This unpretentious book — plainly written, packaged with a straight-forward descriptive title and published by Stanford University Press with little fanfare — should be required reading for every college student — and their professors.
Although Claude Shannon’s statistical approach to information has made many valuable contributions, it is blind to the functional properties of information. Here we propose a new kind of cybernetic information that we call “control information.” It is defined as the capacity (know how) to control the acquisition, disposition and utilization of matter/energy in “purposive” (cybernetic) processes. We also propose a formalization in terms of the quantity of available energy that can be controlled by a given unit of information in a given context.
Physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s What is Life? (1945) has inspired many subsequent efforts to explain biological evolution, especially the evolution of complex systems, in terms of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concepts of “entropy” and “negative entropy.” However, the problems associated with this paradigm are manifold. Some of these problems will be highlighted in the first part of this paper, and some of the theories that have been derived from it will be briefly critiqued.
Schneider and Sagan claim that energy flows “generate, perpetuate, elaborate,” biological complexity. They claim too much for thermodynamics and slight the functional, economic drivers – the costs and benefits in a given environment and natural selection.