Barry Arrington opens the thread with his usual brand of armchair philosophy:
The Medium is Not the MessageLet me be clear that I think Arrington has introduced a wonderful and complex topic and treated it with prejudice, smugness, and a resistance to exploring the underlying assumptions of his own reasoning. Here are some of the first comments, abridged:
March madness is upon us. In that vein, I ask you to consider the following sentence: “A basketball is round and orange.”
You read this sentence through a medium, probably a computer screen. This means I had an idea, and I wrote out on my computer screen a representation of the idea in symbols (Latin letters forming English words arranged together into a sentence using the rules of English grammar and syntax). I uploaded these symbols onto the uncommondescent.com website. You downloaded the symbols to your computer and deciphered them. Now a representation of the idea that was once in my head is in your head. When you read my sentence you thought about a round orange basketball.
Now consider this. My computer, the UD server, and your computer all have physical properties that can be measured. These properties include mass, charge, etc. But the information in the sentence “A basketball is round and orange” is quite independent of the physical properties of the medium on which it is placed. Indeed, none of the physical properties of your computer changed when you downloaded the information. The physical properties of your computer were rearranged, but they did not change. Your computer had the same mass, the same charge, the same specific gravity, etc. after you downloaded the sentence that it did before you downloaded it.
Think of it this way. Suppose I wrote the same sentence (“A basketball is round and orange”) on a piece of paper and handed it to you and asked you to read and memorize it. You proceed to memorize the sentence. I take the paper back and burn it. Then I ask you to repeat the sentence into a tape recorder. You dictate “A basketball is round and orange” into the tape recorder. What just happened? The information was in my head. Then it was on the paper. Then it was in your head, but not the paper. Now it is on the tape of the tape recorder.
What is the point of all this? The point is that information may be transmitted on a physical medium, but it is not reducible to the medium on which it is carried, and it is independent of the medium upon which it is carried. Information has no mass. It has no charge. Indeed, it has no property that can be measured by the same means we measure matter and energy. We conclude, therefore, that information is not reducible to matter, and it is not reducible to energy, and it is not reducible to a combination of matter and energy. Yet we know that information exists in the universe. Therefore, we must conclude that the universe is more than matter and energy, that it is more than mere particles in motion.
If the existence of information cannot be reduced to the properties of matter and energy, where did it come from? Where indeed?
1- Its what they call an abstract noun. Each of us creates it anew in our head. It doesnt ‘exist’ just as a circle, happiness etc dont exist.Returning to the original post, I think we need to clarify terms first. Arrington uses the word "information," but he really is talking about "meaning." The terms overlap in their senses, but when he says
They are concepts, not objects.
2- All information is an abstraction. It requires perception to exist.
3- I don’t get this. If information “has no property that can be measured by the same means we measure matter and energy,” what’s Dr. Dembski doing all that math for? Isn’t a lot of that about measuring information?
4- Actually, your example would have only been more demonstrative if the phrase passed about was “material is all there is”.
5- Re #1: So if all of a sudden all perception would, let’s say, die, then all information would suddenly disappear?
6- (by Barry A.) In  Graham uses information to deny the existence of information. Self refute much? In answer to composer’s question in , I did not say that information cannot be measured. I said it cannot be measured in the way matter and energy can be measured, because it has neither mass nor energy.
The information was in my head. Then it was on the paper. Then it was in your head, but not the paper. Now it is on the tape of the tape recorderhe is probably referring to the meaning of the information string being "in his head," or "on the paper."
When we adjust our terminology a bit, we are better equipped to address the problem Arrington raises. We have a message encoded on the computer screen, just a configuration of photons and such. Or we have a message encoded on a piece of paper, just marks inscribed by a pen and ink. The meaning derives from a living mind associating the symbols (individually and collectively) with words in a mental vocabulary, with ideas in memory and thought banks, and with complete expressions in an internal grammar derived from native human capability and cultural instruction.
My point is that we can reasonably and cleanly get from the physical causes of the information strings (photons, marks) to the mental processes of meaning. Arrington is correct that the medium is not the message. He is right that meaning "is not reducible to the medium on which it is carried, and it is independent of the medium upon which it is carried." He is wrong, or perhaps misguided, to say that meaning is not reducible to matter and energy. It certainly is. It reduces to brain states, a brain of matter and working through energy. Our universe still holds a great many mysteries, but meaning--or information, as Arrington would have it--is not one of them.