Understanding the physics of life requires more than simply understanding flows of matter and energy — it also demands understanding flows of information. But information defined in the classical Shannon entropy sense misses the most important quality manifested by living systems: meaning.
Our proposal addresses how meaning emerges from matter through a mathematical theory of semantic information (SM). Semantic information is recognized as crucial for living systems in philosophy, but no widely accepted practical mathematical theory exists. Using new definitions for SM we’ll analyze how information flows between (proto)living systems and their environments facilitate those system’s persistence. Our activities will focus on SM origin/application in multiple classes of systems of increasing complexity. Our deliverables will be research papers, articles in the popular press and a scientific workshop on meaning, information and the physics of life.
Developing a theory of semantic information is as essential to the study of life as syntactic (i.e. Shannon) information was to computation. In this way our work represents a critical step in linking information and meaning in life, which will have impacts on theoretical biology, the origin of life, biophysics, systems biology and social physics.