Academic journal article et Cetera

Is the Universe Information?

Academic journal article et Cetera

Is the Universe Information?

Article excerpt

Back in the 1990s, I thought television was going to provide the dominant metaphors for our technological times. As I write this, in 201 1, it is clear that the computer is king of the metaphor. We use computers all through our fives; it is understandable that this technology has infiltrated our thought processes widely.

Just look up the term "computational" in Wikipedia. It may refer to a computer. But it is used in around a hundred fields, for example:

computational algebra

computational archaeology

computational biology

computational chemistry

computational economics

computational electromagnetics

computational finance

computational genomics

computational immunology

computational journalism

computational linguistics (which has a journal of this name)

and so on down to:

computational visualistics.

I remember the early uses of the computer as a metaphor for the human mind, back in the 1950s. Many of these efforts did not lead anywhere, but one metaphor has lasted: Thinking is computing. There is a plausibility about this metaphor that resists all the ways you can show it to be wrong. It is easy to slip into a conversation. It has the drama of a good metaphor.

Another metaphor based on the computer is receiving attention currently. It says the universe is built on information. Not matter or energy, but information is the basic building block. I think we have another winner. This will be another powerful and long-lasting metaphor.

A quantum physicist, Vlatku Vedrai, proposes the metaphor in his book Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information (Oxford University Press, 2010). To be honest, I have read reviews and an interview. I have not read the book and probably never will. But I feel the strength of the metaphor.

We understand that atoms and molecules have shapes and electrical charges, and they will only fit together in certain ways. Surely information is at work in these processes. We know that the big, messy molecules that sustain living bodies function in an ecosystem with many layers. …

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