The Photographic Inverse Of Information

Material reality (or ‘the physical world’) is the photographic inverse of information, which is of course the ‘inverse’ of how we always see it. If we were to see a wooden post stuck into the ground we could state that ‘there is a post stuck in the ground’ and the positive assertion of the fact of the existence of the post that is stuck in the ground would constitute information for us. The statement regarding the existence of the post is a ‘concrete or literal fact’. This however is merely the ‘perceptual convention’ that we adopt for strictly pragmatic purposes. This philosophically positivistic orientation makes very good sense of course – if we didn’t recognise the positive statement regarding the existence of the post stuck into the ground as ‘actual information’ we’d be liable to bump into it and hurt ourselves!


Yet despite the very obvious pragmatic advantages involved in seeing the ‘positively defined features of our environment as ‘actual information’ (and despite the formidable weight of our own personal convictions here) the down-to-earth truth of the matter is that positively defined features do not contain information, and are – if only we could see it – made up of the absence of information rather than its presence. Our convention for perceiving things is to see holes in the ‘infinite information manifold’ as actual things, in other words. We see everything in a perfectly inverted fashion.


We can see this to be so just as soon as we remember what information actually is. In terms of the Shannon Weaver equation, information equals something unpredictable or unexpected in the message that we are receiving. When we see determinate (or ‘fixed’) structures as comprising information then we have got it all back to front. If the post in the grounds turned unexpectedly into something else, then this would constitute information – otherwise not. The world we live in and relate to daily is made up of stable or predictable features and for this reason we can say that there is no information in that world. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any information in the world, but merely that there is no information in the pattern of stable features that we relate to as the world.


We could also look at information in terms of algorithmic complexity and say that the more algorithmic complexity something has the more information it has in it, AC being a measure of how many terms are needed in order to describe the object in question (i.e. how many ‘independent facets’ it has). When a thing only has the one aspect (only the one face to present us with) then it has low algorithmic complexity, it has a low information content. There’s not much to it, in other words! When there is nothing in the thing being described that is not also in its description then it has ‘rock bottom’ algorithmic complexity, ‘rock bottom’ information content. We could go further than this and say that that when a thing is entirely congruent with its description then there is no information in it at all! That world which is made up only of our descriptions of it (which is ‘the world of the concrete or lazy thinker’) has zero information content.


This isn’t necessarily very ‘intuitive’ – we would very much tend to think that ‘the world which matches our descriptions exactly’ (the one that fits our mental categories) must have some information in it at least. We would surely allow that it must contain some modest amount of information in it – is not a hallucination after all! It’s real. But if we go back to considering our first definition of information, which is that information is quintessentially something that we didn’t expect we can see that this criterion of ‘data being meaningful when it matches up with our categories’ does not confer information content. Now if the world is never any more than our descriptions of it then this of course means that it is very much what we expect it to be, and so by this definition there can’t be any information in it. We most definitely aren’t learning anything new in this case. If, on the other hand, it happened to be the case that there was more to the world then we would be led to expect from our descriptions, then this ‘extra ingredient’ (which is necessarily ‘an unknown quantity’) would be pure, honest-to-goodness information, without any doubt about it. It would be like Coca Cola – it would be the real thing.


Naturally there is more to the world than just our descriptions of it, just our ideas about it (this hardly needs to be said) and what this means is that the regular data that we receive about the world every day is just a mental projection, or ‘hallucination’. To a large (generally very large) extent it is a ‘mere mental projection’ because we are always superimposing our ideas or assumptions upon everything we see, but, notwithstanding this, there is always going to be ‘an edge’ – this ‘edge’ being the mismatch between reality (as it is in us itself) and what we thought it was or is. People talk about ‘living on the edge’ and this is the only edge worth living on – we might call it ‘the edge of the known’. It’s the edge of the world we know about and it’s generally not an edge that we know about!


The ‘edge of the known’ doesn’t mean the boundary between what we ‘currently know’ and what we might one day know’, it’s more like a sheer precipice between ‘what we think we know’ and ‘what we now see that we will never (and can never) know’. It’s infinitely more hard-hitting than just the limit of our current knowledge therefore – it’s a glimpse of something that doesn’t fit into our taken for granted way of seeing things at all. Our basic way of seeing things is something we would never dream of questioning, it’s something we would never imagine could be called into question – and yet now here it is not just being ‘called into question’ but being completely undermined!


This is all very fine of course but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are very rarely as much ‘on the edge’ as this! The edge is, for the most part, very subtle, very hard to see – we would have to have a particular sensitivity in order to appreciate it, a sensitivity that is not at all supported by our culture, by the artificial environment we live in. Our artificial / designed environment supports only concrete thinking! When we are in that pragmatic/utilitarian mode in ‘the edge’ that we talking about here is no value to us, no importance to us. It has nothing to do with ‘the business at hand’ – it never has anything to do the business at hand! That is exactly the point that we are making – that the edge of the known has no bearing on our practical, utilitarian concerns. It is supremely useless to us in this respect.


That doesn’t mean that it isn’t ‘real’ however – it’s a practical/utilitarian concerns (or ‘the games that we play’) that aren’t real, not the edge of radical uncertainty that we very much prefer not to see. When we become aware of the fundamental mismatch between our picture of reality and what the actual nature of our situation is then it is our habitual, comfortable pursuits that start to look ‘unreal’, not the incomprehensible discontinuity that has been unexpectedly revealed to us. Our situation is, therefore, that the world which we regularly relate to, and very much live our lives on the basis of, is nothing more than a projection (or exteriorization) of our home-spun concepts or conjectures about reality – which is to say – it is nothing more than a fragile tautological bubble of pseudo-information. This is a bubble made up of ‘zero information content’ that is somehow setting itself up and maintaining itself as bone fide information therefore, whilst all genuine (un-manipulated) information about our situation gets discounted as being mere ‘error’, mere ‘noise in the background’ – something we would be better off ignoring. ‘Looking deeper into life’ would therefore involve not allocating importance or significance into the order which we ourselves are projecting onto (or reading into) the world, and taking an interest in what we would have previously written off as being mere error. This reverses our normal take on things, which is contrived (even though we don’t know to be) and brings us back in line with what we could call the natural order of things’. As E.F. Schumacher says in his ‘Guide to the Perplexed,’ conventional maps only show us what everyone already knows, they never show anything us anything really interesting. We’ll never grow at all, or change in our ways, just as long as we never look beyond the maps that are produced by the everyday mind.


Tuning into what we have written off as ‘error’ (rather than our own brand of ‘projected order’) is what brings about that reversal whereby a new world, a new universe is seen, a world or universe that is made up of information rather than the confirmation of our unexamined expectations, which we were seeing as being the only legitimate reality. What we take to be reality is very plainly seen to be nothing more than a convenient hallucination, and what we would previously have written off as ‘unreal’ is now seen as the only reality. We may say that the change of perception involved here is one in which we look at the world not through conditioned consciousness (which is consciousness in service to the structure or system of the rational-conceptual mind) but through free (or ‘liberated’) consciousness, which is ‘consciousness which is not in service to any idea’.


We are, all the same, left with a very considerable anomaly here – it is simply not sufficient to say that fixed predictable structures are our own projected order. The order comes from the explicit universe’, the world of physicality. The predictable (or stable) face’ of physical reality isn’t a bunch of assumptions (or ‘unconscious expectations’) that we have automatically projected outwards to make a world of it, so how does this fit into what we have been so-far saying? On the one hand we are saying that the material world, in its determinate aspect (which is not its only aspect) is made up of zero information, and on the other hand we are saying that our mental projections, the ‘involuntary extensions of the rational conceptual mind’, are also made up of zero information, but then at the same time we are saying that material reality is not a projection of our own minds, but has a kind of independent existence despite its inherent ‘emptiness’ (or ‘nullity’). How then do we reconcile these three divergent statements? The overall point that we are making here certainly doesn’t sound particularly coherent…


Making a bit of a jump here, we can say that the ancient Dualist tradition answers this precise question by saying that the physical universe is essentially a diabolical construct designed to trap us! There is therefore no possibility of freedom, no possibility of peace of mind, insight or joy in this world – there is only deception. This position is even echoed in orthodox Christianity where we read, in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (to give just one example out of many) that:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

Satan is ‘the Prince of this world’, we are told a number of times in the Old Testament. It is as if he writes the laws here; it is as if he dictates the rules by which we have to live. To our modern ears this sounds like a rather outlandish theory of course – we would tend to discount it as being somewhat ‘unscientific’ in tone (to say the least), but if we do discount these utterances out of hand it is merely because of our obtuseness, our literal-mindedness, our ‘inability to understand the language of mythology’. If we look at the Gnostic creation myth in which the physical universe comes into apparent) being not by design (as it says in Genesis) but by misadventure, or ‘accident,’ we can understand this idea better. The story goes more or less like this: the Aeon Sofia was experimenting one day (trying to produce an emanated offspring all by her won efforts, just as Zeus produced the goddess Athena ‘from his forehead’) and she accidentally created the Demiurge,also known as Samael (‘the blind god’), who in a fit of delusion mistakenly took himself to be the Creator God, the highest authority there is, and created the false reality which is the physical universe within which to trap the soul sparks of sleeping, dreaming humanity. Again this account sounds distinctly outlandish to our unsophisticated ears, and yet what this story view is expressing is the key Dualist idea that the world is made up of two competing principles – one being the principle of misleading appearances’ (i.e ‘the lie’) and the other being the principle of what we could call ‘the hidden truth’. Heraclitus says ‘it is in the nature of reality to be pretending to pretend what it is not’. We ought to know this, if we have any sense at all. What other lesson is there to be learned in life, if not to distrust appearances? What other difference is there between the ignorant and the naïve (who unfailingly believe in literal appearances) and the wise, who don’t? The journey between seeing everything in literal terms (which is of course how the rational mind represents the world to us) and seeing everything in ‘metaphorical’ (or ‘mythological’) terms as the journey between being asleep (in a downright comatose kind of a fashion!) and ‘waking up’.


A more modern, up-to-date way of talking about the creation of the universe would be a ‘symmetry-breaking model’, one example of which would be the Weinberg-Salaam theory here described by Stephen Hawkins (1988, p 79):

The Weinberg-Salaam theory exhibits a property known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. This means that what appear to be a number of completely different particles at low energies are in fact found to be all the same type of particle, only in different states.  At high energies all these particles behave similarly. The effect is rather like the behaviour of a roulette ball on a roulette wheel. At high energies (when the wheel is spun quickly) the ball behaves in essentially only one way, – it rolls round and round. But as the wheel slows, the energy of the ball decreases, and eventually the ball drops into one of the thirty-seven slots in the wheel. In other words, at low energies there are thirty-seven different states in which the ball can exist. If, for some reason, we could only observe the ball at low energies, we would then think that there were thirty-seven different types of ball!

According to symmetry-breaking models of cosmogenesis the physical universe is the result of the ‘roulette ball’ settling down into a slot in the Cosmic Roulette Wheel so that we end up with ‘one stable configuration’ as opposed to ‘innumerable possible configurations’.  The basic stepping down (or ‘coalescing’, as the alchemists put it) process is always the same – we start off from the open situation of having very many different possibilities (where no one possibility gets preferential treatment) and we end up in the closed situation where ‘one single possibility excludes all the others’. When the wheel stops turning and the ball falls into the particular slot that happens to be nearest then all the other possibilities become invisible (and inconceivable) to us and the world of ‘confirmation’ comes into being, a world that is based on the principle of self-reference. When there is only ‘the one possible way of seeing things’ then self-reference is inevitably how the universe is going to be constructed. It’s the only way it can be – all other viewpoints on reality have been effectively closed down after all, and so everything has to come out of the same position.


Self-reference is the only way to create certainty, as we know from looking at the operation of the thinking mind, where thought creates its ‘model of the world’ by reference to its own categories. But anything that comes about as a result of self-reference is always going to be empty (or tautological) – impressive in appearance but totally lacking in depth! The product of self-reference is a ‘deceptive appearance’ in other words, and so here once again we are looking at a Dual Reality – [1] being the delocalised state in which no particular specific possibility has yet been hit upon (and then used to exclude all the others in what is essentially an ‘illegitimate action’) and [2] being the ‘concrete or literal reality’ that has been presented on the basis of this illegitimate act. Truth is effectively hidden from us in the concrete world that we have been presented with (by both the operation of the thinking mind and by the entropic process of symmetry-breaking which inherent in the physical universe itself) and so there is this phenomenon of ‘concrete or knowable world’, which is actually entirely deceptive. This is Dualism in a nutshell therefore – one the one hand we have the Unknowable Truth, the truth which cannot be pinned down or made certain, and on the other hand we have the so-called ‘knowable truth’, which is no more than ‘a deceptive appearance that has the function of trapping us’. It’s not the light, it’s a shadow that has been cast by the light…


The ‘Unknowable Truth’ may be said to be information, which is by its very nature always new, always fresh, always unexpected, whilst the knowable (so-called) truth of the concrete world within which we are trapped is comprised of ‘pseudo-information’ (which is to say, it is a tautological reality) and it is always stale and lacking in anything other than ‘mere appearance’. This is the world that is made of of ‘the photographic inverse of information’, which corresponds to the shadows making up the (false) world of the prisoners in Plato’s famous ‘Analogy of the Cave’…









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