Ahead of the Curve with Information Theory
The coronavirus has attracted new attention to biotech investments.
I have long been an investor in biotech, based on the understanding that biology has become an information science. Stemming more from computer science than from biochemistry have been all the key breakthroughs — the genome, the proteome, polymerase chain reaction gene-mass replication, CRISPR gene-editing, and just last year from Google, protein folding by artificial intelligence (AI).
You want to invest in people who understand that the path to success in biotech is less chemistry than hierarchical information. It’s programming more than chemistry and physics.
A couple decades or so ago, I started supporting the career of Matt Scholz, at the time an under-20 computer technician at Discovery Institute in Seattle, who understood deeply that biology is chiefly an information science. He has many patents including one on “Human Immune System Programming Technology.”
Since then, Matt has founded five companies, one a transportation software company, and four based on his insights in biotech: Immusoft, Sigma Genetics, OncoSynX and his latest, where he is CEO, Oisin.
C.S. Lewis and Information Theory
Oisin’s anti-aging tools last month received notice in MIT Technology Review as one of the ten most important innovations of the year.
In a Daily Prophecy three weeks ago, I quoted Matt on the use of malarial drugs against the virus. Perhaps my readers remember. Within a week, everyone else was discussing it. Information theory tends to put you ahead of the game.
Information science is crucial to everything we do here. But it does not limit us; it impowers us. Overcoming coronavirus utterly depends on it.
In his essay “Transposition,” C.S. Lewis explained a crucial principle of information theory. “Imagine,” he said, “you are a figure in a great landscape painting, living in a flat world. You occupy just two dimensions. You have worked out all the distances and colors and shadings, shadows and light patterns, textures and angles. You have analyzed all the oils and pigments. You have collected all the data in your flat world and you believe you have a satisfactory 2D explanation of reality.
If an outsider comes to you and tells you that this picture is only an attenuated reflection or pale imitation of a vast three- or even four-dimensional cosmos beyond it, you might answer: “Three dimensions? I have no need for that hypothesis.”
But as C.S. Lewis put it: “What is happening in a lower medium can only be understood if you know the higher medium.”
In his essay, I believe, Lewis refuted what I call the flat universe theory. This is the assumption that mind, creativity, consciousness, and creation are all merely chance or emergent results of material forces: physics and chemistry. Physics and chemistry in face tell you almost nothing about mind, or even the sub-minds of computation.
The God Particle
A key breakthrough of information theory was Claude Shannon’s discovery in 1948 that took him beyond Lewis’s insight: Dimensional vectors in mathematics do not end with four (three D plus time) or four (three D plus time and directionality) but can be expanded massively without mathematical incoherence.
Shannon used multidimensional vector math to calculate the carrier capacity for information networks.
Today, the materialist superstition stultifies many endeavors of science. Physics applies ever larger energies to matter in order to find ever smaller particles, until at last, they isolate the least of all, the Higgs boson, and call it God: The God particle.
Biologists reduce the human body to merely a mix of physical and chemical elements. Thus, they stultify pharmacology with a random model of discovery by trial and error among astronomical numbers of molecules that they then inject first into rats and then into humans.
Economists not only deny creativity to the divine; they also deny it to human beings. Their economic models reduce the human agent to a function of outside forces, essentially a Skinner box of stimuli and responses. Focusing on incentives rather than creativity, many economists are left with a model of capitalism that is driven by greed rather than by aspiration.
Across the sciences, however, the recent triumphs of information theory uphold a hierarchical universe. In the greatest mathematical discovery of the 20th century, Kurt Gödel in 1931 proved it in his famous incompleteness theorem. Every logical scheme, even mathematics itself, is necessarily dependent on axioms outside the scheme that cannot be proved within it. Alan Turing and John von Neumann extended this view to the proposition that all computing machines must have outside programmers. No matter how much you know about the material substance of a computer, you cannot grasp what a computer is doing without finding the source code.
The computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer’s materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations. In the usual hierarchy of causation, they reflect the software used to program the device; and, like the design of the computer itself, the software is contrived by human intelligence.
Salient in virtually every technical field — from quantum theory and molecular biology to computer science and economics — is an increasing concern with the word. It passes by many names: logos, logic, bits, bytes, quantum qubits, mathematical functions, software, knowledge, syntax, semantics, code, plan, program, design, algorithm, as well as the ubiquitous “information.” In every case, the information is independent of its physical embodiment or carrier.
This reality expresses a key insight of Francis Crick, the Nobel laureate and co-author of the discovery of DNA. Crick’s “Central Dogma” of molecular biology shows that influence can flow from the DNA word to the protein flesh, but not from proteins to DNA. By asserting that the DNA message precedes and regulates the form of the proteins, and that proteins cannot specify a DNA program, Crick’s Central Dogma unintentionally recapitulates St. John’s assertion of the primacy of the word over the flesh.
Similarly, you cannot understand mind by pondering physics and chemistry; you need the source codes of DNA and the cosmos. You cannot understand economics without explaining entrepreneurial creativity.
To grasp reality, you have to look up rather than down. You have to aspire rather than despair or deny. You have to seek singularities rather than average them to banalities.
You cannot find anything new from an old place. You cannot have an assured path to the future by surveying the landscape in front of you. You cannot find safety in numbers or even in big data.
In order to transcend the grip of the past and its entropic deterioration, you have to “leap before you look.” In some sense, all investment must grasp this reality.
So, as we explore biotech in this current contingency, we must understand it as the epitome of all the other information sciences we follow.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy