The basis of the universe may not be energy or matter but information
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The basis of the universe may not be energy or matter but information

There are numerous hypotheses as to what the universe’s foundation is. Some physicists believe they are subatomic particles. Others consider it to be energy or perhaps space-time. One of the most radical theories argues that information is the most fundamental component of the universe. Although this line of thinking emanates from the mid-20th century, it seems to be enjoying a bit of a Renaissance among a sliver of prominent scientists today.

Consider this: if we understood the exact composition of the universe and all of its attributes, and if we had enough energy and know-how, we could hypothetically break the cosmos down into ones and zeroes and reconstruct it from the bottom up. It’s the information, purveyors of this view say, locked inside any singular component that allows us to manipulate matter any way we choose. Of course, deity-level sophistication is required, which can only be attained by a type V civilization on the Kardashev scale.

Claude Elwood Shannon, a mid-century mathematician and engineer, is widely regarded as the father of classical information theory. Though few outside of scientific circles know of him, he is now regarded as the “Father of the Digital Age.” Shannon’s spark of genius came in 1940 at MIT, when he noticed a relationship between Boolean algebra and telephone switching circuits.

Claude E. Shannon with his electronic mouse. Bell Labs, 1952. Getty Images.

Soon after, he was engaged by Bell Labs to develop the most effective method of transmitting data via wires. He published “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in 1948, effectively preparing the ground for the digital age. Shannon was the first to demonstrate the use of mathematics in the design of electrical systems and circuits.

Before him, it was done using expensive models or by trial and error. Boolean algebra is being used to build communication and computer systems, as well as hardware and software. Shannon’s tome underlies anything that generates, stores, or transfers information electronically.

That’s not all. Shannon defined the binary unit or bit as a unit of information. Bits are a series of 0s and 1s that allow us to store and retrieve data electronically. Furthermore, he was the first to turn data into a commodity. He claimed that its worth was proportional to how much it surprised the consumer.

He also connected electronic communication to thermodynamics. The disorder or randomness inherent in each communication system is measured by what is now known as “Shannon entropy.” The higher the entropy, the less clear the message becomes, until it is unintelligible. He created information theory during World War II while attempting to tackle the difficulty of delivering an encrypted message across an user defined telephone or telegraph line.

Claude E. Shannon laid the groundwork for communication technology. Getty Images.

From a quantum perspective, the positions of particles, their movements, how they behave, and all of their properties provide information about them and the physical forces that drive them. Every aspect of a particle can be described as information and stored in binary code. As a result, subatomic particles may represent the bits that the universe is processing as a massive supercomputer. Aside from quantum mechanics, information theory has been applied to music, genetics, investment, and many other fields since Shannon’s finding.

According to science writer James Gleick, author of The Information, it was early 19th century mathematician Charles Babbage, not Shannon, who originally termed information the essential component of all and everything. Babbage is credited with creating the computer long before anyone had the ability to build one.

In his final years, the distinguished John Archibald Wheeler was a strong supporter of information theory. Wheeler was a veteran of the Manhattan Project who created the terms “black hole” and “wormhole,” worked out the “S-matrix” with Neils Bohr, and collaborated with Einstein on a unified theory of physics.

Physicist John Wheeler coined the term black hole. By Deutsch: Ute Kraus, Wikimedia Commons.

According to Wheeler, the universe is divided into three parts: “Everything is Particles,” “Everything is Fields,” and “Everything is Information.” He began investigating possible links between information theory and quantum mechanics in the 1980s. During this time, he developed the expression “it from bit.” The theory is that the universe is created by the information contained within it. Each it or particle is a bit. It from bit.

Wheeler presented a paper to the Santa Fe Institute in 1989, in which he proclaimed that “every it—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, meaning, and very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits.”

Earlier this year, a group of physicists published research findings that would make Wheeler pleased. They claim that we are trapped inside a massive hologram. In this perspective, the universe is a projection, similar to a 3D simulation. Surprisingly, the principles of physics work perfectly in a 2D quantum field within a 3D gravitational field.

It’s worth noting that most physicists believe matter is the fundamental unit of the universe. And the evidence for information theory is limited. How, after all, would you test for it?

Is the universe a giant hologram inside a supercomputer? Getty Images.

If the nature of reality is indeed reducible to information, this requires the presence of a conscious mind on the receiving end to understand and comprehend it. Wheeler believed in a participatory universe in which consciousness is central. Some scientists believe that the universe appears to contain specific qualities that enable it to create and sustain life. Perhaps what it desires most is an audience captivated in awe as it whirls in prodigious splendor.

Modern physics has hit a wall in a number of areas. Some proponents of information theory believe that adopting it will allow us to bridge the gap between general relativity and quantum mechanics. Perhaps it will aid in the detection and understanding of dark matter and dark energy, which are considered to account for 95 percent of the known universe. We have no notion of what they are right now. Ironically, hard data is required to advance information theory. Until then, it remains theoretical.

To learn more about information theory as the basis of the universe, click here:

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Nell Reece
Nell Reece
7 months ago

I doubt the universe speaks our language. It may, or may not be self aware, but either way, information would not have meaning to forces that are capable of making black holes. Information is a packet of data. A human concept. It is an attempt to simplify things to accommodate our limited intelligence.
Philosophy, of course. But philosophy is where the questions begin, yes?

Last edited 7 months ago by Nell Reece
Mwayi
Mwayi
Reply to  Nell Reece
7 months ago

But the basis of the universe being information makes more sense

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