I read that the Inuit consider the caribou and the wolf to be complimentary parts of an inclusive, larger entity. I am curious whether it is useful to view the relationship between energy and information in similar fashion. They are both conserved properties andenter image description here as far as I can see, one does not manifest without the other. This would mean acknowledging information as an active agency of constraint and counterpoise to energy. Would appreciate knowing the thinking on this.

  • I answered a similar question before: philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/69793/9274
    – kutschkem
    May 12, 2022 at 15:28
  • Thank you. Any thoughts about the ontological notion of information as active agency.
    – Don Foster
    May 12, 2022 at 15:44
  • Also 'Is the idea that "Everything is energy" even coherent?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/85899/… They can be seen as property-dualist aspects of one fundamental substance.
    – CriglCragl
    May 13, 2022 at 5:53
  • I beleive that energy is the propagation of an action (of something that happened/changed) and information is the interperation of the perceived propagation. Hope that helps! May 13, 2022 at 9:42
  • 1
    Danke for the question. Perhaps we should all throw our hard drives into the fire and ... find out! Jun 7, 2023 at 13:27

3 Answers 3


The starting point for this question is that in physics, conservation of energy is a highly powerful working assumption. And also, many physics problems can be translated into information terms, where information is treated similarly to entropy, and conservation of information can be a useful assumption. Example: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/information-in-the-holographic-univ/

The idea that energy and information are coupled due to their both being conserved, has more justification in physics than most physicists would give it credit for. To understand why, one must understand how both are "conserved".

In physics, conservation is the result of a symmetry. This is called Noether's Theorem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noether%27s_theorem. Energy conservation is the result of time invariance. When an event can be run either way (time invariance) energy is conserved.

Information conservation is NOT a physics principle, it is a logic one. But it is based on the same criteria. See the top answer here: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/41765/is-there-a-symmetry-associated-to-the-conservation-of-information If an event can be run either way, IE the prior state can extracted from the current one, and the future state can be predicted from the present, then an event will have information conservation.

These are very similar criteria, which is why you sense these may be coupled conservation principles.

However, the criteria for NON conservation are different. Note all physics conservation laws are actually only regularities, as the symmetries they are based on are gauge symmetries, which spontaneously break: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.93.25.14256. The best known situation where conservation of energy is broken is early in the big bang, when the slope of the G field makes time not symmetric. But one need not be in exotic G fields for time to break symmetry. It does so in Time Crystals as well https://www.technologyreview.com/2016/10/04/157185/physicists-create-worlds-first-time-crystal/ An unrelated violation of conservation of energy was behind Hoyle's proposed Steady State Cosmology, which assumed the creation of new protons at a low rate in empty space.

The exceptions to information conservation occur under slightly different conditions -- basically when one cannot predict the future or reconstruct the past. The most well known example of not being able to reconstruct the past is with black holes, where the prior state information is lost, as one cannot back calculate the states prior to matter falling into a black hole. the next most noteworthy is quantum events, where the resulting state is not predictable, but instead is probabilistic. New information is created for physics systems which behave non-deterministically, and every quantum probability event creates new information. Note Everett does not address this issue -- one cannot know the measurement one will detect on a quantum sensor beforehand, which means one cannot project future events -- and information is created by those events. Note that energy is conserved for both black holes, and quantum events, so it is NOT the same time non-symmetries that lead to breaking these two conservation principles.

A further comment on information conservation. Recent trends in philosophic thought are a source of tension with it. Emergence as an unpredictable phenomenon is often asserted as part of non-reductive physicalism. As is the inability to reduce phenomena to their substrate, per multiple realizability. Both multiple realizability, and emergence, appear to contradict the predictive/reconstructive symmetry needed for information conservation.

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    Information conservation is NOT a physics principle, it is a logic one When physicists talk about "conservation of information" in the context of things like the black hole information paradox, they are referring to the von Neumann entropy which is conserved in quantum physics, see the comments from physicist Juan Maldacena on the first page of this article.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 12, 2022 at 15:19

Let's observe a physical object (matter or energy). The information it contains is a description of that object, a complete collection of its properties. As matter is just another form of energy, we can say that information is a property of energy.

The relation between information and energy is somewhat analogous to the relation between epistemology (what is known) and ontology (what is).

  • Matter is just another form of energy? What are some other forms of energy?
    – J D
    Jun 7, 2023 at 17:02
  • @JD Kinetic, electric, thermal, chemical, atomic, to only mention a few. Jun 8, 2023 at 2:26
  • So, thermal energy, electric energy, mass energy are all types of energy? Mass is energy because mass can turn into energy? Isn't that metaphysically like saying solid is gaseous because a solid can turn into gas?
    – J D
    Jun 8, 2023 at 15:19

Short Answer

As all things philosophical, metaphysical presuppositions matter, but I think from a perspective influenced by the Kantian notions of forms of concepts the answer would be no, it would be a category mistake.

Long Answer

The relationship between the predator and prey is well understood scientifically among ecologists. The Inuit recognition of the inter-relation of those two organisms in an environment, of course, presages the Western philosophical tendency to analyze, reduce, and see distinction coming full-circle back to systems theory. But there's a fundamental distinction between the two relations you examine.

On the one hand, wolf and caribou are both physical biological organisms which exemplify both ecological and evolutionary theory. But the relationship between energy and information is a little different. Energy is not a directly observable phenomenon like wolves, springs, or light. From WP:

In physics, energy is the quantitative property that is transferred to a body or to a physical system, recognizable in the performance of work and in the form of heat and light.

In fact, energy is a property, not an entity, and it only exists insofar as it explains changes in physical systems. But both the explanandum and explanans are linguistic constructions. For instance, if you carry a stone up a hill, and place it at the top, the stone can be seen, the hill can be seen, and upon letting the spherical stone roll down the hill, the motion can be seen. All of these entities and properties can observed directly, but energy cannot not. Why is that? Because energy is a linguistic construct. One can feel heat, but thermal energy as conceived is a measurement, and energy as a class (thermal, gravitational, kinetic, chemical, etc.) is an abstraction and linguistic artifact. Thus, in the same way a color is a property of an entity, but does not inhere to the entity (let's say color is a qualia and is constructed by the conscious mind), so too 'energy' is a linguistic construction which serves an explanatory purpose of the conscious mind. 'Energy' explains why physical things change, and a word crafted to satisfy an explanation is not a physical thing so much as an experience.

Am I saying energy is not real? I'm going to dodge the ontological chaos that results over such tussles by saying that energy while it can be understood as noumenon that most people's use of 'energy' is a mere definition. It is an important to observe the use-mention distinction. Anyway, in this regard, 'energy' is a word, and word is a type of information. So, the relationship between 'energy' and information is clearly different than that between the wolf-caribou complex:

  1. Energy-information is not a physical dynamic (two organisms struggling for survival), but a mental static relationship (technically, there's hypo/hypernymy at play). Instead of having evolutionary overtones related to thermodynamics and entropy, it has a simple IS-TYPE-OF relationship of linguistic construction.
  2. The ecological pair is subject to the philosophy of biology where as the energy-information distinction is the philosophy of physics.
  3. The biological pair is largely supportive of scientific realism, the abstractions (information is also an abstraction over particulars) seems to be more at home in an instrumentalist view of the universe.


So, it's certainly a good activity to analyze the conceptual relationship of wolf-caribou and compare it to the conceptual relationship inherent in energy-information; that's exactly what philosophy does. But, to see the two relations, given the discrepancies between physical-mental properties, biological process and linguistic structures involved, I would argue that the relations themselves, at least from a mereological perspective, are a metaphysically necessary distinction.

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    I guess to me, 'wolf' is every bit as made-up and arbitrary as 'energy' or colors. If your lips are moving, it's just a concept. If you can stub your toe on it, it's real. But energy can burn your foot, and lack of information can cause you to fall off a cliff.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 13, 2022 at 1:29
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    @ScottRowe The color blue is somewhat arbitrary; in fact, the ancient Greeks did not have a word for it. But they did get eaten by wolves on occasion, and so would you if you pretended a hungry wolf was made-up as a pack came for their dinner in the form of you. Moving lips is a physical phenomenon, but 'moving lips' is a concept. And energy doesn't burn your foot. Oxidation-reduction of particles does of which energy just describes the process.
    – J D
    May 13, 2022 at 3:12
  • I always make a pitch for Nonduality, but people are interested in the ten thousand things.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 13, 2022 at 15:58
  • @ScottRowe In-Yo is 0appealing. :D
    – J D
    May 13, 2022 at 16:13

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