Talking Points Memo
This Modern World
Working for Change
Book review: Darwinia
Reviewed: Friday, August 11, 2006
Summer reading: Spin
Reviewed: Saturday, August 5, 2006
Reviewed: Tuesday, July 18, 2006
the Omnivoire's Delimma
Reviewed: Wednesday, July 12, 2006
the Golem's Eye
Reviewed: Wednesday, May 31, 2006
What Brings a World into Being
David Berlinski, 2001
Monday, December 13, 2004
The eclectic David Berlinski examines the metaphor of information as actor and creator that runs through modern biology (DNA as blueprint), consciousness studies (words as carriers), and cosmology (laws/equations as creators):
A novel brings a world into creation; a complicated molecule an organism. But these are the low taverns of thought. It is only when information is assigned the power to bring something into existence from nothing whatsoever that its essentially magical nature is revealed.
In spite of feeling that something slippery is happening under Berlinski clear prose, I do tend to favor his skepticism for at least three reasons:
- What I take to be the essential correctness of Lakoff and Johnson's critique of abstract knowledge and their counterclaims of necessary physical embedding and framing,
- Susan Oyama's wonderful works (such as Evolutions Eye) which argue strongly against the modern view that DNA is a "code" containing "information" which alone describes an organism, and
- My dissatisfaction with the application of Shannon's content-less theory of information to so many topics. Shannon doesn't talk about information the way we do (and he knows very well) and when we use the term it's too easy to fall into the metaphorical trap.
I think that what happens when we interact with world via reading, what happens when a cell metabolizes and divides and what happens when the universe moves forward in time are all more subtle than we imagine. As Wittgenstein said, we tend to walk down well trodden pathways of error and it takes hard work to avoid the usual traps. I'm not sure what I think of Berlinski yet but I'm glad I've run into him and that a lot of his essays are available.