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Mortimer Adler
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Alexander of Aphrodisias
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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Juan Roederer

Juan Roederer was a research scientist at Werner Heisenberg's Max Planck Institute in the 1950's. In the 1970's he taught a course at the University of Denver on "Physics of the Brain." This led him to the view that information is the fundamental concept that distinguishes physical interactions from biological ones.

Roederer was influenced by Bernd-Olaf Kuppers to the view that "biological information" is not just a subset of physical information, but it is the only information that has "meaning" and "purpose." (Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker had called these "semantic information" and "pragmatic" information.)

In his 2005 book, Information and Its Role in Nature, Roederer asked:

Does the Universe, in its evolution, constantly generate new information? Or are information and information-processing exclusive attributes of living systems, related to the very definition of life? If that were the case (as this book posits), what happens with the physical meanings of entropy in statistical thermodynamics and wave function in quantum mechanics? What is the conceptual difference between classical and quantum information? How many distinct classes of information and information processing do exist in the biological world? How does information appear in Darwinian evolution? Does the human brain have unique properties or capabilities in terms of information processing?
And he explicitly states:
Note that in a natural system we cannot have "information alone" detached from any interaction process past, present or future: Information is always there for a purpose (to evoke a specific change in the recipient that otherwise would not occur, or would happen just by chance) - if there is no purpose, it is not information. Given a complex system, structural form and order alone do not represent information - information appears only when structural form and order lead to specific change elsewhere in a consistent and reproducible manner, with- out involving a direct transfer or interchange of energy. Thus defined, we can speak of information only when it has both a sender and a recipient which exhibits specific changes when the information is delivered (the interaction occurs); this indeed is what is called pragmatic information (e.g., [Kuppers, Information and the Origin of Life]).

Roederer knows that the universe has been generating information structures long before life appeared. He cites Eric Chaisson's book Cosmic Evolution and mentions David Layzer's 1975 Scientific American article on the arrow of time in his bibliography. Layzer was the first scientist to explain how information could be generated in spite of the second law of thermodynamics and the early universe being in a state of thermal equilibrium.

But Roederer says:

We may be tempted to state with Chaisson [24] that "the process of cosmic evolution is continuously generating information." But we must then ask right away: Are the physical, nonbiotic evolutionary processes and respective interactions really using this information? Did this continuously generated information have a purpose and meaning at the time it was generated, or does it have purpose and meaning only now for an intelligent being who is observing and studying the universe?

Perhaps "purpose and meaning" require the human involvement, but the evolution of biological information is only made possible by the cosmic creation process behind the free energy (negative entropy) flows that support all life on Earth. Roederer is looking for an "active" role for information in pre-biological nature and he simply cannot find one, although the creation of material particles and their later organization into galaxies, stars, and planets gives them a major role in the early evolution of the physical universe. And this passive information can be interpreted by living systems as meaningful.

Most scientists would assume that information has been playing a role right from the beginning—the Big Bang. As the Universe evolved, after the gradual condensation of atoms and molecules and the formation of planetary systems, “islands” of increasing complexity and organization appeared, containing discrete aggregates of condensed matter with well-defined boundaries and increasingly complex interactions with each other and their environment. Viewed this way, it indeed seems that the process of cosmic evolution itself is continuously generating information [Chaisson, 2001].

On second thought, however, aren’t we talking here of information for us the observers or thinkers? Did information as such really play an active role in the fundamental physical processes that shaped the Universe? Was information and information-processing involved at all in the evolution of the Universe before living organisms started roaming around and interacting with it, and intelligent beings began studying it? When and where did information begin to play an active role, actually controlling processes in the Universe?

We can agree that there was no "information processing" before living things and their machines, and no information controlling any interaction. But information structures - from the newly formed atoms and molecules to the galaxies, stars, and planets - were major players with an active role in everything happening in the pre-biological universe. Quantum cooperative forces and gravitation were controlling everything, but information was being created continuously from time zero, despite the unstoppable increase in overall entropy.

This increase in information did not depend in any way on intelligent beings, although we now can see it and we benefit enormously from those pre-biological information structures.

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