Figure 1 captures my understanding of the worlds we live in based on my training in physics, 40 years of participating in leading-edge information technologies, and recent exposure to the general theory of information (GTI) and theory of structural reality (TSR). My recent participation in the big scientific congress – the Summit of the International Society for Study of Information (IS4SI) consisting of several conferences and workshops, gave me an opportunity to investigate recent advances in genomics, neuroscience, and theories of information science. One of them was the conference “Theoretical and Foundational Problems in Information Studies.” Its participants came from 33 countries representing all 6 inhabited continents. At this conference, presentations of important discoveries and their applications to information technology were made. I had the privilege to present my findings and suggest some new directions. Here is a synopsis of my understanding, which I hope provides food for thought to the next-generation computer scientists and information technology professionals.
In figure 1, I depict various worlds we as individuals live in. We have the free will to choose where and how we live within some social constraints we willingly or unwillingly have to observe or suffer the consequences.
The Material World:
The first world is the physical or material world, where physical structures that obey the laws of transformation of matter and energy prevail. These laws and the structures belong to the realms of physics and chemistry. These structures come in the form of multi-layered networks with different components described by labels, relationships, and behaviors. Macroscopic behaviors of these structures result from microscopic behaviors of the components that exhibit different relationships defined by their interactions within the structure and the influence of external forces are governed by the laws of conversion between matter and energy. The functions, the structure, and their evolution are the subject of physics and chemistry. The fluctuations play an important role in their evolution and the theory of complex adaptive systems explains and even predicts their behaviors. Under the influence of fluctuations, the systems often exhibit emergent properties and undergo phase transitions by changing their structures. These emergent properties have given rise to the evolution of special biological structures that have developed and used a special class of information processing structures that are aware of their own structure, their environment, and their interactions within and with their environment. These biological systems have developed processes that enable them to replicate, reconfigure, monitor, and manage their structures using their information processing structures along with other structures that they can use to convert matter and energy in the material world. The information processing structures have enabled a new kind of structure called the mental structures which are unique to biological systems. These mental structures execute processes that convert information and knowledge.
Interestingly our knowledge of the material world comes from the biological structures with specialized information processing physical structures that utilize the matter and energy conversion properties of the material world and create a mental world shown in the figure.
The Mental World
We understand the nature of the mental world using our information processing structures in our body and brain and create new mental structures. The general theory of information is the result of these mental structures.
The essence of the general theory of information is the metaphysical law
knowledge is related to information as matter is related to energy
According to GTI, we perceive reality through information obtained through our senses and transform it into knowledge using our information processing structures (the genes and neurons). The knowledge is in the form of mental structures called fundamental triads or named sets consisting of various entities their relationships, and behaviors. The mental structures interact with each other and the physical structures using the information processing physical structures. The genes build multi-layer knowledge networks that execute “life” processes such as autopoiesis which enables us to develop, configure, monitor, and manage sustenance, stability, safety, and survival from cradle to grave. The neurons are made use of to build multi-layer knowledge networks composed of named sets built from the information received through our physical senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The neural networks are formed when the neurons that fire together from signals received through the senses wire together. The knowledge networks contain mental models in the form of knowledge structures containing knowledge about various entities, relationships, and behaviors (the fundamental triads). Each node represents a sub-network of neurons that capture the model of the mental structures representing the entities, relationships, and behaviors received from various signals. The mental structures are used by cognitive processes to transcribe and execute “life processes” embedded in the genome through natural selection in the evolution of the genome.
Our mental model of reality is based on our current understanding of physics, chemistry, biology, and other subjects created through mental concepts and models which include various ontologies (related to what is reality), epistemology (what is knowing), and various paradigms of research.
The physical reality consists of the material world where various material structures exist that obey the transformational laws of energy and matter. The famous mass-energy formula E = mC2connects the energy and mass of physical objects. This formula does not mean that substance is equal to energy. In fact, it means that there is a definite relationship between characteristics of physical objects allowing the possibility of the conversion of mass into the energy of physical objects described by these characteristics.
The mental reality consists of the mental world where various mental structures exist that obey the transformational processes involving information and knowledge. These transformational processes are defined by the physical information processing structures consisting of the aforementioned genes and neurons. In this context, as Mark Burgin explained, there is a similar mass-energy formula I = MKp where p > 0 connects the information and knowledge of mental objects. It is possible to introduce knowledge mass. Namely, the mass MK of a knowledge unit K is the measure of the knowledge object inertia with respect to the structural movement in the mental world. Each knowledge mass contains the structural components, their relationships, and behaviors. One knowledge mass interacts with other knowledge masses by sharing information using various means of communication facilitated by the information processing physical structures (the genes and the neurons).
This brings an equivalence between the theory of physical structures and the theory of mental structures. Each structure with a certain mass interacts with other structures based on various relationships defined by interaction potentials. Each structure thus provides a functional behavior and a network of structures provide collective behavior based on their interactions. (Structural nodes wired together fire together to exhibit collective behavior).
What this means is that a knowledge network is a set of components with specific functions, that interact as a structure and produce a stable behavior (equilibrium) when conditions are right. However, fluctuations change the interactions and cause non-equilibrium. This leads to emergent behaviors such as chaos. However, biological systems have developed an overlay of information processing structures that monitor and manage the system stability, safety, sustenance, etc., while monitoring the impact of fluctuations. Fluctuations are caused by external forces often disrupting the structural components of the system.
Interacting Human Networks:
The mental world has evolved in different fashions resulting in different biological structures. Humans have developed their mental capabilities to not only extend information processing methods to share knowledge with each other but also create a digital infrastructure where symbolic computing structures mimic the genes and neurons to convert information into knowledge and use it to assist humans to build, configure, monitor and manage physical and digital symbolic structures to extend the mental models.
Humans use their mental and physical structures to exchange information, convert it into knowledge that they share, and use their knowledge pools to create groups, communities, societies, etc., forming interacting human networks. They develop higher-level autopoietic and cognitive processes to form systems with specific identities and collective behaviors with a common goal. In essence, human networks are a higher level of knowledge networks where humans are component entities building relationships and behaviors. Therefore, the human networks also exhibit autopoietic and cognitive processes in managing themselves as a system.
The Digital World and the Virtual World:
Our mental world has allowed us to develop various means of information processing, communication, and use in our daily lives and businesses we deal with using sophisticated autopoietic and cognitive processes. They help us model the real world, monitor, and manage it to improve sustenance, stability, safety, and survival. The digital world we have created in the process has allowed us to extend our cognitive abilities transcending the physical limitations of ourselves. The digital world, we have created in this process is based on a seventy+-year-old observation by Alan Turing on how humans compute using numbers. The Church-Turing thesis (CTT) translates this observation to current-day general-purpose computers and all the benefits of global connectivity with real-time communication, collaboration, and commerce at scale. CTT states that “a function on the natural numbers is computable by a human being following an algorithm, ignoring resource limitations, if and only if it is computable by a Turing machine.” The stored program control machine that John von Neumann built became the general-purpose computer that converted information into symbolic data structures and used algorithms to represent the evolution of these data structures as they are used to model the information garnered from the real world. In essence, your computer has some memory and a central processing unit that operates on programs and data representing some knowledge about a particular domain converted into symbols (binary digits, numbers, strings, data structures, etc.) The program defines an algorithm or task that reads the data and performs operations on them to simulate the evolution of the current state of the domain to the new state. This has allowed us to model real-world processes and automate them (whether they are centralized, distributed, or a hybrid) by monitoring them with physical world interfaces, and managing them based on specific goals.
In addition, various algorithms that mimic the neural networks in the brain to process information have allowed the general-purpose computer to mimic how the brain processes information and gain knowledge about the world using information contained in various forms of data (voice, text, images, and video) just as the reptilian brain uses the five senses to process information from various senses. In short, computers whether using symbols (known as symbolic computing) or neural network algorithms (known as sub-symbolic computing) get information converted into knowledge in the form of symbols and operate on them to simulate the evolution of domain knowledge which could be synchronized with the physical world using appropriate sensing and controlling devices. Humans provide the knowledge in the form of data structures and algorithms, build, operate and manage the fuel for the computation in the form of CPU and memory to process the evolution of domain knowledge.
In summary, as humans, we perceive reality in various forms. First, we perceive material objects and processes directly or indirectly through our senses, create mental models of reality and interact with them. This is the physical reality in the material world. Second, we create objects and processes in our mental world and interact with them through imagination. This is called imaginary reality in the mental world. Third, we create objects and processes in the digital world and interact with them. Fourth, we create an imaginary world in the digital world and interact with it. This is called virtual reality in the digital world. Just as physical reality and imaginary reality exist in the material world, both physical realities dealing with the material world, and imaginary realities dealing with the imaginary world exist in the digital world.
In a virtual world, we combine our imagination of a fantasy world with the observations from the real world and create a fictional environment that we experience with our senses as we experience the real world. The means of communication, collaboration, and conducting commerce are integrated into the virtual world so that the participants can build their own reality. Since each participant perceives reality from their own mental model of reality, the virtual world is transformed into a complex adaptive system with emergent properties driving its evolution. This brings us to the question, where do we go from here?
Which Reality do We Perceive? Is It a Choice or Necessity?
Figure 1, provides a mental model of the existence of contemporary human societies and allows us to reflect upon and improve them. The material world consists of structures that are created through the laws of transformation of matter and energy. The material world exists in the form of structures carrying information. Living organisms have designed physical structures in the form of genes and neurons that build other physical structures exploiting the physical and chemical processes, extracting information, transforming it into knowledge, and using it to execute its life processes learned through evolution and natural selection. The digital world is an extension of the physical world, to which the meaning is given by the mental world. It assigns meaning to what the physical structures such ascomputers networks, storage, etc., are produced. The digital structures provide the means to sense the data, extract, and transform information into knowledge. They also provide means to control the devices that are used to change the environment. The virtual world extends our imagination by creating a digital simulation of our mental models that combine reality and fantasy with which we can interact as if we are interacting with a real world. Attempts by big companies such as Facebook, Google, etc., are aimed at making these interactions as real as possible using the digital world. Any improvements we make to the digital world will improve our interactions with the real world and the virtual world.
GTI and TSR provide us with tools to not only understand all these worlds but also to extend and enhance them. In this article, we have reviewed the recent attempts to improve the digital world. In addition, GTI and TSR allow us to attempt to answer other questions such as:
- Can we infuse autopoietic and cognitive behaviors into the digital world? The answer is yes.
- How are the ideal structures discussed by Plato’s Ideas/Forms related to various forms of reality?
- How do we manage concepts such as good and bad, being and nothingness, selfish and unselfish, etc.
- How are consciousness, and culture related?
- How did living organisms evolve from being mere physical and chemical structures to developing the complex behaviors of autopoiesis and cognition we observe in all living beings with varying degrees of sentience, resilience, and intelligence?
- what is the relationship between the body, mind, autopoietic and cognitive behaviors of living organisms?
Evolution and natural selection have given us the tools not only to use the material world to our advantage but also to understand ourselves as individuals, groups, and form higher-level societies with collective consciousness and culture. How we use it depends on our understanding of the world we live in and how we relate to other worlds.
Two important points I took away from these studies:
- Mental structures dealing with knowledge and information are isomorphic to physical structures dealing with matter and energy. The macroscopic behaviors are the result of microscopic interactions between functions, structure, and fluctuations as Prigogine pointed out. The same is the case with digital structures we implement using digital neurons and digital genes. Macroscopic response time is a consequence of how each individual component is behaving locally impacting global processes. If fluctuations introduced by external forces in the availability of or the demand for the resources that maintain the equilibrium or stability of the structure, cause deviations from equilibrium, the response time fluctuates, and if the fluctuations are large enough the system can be destabilized. A self-managing system, monitors and prevents disequilibrium by restructuring the network of components. This is the self-management behavior using the regulatory overlay. The digital genome specifies the deployment, monitoring, and managing of the knowledge network to maintain stable response time as an example.
- The application workloads from the self-managing network and the digital genome specify and instantiate the distributed application using various resources with the specification of where those resources are available and how to use them. In addition, the specification contains the macroscopic properties, how to monitor them, and manage the goals when fluctuations cause deviations.
This video depicts my view of how a digital genome provides the specification and execution of autopoietic and cognitive behavior in deploying an application workload using the knowledge about the system including how to build the resources, configure, monitor, and manage the stability, safety, sustenance, and survival while performing its mission.