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Seth Lloyd on “its are bits”

I’m reading Seth Lloyd‘s breezy book “Programming the Universe.” Breeziness is a good thing when you’re writing about quantum mechanics and information theory for a lay readership. But I’m finding myself frustrated that he’s not digging deeper into the ontological questions about information. I find myself asking whether he could just as well say that the universe is a dance because the particles move or stand still, which would be true but a not particularly fundamental metaphor. (Oh, don’t dance the Wuli dance to me in response! Seth seems to mean information to be more than a useful metaphor. He thinks it’s alongside energy in importance as a scientific phenomenon. It’s not like saying the universe is like a dance, or a game (oh, don’t Glass Bead me!), or a lovers quarrel.) I lose him even in his assumption that the universe is made of digital bits. Why think things — tossed coins or spinning particles — always reduce to simple on-off states?

Maybe I’ll understand it better as I read more of the book. On the other hand, I’ve also struggled through other books on this topic, including “The Bit and the Pendulum” and “A New Kind of Science,” to name the two that spring to my dialup-unaided brain. I just may lack the education, imagination and context required to understand this. [Tags: ]

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