Semantic information, agency, & physics

Complexity Digest

Shannon information theory provides various measures of so-called syntactic information, which reflect the amount of statistical correlation between systems. By contrast, the concept of ‘semantic information’ refers to those correlations which carry significance or ‘meaning’ for a given system. Semantic information plays an important role in many fields, including biology, cognitive science and philosophy, and there has been a long-standing interest in formulating a broadly applicable and formal theory of semantic information. In this paper, we introduce such a theory. We define semantic information as the syntactic information that a physical system has about its environment which is causally necessary for the system to maintain its own existence. ‘Causal necessity’ is defined in terms of counter-factual interventions which scramble correlations between the system and its environment, while ‘maintaining existence’ is defined in terms of the system’s ability to keep itself in a low entropy state. We also use recent results…

View original post 89 more words