By Tom Rhodes, 2/3/2015
Ever hear of Information Theory? It’s not terribly new theory, but has become more robust as we’ve progressed through the information age. You will notice descriptions of Information Theory are based in physics, mathematics, and biology: Wikipedia describes information theory as being “based on probability theory and statistics. The most important quantities of information are entropy, the information in a random variable, and mutual information, the amount of information in common between two random variables.” You can take MIT’s course on it for free: Information Theory Course at MIT
From Information Theory we get Bioinformatics, “an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data. As an interdisciplinary field of science, bioinformatics combines computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to study and process biological data.” Again from Wikipedia (I know not the best source but good enough for this).
Bioinformatics is both an umbrella term for the body of biological studies that use computer programming as part of their methodology, as well as a reference to specific analysis "pipelines" that are repeatedly used, particularly in the fields of genetics and genomics. Common uses of bioinformatics include the identification of candidate genes and nucleotides (SNPs). Often, such identification is made with the aim of better understanding the genetic basis of disease, unique adaptations, desirable properties (esp. in agricultural species), or differences between populations. In a less formal way, bioinformatics also tries to understand the organisational principles within nucleic acid and protein sequences.
OK, so studying biology and information are basically the same kind of study; the study of the transmission of data. Like all info, genetic or computer, information suffers from degradation a.k.a. entropy. When looking at information transfer we work units of information. Be it computers information, or language, or even biology the basic unit is a word. The alphabet may be different, bits, bytes, nitrogenous base, etc. But information is created from small bits, that create larger bits, that create complete ideas, that make up wholes. Decoding these words can make something. A recipe for Ice Cream isn’t actually ice cream, and DNA for a fish isn’t the fish, but both are the information required to make those items.
Consider the “net”, in 2013, the World Wide Web is estimated to have reached at least 4 zettabytes (write a 4 and put zeros after it). Now mutations in information are possible, with that much information you would expect to see at least one web page that was created from information mutation that had new information on it that was created by random chance not some artificial intelligence creating that information. Not the formation of a web site by a program designed to transmit information, but the creation of new information through random mutation. Every webpage with the zettabytes of information on the web, we know was designed by some intelligence, good web page, 404 error web page, bad web page, wrong web page, ugly web page, inspiring web page, every web page was designed, period. Information has never been observed to be created without design, period. Clearly the creation of real information by a non-intelligent source has never been observed, even with astronomical chances for it to have happened. Oh every time somebody queries google it generates a new web page, but regardless of how many inputs or programmatic mutations, google never produces obamacare.org. Call that natural variation within a program. A random informational transmission error (mutation) may In fact return a 404 page not found error (fatal error that returns nothing), but it doesn’t return new information generated randomly.
Cellular life is the most complex information system ever observed. The information in a living cell makes the internet look like a couple of Lego blocks. As with the interweb there has never been observed the creation of new information without a designer.
Back to words, or specifically the term word. In language a word is a unit of information, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. In computing a word is a term for the natural unit of data used by a particular processor design, basically a group of digits (binary or decimal) that are handled as a unit by the instruction set or the hardware of the processor. In biology it can be referred to as a gene.
You can’t have information nor transmit it without a designer of that information. Information has never nor can it ever be created without a creator. In fact it cannot be used without a method, or language, to interpret it. Random sounds can’t transmit information, speech and language can. Random electrical pulses can’t transmit or create information, computer programs created with language can. DNA, the recipe for a life, cannot transmit itself, RNA as part of a vastly complex designed system, that looks remarkably like a programed molecular robotic system can. Like language, or computer programs, such a system is required to read and process the information before information can exist.
The new words we have now, like bioinformatics, did not originate in randomness, they were created. You can say the word, bioinformatics, evolved. That would not be improper or wrong. Just as you can observe and identify the fact that computers and computer programs have evolved. Language and computers evolved from the creation of new information. They did not evolve from random, arbitrary, uncontrolled sources. The evolved by design. Evolution of anything is caused by design changes. Some design changes are good like the creation of the new word “scientological “, some are just awful, like the creation of the new word “twerk.” There can be no doubt both of those new words transmit information and originated from some intellect. You may question the quality of that intellect, but not the fact that it is an intellect.
We’ve engineered new genes, created GMO’s, used animal husbandry to create miniature poodles and St. Bernards from the same original program (wolf). We’ve never been able to, nor observed a living organism becoming something completely different. What’s in common is an intellect to design the changes, but no wolf to cat modifications yet. We’re getting better at manipulating the program of life. But the more we learn, the more we learn that it is a program, with a language, and as such was designed.
I read about it a long time ago, before we had words like bioinformatics. Even before Information Theory, it was explained. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”