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Information Theory As A Way Of Feeling Alive

It’s funny when I think about it. When I first started doing meditation and yoga, I had this strong sensation of ‘feeling alive’. It took me a while to really take this feeling in. To allow myself to feel this way about these ‘boring’ activities. Because conceptually it didn’t make sense to me. I had the idea that jumping around at a party with mind-expanding drugs and heavy music should be the apex of feeling alive. Not this sitting-absolutely-still-on-a-pillow-with-my-eyes-closed flimflam. But as I listened more and more carefully to this feeling in my body, I realized that it was in these moments of silent concentration that I felt most alive. And in a strange way, this brought me to information theory.

The reason that I write about this today is because I just finished listening to a podcast by Sara Imari Walker on Information and the Origin of Life (podcast link). She is an American theoretical physicist and astrobiologist with research interests in the origins of life. In the interview she talks about life itself, which is very hard to define. 

This problem inspired Sara to propose a new scale for life. One that is no binary, not simply distinguishing between ‘things’ and ‘beings’, not simply dead or alive. But a scale that is continuous. And according to Sara, this definition should be closely related to information theory.

Information theory is an area or science that, as the name might suggest, tries to describe systems in terms of how much information these systems contain, transfer or share with one another. 

And we can apply information theory to humans as well. If we take the ‘raw ingredients’ of one human, we have an easy job. Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. However, if I would try to describe 99% of my spouse in full detail, the configuration, chemical composition and interaction of all her organs and what not, I won’t be able to finish this task in my life. 

information theory

Long story short: quantifying life is not about describing what living beings are made of. Instead, Sara proposes to quantify life in terms of the information it contains. Living beings are complex systems. They have a structure, they behave in a unique way and this information also includes our consciousness.

It includes our conscious experience of being alive. Of existing. The sensation that we exist in this world in relation to other living (and non-living) things. And it also includes our self-awareness.

Without the physical world, ideas will not exist

Joey Lawsin 

We all know moments where we have been more, and moments where we have been less aware. The above elucidation suggests that we are really more alive in these moments of clear awareness. Not merely as a manner of speaking, but factually.

information theory

That is why seemingly boring activities – like meditation – can reward us with a sense of being alive. A strong feeling of being present and feeling the life rush through our veins. In these activities, we are training our awareness. Expanding our consciousness. Increasing our aliveness-information. These are the moments that we are living, instead of simply being or existing. And these are the practices that are worth our time more than anything else.

Sleeping, we are less alive than awake. So wake up! Celebrate life by expanding your awareness in whatever way suits you. Celebrate life with awareness.

the ocean
can calm itself,
so can you.
are both
salt water
mixed with
Nayyirah Waheed

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