. People in captivity have survived intolerable conditions by this very means.
However, that reserve of “unshakeable” data to which we have just referred is never far away from our
thoughts. It helps us to hold on to our sanity, even while we dream. It may perhaps never let us escape
completely from what we think is “reality.” The mind is skilful in manipulating information, in postu-
lating new worlds, and in visualising all kinds of new possibilities. It is good, as we might say, in using
its imagination. The computer is also being taught to do these things and, as we will see later, it has
been learning very fast.


    In later chapters we will suggest that information in the mind, by which for the most part we
mean our memory, is composed of particles of matter that possibly have both physical and metaphysi-
cal properties. The substance, whatever it is, is hard to define. It may also be hard to accept that our
memory, impressions, thoughts, ideas that come to us, indeed our very consciousness and even our
subconsciousness and dreams, could be made up of intangible groups of particles and waveforms;
operating possibly on differing wavelengths and frequencies. It is however with a strong inclination
to believe this; that, in a later chapter, we will suggest a name for these particles. We will suggest that
in the human body there could be literally billions and billions of memory particles or waveforms. By
using ingenious scanning and imaging techniques, scientists have produced good evidence to show
how memory processing is reflected in neural networks in our brains. The processing has been well
documented in data mappings8 of the activity, particularly in the hippocampus at the centre of the
nervous system. Different regions of the brain can be seen to light up and can be related to the differ-
ent types of mental activity that we are engaged in. It is a veritable wonderland of conscious magic, if ever
there were one! Whether this excellent work, splendid as it is, tells us all that we need to know about
human memory however is debatable. What lights up could be thinking processes rather than memories
themselves. What is more, to suggest (as we will in later chapters) that memory particles may move not
only within the body and away from the brain, but even outside us, is something else again. We would
doubt that the data mappings that scientists have found, while a very commendable achievement,
bring us very near to the end of the human memory problem. All the vast complex organisation of
human thought and knowledge that we call memory and consciousness, the way it is stored, accessed,
and manipulated, has still to be explained.

8   Rita Carter. Mapping the Mind
10      A philosophy of informAtion

A recourse to

   If data mappings in the brain are not material then, almost by definition, neither is our memory.
Could it not be that memory and consciousness are something beyond us, something de-materialised,
something ethereal, something metaphysical, at the edge of our world? Later in our book, occasionally
in a light hearted mood and sometimes in a more serious one, when we feel that the confines of a 3-di-
mensional world are too restrictive in which to explain what we want to say, we will engage in fantasy.
We will for a while even borrow from Science Fiction to talk about other dimensions, the assembly and
disassembly of matter, and the possibility of de-materialising and re-materialising ourselves out in Space.
Human beings are after all, as we now know, defined by information and, like all information (but not
apparently Humpty Dumpty) it ought to be possible to break us down and then put us together again.
Our purpose, however, is not to amuse ourselves in some cosy day dreaming. Our aim is to open up our
thoughts, to ponder the wonders of multi dimensional space, to visualise a wider, bigger space, typically
another dimension, in which it would be easier to survey the great variety and vast amounts of infor-
mation on which the mind works. The kingdom of thought is an amazing one. It is even possible per-
haps to imagine a separate universe of thought very different from the one that we are familiar with. It
could be that the information used in our thoughts, i.e. our memory, is ethereal and that we create this
different universe by our thinking. Some of our memory may come with us when we are born. Possibly,
it may be found in neural traces, in DNA, and in particles of matter. Possibly, it can exist outside us. It
may even be possible for human beings plus their memories to be disassembled and re-assembled in
remoter regions of Space. But, whatever memory is, we fully expect that at times our study will call for
some unusual thinking. That after all is what a human mind is expected to do.

     Computers and Human beings


   Until fairly recently the most powerful processor of information known to us was the human mind.
With the advent of the computer and its associated technology however the human mind now has a se-
rious rival. The human mind has been challenged. As our story unfolds we will have much to say about
these two amazing processors. There are many similarities in the way that they operate. Sometimes
the resemblance is superficial and misleading but it gives us cause for thought and wonder. The initial
difficulties that we experienced in asking computers to do even the simplest of tasks made us appreci-
ate the tremendous capabilities of the human mind. even today, when computers can so often outpace
us; there are many areas where the computer lags behind. One of the most interesting similarities
between mind and computer is that they both operate on something we call memory. In a computer,
memory is simply data, dots and crosses on a printed sheet, holes and non holes in a card or a piece of
paper tape, or positive and negative charges in some magnetic media. Human memory is of course very
different. It is not a series of dots and dashes or a charge on some magnetic tape. We have chosen to
think of it as an elusive indefinable substance in which possibly particles of matter are accessed by and
worked on in the brain. It is also possible that, through these particles, our memory has a non material
                                                                          informAtion And reAlity             11

i.e. a non-physical element in its make up. However, the mind’s need to create, store, recall, and work
on, memory is exactly the same as that with computers. What takes place in our minds, or for that mat-
ter in the minds (if they have them) of all species, may have more in common with what takes place in
a computer than we realise. The delegation of work to less immediate parts of a computer, periods of
non processing, as well as hidden data and instructions, in some ways resemble our subconscious and
our dreaming. In other cases, e.g. in the way that information is cross referenced in a computer, there
is perhaps a clue as to how our minds do similar work. We discuss this cross referencing in Chapters 3
and 4. Another interesting similarity between computers and ourselves occurs when memory is tem-
porarily or permanently lost. In computers we often refer to this as a hang up. In human beings we call
it amnesia. We will discuss these subjects and other common ailments in Chapter 10.

Faith in
printed output

     People often put faith in the print out of computer information simply because it comes from a
 computer, and especially when copy after copy of a print out is seen to be exactly the same many years
 later. This faithful reproduction can be explained by the different means that computers and people
 have for storing data. Computers use magnetic media and other hardware. The data for the most part
 is digital; that is; it is stored in discrete units of data known as bits and bytes. It is static, reliable, and
 seemingly unalterable. Human memory on the other hand is neural, or a part of human flesh and tis-
 sue. It is volatile and far less dependable. It is presumably electrochemical although when examined to
 its furthermost limits we may well find that it is more digital than we realise. However, no matter what
 form human memory takes (be it neural maps, synapses, patterns, dots and dashes, or whatever); and
 no matter what it is a memory of, (be it words, figures, symbols, pictures, sounds, smells, or anything
 else) human memory is far less distinct and sharp than the electronic pulses of a computer. It is fallible.
 Unless human beings learn something thoroughly by heart, it is rare (as clearly shown in the game of
“Chinese Whispers”) for us to be able to repeat exactly even the smallest sentences for very long. Inevitably,
 changes creep in to the messages we pass. Computer data on the other hand, if it is left untouched, may
 be read and re-read without change time after time. each time that the same question is put to a com-
 puter it should inevitably give the same answer. Constancy and reproducibility are among its merits.
 The whole construct of memory however, whether it is in computers or human beings, needs a lot more
 study. We will be elaborating on the characteristics of both types of memory in later chapters.


   It is too early to assess the full impact that computers and their associated communications will
eventually have on human beings. People’s life styles and their ideas of reality and existence will
change drastically in the years to come. Progress in computing and communications, aka Information
Technology, has been so rapid and revolutionary, so cataclysmic and far reaching, that mentally the
impact on society seems at times like the splitting of the atom. We cannot yet tell where the repercus-
sions will end. Possibly it is the most revolutionary change that humanity has ever faced. Suddenly,
Information Technology has extended our capabilities as never before. We can get an almost immediate
1       A philosophy of informAtion

response to any type of question. We can get information on any subject. We can explore and experi-
ment, analyse facts and figures in great depth, and combine them in endless ways. We can transmit live
pictures and scenes of what we find, and create vivid images and models of situations. Whereas previ-
ously we were limited to a display of text and statistics, we can now use computers to analyse, build
on their findings, and retrace if necessary in slow time to show what they have done. We can develop
talents and skills in new and exciting ways, fantasise and pretend, and communicate world-wide at the
touch of a button. We can find out what is happening literally anywhere in the world. We can work
at home instead of commuting to the office. We can bank, shop, pay bills, study, send e-mails instead
of letters, interact in entertainment, make reservations for restaurants, the theatre and travel, and so
forth, and do this all on line from within the home. We may be separated by hundreds or thousands
of miles from other people and yet we can work and talk to them as though we are seated side by side.
At first it may seem that we have found a new paradise, so much is on offer to us. However, as so often
with “progress” there is a downside. New problems are created. Information brings power; and power
may be misused. Those with ill intent may use information to gain dominance over others. Instead of
controlling information we could become enslaved by it. even without misuse and wrongdoing, people’s
minds may be unable to cope with the overwhelming volumes of data with which we are daily being
confronted. To use Information Technology is like opening Pandora’s Box. Not only is a lot of the infor-
mation inside conflicting; but it creates many new, complex, and unmanageable problems. As control
over the proliferation of information is relaxed, users are forced to rely on their own often inadequate
self control and discipline. Instead of being masters of information, we could find all too quickly that
we are at its mercy.

     Duality in Information

Two basic

    An important and fundamental property of information is its duality. This is the requirement that,
in order for “data” to have meaning, it needs two complementary components. The first is a passive
component that we may simply call data, and the second is an active component that acts on or interprets
the data and gives it meaning. It is only when data is acted on by some “understanding mechanism” that
it acquires meaning and may then be called information. The “mechanism” interprets; and, to do this,
it uses what loosely we may refer to as language. The situation is the same wherever there is meaning.
Spoken words may sound like gibberish unless there is someone there who understands them, or there
is something there that can interpret them. What is being said or communicated then has meaning.
Both the words of a speaker and the understanding of a listener are necessary in order for a conversation
to have meaning. All data may be looked at in this way. Data is only one half of a story. It is like the
story of Half a Sixpence. Both halves of the sixpence are necessary to complete the message. Or, just
like Sleeping Beauty, data waits for a Prince (sometimes it is a machine, sometimes a person) to bring
it to life. In the Universe there is a lot of data still to be acted on. There are many sleeping beauties (and
ogres too!) that have yet to be awakened. A lot of information waits to be revealed.
                                                                     informAtion And reAlity            1

Duality in

   The same kind of duality that is found in information is found in computing. There used to be a
saying in the early days of computing that Data retrieval was not Information Retrieval, meaning that the
mere existence or collection of data did not tell us very much. The data concerned could look like a
lot of worthless material of no use to anybody. In other words, the saying meant that before data could
become information it had to be interpreted by some active component. Its meaning had to be distilled.
Blocks of data taken from a computer file say nothing in themselves. They are just a sequence of dots
and dashes, bits or electronic pulses. By themselves, computer bits or pulses have no meaning; but,
when they are interpreted using certain acknowledged rules, e.g. a computer program and a language,
their message is revealed. The message may contain vital earth shattering information or it may be
just the details of someone’s bank account. It is only when the data is read by an appropriate computer
program that the data becomes meaningful. even when we say that data has been read by a computer,
the reading strictly is only an intermediate step. The full meaning of the data may not be clear until it
has been seen or heard by a person. It is true that computer data is often read and acted on by some
pre-programmed or pre-engineered equipment—and this may cause things to happen without human
intervention—but in the end, so far as human beings are concerned, it is only a human mind that gives
data its eventual meaning and accepts it for what it is. Someone, somewhere, has to witness and to eval-
uate what the computer or other equipment has done. The final arbiter somewhere is a human being.

Duality in
most things

   Duality which is such an important characteristic of information abounds in most things in life. We
speak here not of dualism in the philosophical sense of Plato’s Mind and Matter, or of René Descartes’
Materialism and Spirit (Body and Mind); but, of duality (the relationship between two components)
in all things. Most things in life appear to be related in pairs and this is often revealed in the pair-
ing of words. One member of a pair may not be fully understandable without the other. We may take
for example words like;—energy and matter; active and passive (do and be done, read and be read);
positive and negative; reality and non-reality; black and white; wet and dry; man and woman; love and
marriage; horse and carriage; left and right; right and wrong; in and out; inside and outside; summer
and winter; night and day; east and west; north and south; nuts and bolts; pencil and paper; pen and
ink; form and structure; computer programs and the data that they work on, and so on; and for good
measure we might add, mind and memory. Together the latter give us consciousness about which we
will have much to say in later chapters. These are all things that “go together.” They are not always
opposites. They are often complements. There can be no wealth without an absence of wealth. There
can be no good unless there is also something less than good. As the accountants proclaim, there is no
debit without a credit. One term makes little sense without knowledge of the other. Separately, two parts
of a thing may be incomplete but as a pair they become a meaningful whole. They become an entity
which is more than the sum of its parts. Indeed the pairing of opposites like good and evil may exist
purposely in Nature to generate activity and avoid stagnation, as we find with electricity. Opposites
like the positive and negative poles of electricity give us the potential and the difference in forces that
1       A philosophy of informAtion

keeps us alive. Thus perhaps we have extremes of rich and poor, and even of life and death. This is
perhaps the price we pay for living at all. In later chapters, we will meet these two components of infor-
mation again and again; not only as conceptual pairs, but, particularly when matter is one component
(the physical) and energy (including the metaphysical) is the other. We will attempt to show that when
these two components are separated they can lead to curious dreams and mental illness and, perhaps
in a lighter vein, to ghosts and ghouls and other strange phenomena. even beyond this kind of duality,
there is another that occurs widely in nature. In computing it is also known as redundancy. One of the
main purposes of redundancy is to give us reliability, protection and security. In the human body we
have two eyes, two ears, two arms, two hands, two legs, and so on. In time of trouble one of the pair
may help the other and this helps us to get by. It is a way of doubling up one’s resources. We will have
more to say on this aspect of duality, when we look at memory and the way that information in our
minds is also duplicated.

     Properties of information


    A feature of all information, whether it is written down, is in the mind, or if it is passed on verbally,
is that its current meaning is volatile and liable to change at very short notice. The change may be in
both importance and substance. Information is mercurial. It is changed, and added to, by the passing
of time; and by the very fact that it has been expressed or observed at all. The Present immediately de-
parts. What was “Now” becomes “Then.” As Heraclitus, the greek9 is reputed to have said, No one can
jump into the same river twice. The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on10. On the other
hand, as we have already commented, information is indestructible. What exists at any given time may
be recorded and does not change, although our interpretation of it and its meaning is very likely to
change with time. In a computer especially, we know that data can be recorded and kept purposely per-
manent and unchanging. In human beings, such constancy is extremely unlikely. Information in human
memory, unless it is written down, referred to, and constantly refreshed, is volatile and unstable. When
we recall something from memory it may differ from what it seemed previously. even our understand-
ing of written documents may differ from one reading to the next. When we read and re-read a docu-
ment, our impressions of it (and hence what is stored in our memory) may be different each time. We
inevitably spot something new in the information or look at it in a different way. Some differences may
be due to vagaries in our recorded memory but also to weaknesses in the mind’s mechanisms that read
it, a distinction that we will note in a later chapter.


   All data holds information to some small degree; even if it is not immediately understandable. The
line between data and information is often blurred. The data may be random and unpredictable, with-
out any apparent meaning, like the order in which raindrops fall on a window pane; or in which au-
tumn leaves fall to the ground as the seasons change. There is no pattern in the messages except that

9 Wendell Johnson. People in Quandaries
10 edward Fitzgerald. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám
                                                                      informAtion And reAlity            1

the events appear to be random. We will make some observations on randomness, which is a strange
but important part of the Information story, towards the end of Chapter 2. On the other hand, even
data that is not immediately intelligible to an observer may still be recognisable or distinguishable in
some way. It may be structured in groups or coded in some kind of computer format. 01000001 may
mean letter A; 01000010 letter B and so on. Alternatively, the data may be ordered, written into para-
graphs, sentences, and words and possibly pictures, so that it requires only minimum effort for us to
know that there is meaning there. In short, in this case, we would recognise that the data was a book
or a document. But, even at this stage it is important to realise that before data can be read and un-
derstood by someone or something it has still to be interpreted. The language that data is written in
needs to be known before it becomes information in a true sense. Otherwise it remains as it is—just
data. The amount of meaning that data conveys depends therefore on the language or languages and
the mechanisms that may be used on it. The role of language in conveying meaning is an important
part of our story.


   As with Half a Sixpence and Sleeping Beauty that we mentioned earlier, even a single piece of data may
be interpreted in many ways. Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder and so it is with meaning.
A good example of different interpretations of data may be found in the different wave-lengths of light
that give us our sense of colour. It is sometimes claimed that there are no colours in Nature,—that co-
lour is only to be found in our minds. Certainly we have no way of proving that what one person “sees”
as red is exactly the same colour that someone else “sees.” It probably isn’t. The explanation however
is quite simple. What exists in Nature is merely the data half of the story. The different wavelengths
of light that bounce off physical objects are simply uninterpreted data. When we apply the mechanism
of our minds to the data, we are able to distinguish these wavelengths and to “see” them as colours
and part of all the lovely colours that there are in the world. This is the mind’s way of interpreting
wavelengths for us. Not all species, nor indeed all people, see colours in the same way. Indeed some
people are not able to distinguish colours at all and are said to be colour blind. But colour is one way,
and a truly wonderful one, of identifying light waves. To say that there is no colour in nature may be
true in one sense, but it is only looking at half of the picture. In comparison with a full picture one
half of it may be very barren indeed. Those who do not “see” colours must of course accept the word
of those of us that do. Perhaps it was this kind of blindness many years ago, much to the umbrage of
Bertrand Russell,11 which prompted Bishop Berkeley to assert that if you don’t see something it isn’t there!
Something is only there (he is reputed to have said) when you can see it! Bertrand Russell, when writing
about it later, quipped that passengers in cars who don’t keep their eyes on their wheels must have a
very bumpy ride. Cars without wheels would not indeed be very comfortable! The lesson of course is
that just because we do not see something it does not mean that it is not there.

11 Bertrand Russell. A History of Western Philosophy
1      A philosophy of informAtion


    Just as information has different meanings for people, so people have differing values for information.
For one person, a piece of information may be priceless; for another, it may be worthless. Simple objects
and events are valued differently by different people. The perception of “reality” like the perception
of colour is likely to be different for all of us. There is certainly no such thing as a completely shared
reality that is common to everyone in every minute detail. each person has his or her own idea of what
reality is. It is a reality based on one’s own unique memory. All our previous thoughts and experiences
are taken into account in arriving at our perceptions. Against these, new information is judged and
evaluated. It is then added to our memory and is continually being re-tuned. Our ever growing memory
provides the background and context in which we think and live. It is the backcloth for all the informa-
tion that continually comes our way. It is the reason that we like or dislike something, although our
likes and dislikes may well change as our memories grow larger. When we get used to something we
probably learn to like it. It is memory that gives different races different ideas of beauty and behaviour.
It is memory that causes different species to be attracted by different bodily features. Memory is our
identity. From the moment we are born (and perhaps before that) we accumulate our unique memory.
Throughout our lives the data in our minds is being continuously added to, changed and refreshed. It
is this changing bank of information that our minds consult when we try to understand the world and
what is happening to it.


    Not least of our reasons for looking at information in different ways is that people often have different
information backgrounds. The top down date, Year/ Month/ Day, used in America and Japan, for example,
is in sharp contrast to the bottom up, Day/Month/Year date, used in the UK. The tragic date in 2001, of
9/11, in New York is a sad reminder of that terrible day. The fact that people have different information
backgrounds is a reason why they sometimes give widely different accounts of the same event. The very
meaning of words may differ from person to person depending on their backgrounds. Two people who
have been watching a football match may give completely different accounts of what has taken place. A
third party listening after the event might well conclude that the two people concerned had been watch-
ing a different game. Reported information depends on the eye of the beholder, in this case the reporter.
Some people will be optimists; others will be pessimists. Some will say that their glass is half full; others
will say that it is half empty. The same reasoning applies to such time-honoured phrases as; aah, there
are two ways of looking at that or, aah, it all depends on the way you view the problem. Or, again, aah,
I’m in two minds about that kind of thing. The speaker may be selecting and manipulating his or her
personal data in different ways, masking out one fact, emphasising another, and so on. This personal
bias is based on one’s own personal data bank. It is where we start when we begin to think. One’s own
memory is the beginning of our thoughts (even though we may also make good use of libraries and
other aides-mémoire). The personal information stored in our memory influences all our thoughts and
is why we will often see things differently from others. We will have other suggestions as to why people
see things in different ways, or are sometimes unable to make up their minds, in Chapter 7.
                                                                      informAtion And reAlity            1

   Powers of the human mind


   The wonder of the human mind in creating and recalling memory, and in reasoning and using its
powers of logical analysis, is well acknowledged. We will look at it later in greater detail. Less talked
about are two functions of the mind that we have named abstraction and analogy. By abstraction we
mean the quick selection that the mind makes of the main attributes, qualities, and essence of an event
or a situation as it happens or unfolds. Following its selection, the mind moves quickly to “fill in” the
rest of the “picture” from memory. As we noted earlier, up to 90% of what we “see” may already be in
our memory. For our senses to take in, and our minds to record, spontaneously every bit of detail at
the time would be humanly impossible; although, admittedly, some minds are better at it than others.
When we watch an event, appraise a situation, or view a scene, we abstract and rapidly select the most
significant and relevant features of what we see. There are many things we do not see. We depend on
our memory (and our own preconceived ideas) to fill in as much of the picture as we can. We do this when
we learn a language, listen to the radio, watch Tv, and read a book or even a sentence. We do it when
we enter a room. The basic constituents of a room are probably well known to us. Our mind takes in
the most prominent and possibly new features of the room quickly before we construct a picture of the
whole. The mind presumably uses the same process when it remembers an event. Basic essential data of
a situation are recalled and automatically the mind then fills in or builds up the rest of the picture from
memory, although alas not always accurately.

Filling in
the gaps

   Abstraction” and “filling-in are fundamental actions in the way that we and possibly all living crea-
tures assimilate information in order to save space and time. An abstract we define as a condensed
version or an abridgement of a situation that the mind puts away in its memory (possibly as particles of
matter). “Fill in” data we define as data (again possibly particles of matter) that the mind has previously
built up and recorded in order later to reconstruct fuller pictures from its abstracts. Not only is our
sense of sight helped by fill in data. Our memories of smell, taste, touch, and hearing are also assisted
presumably by fill in data. Our minds can be choosy about what fill in data to include. The data that
the mind uses to fill in (or perhaps more accurately we should say to build up) its pictures is vital to the
way that we look at and appreciate things. Fill in data obviously differs from person to person and this
is another reason why different people give different accounts of one and the same event; or are maybe
prejudiced As we will see in later chapters, fill in data may seriously distort the accounts that our minds
record. We may be deceived by preconceived ideas and prejudice. If our fill in data is false it may lead to
accident and argument. Possibly it could even give rise to “visions” and “apparitions.” But whatever is
the effect on us, the mind continues with its abstracting and abstracting, filling in and filling in, and
making ever more records for our memory to store.
1      A philosophy of informAtion

Analogy and

    By analogy and comparison we mean looking for similarities between situations that have occurred
at different times in our lives. It is the mind’s way of making comparisons and cross references to re-
lated items as we do in letters, documents, and books. Making references to the past is a tremendously
powerful feature of the mind which it uses consciously and subconsciously i.e. both on call and gratu-
itously. It is an extremely powerful feature because it works not just over a few days or weeks but over a
whole lifetime, from our childhood to our dotage. By means of analogies and cross referencing, which
we mentioned earlier in connection with computers (and will look at again in future chapters), the mind
is able to infer, deduce, and warn us of danger. In this way, the mind stretches our imagination, forms
images, and follows up hunches by trial and error, a method we sometimes call heuristics. Making
analogies is one of the mind’s principal methods when reasoning and when communicating with oth-
ers. The analogies that the mind produces whenever we remember, think, or imagine, are however very
diverse and far ranging. When we dream, and when we are mentally ill, they may be distorted out of all
recognition. They may then have very little resemblance to an original event. Analogies also help us to
imagine, speculate, fantasise, and (especially when sleeping) to fabricate or make up stories. On these
aspects, we will have more to say in later chapters. Both analogy and abstraction seem to occur at the
highest levels of our awareness, as well as at the very lowest levels of our subconscious. Some analogies
may even be based on primitive images that the mind has inherited from earliest times, feelings of fight
or flight, hunger, attack, cold, safety, friend, and foe, etc. By this means, the mind warns us of possible
dangers ahead. We are told that such and such is what happened before. It could happen again. When
we call on the mind to look into the matter more fully, it climbs back up through the subconscious us-
ing its powers of filling in, analogy, comparison, substitution, imagination, and reasoning, to enlighten
us. More than likely we will get quite a different picture from anything that actually happened.


   When we pass on information to somebody, it is not always possible to say categorically “What I Say
Is What I Mean” (WISIWIM), or What I Mean Is What I Say (WIMIWIS). In computing there is similar
acronym, WYSIWYg (What you see is what you get), which illustrates very effectively that there is
always a chance that some computer products may be very different from what information has led us
to expect. Leaving aside for the moment high pressure sales talk, hidden agendas, and ulterior motives,
etc., it is indisputable that we are not always as precise or accurate in what we say as we would wish.
Our powers of expression may be limited, our language may be inadequate, our background knowl-
edge may be lacking, or the mind’s use of abstraction and analogy that we have just described may be
confused. Sometimes we can make our meaning clearer by saying things in different ways, by looking
at a situation from different angles and then by noting where different viewpoints intersect; or we can
go into greater and greater detail. It is arguable, however, except perhaps in a purely mathematical lan-
guage (and even here, there is doubt) that we will ever be able to convey to someone exactly the thoughts
that are in our mind. This limitation in human communication should always be remembered if we
are to avoid misunderstanding and conflict. No matter how much we try we can never be absolutely
                                                                      informAtion And reAlity            1

sure that our real meanings and intentions have been fully conveyed and understood. We should make
allowances for these limitations and be tolerant of the unexpected response to what we say.

Mystery of the

   In addition to all the amazing capabilities of the human mind, there exists within all of us another
completely mystifying and powerful manipulator of information. We call it our subconscious. The
subconscious underlies and supports our mind in many ways. We referred to it a moment ago in con-
nection the mind’s ceaseless practice of making analogies. Our subconscious is an entity that is insepa-
rable from us. Unlike the purely unconscious state, it has a large meaningful say over our involuntary
actions. It notes and examines all that we think and do. It influences our thoughts and actions both
when we are awake and when we sleep. It never lets go of us. It has a hidden hand in our daily lives. It
seems to have access to our total memory and to know all about us. It often clarifies our thoughts and
yet paradoxically often seems devoid of logic. It can concentrate on one topic or it can jump endlessly
from one vastly different subject to another. It stirs our conscience and it motivates our emotions. It
is always ready to take over when our active minds take a rest. It reveals itself to us in our dreams
and in fantasy. The information it leaves behind may even suggest to some people that they have had
a message from god or that they have been told when the world will end. It seems to hold a clue to
our existence and why we are here and what we are trying to achieve but it never gives us a direct and
logical answer. If it gets out of control and runs wild its effect on us may be disastrous. It would seem
therefore to be a vital part of us. At one end of the scale, the role of the subconscious could be just a
supporting one; in such a case, little more than a store for the mind. It could be a reserved part of our
memory into which we wander temporarily and aimlessly when the barriers are down. On the other
hand, it could be that our subconscious has far more power and control over us than we realise. It is a
mysterious and inscrutable part of our minds. We will have more to say about the subconscious and its
parent, consciousness, in later chapters. Both work on information in our memory. Without memory,
neither our conscious mind nor our subconscious mind (nor even we) could exist.

   Information compared to living things

Duality of
Seed and

   Duality, as we have said, occurs in most things. In computing, it exists between computer data and
the programs that work on it. Programs work on raw data and from this produce new data that may be
traced back to the original. The same idea exists in Nature, i.e. in the flowering of plants and in the
growth of living things. The resulting data may look very different from what it was at the beginning but
the link is still there. In effect, from the original data, we get a message. With living things the idea of
getting a message is found in the process of growing or “growing up.” One half of the process, the “seed”
that is acted on, is the carrier of genetic information or DNA. The other half that causes the action is
made up of light, sun, food, water, and all the other forces that work on it and let it grow. every living
0      A philosophy of informAtion

thing has information to impart. It is a message that is revealed in appearance and growth. The action
is similar to the way in which our minds work. Starting with a few particles of matter (like a seed) the
mind uses fill in data, energy, and perhaps other forces, to expand our thoughts. Just as basic thinking
may grow into lofty concepts and then disappear into near nothingness, so seeds grow into flowers and
trees and then fade leaving the germ of another seed behind. In full bloom, flowers and trees are an ex-
pansion in space and time of the smallest seed. Large oaks from little acorns grow. Seeds like thoughts
may lie around for a long time, but like all data they do not become information until they are woken up,
developed, and interpreted. We may have a general idea of the content of a seed and what it may become,
as we do with a flash of inspiration in the mind, but it may require a long time, much space, and a lot of
hard work before it reveals its true message. It would be a brave botanist or biologist who would forecast
in every detail the growth and development of a randomly selected seed or human embryo. Who can
tell from a baby what genius it may later display? Likewise it would be a wise person who could foresee
which way his or her thoughts will develop. “Seeds” grow and are influenced by their surroundings just
as our ideas grow and expand by using fill in and other factors. Compared with the development of ideas
in a person or the operations in a computer, the growth of seeds from a plant is very slow. Also, while
in our imagination and in computing, things can be “undone” and returned to their original state very
quickly, there is yet no known way in the “physical” world of reverting to an original seed. Nature’s way
is to reproduce before we die. In Chapter 9, we will note how when we sleep our dreams also seem to
start from a seed. These seeds however often expand in strange and surprising ways.

Duality must
be healthy

   Just as we need a healthy duality of information and language, and of computer data and programs,
in order to produce sensible results; so duality in human beings and plants must also be healthy. The
growth and development of human beings is also affected by free will and this too must be healthy
and not warped or biassed. Like any information, human beings and plants are subject to accident and
damage. Not only may seeds be damaged, but the mechanisms and forces that operate on the seeds
may be damaged. Bad climatic conditions, drought, floods, hurricanes, poor harvest, self inflicted
damage, and so forth, may all cause failure. Both the data that is operated on and the mechanism that
does the operating, have to be in good shape if the final product is to be successful and meaningful.
But when the right combination of seed and developer takes place the results may be dramatic. Who
has not been impressed by the annual growth of bracken in the woods? At one time of the year, there
is nothing to see but clear flat ground and seemingly lifeless earth. Six months later, we may walk over
the same ground through bracken which is larger than us, proud and six feet tall, and sometimes as
high and as thick and as green as a forest. One of the world’s primeval plants still repeats its annual
cycle of evanescence and rebirth. As with all life, some life force operates on the seed and the seed grows
according to the data that it contains. When the message that the seed contained has been delivered, its
job for the moment is done. Next year there will be a similar but imperceptibly different message which
again we may gaze at in wonder.
                                                                      informAtion And reAlity           1

To inform
is to put
into shape

    Continuing with our model of the seed, it is interesting that one dictionary definition of the verb
“to inform” is “to give form or shape to something.” Just as a flower has a stem, so the stem of informa-
 tion is inform which also means putting something into shape. The dictionary definition fits in nicely
 with the process of moving from seed to flower or for that matter from a human embryo into a living
 person. It takes time for an embryo to be fully developed and to grow into shape but, when it does, we
 are fully revealed for what we are. The message has been delivered. It is time to move on. The infor-
 mation released during this development is the story of our own existence. People’s lives can be seen
 as a series of messages in the endless passage of time. Other wondrous examples of putting informa-
 tion into a form or shape are the metamorphoses that we see in the change from tadpole to frog, from
 maggot to fly, from caterpillar to chrysalis, and from chrysalis to butterfly. In this we are privileged
 observers. It is doubtful if the butterfly knows that once it was a caterpillar, or if a caterpillar knows
 that one day it will become a beautiful butterfly; any more than we know anything about our own
 states before and after life. The basic information is there but like the butterfly we have no way of
 reading the information. David Bohm12 , a professor of Theoretical Physics, in his theory that there is
 underlying order in all things, uses two fascinating terms, implicate and explicate, that seem to relate
 to what is happening. everything in the Universe is continuously enfolding and unfolding. Putting
 data into a seed, like putting data in our memories, seems to resemble an “implicate” or enfolding pro-
 cess. Taking it out and letting it expand seems to resemble an “explicate” or unfolding process. This
 is Nature’s way but, beyond this simple concept, there are many forces at work that are continually
 changing and embellishing our information.

   Information hierarchy

Of nested sets

   From one point of view, everything in life may be viewed as a small entity enclosed by a larger one,
enclosed by a larger one still, and so on until we embrace the entire universe. This dictum is as true
conceptually of information as it is physically of matter. Like particles of matter nested within larger
and larger groups of matter, information also may be nested within larger and larger sets of informa-
tion. It is as though everything in the universe (data included) may be viewed as part of an onion that
ultimately can be expanded to embrace all the other onions. Sets of information may be looked on as
thicker and thicker rings of an onion. The great advantage of looking at information in this way is
that, no matter how huge the information we may have is, it is comparatively easy to reduce it to find
precisely the information we want. By peeling off the outer rings on the onion so to speak, that is by
removing them from view, any information that we do not need may be discarded. We can continue to
narrow down our search until we find exactly what we are looking for. By viewing information in this
way in terms of sets, or in terms of Set theory as it is properly called, we provide ourselves with an ex-
tremely powerful tool. The nested set concept not only mirrors the universe but it enables us mentally,

12 David Bohm. Wholeness and the Implicate Order
       A philosophy of informAtion

in conjunction with a logical language of ANDs, ORs, and NOTs, to locate anything in the universe
that we are interested in. We will have more to say about the concept of sets and the language that goes
with it in Chapter 3. The process that we use is essentially one of narrowing down, i.e. working with
smaller and smaller sets of information.

Levels of value
and worth

   We can use the same concept of a hierarchy of nested sets for assessing the value and worth of
information. In this case we may be faced with information ranging from false, valueless, and mean-
ingless, all the way through different degrees of worth, until we reach absolute truth. Just as we can
use nested information to locate something physical that we want, so we can attempt to find truth by
selecting positive information, by good reasoning, and at the same time by rejecting wrong, mislead-
ing, and irrelevant information. To continue the metaphor of the previous paragraph, the outer rings
of our subject onion may contain a lot of associated information, but absolute truth may be found only
at its core. To fit in with a more popular view of representing the highs and lows of value it is simpler
however to imagine a rising scale. The scale that we can readily envisage is one with lowest values at
the bottom of the scale and, absolute enlightenment or truth (if this is ever achievable) at the top. For a
particular subject this would be like having a cone of information with a pinnacle or beacon of truth at
the top and, below it, several conic sections of associated data and fact. There could be many levels and
sub levels of information within the cone of which possibly the five most important are;

                                Data; Information; Knowledge; Wisdom; and Truth.

Just as we pointed out earlier that Data is not Information, so we may say that Information is not Knowledge.
Likewise, Knowledge is not Wisdom; and, Wisdom is not Truth13 . Data does not become information
unless it has a recognisable format and a “language” that goes with it and gives it meaning. Information
may not be called Knowledge unless it has been suitably arranged and organised and accepted by one’s
peers. Knowledge is not Wisdom, until it can be shown that it has been applied wisely and successfully in
many places and that it can provide valuable guidance for the future. For Wisdom to be proven as truth
may be impossible but, to get as near to it as we can, we need to show that it has prevailed over all chal-
lenges over aeons of time and that thus far its message is unassailable. We will refer to this hierarchy of
information frequently throughout our story.

the levels

   Between the levels of information quality that we have outlined there are many sub levels that vie
for a place in our scale. Often these can be related to emotion, or to varying degrees of reasoning. At
first sight it might be thought that emotion should not qualify as information at all, but only as data.
However, unless the emotion concerned is just a grunt or a gesture (without rhyme or reason), it almost
certainly conveys information. emotion usually has some purpose behind it. It is related to an event

13 Peter Cochrane. Director of Research. BT
                                                                    informAtion And reAlity           

in some way and is clearly not meaningless. It is already information. It may not be genuinely heartfelt
emotion. It may not be logical. It may be the enemy of other information. It may be information that
concentrates on one topic that cancels out the rest, as when we say of amorous emotions that “love is
blind.” It may override common sense, and cause us to do foolish things, but it is still information. It
can be assessed and evaluated within the higher levels of our hierarchy. Similarly in the case of reason-
ing; if the reasoning behind information is superficial, the result of our reasoning may amount to little
more than we start with. If however the reasoning is logical and structured, our information could
become knowledge and even wisdom. Just where information is located in our hierarchy depends on
many factors. Where we place it may directly affect our lives.

  Outer limits

Particles of

   In our study of information, we have to have a free and open mind in what we think. We want, if
we can, to look beyond today’s ideas on energy and matter even if at first our ideas seem absurd. We
mentioned earlier that our notion of colour was related to wavelengths of light. We went on to wonder
whether our memory could have connections with the electromagnetic spectrum, particles of matter,
and metaphysics. It could be that the answers that we seek on information will not be found in the
macroscopic fields of matter with which we are familiar but rather in the sub-quantum, sub-atomic,
worlds of ever smaller, ever faster, ever-moving, ever unpredictable elementary particles. These already
have strange sounding names like photons, mesons, quarks, tachyons, and baryons. Some are said
to have mass less than zero and speeds faster than light. Partly physical, partly non-physical, such
particles could also contain perhaps the seeds of our thoughts and memory. There could be different
particles for different kinds of information. Particles using “emotional frequencies” that give rise to
excitement or to harmful unthinking reactions could be quite different from those that contain well
reasoned thought. Perhaps information of different types may travel on different particles. Do we re-
ally know for instance the speed of human thought? Certainly the speed should not be calculated by
the time it takes to express our thoughts, or to write down a sentence. even the speed of signals in our
cerebral cortex which specialists on the brain have succeeded in measuring, may not be our maximum
speed of thought. As in computing, the speed of our delivering information i.e. the time that it takes
for us to express something may be millions and millions of times slower than the thought processes
that precede it. Time at best is a beguiling measure. We will have more to say about Time’s intriguing
influence in Chapter 2.

A fourth

   The more we study the enigma of information the more we realise what an immense and complex
subject it is; but we also feel that we are dealing with something ethereal. The tremendous power that
information has over our existence, and the incredible amount of work that our minds do with it, is so
mystifying that at times (as with Religion and Faith) we may feel we have no right to question it. It is
      A philosophy of informAtion

hard to imagine how literally billions and billions of thoughts and ideas can be stored and worked on
in a single mind. It seems inconceivable that the brain, which is still the most wonderful machine in the
world, can do such large amounts of minute detailed work as it does in such a tiny space. We feel the
need for space, (much, much, more space), even to imagine how all this work can be achieved. By using
instruments like magnifying glasses and electronic microscopes, and by seeing things in greater detail
than ever before, we may one day learn more about our minds and memory. This is our world’s normal
approach to problems. Smaller and smaller particles of matter are found and used to explain larger
complex structures. We have already conjectured that there could be particles of thought, frequencies,
and wave forms, by which information might be accessed. However the space in which we think is still
confined. As we strive to find out more about particles of matter or, with our giant telescopes, look
deeper into Space, could it not be that we are just knocking against the walls of our 3-dimensional
universe? Might it not be that, by straining and probing at the edges of the universe in which we live,
all that we are really doing is trying to look into a fourth dimension. Could it not be that in this fourth di-
mension we not only would look at things in different ways but would also see things that in our 3-di-
mensional universe we do not see at all? We will refer to these possibilities in later chapters. In Chapter
2, by referring to a remarkably perceptive novel of the 19th century, we will illustrate the tremendous
difference that the addition of a new dimension could make to our understanding. The next most obvi-
ous addition to our present three dimensions of length, breadth, and height would be an inside dimension
that enables us to look out from the inside of matter. Could it not be that in this vast space that exists
between the atoms of all matter there already exists a fourth dimension? In Chapter 9, we will wonder
if this is a dimension that we sometimes meet in our dreams. In Chapter 12 we will wonder if the fourth
dimension is where radio waves and other invisible waveforms travel. We will wonder whether ghosts
(if there be such things) might also use this dimension. By moving inside the space that exists between
the atoms of all matter, ghosts etc. could appear to us to be moving through solid objects. Like particles
of matter in a nuclear bubble chamber, particles of memory, particles of information, could be continu-
ally darting in and out of the fourth dimension; and our minds. We have no wish to engage in Science
Fiction but in dealing with the enormous enigma of information there is certainly need for a new and
bigger framework in which we can think. Postulating ideas about memory particles and other dimen-
sions (even if they are only mental exercises) may go some way to meeting this need.


   Not long ago in the history of the human race electricity was unknown. At least, in so far as we
understand and use it now, it was unknown. Today, electricity is at the heart of modern life and we
can hardly imagine what life would be like without it. In the handling and transmission of information
alone, electricity has a vital role and we are dependent on it as never before. We know too, as we will
discuss in later chapters, that electricity is a force that triggers movement in the body and is a force
that our minds depend on to store information, to remember, to think, and to reason. We have much
to discover even now about how this powerful force in our bodies is generated and used. Like infor-
mation and human memory, it cannot be seen. Its effect, like that of gravity and the wind, can only
be felt. When we know more about the nature of electricity, we may perhaps understand more about
the nature of information and indeed of our own lives. Just as we were slow to discover the wonders of
                                                                     informAtion And reAlity            

electricity, it seems possible (indeed likely) that there could be other forces in the world (and particu-
larly in our bodies) that we have yet to discover. Such forces could account for many of the wonders in
ourselves and in nature that we cannot explain. We refer to the wonderful powers of the human spirit,
the recovery of tireless energy after illness and depression, the will and ability to move mountains in
the face of adversity, as well as many other strange phenomena that from time to time beguile the hu-
man race. Such forces may be a continuation in some form of the electromagnetic spectrum that we
are acquainted with or they may have their origin in something entirely new. One area in which such
forces could be active is in our subconscious mind to which we referred above. Nothing in this vast
area of the unknown which we address should be out of bounds to human thought.

From Outer

    Notwithstanding all the wonderful things that we know and have achieved in the world there is
always the possibility, and some might even assert a strong probability, that “Out there” in Space there
is other life besides our own. It could be that life there is more intelligent than ours, that it knows and
has achieved far more than us, and that even now is observing us. There have been many claims of
such a possibility, although none has stood up to a searching examination of the evidence. The pos-
sibility exists however that somewhere out there in the Universe there could be an intelligence that is
far superior to our own. It may know about us and be biding its time before making an appearance.
It may be finding it difficult to make contact with us or it may be concerned about the consequences
of meeting us, especially if its form and makeup is very different from our own. As we have found on
earth, having more information and knowledge about life often brings more problems in its wake and
this could be why we have not been contacted. We may be thought not yet ready for the shock that
could follow. Like ourselves, a Superior intelligence may still be trying to find the elusive answer to the
eternal “Why.” The possibility of there being a Superior intelligence in Space is worth keeping in mind,
if only to reserve within us a little humility, and to keep even more fanciful speculations in check. Our
present knowledge and abilities are limited; as can be seen from all the earthly troubles and human
suffering there is in the world. To a Superior intelligence many of our actions are likely to appear inept
and stupid. Many of our explanations could seem fanciful in the extreme. Many problems that we face
could have simple solutions. However, if we wish to know more and to find much needed answers, we
have no alternative but to use what information we have and to establish a reasonable philosophy for it.
If there is a Superior Intelligence in Space we might one day be mature enough to meet with it. In later
chapters we will have more to say on intelligence, not only in regard to common sense but also in con-
nection with our ideas on consciousness and free will. The intelligent use of information is probably
the most important quality we have that distinguishes us from other matter.

  From now on

Education and research

   Since information is such an intrinsic part of our existence, it is important that its nature and prop-
erties should have a high place in human studies. Certainly research on the brain has met with notable
      A philosophy of informAtion

successes in neuroscience, human perception, consciousness, biology, psychology, and in other mind
and information related fields. It is true that with the advent of computers there has also emerged an
Information Science. There are now excellent University courses in Computing and Computer sci-
ence, and most schools have computing in their curriculum. All these courses demonstrate how to
structure and process data economically and efficiently, how to present it to the world in attractive and
meaningful ways, how to make great savings, and how to achieve ever more spectacular results. There
are also specialists who are investigating thought processes with the intention among other things of
developing Artificial Intelligence. All these are encouraging developments that should continue and
undoubtedly they will bring great material benefits in their wake. Hopefully we will also do more re-
search in future under a purely Information heading, under which the nature of information and how it is
handled will be seen as first priority. All the disciplines, professions, and trades that use information
will hopefully become contributors sharing their requirements and experience. In today’s environment,
we are deluged with information, with new techniques, and with bewildering ways of presenting and
processing data. When information technology has such a directly powerful influence on our lives, it
is time to take stock and to examine how it is being used across all its differing fields. As we point out
in Chapters 11 and 14, there is a need (for the good of Society and for all our sakes) to bring home to
children the nature and importance of information; to teach them to use it wisely and well. The well
being of democracy and the future of the human race could depend on it.

Learning from
other species

    In all our studies of information we have noted that there is much to learn from other species. We
are not the only species that “processes” information. All other living things, and even things that may
not be said to be living, are continuously using and communicating information. On our planet earth,
from the smallest ants and insects to the largest animal, from the tiniest fish to the dolphin and the gi-
ant whale, from the most gentle of birds to the strongest eagle, and from the humblest plant to the tall-
est tree, all have survived over long periods of time by communicating information. From the way that
all species hold and use information, and communicate, whether by instinct or brain power, we have
much to learn. Some methods have already been copied successfully by our technologists in designing
modern day systems. The wonders of new Information Technology about which we will have much to
say in the following pages are only now endowing us with capabilities that some species have had in
different ways over aeons of time. The migration of birds and fish that leave and return to their original
places of habitation after travelling half way across the globe are feats of navigation and communication at
which we can only marvel. But now beyond this, as we examine smaller and smaller units of life, there
awaits an even greater wonderland of discovery. In the way that information is used and communicated
by all creatures, there are many secrets not only to be copied and developed for our material gain but
in order to bring us nearer to a better understanding of our existence.


   Long ago, philosophers like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Spinoza, Leibnitz, and Immanuel Kant and many
others before them deliberated on information. Much that they found has stood the world in good
                                                                       informAtion And reAlity            

stead. But these achievements (splendid as they are) came before the Information Age, the advent of com-
puters, the opening of the information floodgates on every subject, and the ability to communicate
immediately with everybody world wide. electricity had not been developed. It was at a time when the
atom was thought to be the smallest part of matter. The case is now very much altered. New ethical
and moral issues are arising everyday as technologies advance. It is time for us to take into account the
implications of technologies that previously would have been inconceivable. Scholars can only theo-
rise and thrive in the vocabulary of their times and in the context of the age in which they live. If we
are to understand fully the nature of the commodity that we call information, if we are to understand
how information changes it shape so easily, and if we are ever to understand the relationship between
information and existence, and how these important subjects affect us all, we will need to take a much
closer look at the fundamental nature of information. We all need a personal Information philosophy.
What is information, what is its domain, what are its constraints, what are the laws that govern its use,
what effect it has and can have on people’s lives, and where it is leading us and why?

findings of
the study

   In order to assist in this worthy ideal, of investigating the nature and sheer importance of information
in our lives, we have added (as an Appendix to our book) what we presently consider are the principal
findings of the study. The findings we have listed are by no means meant to be looked on as final or
definitive. They are “truths” or “near truths” that have occurred to us as we have progressed through the
chapters and as we have derived them from our thinking. It is hoped that the list may be added to and
modified by future scholars as they tackle this fascinating subject that is so important to all of us. From
such a philosophy and hopefully from future work we might obtain a closer insight into some of life’s
amazing phenomena, and even possibly why there is life at all.

  The mind is supreme

The mind
is Master

   We have tried to indicate in this chapter that information is at the heart of every thing in life and
that it is the essence of our “being.” The information we have may be raw and random; it may be partly
meaningful; it may be structured data like sentences and words; or it may be data for a computer that
has been programmed to cause things to happen with or without human assistance. Alternatively, it
may be minute data that has far-reaching consequences for life like the genetic code, a seed or a hu-
man embryo. For mere mortals, however, the only information that has meaning is the information
that reaches the human mind. The human brain, mind and body are the most wonderful machine in
the Universe. Indeed, for each of us, they are the Universe. Whatever we see, feel, or experience, is
clearly dependent on the interpretation of it in our brains and minds. All that we know is what our
minds tell us. We depend on our minds to tell us what is; and what the word “is” actually means. We
depend on the mind to tell us what is real and what is not. If it doesn’t tell us, or if it tells us wrongly,
     A philosophy of informAtion

we will not know. In later chapters we will discuss consciousness, the intriguing subconscious that
we have referred to, and endless ways in which information pervades our mind and all we know and
do on earth. We will look at consciousness, self consciousness, and the subconscious, and note the
differences between them. We will examine ways in which the mind appears to hold and manage its
information; at ways in which we identify with information; at ways in which information gets into our
dreams and fantasies; at information in relation to ghosts and other puzzling phenomena; at good and
positive things that can come from information; as well as what can happen when things go wrong, as
inevitably sometimes they will.