Tuesday, March 1, 2011

James Gleick: Everything is Information

James Gleick's new book, The Information, introduces readers to the new "physics of information," the idea that the fundamental building blocks of reality may be viewed as information. Gleick, who visits the Institute Thursday 3/3, addresses the subject in an interview with Kevin Kelly that appeared yesterday in Wired:

Kelly: According to your book, information underpins everything.

Gleick: Modern physics has begun to think of the bit—this binary choice—as the ultimate fundamental particle. John Wheeler summarized the idea as “it-from-bit.” By that he meant that the basis of the physical universe—the “it” of an atom or subatomic particle—is not matter, nor energy, but a bit of information.

Kelly: That sounds almost spiritual—that the material world is really immaterial.

Gleick: I know it sounds magical, but it needs to be understood properly. Information has a material basis. It has to be carried by something.

Kelly: The extreme view would be that all these bits that make up atoms are running on a very big computer called the universe, an idea first espoused by Babbage.

Gleick: That makes sense as long as this metaphor does not diminish our sense of what the universe is but expands our sense of what a computer is.