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Information Theory and Evolution [Paperback]

By John Avery (Author)
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Item description for Information Theory and Evolution by John Avery...

This highly interdisciplinary book discusses the phenomenon of life, including its origin and evolution (and also human cultural evolution), against the background of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Among the central themes is the seeming contradiction between the second law of thermodynamics and the high degree of order and complexity produced by living systems. This paradox has its resolution in the information content of the Gibbs free energy that enters the biosphere from outside sources, as the author shows. The role of information in human cultural evolution is another focus of the book. One of the final chapters discusses the merging of information technology and biotechnology into a new discipline --- bio-information technology.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: World Scientific Publishing Company
Pages   217
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.1" Width: 6.3" Height: 0.4"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Publisher   World Scientific Publishing Company
ISBN  9812384006  
ISBN13  9789812384003  

Availability  0 units.

More About John Avery

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! John Avery is a trained teacher with over thirty years experience as a Bible teaching pastor, small group leader, and missionary. He has lived in Israel, Africa, and the Caribbean. He writes a regular Bible devotional for

John Avery currently resides in Copenhagen. John Avery was born in 1933 and has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

John Avery has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Morgan James Faith

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1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks
2Books > Subjects > Business & Investing > Industries & Professions > Computer Industry
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5Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Engineering > Bioengineering > Biotechnology
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9Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Evolution > General
10Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Evolution
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12Books > Subjects > Science > Biological Sciences > Biology > General
13Books > Subjects > Science > Biological Sciences > Biotechnology
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15Books > Subjects > Science > Evolution
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Reviews - What do customers think about Information Theory and Evolution?

Interesting read, may have technical flaws  Jun 23, 2006
This book discusses the phenomenon of life in terms of information
theory, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics. The author has chapters
devoted to evolution, statistical mechanics and information, molecular biology,
information technology, and speculation about the future.

Avery makes several key points in his book. The first is that living
organisms, as highly ordered systems whose configurations could hardly have
arisen by chance, are constantly fighting the Second Law of Thermodynamics,
and get their thermodynamic information from the environment. To explain
this, Avery ties together the fields of information theory, developed by
Shannon, and statical mechanics and thermodynamics, developed by
Gibbs, Boltzmann, Maxwell, and others. While I am not sure whether his
logic is correct (according to reviewers on this, this is debatable),
I do wish he showed the derivations in more detail, rather than just
stating things.

Avery observes that when humans developed complex language and culture, it
demarcates a new phase in the evolution of life on Earth. Previously,
information as passed down from one generation to the next in the genetic
code. Humans, however, can use language to do as well. Since human
language can transmit a far greater amount and range of information than
DNA, human cultural evolution is the current great chapter in evolution,
especially after the invention of writing and electronic computers. For
example, he notes that the scientific revolution in the West was possible
only after the inventions of paper and printing reached Europe.

This observation comes with a warning, however. Genetically, we are almost
identical with our Stone Age ancestors. Avery says, ``Because of the slowness
of genetic evolution in comparison to the rapid and constantly-accelerating
rate of cultural change, our bodies and minds are not perfectly adapted to
our new way of life. They reflect more accurately the way of life of our
hunter-gatherer ancestors.'' More specifically, Avery believes that a
predilection towards ``tribalism'' and war is a negative characteristic that
we inherited. Given our technology, the devastating potential of war today
is far worse than ever. Thus, we in order for humans and life on Earth to
survive in the long term, Avery states that we must strive to eliminate war.
He says:

``... this does not mean that the elimination of the institution of war is
impossible, but it means that the task will require the full resources and
full cooperation of the world's educational systems, religions, and mass
media. It will be necessary to educate children throughout the world in
such a way that they will think of humanity as a single group -- a large
family to which all humans belong, and to which they own their ultimate

Finally, There is some discussion on the definition of life. What if we
move beyond carbon-based organisms? Do computers count? Avery advances an
interesting theme of life: Living beings are able to convert the
thermodynamic information contained in food or in sunlight into complex
and statistically unlikely configurations of matter.

What makes this book enjoyable is that he includes both the history of science
as well as mathematical derivations. Most history books leave out mathematical
rigor out of fear of turning off lay audiences, and most textbooks skip the
history because it's seen as ``unimportant'' to teaching the concept at hand.
I disagree: I believe that both are necessary to appreciate the development of
science. Too often, modern students see science as a set a ideas handed down
from above, and lose sight of the fact that science is an ongoing human
endeavor to understand the universe that is continually being updated. By
giving the reader a glimpse into the stories of Condorcet, Darwin, Mendel,
Gibbs, Shannon, and others, we see how each generation of thinkers built on
the work of previous ones.
A Nobel Prize Winning physicist does us all justice!  Dec 1, 2005
Clearly, as we see by the last two reviewer's comments, a lack of education leads to confusion. Not that the "thermodynamics of life" isn't a confusing subject, but rather there exists no full textbook on the subject. For those interested, last week, I wrote up a quick review of thermodynamic evolution:

Quickly, let me point out a few things about the last reviewer's comments:

(1) Avery's book is a magnificent piece of intellectual crystal.
(2) Avery is a Nobel Prize Winner, and has degrees in BS physics (MIT), MS physics (Univ. of Chicago), PhD theoretical chemistry (Imperial College, London).
(3) Avery clearly makes a connection in this book between Gibbs free energy, being the total amount of energy available to do useful work in a reacting system, and Life. Well done Avery!
(4) Whenever a person does "work" it is owing to the electromagnetic fluxed through the earth system; a portion of this energy goes to "evolutionary" work [G], a portion goes to waste and friction [S].
(5) It is standard protocol when writing to break up your thoughts into paragraphs (note to last reviewer).
(6) Anyone who cites Dembski or Lambert as a source is a clearly missing the point.

Always remember, everything you see around you on earth is made from only three things: nuclei, electrons, and photons. If, at any time, you find someone trying to confuse you with "fancy" talk of information, bits, demons, entropy, etc., remember....its all nuclei-electron-photon interactions, as denied via QED; it's that simple - photon input causes things, i.e. molecular structures, to move or evolve.

Adios: Libb Thims,
BS Chemical Engineering, BS Electrical Engineering, Human Thermodynamicist, Author
PhD Biochemistry - MD Neuroscience (in progress)
Easy reading but misleading  Jan 31, 2005
The book is new but out of date, based on old mythologies about the relationship of information theory to biology. Communication theory is undergoing a revolution but you would not know anything about that from this book which focuses on century old analyses. The author wishes to introduce a new term 'thermodynamical information' which, combined with other terminological contradictions, leads to incorrect inferences and a 'just so story' about how life was inevitable. This may or may not be true but this book has not shed any light on it. The author states 'A flood of information-containing free energy reaches the earth's biosphere in the form of sunlight...much of it is degraded into heat, but part is converted into cybernetic information and preserved in the intricate structures which are characteristic of life.' This view is so simplistic it borders on ridiculous. Many scientists have, in estimating the probability of life purely using probablility theory (which is likely not possible but at least begs the question) estimated only highly improbable (or infinitisimal) numbers arise in light of modern cosmological estimates of the age of the universe and earth. Avery has no concern with cosmology because by equating (Gibbs free) energy with information there is obviously sufficient energy for life on earth from the sun? However why is absolute information relevant? Does not information require a recipient, which in turns begs the question how did it arise? Avery makes a widespread historical error in defining information and entropy as absolutes. This leads to many myths including 'Maxwell's Demon'. In real irreversible processes: 1. We have in thermodynamics an inequality of entropy being greater than heat dissipation, S>[Q/T]; 2. In information theory what Avery refers to (popularly) as 'Shannon entropy' that he equates with information is really 'uncertainty'. 'Shannon' information is the decrease (if any) of uncertainty of a receiver (or 'molecular machine') in going from a before state to an after state; so I = Hbefore - Hafter; where H is the standard entropy-like formula (without Boltzman's K) or -Sum[p.log2.p]. Comparing this with Boltzman's entropy S = -k.Sum[P.ln.P] and using log2(x) = ln(x)/ln(2) one gets and inequality with Clausius's thermodynamical entropy for irreversible systems of: kTln(2) < -Q/I [E.g. see Dr Tom Schneider's website.] Therefore for every bit of information gained, heat is dissipated into the environment. 'Maxwell's demon' is a myth in real irreversible processes. Avery devotes an entire appendix to suggest an equality of entropy with information and suggests Boltzman established the relationship. This is poppycock! All the appendix does is re-derive the usual connection between microconical statistical and macroconical thermodynamical entropy relations, ending with the Clausius equality for reversible systems [and into the Maxwell demon myth!]. As the true relationship between information and entropy is a proportionality (inequality for real systems) Boltzman in no way proved the connection! No one can establish an equality. For instance, if you flip a coin a minimum energy is dissipated but the information gained is 1 bit whether you toss it 1 foot or 10 feet! Also if you toss a coin 1000 times you do not get 1000 bits of information as suggested by W. Dembski in his book 'No Free Lunch' , as would Avery in using the absolute definition; instead Hbefore -Hafter = 0 bits. Information is a state function difference; otherwise it equates with entropy which many then equate with disorder; i.e. a contradiction. It leads to the paradoxical statements of some scientists that a random text has more information than a meaningful one. More poppycock! Further mythologies are perpetrated in Avery's dealing with entropy. As Dr. Frank Lambert says 'Entropy is not disorder, not a measure of chaos, not a driving force. Energy's diffusion or dispersal to more microstates is the driving force in chemistry. Entropy is the measure or index of that dispersal.' Similarly he refers to 'negentropy' '...which an organism...maintains in sucking orderliness from the environment.' This is a contradiction in terms. The absolute value of entropy cannot be negative (see Boltzman's equation for S); instead what should be refered to is a decrease in entropy, i.e. dS. The riddle of life though is not simply solved by referring to the free energy from the sun. As P.W. Atkins said in his excellent book on 'The 2nd Law': 'thermodynamic systems do not tend towards states of lower energy...The Universe falls upward in entropy: that is the only law of spontaneous change. The free energy is, in fact, just a disguised form of the total entropy of the Universe...The Second Law is a global [vs local] denial of the emergence of spontaneous structure.' Therefore Avery has not drawn the link between information and entropy (others have like Shannon; see Schneider; though there does not appear to be an adequate book on the subject yet) and has not explained how life arose anywhere, whether it's by free energy (necessary but not sufficient), 'thermodynamic information' (a contradiction in terms) or 'negentropy' (a further contradiction in terms). The mystery remains both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Note: The Chicago reviewer misses the point that the book is a failed attempt to connect thermodynamics with information theory which is properly explained elsewhere as I have referenced; and not by Dembski who is a creationist and was quoted negatively and not as a 'source'. Information cannot be equated with energy for reasons I gave. The reviewer has suggested that the concept of information should not have even been referred to and I agree that that would have avoided the errors in the book, but it also would have made the title wrong and his thesis irrelevant. We all agree that free energy from the sun drives life; there is nothing new in those ramblings. In addition no one knows exactly how life was created despite all of the 'hand waving' by many authors. The suggestion that life is automatic from free energy is a physics answer and only glosses over the specifics and ignores the ongoing exciting research such as synthetic biology at the Genome Science Centre at the University of British Columbia. Physics is not particulary relevant to these studies, it is the wrong specialty and can be misapplied, particularly to information theory.


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