Decoding the Universe

January 30, 2007 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

Decoding the Universe, Charles Seife

This was a fascinating book that touched on chemistry, biology, physics, quantum theory, computing, electronics, black holes, and astrophysics.  Seife started with classical views, pulled us through the renaissance, to the modern day, and dropped us off at the door to cutting edge ideas about the universe.  He lost me near the end, but what a ride.  It’s all about information, Information as the basic building block of the universe.

p.10 Discussing redundancy of information…is crucial to our ability to use language…the extra clues in the sentence…that allow the meaning to be understood even when the message is somewhat garbled….every sentence in any language is highly redundant…always has more information than you need: J-st tr- t-r—d th-s s-nt-nc-.  There are rules within rules, like word order, within every language.

p.13 When you get rid of all the redundancy…what is left is a concrete, measurable, incompressible nucleus.  That is information: the central irreducible something that sits at the heart of every sentence….Information and redundancy are complementary.

p.31 First law of thermodynamics – energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transferred.

p.33. It is impossible to reduce the equilibriumness (entropy) of the universe.

p.50 “It’s a disturbing idea: you are bringing the Earth infinitesimally closer to a state of chaos when you chill down a bottle of beer in your fridge.”  And I was guilty about my beer gut.

p.57 Shannan and information theory was discussed…

p.87 .”…the act of living can be seen as the act of replicating and preserving information despite Nature’s attempts to dissipate and destroy it.”

p.94 All organisms are running a program: Reproduce.  Duplicate your information….All else is decoration – decoration that helps the program achieve its ultimate goal.  Bodies…and just packaging for the information contained in an organism’s genes.  [this is different than] evolution [as] portrayed as individuals trying to reproduce – where the fittest organisms survive, and the genes’ function is to make their organisms fitter…[instead], the organism’s body is a by-product…for attaining that goal, it is just the vehicle for carrying the information around.  That the organism reproduces is just a by-product of the information’s duplicating itself….”

p. 109 “If geneticists are correct, about 500,000 to 800,000 years ago something nearly wiped out our ancestors…to a small mere thousand or so individuals…Their ancestors – us- have little genetic diversity.  As a species we humans are terribly inbred.”  Brains, writing, language are all ways humans have found to carry information.  Here, this sounds like Kurzweil’s discussion of the law of accelerating returns.

p.172 Discussing Schrödinger’s cat, “…as if it’s the act of observation, the act of extracting information, that kills the cat.  Information can be deadly.”

p.212 Penrose, The emperor’s new mind: the brain acting like a quantum computer.

p.216 A new law: Information can be neither created nor destroyed.

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