Unlike Physics, Biology Can't Ignore Information

Physicists love to think about systems that take only a little information to describe. So when they get a system that takes a lot of information to describe, they use a trick called 'statistical mechanics', where you try to ignore most of this information and focus on a few especially important variables. For example, if you hand a physicist a box of gas, they'll try to avoid thinking about the state of each atom, and instead focus on a few macroscopic quantities like the volume and total energy. Ironically, the mathematical concept of information arose first here—although they didn't call it information back then; they called it 'entropy'. The entropy of a box of gas is precisely the amount of information you've decided to forget when you play this trick of focusing on the macroscopic variables. Amazingly, remembering just this—the sheer amount of information you've forgotten—can be extremely useful... at least for the systems physicists like best.

But biological systems are different. They store lots of information (for example in DNA), transmit lots of information (for example in the form of biochemical signals), and collect a lot of information from their environment. And this information isn't uninteresting 'noise', like the positions of atoms in a gas. The details really matter. Thus, we need to keep track of lots of information to have a chance of understanding any particular biological system.


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 Information Geometry
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Baez, John (February 3, 2016), Information Geometry, Retrieved on 2016-12-24
  • Source Material [math.ucr.edu]
  • Folksonomies: biology information science probability