David Ingram

Published On


Page Range

pp. 3–62


  • English

Print Length

60 pages

6. Life and Information

Co-evolving Sciences

  • David Ingram (author)
This chapter steps away from the practical engineering of Chapter Five into a new dimension, to consider where information itself, as an idea, now connects within life science and medicine. The current era has seen radical transition in scientific understanding of the nature of both information and life. Like particles and waves in quantum theory, perhaps they will come to be seen, in some emergent way, as another example of complementarity. Life as somewhere between material entity and immaterial essence. Information as somewhere between material and measurable entity and immaterial abstraction.

The question ‘What is Life?’, and its connection with the nature of information as a scientific concept, has captivated luminary thinkers, who have informed and challenged one another, and written landmark books on this theme. I have a collection of these, written from physics, life science, mathematics, computer science and cognitive neuroscience perspectives. I look in turn at an eclectic selection, over time. My purpose is to illustrate how these great and imaginative contributors have applied their evolving insights to elucidate connection of their disciplines with ideas about the nature of information and life.

The chapter concludes with a reflection on information policy for health care services in the present era of still extremely rapid transition on all fronts of information technology and life science. There can be no more important global goals than those that seek balance, continuity and governance of the natural environment. In health care, these three also predominate as concerns of our age. They pose challenges that can only be tackled based on shared knowledge and methods that connect coherently and transcend from local to global scale, building on common ground.


David Ingram


David Ingram’s career from 1967 spanned posts in industry, the NHS and University Medical Schools. After undergraduate physics at Oxford and several years in the medical engineering industry, he studied computer science and completed doctoral research on the mathematical modelling of biological systems, at University College London. His first academic post was at The Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, from 1975, where he was appointed Professor of Medical Informatics in 1990. From 1995-2011, he was the founding Director of the UCL Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education (CHIME). David participated as partner and reviewer in UK Research Council, NHS, national e-Science and EU Health Informatics programmes and projects, including leading the EU GEHR Project (1991-94). This laid the foundations for the ISO-adopted openEHR specifications for a novel, vendor and technology neutral method for standardising the design of electronic health records, now being taken forward internationally by the openEHR.Foundation, of which he is the Founding President and Chairman of the Board of Governors. He is a founding Trustee of the OpenEyes Foundation, which is developing and marketing opensource software for ophthalmology, now providing the care record for 40% of UK patients. In retirement since 2010, he is focused on keeping well – eg by learning and using a new language, tracking lively grandchildren, following new physics, and learning to dance properly! Recently, he has become active in promoting a novel new technology to provide prescription glasses at very low cost for the developing world, where their lack causes extreme hardship.