The Real Nature of Information:

Change may be the only absolute


Understand it. Get used to it.

You're born, you go through life, you die, you decay. That's change. The universe is an unimaginably condensed proto-atom; it explodes/expands; galaxies, stars, planets form; on Earth (and, maybe, countless other planets) life arises, evolves, with one branch becoming us. That's change.

Change is implicit to every aspect of the universe as well as our individual lives, from the most basic physical/biological processes; in our social relations with family, friends, colleagues, and the world at large; in the pathways of social groups and entire cultures; and in the progress and digressions in our intellectual, creative, and emotional lives. Virtually nothing stays exactly the same.

Information Delivery & Sources

That also applies to information and information sources. When I was doing some research in high school on other possible chemistries to underly complex life forms, the librarian at my high school had to contact UC Berkeley to borrow some books that would help me understand the complexity of chlorine/flourine compounds. Now, all that I have to do is search some bioscience databases or, even, locate much of the relevant information on Web sites.

30 years ago, in order to hear some famous lecturer, one had to go to wherever she/he might be appearing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, I download podcast lectures both recent and archived, local and from around the world, to enjoy on my MP3 player.

On the night that Princess Diana died I happened to be online. I received an email in which it was announced that Princess Diana had died in a car accident. I immediately turned CNN on. Nothing. I turned on local television stations. Nothing. I turned on the local news station, KCBS. Nothing. It took about 10-15 minutes before any of the other media announced her death.

Information Content

The information itself has also changed. There are few subjects outside of basic mathematics and physics in which there have been few changes. One plus two still equals three. A screw is still a spiral ramp. The gross architecture of a hydrogen atom remains the same. But ... but let's take the last one as an example of the change of information content. When I was in high school a Hydrogen atom consisted of one proton in the nucleus circled by a single electron. That hasn't changed. What has changed is that we now know that a proton consists of two up quarks, one down quark. Other subatomic particles called gluons and the strong nuclear force hold the quarks together as a single, positively charged proton.

In other words, the information that we have on the structure of an atom has changed. There are a seemingly infinite range of subjects in which the information that we once held dear on the subjects has been supplanted or, at least, shown to be erroneous or false. Returning to physics, "cold fusion" looked like a possibility for a while, upsetting previous belief that only thermonuclear reactions as hot as the interior of the sun would be sufficient for the fusion of an atom. Peer-reviewed papers in top-quality professional journals held the promise of a new age of power. But no other scientists could replicate the "cold fusion" experiments, and it, apparently, turned out that "cold fusion" was nothing more than a chemical reaction.

On a more personal level, you were probably told as children that marijuana was a bad, a dangerous drug. Don't do it. You'll go to hell. You'll get addicted. You'll become a junkie. Then the information content changed. High-quality scientific studies showed that marijuana posed few problems to society compared with such more socially acceptable, addictive substances as cigarettes and alcohol. But governments, religious groups, political parties, and other special interests still condemn marijuana. I'm not arguing pro or con regarding the plant/drug. All I am saying is that information changes. You have to aware of that, but you also have to be aware that many people will not accept the new information, no matter how rigorously documented.

Make use of it

Once you understand that information changes, once that you become used to the fact that information changes, then you can accommodate yourself to the fact of change and to the changes themselves. A major example for me was the change in biological classification of all forms of life. The taxonomy that I learned in high school has undergone several major changes. As a librarian helping biology students, I have to understand that