Saturday, June 10, 2017

Information and resurrection

It's clear from experience that information always comes embodied. What's less clear is that information can always be re-embodied. When matter that embodies information disintegrates, we are likely to think that the information is lost. And for the matter that did the embodying, it is. But this same information can, in principle, always be recovered and then realized in other embodiments. Information is multiply realizable. To say that information is multiply realizable is to say that the same information can be re-presented (that is, made present again) in numerous distinct embodiments. For instance, a musical composition can be realized as notes written in ink on paper, as an electronically scanned version of that document, as a live performance (provided it is without errors), or as an audio file on your computer, to name just a few possibilities. The material embodiment of information can always be destroyed. But information itself is transferrable to other embodiments. It is therefore indestructible and even eternal. 

Information's multiple realizability may illuminate the Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection...consider what has been called the "super supercomputer," attributed to statistician David Blackwell.7 This computer performs its first computational step in half a second, its next computational step a quarter of a second, its next in an eighth of a second, and so on. In general, the nth computational step takes 1 in 2^n seconds. Because the infinite mathematical series 1/2^1 + 1/2^2 + 1/2^3 + ... sums to 1, such a computer would therefore perform any computation whatsoever in a single second. Because it would have infinite computational speed and memory, it could resolve any mathematical problem whatsoever. To an intellect endowed with such computational power, all mathematical truths would be immediately obvious, or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein would say, "surveyable" or "perspicuous."8 Does God’s mind have such computing power? Will humans, if bodily resurrected, be given minds with such computing power? Would having such computing power take the fun out of math for us? Who knows?
William Dembski, Being as Communion.

HT: Patrick Chan

I think there's some value in Dembski's comparison. Certainly, if we view bodies as instantiations of abstract information, then there's an obvious sense in which a body that's destroyed can be the same body as a replica: they both exemplify identical information.

But there's a problem with Dembski's comparsion. Supercomputers have more hardware. But you can't scale up the human body beyond a certain threshold. If the (human) mind is filtered through the brain, then that imposes an upper limit on cognition, because there's an upper limit to a physical structure like the brain, a living structure that depends on fit with a corresponding body to function or even remain alive. 

Our brains age, wear out, and get damaged (as in Alzheimer's disease). In such cases, a destructive transposition occurs that undermines a person's ability to think, feel, and act...In the resurrection our embodied form is supposed not merely to be reconstituted but also to be transposed to a new reality in which wounds are healed, sorrows are comforted, limitations are overcome, and aspirations are fulfilled.

It's true that glorification will repair physical damage. However, the resurrection of the body doesn't repair psychological damage or overcome natural limitations. Psychological healing requires a different principle than physical healing. 


  1. Some materialists and/or physicalists like Adventists and Armstrongites appeal to this type of informational replication to explain the resurrection. I distinctly recall Garner Ted Armstrong using the concept of a computer disk that saves files for later use as an analogy of what happens when we die and how God uses that information for our future resurrection. But without an immaterial soul, it seems to me that there's no real continuity between the original and the copy. A replica, no matter how perfect is still a replica of the original, and not the original itself. In this physicalist view, when you die, you cease to exist forever. Any resurrected version of "you" is closer to being an offspring than actually being the real you. For this, and other Biblical reasons, I reject physicalism.

    1. Interesting....never thought of it that way...

  2. It's true that glorification will repair physical damage. However, the resurrection of the body doesn't repair psychological damage or overcome natural limitations. Psychological healing requires a different principle than physical healing.

    I’ve thought about this in the context of my wife’s life and death. She was badly abused; she was a teenage runaway, and in the process she became what we all would consider to be “not a nice girl”. Being a sinful man, I (looking at her outward beauty) married her first, and only later began to discover what I had gotten myself into.

    The thing I began to do is to look at her as “the whole person” – that is, her life (as Annoyed Pinoy described above) the “immaterial soul” and the “real continuity” of her person. I put a photograph up of Beth, as a young girl, and I would constantly remind myself, “I want to do right by that little girl”. That thought enabled me to deal with things in our most difficult moments together. The one thing that struck me most, at her funeral, was my pastor’s comment in the eulogy to the effect that, “John, I’m here to tell you, that you did right by that little girl”.

    There is still much that I do not understand, but I trust that God will make it clear to me in his own time.