Biological Information

From: <>
Date: Fri 13 Feb 1998 - 10:49:41 CET

Dear FIS Colleagues

re: Biological Information

a number of FIS discussions have already touched on
biological information. My purpose in sending this email
is to generate further discussion regarding biological
information. I have formed it as a list of open questions some
of which I hope will be pertinent to the discussion.

The Kindergarden Questions
[these are the questions we ask when young, no-one can answer
us at that stage and then when we grow up we find that still,
no-one can answer us !!!]

* What is information ?
* Is information no less than an artefact of observation ?
* What is biological information ?
* Is it different to information physicists discuss ?

Types of Biological Information - Slipping Off Ockam's Razor ???
So as biologists lets enter the "collecting samples phase". Out we
go into the bio-geo-chemo-physical world with a big basket to gather
in the many species of information. So we find all kinds of appropriate
examples: Photons, Electrons, Protons, Solitons, Phonons. Then there is even
Mechanical information related for example to the transmission of forces and
the development of form, there are many chemical species Ionic, molecular,
supramolecular. Is there a way of integrating all these types ? Do cells use
information or is it something we impose on the system from outside ?
Maybe we should gather "things" in different baskets?

BioInformation - an Historical Anachronism ?
The rise in the notion of information in biological
systems could be related to the contemporary scientific
culture of mid 40s - mid 50s - - information theory,
formal languages, computational science etc. Maybe the
metaphorc notion of text and language, which gave rise
to notions of codes, messages, transcription and translation
is due for replacement. The notions associated with
genome as program are far too simplistic. At the end of the day,
will this approach simply facilitate syntax and no semantics ?
Is gaining semantic understand nothing but a philosophical

BioMolecular and Cellular Information
Here are some issues that would be worth discussing.
1 CELLS ARE VERY SMART SYSTEMS - pattern recognition, signal transduction,
   adaptation, anticipation, etc So are some biomolecules - take
   for example signalling proteins. Also as a chemical we may think that
   DNA is not only quite inert but also quite dumb. Maybe its 'smartness'
   is related to the forms it takes in 3D.
2 Cellular information processing is not just about 'computation'.
   How do we move towards this kind of appreciation?
3 Given that a cell can be viewed as a hierachical system, how does
   information flow in the hierachy? Is information at one level something
   else or meaningless at other levels?

Analogue - Digital // Continuous - Discrete // Whole - Part
Is it true to say that a cell is a hybrid computational device.
For example, there is much talk of Calcium "Signals" as
Switches, or Clouds, or Puffs. Different things at different times ?
Different times for different things? This raises issues about intra-cellular
context sensitivity.

Information - - Matter, Energy and Measurement
The Internalist stance. How can we develop the intellectual tools
needed to reason from this point of view ?

Many Thanks
Ray Paton
Received on Fri Feb 13 11:18:28 1998

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