04 November 2013

The Information Age

The Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman reportedly once said: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

[N.B. I'll go out on a limb here and flat-out admit I don't understand quantum mechanics. Wait! In Feynman-speak does that mean I actually do understand QM? Whoa! But wait, if I actually do understand QM, then that means, according to Feynman, I don't. Ouch. Logic. My head hurts.]

Now we learn that a group of scientists led by Lluís Masanes at the University of Bristol in the UK claims to have come up with a schema for actually understanding this notoriously difficult, conceptually fuzzy physics—and indeed everything else. (h/t)

They posit as a foundation of Reality the existence of a fundamental information unit. That means this unit of information is a single "thing" that forms the basis of and, in fact, necessitates all Reality, including and especially QM. They call it a 'general bit' or 'gbit'. There is only one type of information in the universe, and everything therein can be derived from it. The entirety of Reality is encoded in what could be called the language, or systems, of the gbit.

If you've ever wondered if everything that is—Reality, the universe, your thumbnail—is merely the computational software on some hard drive somewhere, you weren't terribly far off-base. They assert: "Any physical process can be simulated with a suitably programmed general purpose simulator." Moreover, on their view, you can reduce everything in reality down to its fundamental gbit units (decode it, in other words) and reconfigure the gbits (encode it) to produce any other thing.

The technicals of their paper are way over my head. If you want to read it, it's here: Existence of an information unit as a postulate of quantum theory. For those of you who understand the esoterics, the four basic postulates of their paper are the following:
"In any system, for every pair of pure states one can in principle engineer a time-continuous reversible dynamics which brings one state to the other. ...
"The state of a composite system is completely characterized by the correlations of measurements on the individual components. ...
"There is a type of system (the gbit...) such that the state of any system can be reversibly encoded in a sufficiently large number of gbits. ... 
"If a gbit is used to perfectly encode one classical bit, it cannot simul- taneously encode any further information."
In other words, there is only one type of information, and everything in the world can be simulated using a sufficiently large number of these unitary information units.

So, the next thing you're going to tell me is that all this hoovering up of information by the NSA and its NATO counterparts is merely a big physics experiment testing the integrity of this theory. No?

Isn't it amazing?!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

So when do we meet the Architect?

P.S. Avast is sure that revolver maps are a deadly virus, all of a sudden. Coincidence?

Abonilox said...

Nice. Atomisim is now digital. Democritus would be proud.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

speaking of feynman, william hurt portrays him in a docudrama based on his autobiographical book about the challenger disaster investigation


Jim H. said...

@thunder: Who/What is Avast? Do you really think I should take it off the site? What does it do—attract spambots?

@Abonilox: I too was marveling how in my lifetime I've lived through most of the Atomic Age, all the Space Age, and now am seeing us dip our toes in the Info Age.

@doccharley: He's def someone I would like to learn more about. I know there was a great bio of him a few years back.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

speaking of hoovering up of information, see margaret atwood's review of Dave Eggers' The Circle, in the New York Review of Books, and my letter to the editor about the review (pre-publication text also submitted to http://www.blckdgrd.com/2013/11/i-was-fruitily-sentimental-fluid.html)

atwood also discusses the title phrase/fiction social media corporate moniker the circle -

'The circle motif may be Eggers’s wink at Google’s “Circles,” a way of arranging your contacts on its counterpart to Facebook: but it’s much more than that. The circle is an ancient symbol that’s had a variety of incarnations. There are divine circles—the Egyptian sun, the vision of the poet Henry Vaughan, who “saw Eternity the other night,/Like a great ring of pure and endless light”; in case we overlook the point, inside Eamon Bailey’s private lair is a stained glass ceiling with “countless angels arranged in rings.” Bailey himself weighs in on circles: “A circle is the strongest shape in the universe. Nothing can beat it, nothing can improve upon it, nothing can be more perfect. And that’s what we want to be: perfect.”'

something i would add - the perfection of the circle was the early astronomical idea of planetary orbits (whether heliocentric or geoceontric - ideas differed) - to deal with the deviations of the actual observed paths from theory, additional circles upon circles were added

it was, however, johannes kepler who discovered that orbits were actually elliptical - and newton showed that this was a corollary of his law of universal gravitation

unlike a circle, an ellipse has two "centers" - focal points - for each planet (asteroid, comet, etc) the sun is at one of these

actually, a circle is a special case of an ellipse, where the focal points are in the same location

now we can throw in some metaphorization - eccentricity as mathematical and personality variable, radius as span of panoptical knowledge and control, big brother, having only a social center versus also orbiting around one's own personal focal point - you get the general idea

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

feynman bio you're thinking of - with a link to the portion of the book on the quantum electrodynamic lectures


Jim H. said...

thanks dr. mistah c!