"There is no information without representation."
This is an important insight for understanding consciousness as well as physics. An even more important insight, in my view, is that “There is no representation without presentation”, meaning that representation, codes, substitution, etc can only be possible where there are more fundamental sensory phenomena. To re-present is to re-fer one sensory encounter to another. Words stand for experiences or experiences of thinking about experiences.
What he is talking about in the clip is the relation between information and existence (meaning physics), but what he is leaving out is the common denominator of sense. Both physical states and information states are states are opposite types of what could be called aesthetic encounters. The relationship is analogous to reflection. If we look at a polished marble floor in a public bathroom for instance, we might see the reflection of the overhead fluorescent lights at the same time. By focusing our attention visually, the optical focus of our eyes can be changed, bringing either the details of the marble or the details of the light bulbs into sharp focus while the opposing image blurs.
To me, this is significant metaphorically*, as there are two opposite qualities of opposition going on. The marble is the more physically “real” in the sense that stone is dense, hard, has an objective location, etc. The reflection of the light is more physically real in that it shows that the fabric of what we think we are seeing is optical phantoms. The reflection reveals the truer nature of the experience of seeing, and anchors it in a weightless, ephemeral world of subjectivity and relativity.
There is a natural antagonism between these two perspectives. Introspecting on the realism of the light makes the marble unreal by comparison - a mere trompe l’oeil or simulation…but a simulation of what? Invisible relationships of abstract data? If the brain can already read such abstract data, why have a simulation layer that is other than abstract data? Surely such an arbitrary miracle would be more evolutionarily costly to build, if it were even possible in the first place. The idea that a compression schema for data would naturally become a visual experience does not make sense, and it runs counter to our experience in which, for example, we need special instruments on our computers and cell phones which allow us to see data represented optically.
If we say instead that the marble is real, then the reflection shining on it becomes a kind of mirage. We are looking at the floor, not the ceiling, so the image of the ceiling lights on the floor is false in a sense. The image of is not ‘really there’, or really referring to the lights, but rather the incidental scattering of photons which meaninglessly retains the characteristics of the light source by default.
The fact that we can pivot between these two opposing perspectives, and understand that they are both true in a sense and false in another is, in my view, the local, human-evolved version of what I call primordial pansensitivity or sense. Rather than a one dimensional relation between information and existence, I see a fundamental aesthetic participation which hides and reveals itself by inventing dimensionality for itself through aesthetic qualities. Information and existence are separated or diffracted out of sense, like a mirror being stretched out and twisted around to reflect opposite ends of itself. The mirror participates in defining its own image. It pivots from the reality of the mirror and the reality of reflection, with the pivoting itself, and the change it brings in perception as the true nature of that which is being reflected.
The experience that we have as human beings is so rich, so elaborate and heavy with history that we have billions of metaphors to choose from. We have literal mirrors and computers and TV screens etc to model form and content, or map and territory. We can have an understanding of particle-waves and mass-energy, or spiritual traditions which map out levels of awareness from the coarse material to the purely mystical. What they cannot do for us however, is make the connection between information and understanding. They cannot make us ‘see’ what it all means unless we are ready to consider it for ourselves honestly, rather than with an agenda to be clever.
*meta-phor is etymologically similar to ‘re-fer’, which both hinge on ‘likeness’…a sense of affinity that can be leveraged to extend sense from one aesthetic context to another.