Monday, December 17, 2007

Information theory

The following quote is taken from today’s posting on the astronomy picture of the day web site.

“According to the Holographic Principle, the most information you can get from this image is about 3 x 1065 bits for a normal sized computer monitor. The Holographic Principle, yet unproven, states that there is a maximum amount of information content held by regions adjacent to any surface. Therefore, counter-intuitively, the information content inside a room depends not on the volume of the room but on the area of the bounding walls. The principle derives from the idea that the Planck length, the length scale where quantum mechanics begins to dominate classical gravity, is one side of an area that can hold only about one bit of information. The limit was first postulated by physicist Gerard 't Hooft in 1993.”

I came across this bit of information first thing this morning while I was preparing to sit, and it immediately struck me as containing an interesting question.

Leaving aside for the time being the question of what “one bit of information” consists of (which is probably the most important question of all…!), let’s reason thusly:

1. The total amount of information in any area is limited by its boundaries, not its content.

2. The universe is expanding.

3. The amount of potential information the universe can contain is thus increasing.

4. Information—what is inwardly formed—is the source of meaning in the universe. A universe with nothing in it would be meaningless, because meaning can only arrive in the presence of organized substance.

In my line of reasoning, we will presume that physics—like all of nature—tells us something of God, and that God is not apart from nature, but rather, the essence of nature itself. In other words, God is not supernatural, but quintessentially natural.

God is composed of all the information in the universe (we can add a magical “something else,” for those who feel that “everything is not enough”.) I’ll call all of that information in its totality—all events, all matter, and, even more importantly, all action and all experience—the Heart of God. The Dharma.

So we might say we live in a universe where the Heart of God is growing larger.

Consider this now in light of the idea that Gurdjieff first offered in “Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson:” God created the universe because time was gradually eroding the place of his existence.

Measured in the terms of the holographic principle, we might say that time was causing the total amount of information available to him to decrease. In other words, Time was causing the universe to decay—the meaning within it was being lost.

This sounds suspiciously like the entropic principle, that is, nature tends to move from order towards disorder in isolated systems. This principle states that systems with limited boundaries will eventually see their information “grind to a halt,” so to speak. Physicists are referring to this idea when they hypothesize the heat death of the universe : the descent of the system into a completely cold, static state, where no heat exists and the consequent movement created by it is no longer possible. There may be matter, but it has reached the state of minimal information: nothing is happening. It just sits there.

If the universe was, as Gurdjieff suggests, created because there was a need for an ever-expanding influx of new information—a movement towards maximal information--, it would make perfect sense from the point of view of physics. A dynamic and expanding system of exactly the kind we find ourselves within was required. And it needed expanding boundaries simply because the original aim was to ensure that the erosion of information by the action of time was conclusively counteracted.

So the “great circulation” of energy from the top to the bottom of what Gurdjieff called “the Ray of Creation” may be a movement designed to create an environment of increasing information through action.

Action, or choice, imparts “heat” into a system by applying the friction of consciousness. Consciousness, instead of remaining passive and mechanical (which would ultimately lead all and everything to the previously mentioned “heat death”) chooses.

So it’s consciousness itself, at every level, that applies the action required to “keep things heating up.”

As to the question of meaning, we can see why Dogen continually tried to re-educate Buddhists who believed that some form of empty oblivion was the ultimate expression of the Dharma. It is not the complete dissolution of meaning that creates and maintains the Dharma—the universe—but rather the presence of all information. So the practice of presence is participation in an additive universe, not a subtractive search for nothingness. This brings us directly back to the tension between the via positiva and the via negativa as discussed yesterday.

The universe forms information within itself. That is to say, in its creation it gave rise to matter, which organizes.

I have ruminated for some years about where matter itself comes from. Some of the ruminations resulted in my speculative essay about light and its relationship to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. (click the link , and then scroll down, to find the essay at

My basic question about this revolves around the matter of why we see so many dense nebulae out there forming stellar nurseries. My impression, all along, has been that the universe is not recycling old matter. The process of creation is ongoing—that is, in a manner that we most certainly do not understand, new matter is being formed all the time.

This is analogous to the process of the inward formation of Being. Something entirely new is taking place in the influx of impressions and the blending of inner and outer impressions. The universe of consciousness as it forms within each Being is an expanding one; as the boundaries of inner awareness expand, and the octave is completed, a new level of information becomes possible, because a completed octave is no longer a closed system; it is a note, participating in the octave above it. The inclusion of all the necessary notes “forms a new world” at the next level.

On that note, friends, let us all continue to devote ourselves to that deeply inward journey which creates new worlds.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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