An eastern bluebird with a berry
Overview

We often say that the smell of food or the sound of a predator is meaningful for an organism. Can we say more generally and rigorously when some piece of information has meaning and when does it not? Traditionally, this question has been surrounded by various philosophical and conceptual difficulties. However, some progress may be possible using recent developments in statistical physics, which formally relate information (what I know about a given system) and physics (the amount of useful work I can extract from this system). Returning to the previous example, an organism must continually extract work (i.e. energy) from its environment to survive; from that point of view, information is meaningful to the extent that its helps the organism achieve this task. This project explores the implications of this link between statistical physics and semantics.