Show and Tell: Thursday, January 17, 2007

Show & Tell will feature Robert Logan presenting "What is Information?, What is Life? and How are They Connected?: BioInformatics 2.0", an exploration of the nature of all living organisms.

What is Information?, What is Life? and How are They Connected?: BioInformatics 2.0

Robert K. Logan

This paper explores the nature of all living organisms ranging from the simplest single cell prokaryote bacteria to the most sophisticated product of the evolution of the biosphere, namely, us humans. We examine life from four perspectives, namely that living organisms are heat engines, fabricators of organic molecules and information computing devices. They are heat engines in the sense that they convert free energy into work so that they can replicate themselves and grow and hence propagate their organization. They do this by converting the raw materials of their environment in terms of simple chemicals into complex organic chemicals. And finally they are computing devices as they convert the raw data of environmental information into complex behaviours that allows them to source the energy and raw materials they need to propagate their organization and to avoid the toxins and predators that might terminate their existence. They also process this environmental data to enter into social and symbiotic relationships with both conspecifics and other species and as such they may also be considered as a medium of communication.

While it will be argued that living organisms are computing devices they should not be confused with human manufactured computers which are devices that process symbolic information. The computing or information processing of living organisms is not symbolic but rather involves the processing of information in the form of energy or material substances such as a plants involvement with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil and photons from the sun. Also we will need to identify two sources of information that a living organism must deal with which we will label as internal and external information. The internal information is simply the organization of the organisms that it propagates through replication and growth and consists of its RNA, DNA, proteins and its various structures and constraints that are coded in its DNA such as organelles in the case of single cell organisms and organs in multi-cell creatures.


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