"I think of my lifetime in physics as divided into three periods. In the first period I was in the grip of the idea that Everything is Particles, I call my second period Everything is Fields. Now I am in the grip of a new vision: that Everything is Information" ~ John Archibald Wheeler.
"Information is indeed the material of which all the elementary particles, all atoms and therefore all things in general are made, and at the same time information is also that which is moved...Information can be transformed into movement, heat, light, and tension. Information can be regarded as the cause of all the changes in the world." ~Werner Heisenberg.
There is an emerging paradigm in physics, philosophy, computing, biology, and other fields of intellectual endeavor, in which "the universe works like a computer" and "the world is made of information". The grandfather of this interpretation of reality is the theoretical physicist (collaborator of Einstein and teacher of Feynman) John Wheeler, whose slogan "It from Bit" has come to be a little meme to rally around for the group of scientists and philosophers who think there is something important to the notion that reality is, at its most basic level, best understood (at this time!) as an information process.
"To Wheeler, concrete reality emerges from a quantum fog in the answers to yes-or-no observational questions...every physical quantity, every it, derives its ultimate significance from bits...The universe and all that it contains ('it') may arise from the myriad yes-no choices of measurement (the 'bits')." ~Tom Siegfried.
This week we are going to try to dabble a bit in these difficult waters, touching on topics such as information theory, entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, cryptography, and of course the bogey-person of quantum mechanics will rear its ugly head once more.
What is "information"? What advantages accrue us from the perspective that all of reality is most fundamentally made of information? What are "measurement", "uncertainty", "randomness", "order and disorder"?
This is a complex topic, but we will attempt to handle it with our typical grace and lucidity, it'll be good. Come check it out.
I will be presenting ideas informed by a couple of general books on the physics of information written by journalists, both recommendable:
The Bit and the Pendulum by Tom Siegfried and
Decoding the Universe by Charles Seife as well as a philosophy book
The Nature of Information by Paul Young and an anthology by a mixture of different disciplinary folks
Information and the Nature of Reality edited by Paul Davies
If you want to check out some shorter treatments, here are some quick links:
Information at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
VIDEO: "Is the Universe the Ultimate Computer?" Panel Discussion from 2011 World Science Festival
No homework is required, please come join us!
Remember that we no longer meet at McMenamin's! This week we will experiment with Tom's Restaurant on 39th and Division. Let me know if you like it there or not after the meeting...