Kenneth Sayre is a philosopher at Notre Dame whose 1976 book Cybernetics and the Philosophy of Mind proposed that information might be a "neutral" category in which concepts of mind and concepts of body can be defined. Information then would provide a kind of interaction between mind and body and thus be a potential solution to the mind-body problem. Sayre's work is perhaps the most abstract version of "neutral monism," which was the basis of William James's Radical Empiricism and "pure experience," in some middle ground between mind and matter. James greatly influenced Bertrand Russell, who developed versions of neutral monism over the years. Berkeley's reduction to a mentalist idealism was not a solution nor was reduction to the materialism of contemporary scientific realism, Sayre says.
The basic error of materialism, as I have characterized it (others may view it differently), is to have taken sides prematurely on a speculative issue before the alternatives are clearly defined. The materialist rejects dualism, according to which mind and body cannot be understood within a common conceptual framework, in favor of the thesis that both mind and body are ultimately accountable in a framework based upon the categories of physics. Another alternative, however, is that both can be understood within a framework accommodating physics but in which physics is not basic to all other science. Since the current isolation of physics from other sciences in fact is part of the mind-body problem, it is reasonable to pursue this latter alternative in search of another set of basic categories not dependent upon physics. To provide the foundations for such an alternative is the primary goal of this present study. In this respect, the present approach is like the second traditional form of attack on the mind-body problem, that of creating a set of 'neutral' categories in terms of which concepts in either field can be defined, and through which accordingly they can be interrelated. A classic example is Russell's theory of sensibilia, or 'neutral monism.'Sayre proposes a "Cybernetic Approach" that begins with the concept of information as technically defined in communication theory.
philosophers may be concerned with the ontological significance of the cybernetic framework, in which the concept of information plays the basic role.Sayre speculates that since information is not really material, it might make a connection to the old idea that the mind (or spirit) is immaterial. We agree. Information is neither matter nor energy, though it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication. Information is indeed the modern spirit, the ghost in the machine. If the project of this book is successful, it will have been shown not only that the concept of information provides a primitive for the analysis of both the physical and the mental, but also that states of information (yet to be explicated) existed previously to states of mind. Since information in this sense is prior to mentality, but also is implicated in all mental states, it follows that information is prior also in the ontological sense. For if instances of A are prior to all instances of B, then A can exist without B but not vice versa. And this presumably is what is meant by 'ontological priority'. Success of the present project thus will show that an ontology of informational states is adequate for an explanation of the phenomena of mind, as distinct from an ontology of physical events...It is a reasonable conjecture that an ontology of information is similarly basic to the physical sciences... This approach to the mind-body problem shares the advantages of both reductionism and monism, without being penalized by the attendant weaknesses.
Spirit may be defined as that portion of selfhood that is capable of immaterial existence. But what portion this might be is not easily determined. [Norbert] Wiener finds amusing and instructive the possibility of encoding all the information contained in the structure of the human body by some extremely subtle reading mechanism and then transmitting this information to a receiving station at which point some extremely sophisticated receiving mechanism would reconstitute the body in its original form (Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, 1954, p. 96). If all goes well at either end, the person will have been moved at the speed of electromagnetic transmission without existing bodily during the intervening period. Many problems emerge in considering this possibility, of an ethical and social as well as a technical nature. Its value for present purposes, however, lies merely in the illustration it provides of one way in which information contained in the composite human being can be constituted in structures other than those of the conventional human body. The human person in this case, his capacity for consciousness included, exists for a moment in a nonbodily state. ...following Wiener's lead, I think there is an intelligible sense in which information structures constituting a person might exist in a form not to be counted material by our present criterion. That is to say, I think it is possible for human consciousness to exist in a form that is neither spatial nor temporal. If the cybernetic account of man I have been developing is basically sound, then the procedures by which the human organism operates may be understood as a set of statistical structures. Consciousness in particular is a mode of information processing, and as such is describable in terms of communication theory. However formidable the task might be in practice, the informational structures of consciousness might be exhibited as equations on paper, as functions across a transmitting line, or in any other fashion available for the representation of mathematical relationships. There is no necessity that this means of representation itself be dependent upon material structures. Let us conceive a universe comprising only a field of elements, each existing in one of only two states. The elements have no properties beyond these states of existence, and hence are not related either spatially or temporally. Conceive now as an added factor that these elements are indicated in serial order (by some unimaginable act of creation; 'in the beginning was the logos' ('logos' being Greek for 'due relation'). Thus each element becomes identifiable by its place in the series, and characterized with reference to its binary state. But since the ordering relation by itself is neither spatial nor temporal, the elements have no existence in a spatiotemporal matrix. Thus this universe does not admit characterization according to the principles of physical science. In short, what we have conceived is not a material system. Imagine now that this series of elements is divided in some particular fashion, each subseries characterizable with reference to its own constituents. Each series then may be conceived as a binary information source, emitting elements in the atemporal sequence of its serial ordering. Any two series of this sort, moreover, can be conceived as constituting an information channel. characterized by a specific set of conditional probabilities. And any group of more than two is a cascade of channels. But it is just cascades of this sort which, in sufficient detail, constitute the information-processing functions of human consciousness. Thus, by an appropriate selection of ordered series. the spirit of a given human being could in principle be constituted on an immaterial basis. Fantastic as this may be to conceive, it is no more fantastic than the concept of the universe before the initial formation of hydrogen atoms, which themselves are informational structures accumulating substance out of insubstantial probabilities. But both beginnings and endings prove too much for our conceptual powers. This, of course, is what should be expected, since reason has been adapted for understanding what comes in between.