Nonverbal Dictionary
Amphibian Brain
Nonverbal Brain
Nonverbal World
Zygomatic Smile


By David B. Givens

July 24, 2017

First there was energy. Second came matter. And third came information. This article explores the evolution of information and its links to matter and energy.

Information consists of announcements, instructions, or knowledge sent as a signal from a source to a recipient that affects the latter's behavior, growth, perceptions, or understanding.

Information, as defined by The Nonverbal Dictionary (Givens 1997-2017), consists of knowledge, facts, and data derived from communication. It includes answers to questions (i.e., the resolution of uncertainty). As Norbert Wiener (1948, p. 155) observed, information fundamentally differs from matter or energy. Information may be sent and received by means of signs, signals, and cues.

Sign. 1. From Latin signum ("identifying mark"), something that "suggests the presence or existence of a fact, condition, or quality" (Soukanov 1992:1678). 2. In philosophy, as defined by Charles S. Peirce, "a sign stands for something else" (Flew 1979:327; e.g., the hand is a sign of humanity). 3. The general term for anything that communicates, transmits, or carries information.

Signal. 1. From Latin signalis ("sign"), an "indicator, such as a gesture or colored light, that serves as a means of communication" (Soukhanov 1992:1678). 2. In biology, "any behavior that conveys information from one individual to another, regardless of whether it serves other functions as well" (Wilson 1975:595). 3. Any type of sign used to inform as to what may happen next (e.g., a hand-behind-head gesture signals that a listener may argue with a speaker's point of view).

Cue. 1. A nonverbal sign used to prompt an event, behavior, or experience. 2. In psychology, a stimulus, consciously or unconsciously perceived, which elicits a type of behavior (e.g., a soft touch may prompt a hug or a kiss).

First Signs. The first informational signs precede life, and date back 13.8 billion years to the beginning of the universe. Specifically, they consist of photons emitted by individual electrons to communicate presence ("I am here") to fellow electrons. Upon receipt of a photon message, a recipient electron would divert its course to avoid collision with the sender. Photon communication may be the primordial model for all subsequent nonverbal communication, from bacterial quorum sensing to the human smile.

Words evolved from what we can sense (see, hear, smell, and touch), and don't work well for "particles" and "forces" we cannot detect through our senses. (To view my article on the origin of words, please click HERE.)



0. Before The Big Bang--?


Did information exist before the Big Bang origin of the universe? At this point, the answer is unknown.

1. Before Information--Big Bang (13.8 bya [billion years ago])


At the beginning of the Big Bang there was only energy. Neither matter nor information existed.

2. Before Information--Grand Unification Epoch (13.8 bya)

ENERGY, MATTER (particles)

Milliseconds after the Big Bang, matter (particles) formed. Still no information existed.

3. Before Information--Inflationary Epoch (13.8 bya)

SPACE (expansion)

Space begins--and continues today--to expand in size.

4. Before Information--Quark-gluon Soup (13.8 bya)


There are now four elementary energetic forces: gravitation, the weak force, the strong force, and electromagnetism.

5. Origin of Information--Electron-photon Communication--“I am here” (13.8 bya)


Electromagnetic information is now communicated between electrons and photons. This is the fundamental model for all later communication. The main message of the communication is about presence, "I am here."

6. After Information--Replication via DNA Polymer (3.7 bya)


RNA and DNA molecules encode information about how to reproduce themselves. Reproduction becomes a dominant force, joining the four physical forces--gravitation, weak, strong, and electromagnetic--as a fundamental force to be reckoned with. The reproductive force remains a potent motivator in humans today, in their overall demeanor, goals, clothing, automobiles, music, media, art, religion, prom dresses, hairdos, shoes, and diverse additional nonverbal signs, signals, and cues.

7. After Information--Cell Membrane--Lipid Bilayer (3.7 [?] bya)


Protectively enclosed in containers, DNA and life prosper. The containers have protein gates that selectively allow matter to enter and leave the inner space defined by the barrier. Homes, automobiles, RVs, garages, tents, bedrooms, and offices are important compartments for human beings today.

8. After Information--Quorum Sensing--”I am here” (3.7 billion years ago)

COMMUNICATION (cell to cell)

Autoinducing peptides or homo serine lactones are the messaging molecules. They are decoded by specialized receptors.

9. After Information--Multicellular Life


Plants share information through chemical, visual, and olfactory signals. Animals communicate via chemical, electromagnetic, and sensory signs. A great deal of information conveyed by life forms is about physical presence: "I am here."

10. After Information--Attached Filter Feeders


These early life forms permanently attach themselves to hard surfaces, and filter nourishing particles from sea water. They send and receive chemical information about physical presence: "I am here."

11. After Information--Free-swimming Larvae--Communication via Autoinducer


Vertebrates evolved from free-swimming larvae of attached filter feeders. Navigational information becomes a key factor in communication.

12. After Information--Homo sapiens (present day)


Organizational communication and the complexity of information evolves.

13. After Information--Humans & Androids (10,000 years in the future)


Needing neither food nor water, but only electromagnetic energy to survive, programmed smart machines take precedence over human beings.

14. What ultimately Happens to Information?


Two proposed scenarios: 1. The universe keeps expanding indefinitely (Empty Space model); information may carry on. 2. The universe collapses into a state like that prior to the Big Bang (Big Crunch model); information and matter cease to exist. Should another explosion occur, no previous information will be communicated or carried forward into the new universe . . .


0.0. Before The Big Bang--?


0.1. Did information exist before the Big Bang origin of the universe? At this point, the answer is unknown. There is speculation that a pre-existing universe or multiverse sparked the Big Bang. If true, it is unlikely that information passed from any earlier universe to our own.

1.0. Before Information--Big Bang (13.8 bya [billion years ago] - 10 to minus 43 seconds)

1.1. The singularity that erupted in the Big Bang contained energy, but neither matter or information.

1.2. At Zero Time--13.799 +/- 0.021 billion years ago--conditions were unlikely, or impossible, to favor the presence of information. The beginning of time (t = 0). Size = zero. Maximum (infinite?) density, temperature, space-time curvature.

2.0. Before Information--Grand Unification Epoch (13.8 bya - 10 to minus 43 to minus 36 seconds after the Big Bang)

ENERGY, MATTER (particles)

2.1. Milliseconds after the Big Bang, matter (particles) formed. Still no information existed.

2.2. Sticky particles. You are probably familiar with the look, feel, and rather dormant, inert behavior of beach-sand particles. Atomic particles are far smaller, untouchable, and invisible to the naked eye. In contrast to beach sand, the latter particles are also active, attractive, and "gregarious." They may interactively mingle. Moreover, they may bond together to create increasingly complex atomic and molecular particles. The physical structure of matter, it seems, is inherently amenable--possibly even designed--to be communicative.

2.3. Should our task be to design a particle of matter from scratch, would we even consider adding an electron to it? Consider the actual design of a single atom of hydrogen (H). If the atom were the size of a football or soccer stadium, its proton , the size of a pea, would lie in the middle of the field, while its electron would orbit about the farthest seats above. Who could imagine such an unlikely design, with more force that particle . . .

3.0. Before Information--Inflationary Epoch (13.8 bya - 10 to minus 36 to 10 to between minus 33 and 32 seconds after)

SPACE (expansion)

3.1. Space begins--and continues today--to expand in size. The expansion appears to be increasing. There may be limits to how far information can travel in space.

3.2. Space and time are interconnected.

3.3. Three examples of attempts to communicate information through space and time: (1) Frank Drake's Arecibo message, (2) Frank Drake and Carl Sagan's Pioneer 10 & 11 spacecraft plaques, and (3) David Givens Team's WIPP markers.

4.0. Before Information--Quark-gluon Soup (13.8 bya - 10 to minus 12 seconds after)

4.1. Messenger particles carry forces between other particles involved in the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces. Messenger particles are bundles of energy or quanta. That quanta can only exist at certain specific energy levels is what makes matter stable. Who could have invented matter with such an idiosyncratic structure? The exotic quantum structure of matter has major implications for the transmission of information through space and time.

4.2. gyroscopic force, Coriolis force, centrifugal force

5.0. Origin of Information--Electron-photon Communication--“I am here” (13.8 bya - 10 to 1 second after)

5.1. The first information was sent and received by fundamental subatomic particles some 13.8 billion years ago. Specifically, electrons communicated with individual electrons by means of an emitted photon, warning each other to avoid collision by changing course. The essential meaning was "I am here." It was established early on that electrons should send and receive such photon warning messages. This extremely early proto-signaling may have set the stage for later communication in the life and languages of Homo.

5.2. ". . . researchers at Princeton University have built a device in which a single electron can pass its quantum information to a particle of light. The particle of light, or photon, can then act as a messenger to carry the information to other electrons. . ." (Zandonella 2016 [writing about an article by Mi et al. 2016]).

5.3. Spooky information at a distance. Can information travel faster than the speed of light? There is growing evidence from physics research on particle entanglement that entangled photons may communicate across light years of space instantly, unencumbered by Albert Einstein's iight-speed limit. Research on Einstein's "spooky action at a distance" is ongoing.

5.4. The information channel is mainly electromagnetic.

6.0. After Information--Replication via DNA Polymer (3.7 bya)


6.1. RNA and DNA molecules encode information about how to reproduce themselves. Reproduction becomes a dominant force, joining the four physical forces--gravitation, weak, strong, and electromagnetic--as a fundamental force to be reckoned with. The reproductive force remains a potent motivator in humans today, in their overall demeanor, goals, clothing, automobiles, music, media, art, religion, hairdos, shoes, prom dresses, and diverse additional nonverbal signs, signals, and cues.

6.2. In service to the reproductive force, American prom dresses evolved in the early 20th Century to broadcast clear information about physical presence ("I am here") and gender ("I am female") for purposes of courtship.

6.3. Life began 3.8 billion years ago. Afterward, DNA originated from RNA structures found in the RNA/Protein World. Once life began, and to the present day, life's main purpose was--and is--to recreate itself. Molecular information was, and is, the key to this goal.

6.4. Life as we know it is competitive. Life forms feed upon one another as do predators and prey. They must compete for available energy. But given the abundance of energy in the universe, why should competition be required? The answer is that, despite the seeming ("infinite"?) abundance of energy in the universe as a whole, the energy reserves of our solar system are limited and finite.

7.0. After Information--Cell Membrane--Lipid Bilayer (3.7 bya)

7.1. Life is also fragile. Early on, life found a way to compartmentalize itself. Before RNA, the chemical structure of water (H20), and of fatty-acid, particles--and their electromagnetically attracting forces--combined to form membranous proto-cells. [bubbles, membranes, surface tension, spheres, sheets, non-covalent bonds, electromagnetic forces, physical shapes & forces of macromolecules, biofilms]

7.2. In life there are mechanical, chemical, and predatory threats to contend with every day. Early life forms that managed to protect themselves within physical containers had an advantage over those that did not. Information--in the form of coded RNA, and subsequently DNA, instructions--enabled life to reside inside of physically protective containers.

7.3. Among the earliest containers were lipid bilayers. Lipids (fats) consist of complex fatty-acid molecules that attract each other and spontaneously form a double layer of particles that bond together in proto-cellular and in subsequent cellular membranes. The most common molecular particles forming cellular membranes are phospholipids.

7.4. Among liquid water (H2O) molecules, as in early seawater, lipid molecules formed bilayers as they arranged themselves so their head ends were attracted to water molecules. Meanwhile, their tail ends avoided contact with water. Bilayer sheets formed as the tail ends of lipid molecules conveniently and spontaneously aligned to avoid water molecules, while the head ends, drawn by attracting electromagnetic forces, aligned to engage with the molecules of H2O.

7.5. Containers may have preceded life. DNA helped life forms create better containers. Containerized life forms had better access to limited energy sources (see 6.2., above), and were better able to reproduce.

8.0. After Information--Quorum Sensing--”I am here” (3.7 billion years ago)

8.1. Before neurons or brains existed, it was established that organisms should communicate through messaging molecules about matters of reproductive function. Known as oligopeptides, such molecules were used for intercellular quorum sensing. In living bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli), Niu and colleagues characterize quorum sensing as a form of sophisticated linguistic-like communication involved in bacterial reproduction (Niu et al. 2013). Today the oligopeptide neurotensin is found in human-brain circuits, including those of prefrontal cortex, Broca’s area, and parts of the limbic system (St-Gelais et al. 2006). The fundamental meaning of early chemical messages was about physical presence: “I am here.”

8.2. I am here. From the beginning of life, intra-species communication has served a reproductive function. In cyanobacteria, individual organisms emitted chemical signals to announce physical presence--saying, essentially, “I am here”--to fellow bacteria in the community. Emitted messaging molecules (e.g., acyl-homoserine lactones) were not addressed to any one bacterium in particular, but rather to bacteria in the stromatolite community as a whole. Nor did individual bacteria respond back directly to any one sender. Instead, the entire group responded collectively to the census-like messages about population density through quorum sensing. Based on the overall volume of chemical “I am here” signals received, the stromatolite community--as an aggregate--enacted changes to its reproductive growth (Freestone 2013) and gene expression (Miller & Bassler 2001).

8.3. In cyanobacteria and other organisms, “I am here” messages are in keeping with the basic biology of species recognition. Recognition of one’s own species members serves a reproductive function, in that conspecifics must somehow recognize one another as potential reproductive partners (Ridley 2004).

9.0. After Information--Multicellular Life (3.7 bya)


9.1. Proto-multicellular life arose some 3.7 bya with colonial cyanobacteria. The first multicellular life forms may have been sponges (phylum Porifera, 600 mya). The first multicellular life forms with nervous systems were jellyfish (phylum Coelenterata, 500 mya). Coordination of individual parts required greater greater levels of emitted and received information. Reproduction became ever more invested in the transmission of coded information.

9.2. Information receptors. Many plants and animals pick up information about the elementary force of gravity through sensory receptors called, respectively, statocytes and statocists. This information activates growth hormones in plants, such as trees, e.g., to orient trunks upward, and roots downward, in relation to gravity. Information about the electromagnetic force of light (photons) is picked up in plants and animals by photoreceptive sensory organs.

9.3. Neurons. Neurons are specialized bodily cells that send, receive, and store electrochemical information by means of electromagnetic signals. The first neurons appeared in the nerve nets of early jellyfish and worms.

9.4. In multicellular animals, the reproductive force (see above, 6.1.) expresses itself in courtship. Courtship is a process in which messages encoding information about physical presence and contact readiness are sent and received by members of a species for the purpose of replication. Courtship may be acoustic (e.g., birdsong), olfactory (e.g., Chanel No. 5), bioluminescent (firefly flashes, fireworks), tactile (mutual grooming, caressing), gustatory (fruit-fly "taste" pheromones, Belgian chocolates), vestibular (gentle rocking, Venetian gondola rides), and/or visual (smiling, prom dresses).

10.0. After Information--Attached Filter Feeders (355 mya)


10.1. Sea squirts. Sea squirts are tunicates (phylum Chordata, subphylum Tunicata). It is thought that the larval, tadpole-like form of tunicates gave rise to vertebrates. The larval form has a brain and a light-sensitive spot on its leading head end. Colonial sea squirts send and receive bioluminescent warning messages.

11.0. After Information--Free-swimming Larvae Evolved as Vertebrates--Communication via Autoinducer


11.1. The original design of the vertebrate central nervous system, consisting of neurons (see above, 9.3) was established ca. 500 mya in the sea. Collectively, it consists of those primeval parts of the brain and spinal cord which arose in the jawless fishes. Specifically, it involves those circuits, nuclei, and modules of the spinal cord, hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain which evolved in ancient oceans. Information is processed--encoded (sent) and decoded (received)--by these parts of the vertebrate central nervous system.

11.2. Many of humankind's informational gestures, postures, and bodily responses originated in paleocircuits of the vertebrate's aquatic brain and spinal cord. Though our nervous system has greatly evolved, paleocircuits for smell-related cues (see Disgust), touch (see Tactile Withdrawal), locomotion (e.g., for the rhythmic, alternating movements of walking), and chemical arousal (as evident, e.g., in the Fight-or-flight response) remain functionally the same today.

11.30. Fish. Like life itself, nonverbal communication evolved in the sea. The first Ordovician cues given and received 500 mya targeted receptors for touch and smell in our remote oceanic ancestors. Deep in the aquatic brain and spinal cord of the jawless fishes, neural circuits evolved which process many of the informational signs we send and receive today. Spinal and cranial nerves, e.g., continue to link sensory input with motor response in programming the outflow of nonverbal cues:

11.31. Neuromast. The most primitive, specialized tactile-sense organ in vertebrates is the neuromast, a fluid-filled pit in the skin of today's fishes, which picks up vibrational, thermal, electrical, and (perhaps) chemical information from the surrounding water. Each neuromast contains a hair cell, which, when moved by water currents generated by a nearby fish, e.g., stimulates a sensory nerve. Through the neuromast, the current becomes an informational sign of another fish's physical presence (viz., "I am here.").

11.4. Amphibians. With amphibians, the nervous system adapted to pick up better acoustic and visual information than was available to circuits the Aquatic Brain. Sudden movements, looming objects, and bright lights trigger midbrain vision centers which reflexively orient faces and eyes to novel or dangerous stimuli. Meanwhile, midbrain hearing centers stay tuned to abrupt changes in sound. As amphibian ancestors emerged from primeval lakes and seas to live part of their lives on land, both seeing and hearing sharpened. Two paired centers of the amphibian midbrain--the inferior and superior colliculi--evolved as processing stations for audiovisual information. The former's hearing centers (the auditory lobes) unconsciously prompt vertebrates to crouch from loud noises. The latter's vision centers (the optic lobes) reflexively focus attention on body motions, gestures, and objects that move.

"When the first amphibia left the Silurian seas two or three hundred million years ago, with their heads resting on the ground, they relied entirely on bone conduction of vibration for hearing. The vibrations in the earth were transmitted from the bones of their lower jaws to the bone surrounding the inner ear. In order to hear, they probably kept their lower jaws touching the ground" (Nathan 1988, p. 34).

11.5. Auditory cues are received, as vibrations, by specialized hair cells in the inner ear's cochlea. There, the vibrations are transformed (as electrical signals) in the auditory nerve, which links to auditory modules of the midbrain (i.e., the inferior colliculi) and the forebrain (e.g., the primary auditory cortex).

11.6. Reptiles.

11.7. Mammals. Increased ability to pick up olfactory information.

11.8. Primates. Able to detect information about color.

11.90. Anthropoids. With anthropoid apes comes a greater ability to pick up facial information pertaining to emotions. By ca. 35-to-40 mya in the earliest apes, the primate brain dedicated distinct modules of visual cortex to the recognition of faces. (In the living apes, dedicated nerve cells of the lower temporal lobe respond to hands and faces exclusively [see, e.g., Kandel et al. 1991, pp. 458-59].) "Marler [1965] and Van Hoof [1963] agreed that in most species of primates the face . . . is the most important part of the animal" [Izard 1971, p. 38]).

11.91. Hominids. With hominids came the ability to communicate linguistic information--via hearing and sight--through words. In these advanced life forms, 1. the corticobulbar tract further evolved: corticobulbar pathways to the facial nerve (cranial VII) permitted intentional facial expressions (see, e.g., Smile). 2. Broca's cranial pathways evolved: Broca's-area neocircuits via corticobulbar pathways to multiple cranial nerves permitted speech. 3. And Broca's spinal pathways evolved: Broca's-area neocircuits via corticospinal pathways to cervical and thoracic spinal nerves permitted manual sign language and linguistic-like mime cues.

12. After Information--Homo sapiens (present day)


12.1. Picture a busy airport. Energy consists of electricity and solar-created fossil fuels. Matter consists of airplanes, machines, and human beings with their material possessions. Information consists of shared messages that communicate about schedules that coordinate movements of matter throughout the airport's physical space. Finally, the reproductive force is evident in clothing and adornment designed to showcase gender, enhance sexual orientation, and announce presence: "I am here." Without any one of the four components--energy, matter, information or the reproductive force--human airports as we know them today would not exist.

12.2. In humans, spoken language is a verbal and vocal means of communicating emotions, perceptions, and thoughts by the articulation of words. The organization of systems of sound into language has enabled Homo sapiens a. to transcend the limits of individual memory, and b. to store vast amounts of information.

12.3. The human species displays a fervent curiosity about heavenly information. From aboriginal star gazing to modern astronomy, we have gathered electromagnetic information about the motion of planets, comets, and stars. First with eyesight alone, and subsequently with astrolabes and telescopes, our kind has amassed a detailed database of information about the cosmos. Tools and technology have extended our informational reach into atomic particles and universal energy forces to the point that we have begun to understand how we ourselves--and how the universe itself--evolved.

12.4. For human beings, until recently, the biggest database of information (knowledge) was the human genome. This biological database has been eclipsed by the amount of information now available on the Internet. Does this mean that natural selection has been, or will be, superseded by technological selection?

13. After Information--Humans & Androids (10,000 years in the future)

14. What ultimately Happens to Information?


Mi, X., Cady, J. V., Zajax, D. M., Deelman, P. W., and J. R. Petta (2016). "Strong Coupling of a Single Electron in Silicon to a Microwave Photon." Science, pp. XX.

Zandonella, Catherine (2016). "Electron-photon Small-talk Could Have Big Impact on Quantum Computing." Princeton University news release, Princeton, New Jersey.

Copyright © 2017 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)