The Information Theory of Life | Quanta Magazine

Bookmarked The Information Theory of Life (Quanta Magazine)
The Information Theory of Life: The polymath Christoph Adami is investigating life’s origins by reimagining living things as self-perpetuating information strings.

Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies

I just ordered a copy of Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo. Although it seems more focused on economics, the base theory seems to fit right into some similar thoughts I’ve long held about biology.

Why Information Grows: The Evolutiion of Order from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo
Why Information Grows: The Evolutiion of Order from Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo


From the book description:

“What is economic growth? And why, historically, has it occurred in only a few places? Previous efforts to answer these questions have focused on institutions, geography, finances, and psychology. But according to MIT’s antidisciplinarian César Hidalgo, understanding the nature of economic growth demands transcending the social sciences and including the natural sciences of information, networks, and complexity. To understand the growth of economies, Hidalgo argues, we first need to understand the growth of order.

At first glance, the universe seems hostile to order. Thermodynamics dictates that over time, order–or information–will disappear. Whispers vanish in the wind just like the beauty of swirling cigarette smoke collapses into disorderly clouds. But thermodynamics also has loopholes that promote the growth of information in pockets. Our cities are pockets where information grows, but they are not all the same. For every Silicon Valley, Tokyo, and Paris, there are dozens of places with economies that accomplish little more than pulling rocks off the ground. So, why does the US economy outstrip Brazil’s, and Brazil’s that of Chad? Why did the technology corridor along Boston’s Route 128 languish while Silicon Valley blossomed? In each case, the key is how people, firms, and the networks they form make use of information.

Seen from Hidalgo’s vantage, economies become distributed computers, made of networks of people, and the problem of economic development becomes the problem of making these computers more powerful. By uncovering the mechanisms that enable the growth of information in nature and society, Why Information Grows lays bear the origins of physical order and economic growth. Situated at the nexus of information theory, physics, sociology, and economics, this book propounds a new theory of how economies can do, not just more, but more interesting things.”

8th Annual North American School of Information Theory (NASIT)

Bookmarked 8th Annual North American School of Information Theory (NASIT) (
August 10-13, 2015 – UC San Diego, La Jolla, California
Application deadline: June 7, 2015

The School of Information Theory will bring together over 100 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and leading researchers for four action-packed days of learning, stimulating discussions, professional networking and fun activities, all on the beautiful campus of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and in the nearby beach town of La Jolla.

  • Tutorials by some of the best known researchers in information theory and related fields
  • Poster presentations by student participants with feedback and discussion
  • Panel discussion on “IT: Academia vs. Industry Perspectives”
  • Social events and fun activities

The Information Universe Conference

Yesterday, via a notification from Lanyard, I came across a notice for the upcoming conference “The Information Universe” which hits several of the sweet spots for areas involving information theory, physics, the origin of life, complexity, computer science, and microbiology. It is scheduled to occur from October 7-9, 2015 at the Infoversum Theater in Groningen, The Netherlands.

I’ll let their site speak for itself below, but they already have an interesting line up of speakers including:

Keynote speakers

  • Erik Verlinde, Professor Theoretical Physics, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Alex Szalay, Alumni Centennial Professor of Astronomy, The Johns Hopkins University, USA
  • Gerard ‘t Hooft, Professor Theoretical Physics, University of Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Gregory Chaitin, Professor Mathematics and Computer Science, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
  • Charley Lineweaver, Professor Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Australia
  • Lude Franke, Professor System Genetics, University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands
Infoversum Theater, The Netherlands
Infoversum Theater, The Netherlands

Conference synopsis from their homepage:

The main ambition of this conference is to explore the question “What is the role of information in the physics of our Universe?”. This intellectual pursuit may have a key role in improving our understanding of the Universe at a time when we “build technology to acquire and manage Big Data”, “discover highly organized information systems in nature” and “attempt to solve outstanding issues on the role of information in physics”. The conference intends to address the “in vivo” (role of information in nature) and “in vitro” (theory and models) aspects of the Information Universe.

The discussions about the role of information will include the views and thoughts of several disciplines: astronomy, physics, computer science, mathematics, life sciences, quantum computing, and neuroscience. Different scientific communities hold various and sometimes distinct formulations of the role of information in the Universe indicating we still lack understanding of its intrinsic nature. During this conference we will try to identify the right questions, which may lead us towards an answer.

  • Is the universe one big information processing machine?
  • Is there a deeper layer in quantum mechanics?
  • Is the universe a hologram?
  • Is there a deeper physical description of the world based on information?
  • How close/far are we from solving the black hole information paradox?
  • What is the role of information in highly organized complex life systems?
  • The Big Data Universe and the Universe : are our numerical simulations and Big Data repositories (in vitro) different from real natural system (in vivo)?
  • Is this the road to understanding dark matter, dark energy?

The conference will be held in the new 260 seats planetarium theatre in Groningen, which provides an inspiring immersive 3D full dome display, e.g. numerical simulations of the formation of our Universe, and anything else our presenters wish to bring in. The digital planetarium setting will be used to visualize the theme with modern media.

The Information Universe Website

Additional details about the conference including the participants, program, venue, and registration can also be found at their website.

Videos from the NIMBioS Workshop on Information and Entropy in Biological Systems

Videos from the April 8-10, 2015, NIMBioS workshop on Information and Entropy in Biological Systems are slowly starting to appear on YouTube.

John Baez, one of the organizers of the workshop, is also going through them and adding some interesting background and links on his Azimuth blog as well for those who are looking for additional details and depth

Additonal resources from the Workshop:

Popular Science Books on Information Theory, Biology, and Complexity

Previously, I had made a large and somewhat random list of books which lie in the intersection of the application of information theory, physics, and engineering practice to the area of biology.  Below I’ll begin to do a somewhat better job of providing a finer gradation of technical level for both the hobbyist or the aspiring student who wishes to bring themselves to a higher level of understanding of these areas.  In future posts, I’ll try to begin classifying other texts into graduated strata as well.  The final list will be maintained here: Books at the Intersection of Information Theory and Biology.

Introductory / General Readership / Popular Science Books

These books are written on a generally non-technical level and give a broad overview of their topics with occasional forays into interesting or intriguing subtopics. They include little, if any, mathematical equations or conceptualization. Typically, any high school student should be able to read, follow, and understand the broad concepts behind these books.  Though often non-technical, these texts can give some useful insight into the topics at hand, even for the most advanced researchers.

Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell (review)

Possibly one of the best places to start, this text gives a great overview of most of the major areas of study related to these fields.

Entropy Demystified: The Second Law Reduced to Plain Common Sense by Arieh Ben-Naim

One of the best books on the concept of entropy out there.  It can be read even by middle school students with no exposure to algebra and does a fantastic job of laying out the conceptualization of how entropy underlies large areas of the broader subject. Even those with Ph.D.’s in statistical thermodynamics can gain something useful from this lovely volume.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (review)

A relatively recent popular science volume covering various conceptualizations of what information is and how it’s been dealt with in science and engineering.  Though it has its flaws, its certainly a good introduction to the beginner, particularly with regard to history.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

One of the most influential pieces of writing known to man, this classical text is the basis from which major strides in biology have been made as a result. A must read for everyone on the planet.

Information, Entropy, Life and the Universe: What We Know and What We Do Not Know by Arieh Ben-Naim

Information Theory and Evolution by John Avery

The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life by Werner R. Loewenstein (review)

Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life by Hubert P. Yockey

The four books above have a significant amount of overlap. Though one could read all of them, I recommend that those pressed for time choose Ben-Naim first. As I write this I’ll note that Ben-Naim’s book is scheduled for release on May 30, 2015, but he’s been kind enough to allow me to read an advance copy while it was in process; it gets my highest recommendation in its class. Loewenstein covers a bit more than Avery who also has a more basic presentation. Most who continue with the subject will later come across Yockey’s Information Theory and Molecular Biology which is similar to his text here but written at a slightly higher level of sophistication. Those who finish at this level of sophistication might want to try Yockey third instead.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life  by Jeremy Campbell

Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos by Peter M. Hoffmann

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, May 10, 2016) 

In the coming weeks/months, I’ll try to continue putting recommended books on the remainder of the rest of the spectrum, the balance of which follows in outline form below. As always, I welcome suggestions and recommendations based on others’ experiences as well. If you’d like to suggest additional resources in any of the sections below, please do so via our suggestion box. For those interested in additional resources, please take a look at the ITBio Resources page which includes information about related research groups; references and journal articles; academic, research institutes, societies, groups, and organizations; and conferences, workshops, and symposia.

Lower Level Undergraduate

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most with a freshmen or sophomore university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering will usually presume knowledge of calculus, basic probability theory, introductory physics, chemistry, and basic biology.

Upper Level Undergraduate

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by those at a junior or senor university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering may presume knowledge of probability theory, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, abstract algebra, signal processing, organic chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, thermodynamics, advanced physics, and basic information theory.

Graduate Level

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most working at the level of a master’s level at most universities.  Coursework presumes all the previously mentioned classes, though may require a higher level of sub-specialization in one or more areas of mathematics, physics, biology, or engineering practice.  Because of the depth and breadth of disciplines covered here, many may feel the need to delve into areas outside of their particular specialization.

String Theory, Black Holes, and Information

Four decades ago, Stephen Hawking posed the black hole information paradox about black holes and quantum theory. It still challenges the imaginations of theoretical physicists today. Yesterday, Amanda Peet (University of Toronto) presented the a lecture entitled “String Theory Legos for Black Holes” yesterday at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. A quick overview/teaser trailer for the lecture follows along with some additional information and the video of the lecture itself.

The “Information Paradox” with Amanda Peet (teaser trailer)

“Black holes are the ‘thought experiment’ par excellence, where the big three of physics – quantum mechanics, general relativity and thermodynamics – meet and fight it out, dragging in brash newcomers such as information theory and strings for support. Though a unification of gravity and quantum field theory still evades string theorists, many of the mathematical tools and ideas they have developed find applications elsewhere.

One of the most promising approaches to resolving the “information paradox” (the notion that nothing, not even information itself, survives beyond a black hole’s point-of-no-return event horizon) is string theory, a part of modern physics that has wiggled its way into the popular consciousness.

On May 6, 2015, Dr. Amanda Peet, a physicist at the University of Toronto, will describe how the string toolbox allows study of the extreme physics of black holes in new and fruitful ways. Dr. Peet will unpack that toolbox to reveal the versatility of strings and (mem)branes, and will explore the intriguing notion that the world may be a hologram.

Amanda Peet Amanda Peet is an Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Toronto. She grew up in the South Pacific island nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and earned a B.Sc.(Hons) from the University of Canterbury in NZ and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in the USA. Her awards include a Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. She was one of the string theorists interviewed in the three-part NOVA PBS TV documentary “Elegant Universe”.

Web site:

Dr. Amanda Peet’s Lecture “String Theory Legos for Black Holes”

NIMBioS Workshop: Information Theory and Entropy in Biological Systems

Over the next few days, I’ll be maintaining a Storify story covering information related to and coming out of the Information Theory and Entropy Workshop being sponsored by NIMBios at the Unviersity of Tennessee, Knoxville.

For those in attendance or participating by watching the live streaming video (or even watching the video after-the-fact), please feel free to use the official hashtag #entropyWS, and I’ll do my best to include your tweets, posts, and material into the story stream for future reference.

For journal articles and papers mentioned in/at the workshop, I encourage everyone to join the group ITBio: Information Theory, Microbiology, Evolution, and Complexity and add them to the group’s list of papers. Think of it as a collaborative online journal club of sorts.

Those participating in the workshop are also encouraged to take a look at a growing collection of researchers and materials I maintain here. If you have materials or resources you’d like to contribute to the list, please send me an email or include them via the suggestions/submission form or include them in the comments section below.

Resources for Information Theory and Biology

RSS Icon  #ITBio" href="" target="_blank">RSS Feed for BoffoSocko posts tagged with


BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory | Storify Stream

Over the span of the coming week, I’ll be updating (and archiving) the stream of information coming out of the BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory.

Editor’s note: On 12/12/17 Storify announced they would be shutting down. As a result, I’m changing the embedded version of the original data served by Storify for an HTML copy which can be found below:

BIRS: Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory

A 5 Day workshop on Biology and Information Theory hosted by the Banff International Research Station

  1. Wishing I was at the Gene Regulation and Information Theory meeting starting tomorrow  #ITBio
  2. Mathematical and Statistical Models for Genetic Coding starts today.  @andreweckford might borrow attendees for BIRS
  3. Mathematical Foundations for Information Theory in Diffusion-Based Molecular Communications  #ITBio
  4. Bill Bialek giving plenary talk “Information flow & order in real biological networks” at Feb 2014 workshop  #ITBio
  5. #ITBio"/>

    CECAM Workshop: “Entropy in Biomolecular Systems” starts May 14 in Vienna.  #ITBio
  6. Last RT: wonder what the weather is going to be like at the end of October for my @BIRS_Math workshop
  7. @JoVanEvery I’m organizing a workshop in Banff in October … hopefully this isn’t a sign of weather to come!
  8. Banff takes its name from the town of Banff, Scotland, not to be confused with Bamff, also Scotland.
  9. Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains?

    Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains?
  10. “Not an obvious connection between utility and information, just as there is no obvious connection between energy and entropy” @BIRS_Math
  11. Last RT: a lot of discussion of my signal transduction work with Peter Thomas.
  12. Live now: Nicolo Michelusi of @USCViterbi on Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables  #ITBio
  13. Nicolo Michelusi (University of Southern California), A Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables 
  14. Listening to the always awesome @cnmirose talk about the ultimate limits of molecular communication.
  15. “Timing is fundamental … subsumes time-varying concentration channel” @cnmirose @BIRS_Math
  16. Standard opening quote of these talks: “I’m not a biologist, but …” @BIRS_Math
  17. Stefan Moser (ETH Zurich), Capacity Bounds of the Memoryless AIGN Channel – a Toy-Model for Molecular Communicat… 
  18. Weisi Guo (University of Warwick), Communication Envelopes for Molecular Diffusion and Electromagnetic Wave Propag… 
  19. .@ChrisAldrich @andreweckford @Storify @BIRS_Math Sounds like a fascinating workshop on bioinformation theory in Banff.
  20. Toby Berger, winner of the 2002 Shannon award, speaking right now. @BIRS_Math
  21. Naftali Tishby (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Sensing and acting under information constraints – a principled a… 
  22. “…places such as BIRS and the Banff Centre exist to facilitate the exchange and pursuit of knowledge.” S. Sundaram 
  23. We’re going for a hike tomorrow. Many thanks to Lukas at the @ParksCanada info centre in Banff for helpful advice! @BIRS_Math
  24. Alexander Dimitrov (Washington State University), Invariant signal processing in auditory biological systems 
  25. Joel Zylberberg (University of Washington), Communicating with noisy signals: lessons learned from the mammalian v… 
  26. Robert Schober (Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg), Intersymbol interference mitigation in diffusive molecular communi… 
  27. Rudolf Rabenstein (Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU)), Modelling Molecular Communication Cha… 
  28. THis week @BIRS_Math ” Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory ” @thebanffcentre #biology #math @NSF
  29. “Your theory might match the data, but the data might be wrong” – Crick @BIRS_Math
  30. So information theory seems to be a big deal in ecology. @BIRS_Math
  31. Tom Schneider (National Institutes of Health), Three Principles of Biological States: Ecology and Cancer 
  32. “In biodiversity, the entropy of an ecosystem is the expected … information we gain about an organism by learning its species” @BIRS_Math
  33. Seriously, I’m blown away by this work in information theory in ecology. Huge body of work; I had no idea. @BIRS_Math
  34. I encourage @BIRS_Math attendees at Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory to contribute references here: 
  35. Christoph Adami (Michigan State University), Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin and Evolutio… 
  36. #ITBio"/>

    .@ChristophAdami talk Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin of Life @BIRS_Math this morning #ITBio
  37. ICYMI @ChristophAdami had great paper: Information-theoretic Considerations on Origin of Life on arXiv  @BIRS_Math
  38. Baez has a post on Tishby's talk "Sensing &  Acting Under Information Constraints" @BIRS_Math

    Baez has a post on Tishby’s talk “Sensing & Acting Under Information Constraints”  @BIRS_Math
  39. INFORMATION THEORY is the new central ...

    INFORMATION THEORY is the new central …
  40. I’m listening to a talk on the origin of life at a workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory. … 
  41. Now accepting applications for the #Research Collaboration Workshop for Women in #MathBio at NIMBioS 
  42. We removed a faulty microphone from our lecture room this morning. We’re now fixing the audio buzz in this week’s videos, and reposting.
  43. Didn’t get enough information theory & biology this week @BIRS_Math? Apply for NIMBioS workshop in April 2015  #ITBio
  44. Amin Emad (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Applications of Discrete Mathematics in Bioinformatics 
  45. Paul Bogdan (University of Southern California), Multiscale Analysis Reveals Complex Behavior in Bacteria Populati… 
  46. Lubomir Kostal (Institute of Physiology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic), Efficient information transmi… 
  47. Banff ☀️❄️🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲❤️
  48. @conservativelez I’m a big fan of your dad’s research & was reminded of much of it via a workshop on Biological Information Theory
  49. @conservativelez Though he may not have been able to attend, he can catch most of the talks online if he’d like 
  50. Depressed that @BIRS_Math Workshop on Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory is over? Relive it here:  #ITBio
  51. A few thoughts about that workshop while I wait for my flight back to Toronto.
  52. 1/ Everyone I talked to said it was the best workshop they’d ever been to, and they’d like to do a follow-up workshop @BIRS_Math
  53. 2/ There is an amazing diversity of work under the umbrella of “information theory”. @BIRS_Math
  54. 3/ Much of this work is outside the IT mainstream, and an issue is that people use different terms for related concepts. @BIRS_Math
  55. 4/ Some community building is in order. I think this workshop was a good first step. @BIRS_Math
  56. 5/ Many many thanks to @BIRS_Math and huge kudos to @NGhoussoub for excellent service to the Canadian scientific community. BIRS is a gem.
  57. 6/ Also many thanks to the participants for their excellent talks, and to @ChrisAldrich for maintaining a Storify.