“It has been since the eighteenth century some kind of dream that science was missing the evolution of shape in space and the evolution of shape in time.”
Once again: James Gleick describes the “Kolmogorov complexity” of an object as “the size, in bits, of the shortest algorithm needed to generate it”. In other words, a measure of how much information is stored.
Gleick outlines, in quite a bit of detail, that the amount of difference (surprise) in something is equal to the amount of information it holds, be it a number or a sentence or a thing. The number 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 has little information even though it is very large, since the zeroes are predictable, whereas the number 14,957 has little discernible pattern and therefore holds more information. Similarly, a string of letters like “pile” has less information, since we can guess there might be an “e” at the end.
More interestingly, Gleick explains that Kolmogorov also saw this as a measure of randomness, that the more information something contained, the more random it was, and vice-versa.
Via: “The Information”, pg 337.
Molecular diagram of a variety of amino acids
James Gleick strikes here again, this time a short mention of radiologist Henry Quastler (University of Illinois) suggesting that “an amino acid has the information content of a written word and a protein molecule the information content of a paragraph” (page 289).
Visualization of the structure of a protein (specifically Putative Acetyltransferase)
This of course suggests the reading of texts into amino acids/proteins and vice versa.
Gleick’s notes cite this as from a paper by Quastler called “Some of the Physicists Now Turning to Biology” in Essays on the Use of Information Theory in Biology, 1953 – an intial search of Google and JSTOR didn’t find the paper.
From James Gleick’s The Information (page 258):
“Food pellets, bells, electric shocks; salivation, lever pressing, maze running” – an amazing list, would be a great exhibition title.
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STORE – the “store” was essentially memory, stored on punchcards as seen in the above image.
MILL – the “mill” did the actual computational work; in Babbage’s machine this was done with gears and levers.
Many more details on the history of Babbage’s invention in James Gleick’s book “The Information“.