The Self: Information, matter, time and imagination.

The base of a metal pot showing three flows becoming one (wikicommons)Lets start near the end. The universe is made up of matter-energy, time-space, and instruction-information. Three different expressions which combine to make the universe we sense. Einstein tells us that matter and energy are interchangeable E=MC2 and that the planets and atoms play in a field of time-space which is warped and bent by matter-energy to create what we know as gravity. How this matter-energy combines and interacts to create the rocks, people and planets we know as reality is determined by the instructions-information existing with-them. Simple instructions such as an on-off (action-nothing)binary system can create very intricate instructions when combined and communicated in a complex system. I use with-them deliberately for instruction-information is not the product of matter-energy nor is it somehow contained within but is-with the matter-energy in a field of space-time. And space-time is-with information-instruction as it is with matter-energy. A looping coexistence.


The question I wish to raise in this piece is not what is the stuff of the universe for I just stated that but a few things that relate to this old but new view of what we and everything is made of. And in the process I will put a beginning to the “near end” that I started with. What is randomness? I ask this because all life and all creation (stars, planets, rocks, atoms etc) require imbalance and randomness – error in the instruction-information “code” – to come about. For instance we are different from our parents not just because we are a blend of two strands of DNA but because a random element is thrown into the mix, this is the basis of evolution.


Can information be created from nothing? Can it exist in the absence of time-space and energy-matter? I ask this because some in the field of information theory, James Gleick for one, believe information may be the source of all stuff, no matter without info, no energy without info. Information is it. This may just be because we live in an information age so it is our best metaphor for the world, as energy was in the electronic age, and matter in the age of steel and stone. However I do like the idea and want to explore it.


And does the interaction of complex systems create “a self”? This is my ultimate purpose because I have found that physicists, information theorists, theologians, and biologists hit a brick wall when using their theories about the universe to explain a sense of self, or as what you know as feeling human, feeling alive, being me. And what scientists simplify to consciousness. I want to test my ideas against this because I think if I can explain the one thing I know for sure, that I exist, then my theories about the universe out there should have validity.


I must define some terms for you such as “self”, “information” “matter” “energy” are not unfamiliar to you but have differing meanings in each specialist field. And no doubt in this age of specialisation many of you will be expert.


The self; I do not mean just being conscious as in not being in a coma, or just aware of external stimuli. But knowing I exist, I have thoughts and feelings, an internal dialogue. I am me, not labelled not boxed, but able to box and label other things including my self. The ability to imagine the nonsensical and self examination, to see yourself as an entity within your own mind, are two attributes essential to “the self “ of which I talk neither of which are common to the narrow scientific view of consciousness.


Instruction-information; the … straight away I am lacking in words to describe what I mean. To inform you about information is a tautological trap if ever there was one. I wish I were a poet. Perhaps a descriptive will help.


What tells the fire to burn, to stop without oxygen.


The sun to rise each day, and moon to crescent.


What tells the babe to wake at dawn, the mother to care.


The two hydrogen to bind with but one oxygen, the rain to fall.


Tis the essence, the instruction and information within it all.



It is that which tells wood to combust when in the presence of a flame (heat) and oxygen. That which instructs the oxygen to combine with the carbon atoms in the wood to create carbon monoxide. That instruction which forms the shape of complex atoms. And of course the information complex organisms like humans create and record, changing our world.


Time-space; This I get from Einstein and I must admit I have always found both the time and the space a bit indescribable although obvious and the combination of the two a bit like ether. That stuff false-scientists thought light acted with to move through empty space. Ether was everywhere but weighed nothing, was untouchable, unmeasurable, unknowable but absolutely necessary to make light as a particle work. Light then became a wave and ether went out the door. Time-space is for Einstein what matter-energy acts upon to make gravity. For me it is just the playground of energy-matter and instruction-information. All actions, reactions, creations and communications must have a place and happen over time. And often the volume of space and period of time will determine the outcome of the interaction, so it is a necessary ingredient in the mix. Also as we know matter-energy and information can change time-space, as it warps it concentrates and slows as in a black hole.


Matter-energy; there doesn’t seem to be much matter. Einstein said such and that has been proven, think of a nuclear explosion. Small amount of matter lots of energy. Even atoms are mostly energy attracting and repelling (this is basic instruction). And it is possible both these are just a form of information. And perhaps time-space could be another form. But intuition and common observation tells me that instruction-information must act on something no matter how small and this is matter-energy in the field of space-time.




So to our first and most important question, what the hell is randomness? It is error, mistake, the unpredictable. Now ordered systems shouldn’t behave randomly, but the universe does. It makes errors… How? Actually that’s a bit of a silly question and one stuck within the frame of determinism. An error means its cause CANNOT be determined, not that it doesn’t have one, but that we cannot find it. I think we should ponder and research randomness much more. There are computer programs that replicate randomness but they are psuedo-random for they are only considered random because the viewer isn’t aware of the code creating it, or the seed that triggers it. Many psuedo-random programs use the date as the random seed for the beginning of time 0CE is arbitrary – man made. Some computer codes for randomness are actually random because they use the real world as the driver. For example they can feed the program with readings from a Geiger counter measuring decaying uranium. The decaying process is random so this feeds in unknowns to the program.


So randomness exists in the real-world but is so far impossible to replicate logically.


I will at this point put randomness down to complexity. I know I’m giving up early but hold randomness in mind as we go on for it could be the result of the interplay of two realms. The logos with the mythos, the yin touching the yang. This of course does suggest that all substance has a self (an imaginative mythos) for even elements behave randomly… rather dangerous ground we tread. But the most exiting path is that blazed with the doubts of others.


Back to a more rational analysis, either randomness occurs because the universe is far to complex for us to understand, or that with much interaction tiny imperfections in all three expressions are exacerbated into miscommunication and deformities. This is a good thing for this keeps things fluid, out of balance and moving. It creates new information and new stuff.


Imagine that a hydrogen atom had never come into contact with a complex compound like a protein. It would not know how to behave. Should it bond with it, bond with certain elements within it, or break it apart? Or just not interact at all. It will do what it has done before and react to the environment around it, the time-space. But it may bond with a Nitrogen atom thinking it a hydrogen atom something in a hyperactive environment (condensed space-time) it had bound with before. This would be a completely new, random event. It is an error based upon memory and new acquaintance but a new compound is born with new instructions in its memory. (note: I am not a chemist and have no idea whether it is possible for hydrogen to bind with nitrogen from a protein. This is analogous only)


We believe in the beginning there was only hydrogen atoms, now we have complex strings of compounded elements like proteins and DNA.


Each error creates something never before known. The memory of the past encountering the new and filling in the gaps with imagination and trial and error.


In humans and I assume other living organisms randomness is the base of free will, and free will is the ultimate creative force for new instruction-information. We can imagine the unknown.


Can information be created from nothing (or destroyed)


My first inclination is that instruction-information needs a storage device and in our universe this is time-space and matter-energy. So if the matter-energy and/or time-space were destroyed like in the centre of a black hole the information would also be destroyed. But… that doesn’t feel right. Singularities are what we expect to be at the centre of black holes, the instruction-information does not act as we think it should, it is all scrambled but does that mean it is destroyed. It makes me think of a crowded bar where the music is loud and everyone is yelling. The din is so all encompassing that you can’t decipher one word from the hum, no separate information but it is still there just smothered in a mess, a static. Pull the people apart or lean into their mouth and the information, the words make sense again.


Imagine this bar crammed into the toilet like the matter-energy and time-space compressed at the centre of a black hole. The hum may stop as people struggle for breath but the instruction-information is still there just not audible, not transmitted, it lays dormant and possibly still changing within the cramped space as people smile, wince, tickle and squirm. No language but they are still communicating and outsiders cannot hear them. They are changing, their potential when released will be different to when they were compressed.


That’s what I think of a singularity at the centre of a black hole. The message is at first scrambled, then static, then silence but within it the conversation continues. Instruction-information doesn’t disappear but the modus operandi changes invisible to the outside observer. And randomness I assume will be amplified because of the close proximity and time-space concentration.


So if instruction-information is not destroyed – I have not proven this idea yet for we assume matter-energy and time-space to exist in a black hole although not as we know it – can it be created from nothing? It can be changed with randomness and complexity so new information is created all the time. But can it come from nothing? With the answer to this we should get the answer to whether it can be destroyed.


This is simply the oldest question. Who created the Earth, who created the universe, what happened before the big bang? And if it was a field of time-space banging into another dimension of time-space where did time-space come from?


Some may think it similar to the old philosophical reality dilemma. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it does it fall? If there is no observer does anything exist, so reality is based upon a loop of observation and action and it is impossible to know what happens before observation.


However the answer is in the question. If the tree fell, whether someone hears it or not it falls. Or better what is the sound of one hand clapping. Again the answer is in the question. To clap takes two hands, therefore nothing. A better question is; a tree may have fallen in the forest, no-one heard it. Did a tree fall? But again the answer is in the question. The tree may have fallen, whether or not someone heard it. In these questions the observer doesn’t really matter reality goes on with or without the observer. But the question of determinism is classic. Can something come from nothing? No cause to the effect.


Perhaps the answer comes from a different look at the problem. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Is there such a thing as nothing. Is nothing possible? In mathematics zero is just the gap between something 1 and the absence of something -1. And definitely has no value. Even in a vacuum time-space still exists for the vacuum must exist somewhere sometime and really we have no evidence of a perfect vacuum anyway.



For us to create nothing we would have to remove everything, all matter, energy, space and time but we would still exist so there would be no absolute nothing. The observer would still exist, still be communicating with the empty space. Instruction-information would still exist. We are essentially asking can an absolute exist? An absolute nothing. And no it cant! There are no absolutes in a universe of randomness accept of course the statement that nothing is absolute. The great contradiction of our universe is nothing can be as absolute as we imagine. And now we realise the contradiction. When pushed to its zenith. When we reduce to the big bang, the quantum we cannot find the ultimate cause or when we expand beyond the sensible universe we cannot find infinity. We can imagine zero, nothing, we can imagine infinity, endlessness but can see, touch, smell, hear neither. We can imagine an absolute that can never exist!


Back to can information come from nothing


Our answer must be no, because there cannot be a nothing to come from. Accept of course in our imagination. Which of course is the same imagination that created these questions, and can imagine God, and can imagine information coming from nothing. And so yes it can, another wonderful contradiction. And now we enter the point of our story. The self, and our wondrous imagination.

The Self


I once posited that God must exist because we can imagine him and can act upon our mental creation changing the physical world. Therefore a created idea can affect the physical world. Nothing (as in no matter-energy or time-space) can be the cause of physical affects. We have built churches, gone to war and many other changes of the physical environment because of an imagined thing. Then in a determinism argument there is a base cause to the building of a church and thus God must exist. If he didn’t the church couldn’t, and it does, so both effect and cause must be real. And in theory, in your imagination you could reduce a church to the idea of God, after all that is actually the purpose of a symbol to be reduced to the spiritual concept. Not literally of course, but literally there is no reason for the church in the first place for it serves no physical purpose. A house protects from the physical cold, rain or heat. There is a physical cause and effect. Not with a church. It relies upon imagination and God.


This really just explains the limitations of material determinism nothing more. We cannot just look at the interaction of matter-energy, time-space and information-instruction to understand our universe.


The seed of imagination is randomness – error. The base of all creation.


Maybe the self is a grand error forced into order by interaction with an ordered world. Don’t forget there is mostly order, and a little randomness. That was a random thought for you to ponder.


Now lets imagine that our three expressions are not boxed into just being matter-energy, space-time, and information-instruction but are fluid. They are interacting with and most importantly changing into each other as we also are a fluid interaction. With-in this world we create our reality, the world we see by boxing the expressions of the universe(al self?). They are just three ways for us to understand the world.


I cannot help but use ancient allegories for this not new idea. The Cappadician Fathers of early Christianity interpreted the holy trinity known to us as The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit not as three divine entities but three expressions of the divine. The Father was The Word (information), the Son humanity or physical being (Matter) and The Holy Spirit that which makes God come about love or feeling or energy. But God is whole in each of the expressions but each expression is different. At least to us who like to box things.


Daoists (often called Taoists) have similar expressions of the whole, Qi energy, Li pattern or instruction, and the Dao which is the envelope, the everything. The unknowable everywhere.


More recently Freud saw us as having the id, ego and superego, three in one. And Jung his contemporary and collaborator extrapolated their observations and theories into a universal collective consciousness that connected all “energies”. They were in the age of electricity, we would say it connected all information.


I’m going to add a quote from someone that had a near death experience for her description of slipping away from her body is similar to the struggle mystics, meditators, theologians, and philosophers have when trying to describe the immaterial world. The internal and eternal self. Words after all are very good at describing things we can see and touch but lousy at relating what we feel.


Michelle M’s near death experience


“I remember understanding the others here.. as if the others here were a part of me too. As if all of it was just a vast expression of me. But it wasn’t just me, it was .. gosh this is so hard to explain.. it was as if we were all the same. As if consciousness were like a huge being. The easiest way to explain it would be like all things are all different parts of the same body.”’s_nde.htm


The Buddhist description of nirvana which are almost always allegorical sound very similar to Michelle M’s experience. They loose themselves through meditation and join a whole.


Now some may say she has been taught this description via biblical or religious memetic absorption but that doesn’t diminish the feeling of those that may have taught her or her agreement with their sentiments. Someone felt such a thing at least once and others see its common sense. My personal opinion is that she described what she felt as best she could with the language we have at hand. And our current language is very rigid and pragmatic. Either reductionist and exact in meaning or spinning meaninglessness.


So I am suggesting our self is expressed through the fluid interplay of our three expressions M-E, S-T and I-I. But can our self exist without them?


We are back to; is the absence of anything possible (nothing) and can something come from nothing. Thinking of the self in such reductionist material terms is odd. Karen Armstrong the author of The Great Transformation, and The Case For God makes a very good argument for just that. She argues that to use science to understand the divine, spirit or God is not just odd but impossible. It is ridiculous to use science to understand something that is definitely not scientific, for if it were it couldn’t be divine it would be matter and energy and the stuff of this Earth and therefore not God or at all important in a mystical human sense. If we prove God really does exist, that there is a white bearded bloke sitting in a cloud over Sri Lanka and he knows everything and controls all your thoughts and all your actions and the whole world around you. He is scientifically proven and he is known and we can predict all his wishes. Actually that is the end point of material determinism. With enough information we would be able to predict/control everything. So God ceases to be necessary, ceases to exist. All is known all is dull all is complete and determined before you are even conceived. No God of the unknown and unknowable, no imagination, no everywhere and nowhere, no zero and infinity, no randomness – no life.



So you can’t prove the existence of the self by empirical experiments on matter and energy in time-space, we must intuit, we must feel, we must know we have it. And I do have “a self” and I’m pretty sure you do too. I can’t prove I exist. No one can ever hear my internal dialogue or know the way sunsets in the middle of winter make me feel, sometimes I wish they could for it would make it far easier to write. No-one will ever really know me or you but a few will get close and when they do we use another ethereal word … Love. I do exist. And I through some means have some control over our three expressions of the self. You may notice I’m hinting that the self is the envelope, the Dao, the God and that it may not just exist within humans. For why should it be limited to us.


I will also point out there is no proof the self does vanish with the death of the body. The body actually still exists it just stops flow, the heart stops beating, electrical pulses in the brain cease, and we stop moving and speaking. Separate individual life as we define it stops. The cells stop replicating but decay starts and the communication continues as bacteria (life) eats the flesh and replicates. Our matter-energy informs a new life. We devolve.


Now if you thought Buddhist about that you would think we are reincarnated in the life that grows from our decaying body. But what of our self, is that in our cells or perhaps we join the collective self having been released from the prison of our body?




This may all sound like I want to be a dualist, I want the self to be separate from matter, or at least that I want to live after death. And this is true. I like the idea of there being more than this finite life trapped in a body not of my choosing. And I am sure I am not alone in this. But dualism says the mind and body are separate non reliant entities. The mind does not come from the body nor the body from the mind. I don’t feel that. I know I am and also know the world is within and without. One and the same in fluid interaction. If one or all three expressions cease flowing does my self cease with them? My inclination is that if all three ceased flow nothing would be the result and therefore impossible or only possible in imagination. A contradiction for imagination requires flow. All I see is loops and flow even within the world I know and I can’t see that stopping at the death of my body. Only a great change in the interactions which may distort myself. Adventure.


I agree with the ancient Greek philosophers who had no problem holding the mystical with the practical in one mind, they did not see them as the same but conducive. They exist together, one we can touch, manipulate and study. The other we can feel, imagine and believe. The mythos and the logos, the mystical and the rational, the Yin and Yang in constant flow, not combined, not the same but both real. And perhaps when they touch randomness is the result. Even a big bang!


David J Campbell

Also read:
Does it Matter
A reasonable explaination of consciousness
The path from enlightenment to aggresive dogma
Vispassna retreat
Christmas musings on the self universe and everything
The fluid mind

5 Responses to The Self: Information, matter, time and imagination.

  1. Pingback: Athene’s theory of Everything – video | JeSaurai

  2. Nathaniel Werner

    I would like to reference a portion of the website in my reply…
    “What is randomness? I ask this because all life and all creation (stars, planets, rocks, atoms etc) require imbalance and randomness – error in the instruction-information “code” – to come about. For instance we are different from our parents not just because we are a blend of two strands of DNA but because a random element is thrown into the mix, this is the basis of evolution.”
    You say that the idea of a random element being thrown into the mix causes evolution. I would like to refute this claim because it is the key or one of the main keys to everything written later on this webpage. I assume that in the context of DNA as you mentioned above, that the random element is a mutation, but in order for your claim to hold up that must mean that the mutation allowed for a piece of new information being put into the system. However, it has been observed through significant testing that any mutation does not add new information to a system. Mutation is basically a misinterpretation or error in reading the information held in DNA, and thus can never create or input new information but can only take it out of the system. In the end in order for evolution to be true it would need an external source to input the information into the system. Even if mutations were a valid cause for evolution to occur, it would need significant amounts of mutations occurring simultaneously, and since a mutation occurs roughly 1 in 10^7 times this is EXTREMELY improbable. Also evolution calls for a gradual change in the physical structure which we know is controlled by the information held in DNA. However a gradual change would most likely lead to an organism without proper functioning organs and thus cannot survive to reproduction age. This is clear evidence that there are some extreme flaws in the theory of evolution. I believe a more accurate model is to say that a creator made the universe (in this case I am specifically dealing with the biosphere of Earth) that had limited information already attached to it which was enough to allow after several THOUSANDS of years to degenerate into the species of life we see today with environmental stimuli also having to play its role in the process.
    I hope this makes sense to you as much as it has for me, and if you choose to correspond with me maybe we can both learn from each other about the cosmology of the universe.

  3. Perhaps we are also thinking of information incorrectly as a substance. Something tangible. When we use terms like add and subtract we think in context of a physical object that can be added or removed from a frame of reference but to my thinking information isn’t physical but acts on or through the physical. So to remove the medium of communication such as a protein in DNA does this really effect the information “quantity” or just the ability to communicate. Imaigine you lose your voice does that mena you have no new thoughts? I think information is more like imagination before it is verbalised or even put into an internal dialogue.

    You may say that means it doesn’t “exist”? Well in the terms of materialism it doesn’t and that is the core of the argument Karen Armstrong uses about God. Just because something isn’t material doesn’t mean it doesn’t have influence on the material.

  4. Pingback: Imagination and Free Will | JeSaurai

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