Nonverbal Dictionary
Amphibian Brain
Nonverbal Brain
Nonverbal World
Zygomatic Smile


By David B. Givens

June 26, 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, 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.

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.

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. Before The Big Bang--?

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

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

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

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

4.1. gyroscopic force, Coriolis force, centrifugal force

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

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

6.1. 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.

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

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.

In multicellular animals, the reproductive force 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. After Information--Attached Filter Feeders (355 mya)

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

The original design of our central nervous system was established ca. 500 mya in the sea. 2. Collectively, those primeval parts of our brain and spinal cord which arose in the jawless fishes. 3. Specifically, those circuits, nuclei, and modules of the spinal cord, hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain which evolved in ancient oceans.

Usage: Many of our most basic gestures, postures, and bodily responses originated in paleocircuits of the 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.

Sea view. Like life itself, nonverbal communication evolved in the sea. The first Ordovician cues given and received 500 m.y.a. 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 wordless 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:

I. Spinal cord. The oldest proto-gestures can be traced to tactile-withdrawal spinal reflexes of the earliest known vertebrates. Based on studies of newly hatched fishes, e.g., it is likely that touching the skin of the earliest, now extinct animals would have elicited the same alternating, side-to-side flexion movements designed to remove swimmers from predators and to deliver them from harm's way (see CROUCH).

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


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.

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?

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