Monday, June 21, 2010

Out of my comfort zone

Further to my recent post on intellectual curiosity... (This is where it takes me sometimes.)

There is a very commonly held view that each era's key technology tends to be incorporated into cosmological and other explanations (e.g. the mechanistic, 'clockwork' universe of the 17th and 18th centuries). Supposedly, we project our technology onto reality and mistake a mere metaphor for reality.

So what of recent attempts to explain the ultimate workings of the universe in terms either of a classical computer/computation, or, more recently, in terms of quantum computation?

Seth Lloyd, who works in the area of quantum computing, wrote a little book four years ago called Programming the universe. Lloyd claims that the universe is a quantum computer and we (and everything in it) are the computation. If this is true, then we are very privileged to be the first humans to have (half?) understood some very profound things about reality.

Lloyd recently reviewed in New Scientist a new book by Vlatko Vedral (Decoding reality) which makes the same claim and is clearly annoyed that Vedral does not acknowledge his book.

These issues are extremely complex and all I mean to do for the moment is to raise them. In my private reading I'll be following them up and I will report my progress (if any) from time to time. But I won't be writing on this sort of thing very often - others can do it better.

As things stand I am impressed with the view that information is a fundamental concept of physics, more fundamental even than the concepts of matter and energy. And if information is physical, then Seth Lloyd's arguments must be taken seriously.