Transfer entropy in physical systems and the arrow of time

Richard E. Spinney, Joseph T. Lizier, Mikhail Prokopenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Recent developments have cemented the realization that many concepts and quantities in thermodynamics and information theory are shared. In this paper, we consider a highly relevant quantity in information theory and complex systems, the transfer entropy, and explore its thermodynamic role by considering the implications of time reversal upon it. By doing so we highlight the role of information dynamics on the nuanced question of observer perspective within thermodynamics by relating the temporal irreversibility in the information dynamics to the configurational (or spatial) resolution of the thermodynamics. We then highlight its role in perhaps the most enduring paradox in modern physics, the manifestation of a (thermodynamic) arrow of time. We find that for systems that process information such as those undergoing feedback, a robust arrow of time can be formulated by considering both the apparent physical behavior which leads to conventional entropy production and the information dynamics which leads to a quantity we call the information theoretic arrow of time. We also offer an interpretation in terms of optimal encoding of observed physical behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number022135
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


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