In living organisms with a brain, consciousness arises from the way neurons are interconnected with each other, hence, an arrangement. Just like an arrangement of particles in the universe consist of information, or putting it in more familiar way, arrangement of letters form a word or sentence which is information.

Now the laws of science says information cannot be created from nothing and cannot be destroyed. It may exist in a very disrupted form but it will always exist. For example, if you could take a shredded note, it still has the information as in its un-shredded note state - it's just convoluted for human comprehension in its shredded form.

So does this imply that consciousness is eternal because information cannot be destroyed, and, at the same time it's a part of other consciousnesses as information cannot be created out of nothing?

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    The physical "information" that can not be destroyed has little to do with the colloquial meaning of the word, a gibberish string of 0s and 1s will be packed with such "information" because it is unpredictable. And as understood in physics "information" is a quantity similar to entropy, so it can not be "consciousness" for the same reason that velocity can not be a physical body, even though physical bodies can have velocities.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 22:55
  • Intuitively, I believe DNA is the key to consciousness, knowledge, and memory. According to this article, apparently consciousness evolves along with DNA. And that makes sense, in light of the fact that our physical environment (including the Sun itself, and even the Galaxy and the entire Universe) is constantly changing and evolving. citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/…
    – Bread
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 22:27
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    I feel the most interesting issue here is that if the contents of consciousness is information then consciousness is not. Thus our world and all our mental objects may be information but we are not. This seems correct and it fits well with both the Perennial view of consciousness and (more roughly) with David Chalmers' 'dual-aspect theory of information'.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 10:30

6 Answers 6


The problem with the idea that consciousness lasts forever because information is preserved is in the fact that information is being used in two different senses in your question. The differences lie in these two descriptions of the note example you gave. One sense is the physical description of information.

The amount of information contained within a system is the amount of yes or no questions that are required to tell you everything you could ever know (physically speaking) about a system.

Therefore, the information in a system is the collection of 'yes's and 'no's pertaining to those answers. The reason that this information is never destroyed is because of the property of unitarity in physical systems. This means that physical processes are reversible. There is a physical description of you pushing a ball four meters across a table and there is an equal description of the ball being pushed the four meters back with an equal force in the opposite direction.

The other definition of information applies to more general ideas.

Information is that which informs. In other words, it is the answer to a question of some kind. It is thus related to data and knowledge, as data represents values attributed to parameters, and knowledge signifies understanding of real things or abstract concepts.

This concept of information is different because it is more general. The physical description applies only to the yes or no questions needed to be answered to describe a physical state. This means questions such as "where is this atom, what is the spin of this electron, what is the momentum of this molecule, etc." When you burn a piece of paper, that is an example of a physical process (namely combustion). Physical processes are reversible so as long as we know all of the physical information about the molecules that make up the paper we can reconstruct it.

The information that you have written down on the note, say a message such as "Hello, world," is completely different than the physical information that makes up the atoms and subatomic particles of the paper itself. The laws of unitarity and reversibility do not apply to the more general sort of information. Its a matter of being a categorical mistake.

To answer specifically about consciousness; the atoms and molecules that make up your neurons will always exist and their causal history will always be intact. This means that if someone, lets say 100,000 years from now, had a ultra-powerful computer they could calculate the past history of the atoms. If they had access to all atoms that the atoms in your brain also interacted with during that time they could construct a history and eventually recreate what your brain looked like. This does not mean that they would be able to recreate every consciousness experience you've ever had, it just means that they would know that at one point back in time the laws of physics say that this particular atom was part of your brain.

Consciousness is an emergent property that comes about from the activity of clusters of neurons (or at least for the purposes of this conversation that is what we are assuming since that is how you framed your question). The physical information of your brain at this moment in time is the collection of yes or no questions needed to be able to describe every physical aspect of your brain: what neurons are firing, how long each one is, which ones fired two seconds ago, etc. The information you carry in your consciousness such as "what I ate for dinner last night" and "who wrote The Declaration of Independence" are two different kinds of information. One of them is . One of them exists eternally (the first one) due to the laws of physics. The other one is an emergent property of your brain's activity and it will be list when your brain ceases to function.

  • An addition regarding the two kinds of information you reference: if the piece of paper on which a message is described by its physical state, then reconstructing that physical state also reconstructs the message. So, assuming consciousness and its associated memories are solely emergent properties of the physical state of a brain, then exactly reconstructing that physical state should also reconstruct a consciousness with all the associated memories intact. Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 14:44
  • @publicstaticvoid possibly, it might or it might not, depending on what the actual cause of consciousness is. If zombies are possible then it more than likely wouldn't. plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 14:52
  • Hence my caveat "assuming consciousness and its associated memories are solely emergent properties of the physical state of a brain" :) Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 16:41
  • The reason that this information is never destroyed is because of the property of unitarity in physical systems. This means that physical processes are reversible. If that were true, thermodynamic processes would see information destroyed.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 14:40

Is it the case that "consciousness arises from the way neurons are interconnected with each other"? We simply do not know enough about neurophysiology to confirm such a hypothesis.

Furthermore, I think you are overlooking an ambiguity in the use of the term "information". Any arrangement of particles in the world can be described and the description may contain verifiable information, however, that a hydrogen atom has a single electron atom, it does not follow that the hydrogen atom consists of the description of it. Such is our empirical taxonomy that all atoms consisting of only one electron are called hydrogen, but it does not follow that all things called hydrogen are necessarily only an atom (or a collection of atoms) with only one electron.

I would also ask, considering the etymology and morphology of the term, what is meant by "universe" where "world" suffices. Do you mean "uni"+"verse" (i.e. one text, one turn)? I ask because I think it is worth imagining a twin world where everything is identical except, for example, water. Prior to our understanding of chemistry water was described as a "clear, colorless, tasteless liquid". In this twin world, let's imagine that there were a substance, "twin water" (or "twater" for short). Twater has all the same characteristics as water in solid, liquid or gaseous form: the same weight, electrical conductivity, etc. except that instead of being made of one oxygen atom bound with two hydrogen atoms, twater molecules are composed of "xyz". Now without an empirically minded chemist to analyze twater, would there be any further information regarding xyz?

An arrangement of letters forming a sentence has "information" only relative to an observer. If the shredded note were to decompose, perhaps we could reverse engineer the decomposition and reconstitute the note, however, the means to demonstrate such a deterministic claim are certainly not within my means to do so. From what is known of entropic systems as well, I am not so certain that the cream can be poured out of the coffee once it is stirred, so to speak.

You should read John R. Searle's review of "Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist" by Christof Koch for the New York Review of Books, "Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness". In particluar, regarding information:

Information is one of the most confused notions in contemporary intellectual life. First of all, there is a distinction between information in the ordinary sense in which it always has a content — that is, typically, that such and such is the case or that such and such an action is to be performed. That kind of information is different from information in the sense of the mathematical “theory of information,” originally invented by Claude Shannon of Bell Labs. The mathematical theory of information is not about content, but how content is encoded and transmitted. Information according to the mathematical theory of information is a matter of bits of data where data are construed as symbols. In more traditional terms, the commonsense conception of information is semantical, but the mathematical theory of information is syntactical. The syntax encodes the semantics. This is in a broad sense of “syntax” which would include, for example, electrical charges.

...he continues:

The question then arises: What about information itself? Is its existence observer-independent or observer-relative? There are different sorts of information, or if you like, different senses of “information.” In one sense, I have information that George Washington was the first president of the United States. The existence of that information is observer-independent I have that information regardless of what anybody thinks. It is a mental state of mine, which while it is normally unconscious can readily become conscious. Any standard textbook on American history will contain the same information. What the textbook contains, however, is observer-relative. It is only relative to interpreters that the marks on the page encode that information. With the exception of our mental thoughts — conscious or potentially conscious — all information is observer-relative. And in fact, except for giving examples of actual conscious states, all of the examples that Tononi and Koch give of information systems — computers, smart phones, digital cameras, and the Web, for example — are observer-relative.

We cannot explain consciousness by referring to observer-relative information because observer-relative information presupposes consciousness already. What about the mathematical theory of information? Will that come to the rescue? Once again, it seems to me that all such cases of “information” are observer-relative. The reason for the ubiquitousness of information in the world is not that information is a pervasive force like gravity, but that information is in the eye of the beholder, and beholders can attach information to anything they want, provided that it meets certain causal conditions. Remember, observer relativity does not imply arbitrariness, it does not imply epistemic subjectivity.


"Now the laws of science says information [...] cannot be destroyed.":

There is no law of science that says that. In fact the 2nd law of thermodynamics says the opposite.

Moreover there are everyday examples of information being destroyed: Take a hard drive and smash it with a hammer - voilà! all the information on the hard drive is gone for good. Or in your note example: It might be theoretically possible to reconstruct the note if it is shredded, but if you burn it to ashes instead, then all information on it is gone. Again this is the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

"In living organisms with a brain, consciousness arises from the way neurons are interconnected with each other, hence, an arrangement.":

Nobody knows yet how consciousness arises, all though there have been many proposals. Some have argued that we are so far from understanding consciousness that they have dubbed it the hard problem of consciousness.

If you are interested in examining the idea of consciousness as an arrangement or as a configuration, you might want to look up hylomorphism, property dualism, and the mind-body problem in general.

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    "Take a hard drive and smash it with a hammer - voilà! all the information on the hard drive is gone for good." Bad argument, very bad argument. Science's definition of information is very different from a average guy's understanding. google how Leonard Susskind beat stephen hawkins on blackhole information paradox. We are talking on a different level here.
    – Allahjane
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 22:36
  • The second law of thermodynamics does not say that information (physical information) is destroyed at all. If that were true then the information contained in a system, let's say a bathtub, at point t0 would be destroyed at time t1 but by every physical law we have if we know the entire description of the system at t1 we can work backwards and find the description (the information contained inside) of the system at t0. And of course as op said, you are conflating general information with physical information in the first place.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 23:53
  • @Not_Here "at point t0 would be destroyed at time t1 but by every physical law we have if we know the entire description of the system at t1 we can work backwards and find the description (the information contained inside) of the system at t0." -- but that is the whole point of the 2nd law: At the macroscopic level, physical processes are irreversible - you can't unscramble an egg or unbake a cake. Throw in quantum indeterminism and wave function collapse and that adds an level of phenomena where processes are irreversible. Not all processes are unitary. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 0:03
  • In theory you can unscramble an egg and unbake a cake, you're conflating what is practically possible and what is theoretically possible. The theory is what matters in this case. I seriously urge you to look up a lecture on statistical mechanics. I provided susskind's theoretical minimum lecture in my answer, he even covers the burning paper example and why information is not lost.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 0:08
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    @Conifold I am completely mystified by the discussion in the physics SE: The two most upvoted answers both seem to take reversibility and determinism as givens, which is...uh weird. Wouldn't we have perpetual motions machines, lossless transportation of energy, all sorts of fun stuff? I don't get how this meshes with the 2nd law? I am a EE and AI person by training - and I wouldn't dare challenge real physicists, but something is amiss. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 5:12

I must state that I am not an intellectual in the sense of being a scholar with a lot of facts, but please do not disregard any of my theoretical thoughts as being completely unfounded because I do think of abstract things in a relatively scientific way.

Also I would like to add, when you get into theory it can cover a lot of ground. Science of my understanding is fickle in the sense there are things which have been proven but science can only hold its integrity with its innovators keeping an open mind and acknowledging that anything is possible, which then also includes that it is possible that everything we now know and have proven is wrong. But I won't go there.

Besides the fact that I think this is a question for neuroscience before anything else, I think the argument/discussion began above pretty much encompasses the reality of the question: we don't know because with knowledge we have now, we are unable to retrieve some of what has previously been, but in theory it is possible to retrieve anything.

The question that arose in my mind relates to a similar question I have had regarding consciousness, subconscious, and all that we experience due to those. And it also requires an extensive knowledge of the brain and neuroscience, which again we do not PRESENTLY know all that much about.

Can we trace the physical occurrence that creates dreams, complex thought, the aftermath of feelings (the reaction the initial feeling causes for the rest of the brain), and extra perception such as intuition, instinct and dare I say thinks such as chakras (if they are scientifically sound)? What type of energy are these and what are their properties?

Information can also be interpreted as being only present due to consciousness. The only reason it is information is because we can process it as such. Through science we can confirm information that has been available before we existed or acknowledged it, and there is information which is still available which we have not. I think in the scientific sense this is true because it is information that has become concrete.

To further connect this with the previous paragraph, it is obvious to us because we are the ones with the brains and conscious thought that dreams, etc, are real. Hallucinations on some level are real, because they are really experienced. Then there are dreams. Then there is abstract thought that you are thinking and feeling but can't quite explain what is going on. Then, there is intuition, and broadening into the possibilities of other extra sensory applications.

To further try and explain where I am coming from, because by this point people may be assuming I am talking about clairvoyance or that stuff, I am talking more about how animals other than ourselves process information and live their daily lives. And obviously there are different levels of this.

I think the study of neuroscience in animals brains combined with ethology and behaviorism can open many doors in the halls of understanding these types of questions and all those related to it, including those of other types of physics as discussed on this thread.

For anyone still reading, I thank you for indulging in my narcissism with me.

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    Do not take it personally, but on this site we are not interested in the users' theoretical thoughts, or any other. The answers are expected to reflect the existing philosophical literature and provide references to it, not express personal thoughts.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 8:22

The idea that information is fundamental, is the single substance of property dualism is a proposal, which is not universally accepted https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_physics#Wheeler's_"it_from_bit"

As I understand it, conservation of information as an absolute only holds for the Many Worlds interpretation, which may be unfalsifiable. It has been key to stating and resolving the blackhole information paradox, in the idea of a holographic universe, but this is not uncontentious.

Conservation of information seems to have a rather sketchy history as an idea http://www.eoht.info/m/page/Conservation+of+information Note that the initial definition of information put it directly in terms of entropy, making it only a restatement of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

There are however moves to put consevation of information on a more solid foundation https://arxiv.org/abs/1411.2723 as part of a wider program to reformulate QM https://plus.maths.org/content/purifying-physics-quest-explain-why-quantum-exists

Conservation of information is really a statement of causality. It says we have one past, rather than many - the information to distinguish pasts, in principle, is there. But consider reconstructing a living tree from the ashes of a bonfire. You would need information that spread out as sound, light, chemistry, thermal vibrations, etc. You could prove the tree existed, but not reconstruct it without near god like powers. And even then, thermodynamic considerations would severely restrict how much reconstruction could be done, with the universes limited entropy. Though I admit that could suggest why even a deity can't preserve everyone after the 'end of days'/in the 'new heaven and a new Earth'..


Yes and no, What i mean by this is that a lot of the philosophers and epistemologists would argue that the only way to get information is through empirical data.

Example: I know that if i put my hands on a hot stove it hurts because I've done that before

And thus they would argue that all knowledge such as conciseness is derived from epistemology.

If that is the case, then that would mean that because it is derived from empirics, it is therefore information/the truth

How ever there are people who would argue that information can be brought from apriori reasoning which is knowledge that is derived from theoretical information.

IE when I do a math problem, I might deduce the answer through logic

IE or : I know that if i drop an apple from the roof it will splatter on the ground even without having ever done that

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    You're conflating general information with physical information as defined by statistical physics. What the OP is talking about is physical information.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 4:41

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