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.


  1. Weird thought that tends to deepen the subject (which may or may not be useful): where "information" is discussed, "communication" is implied.

    So any critique of "information" as an organizing construct must critique also the model(s) of communication entailed. Info without comm would be meaningless, so any discussion of info without a discussion of comm might be meaningless as well.

    For instance, DNA is information and replication is the comm. This makes replication the more interesting dimension of DNA. "What it is," of course, is interesting and worthy of analysis. But "what it does" is more complex and fascinating. Where the action is, so to speak.

    Just a ramble. Not sure what made me think of that. Thought I'd share. What do these "info" theorists say about "comm"?

  2. Interesting thoughts. I can't really throw any light on it at this stage. Need to do a bit more reading, but communication certainly features in information theory (Claude Shannon's original theory was about quantifying the information-carrying capacity of communication channels); and at a deeper level, relativity theory is partly about the limits of communication (e.g. information cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light). I suspect you might be getting at something different though. Anyway, I'll keep the communication issue in mind.