Being vs. Happening: information from the intrinsic perspective of the system itself

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When applied to a physical system, the two main, established notions of information, Shannon Information and Algorithmic Information, explicitly neglect the mechanistic structure of the system under evaluation. Shannon information treats the system as a channel and quantifies correlations between the system’s inputs and outputs, or between its past and future states. Algorithmic information quantifies the length of the shortest program capable of reproducing the system’s outputs or dynamics. The goal in both cases is to predict the system’s behavior from the perspective of an extrinsic investigator. From the intrinsic perspective of the system itself, however, information must be physically instantiated to be causally relevant. For every ‘bit’, there must be some mechanism that is in one of two (or several) possible states, and which state it is in must matter to other mechanisms. In other words, the state must be “a difference that makes a difference” and implementation matters. By examining the informational and causal properties of artificial organisms (“animats”) controlled by small, adaptive neural networks (Markov Brains), I will discuss necessary requirements for intrinsic information, autonomy, and agency.