A countryman came into a telegraph office in Bangor, Maine, with a message, and asked that it be sent immediately. The operator took the message as usual, put his instrument in communication with its destination, ticked off the signals upon the key, and then, according to the rule of the office, hung the message paper on the hook with others that had been previously sent. ... The man lounged around some time, evidently unsatisfied. "At last," says the narrator of the incident, "his patience was exhausted, and he belched out, 'Ain't you going to send that dispatch?'" The operator politely informed him that he had sent it. "No, yer ain't," replied the indignant man; "there it is now on the hook."—Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1873
A hard lesson to learn was the difference between a message and the paper on which it was written. The telegraph was a great teacher. The information had to be divorced from the physical object. It was abstracted—encoded, first as dots and dashes and then again as electrical impulses, to be sent along wires and, soon, beamed through the ether.
In our sophisticated age, we process it with computers, we store it in "the cloud," and we carry it about in our portable devices and our very cells. Information is the vital principle of our world.
But what is information? Thanks to the mathematical information theory created by Claude Shannon in 1948, we can measure information in bits. As the fundamental unit of information, Shannon decided, a bit would represent the amount of uncertainty that exists in the flipping of a coin: 1 or 0. Using his tool kit of theorems and algorithms, a mathematician or engineer could quantify not just the number of symbols (words or phonemes or letters or interruptions in an electrical circuit) but also the relative probabilities of each symbol's occurrence. Information as Shannon defined it, became a measure of surprise—of uncertainty. These are abstractions; a message is no longer tangible or material, like a piece of paper.
"The fundamental problem of communication," he declared, "is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point." Simple enough—or so it seemed. "What is significant is the difficulty of transmitting the message from one point to another." "Point" was a carefully chosen word. The origin and destination of a message could be separated in space or in time; information storage, as in a phonograph record, counts as a communication. Messages are formed from symbols, not from atoms. Those distant points could be the telegraph offices of Baltimore and Washington, or they could be planets lightyears apart, or they could be neurons in a human brain. But even though information is weightless, transmission has a cost.
Warren Weaver, who wrote a companion essay for Shannon's classic book, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, saw the sweep and grandeur of this abstract view of information, "not only written and oral speech, but also music, the pictorial arts, the theatre, the ballet, and in fact all human behavior." No wonder information theory quickly began to influence researchers in fields as diverse as genetics and psychology.
One field that seemed to be left out was the most important, the most fundamental of all: physics. In the years after World War II, when physicists enjoyed more prestige than ever before, the great news of science appeared to be the splitting of the atom and the control of nuclear energy. Theorists searched for new subatomic particles and the laws governing their interaction. The business of communications research seemed far removed—a business for electrical engineers. Particle physicists had quarks; they did not seem to need bits.
They do now. One of the first to bring information theory firmly into physics was Rolf Landauer, who escaped Nazi Germany as a boy in 1938, came to New York, served in the Navy as an "electronics technician's mate," got his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University, and went on to spend most of his career as a research leader at IBM. One of his landmark papers bore the title "Information is Physical." Lest anyone miss the point, he titled a later essay (his last, as it turned out) "Information is Inevitably Physical." He insisted that bits are not abstract after all, or not merely abstract. He reminded his colleagues again and again that information cannot exist without some physical embodiment, whether a mark on a stone tablet, a hole in a punched card, or a subatomic particle with spin up or down. Information is "therefore"—pause for timpani and trumpets—"tied to the laws of physics and the parts available to us in our real physical universe."
Once humanity took that byte from the apple of tree of knowledge, our ever desire to taste more of its sweet nectar dominates passions and dreams to have more!
Want and desire pulled us away from being obedient children.
Isn't information what we can deduce from an object/experience? I understand color and such, and how that is information, but isn't information a by-product of a physical manifestation and not the other way around?
Please keep religious fantasies off a scientific website, the picture is a metaphor and we should leave it that way.
8 bits = 1 byte but what is 4 bits? a nibble!<scientific fact
Happy now, I made a non religious sentence for you.
Besides I was just being metaphoric and playing with words.
Get over yourself.
why pick on just the people making religious references on this 'scientific' website. what about the philosophers and automechanics and mathematicians and anyone else who isnt a 'true scientist' speaking in the name of science. or you could just quit being a narrow minded @$$ who attacks others for their personal beliefs.
guess what!! PEOPLE BELIEVE THINGS!!!! and most of it has no basis in science. im sure even you believe things that i would call STUPID. if you want the comment section to be science related then quit posting stupid trash about other commenters. or you could be like most people here and just allow open conversation and input. its up to you but as a warning i tend to attack those who attack others. im not very nice. and i dont use proper punctuation or capitalization either!
Yes, I am Christian and yes I wrote metaphorically or in other words, I opinionated.
You too are encouraged for your own opinions.
I encourage your own opinions.
Tomorrow is a new day. To be tolerant of others is not a religious teaching. It can be moral too. And in tolerance you still may or I may learn something new in life.
Tomorrow is a new day! I wish you a good day, sir!
And if you just wish to be bossy and dance on peoples heads, well that does not work either. I know banned people and yet they just simply keep blogging.
Of course I do support the policies of POPSCIE and most of all FREE SPEECH and just being nice.
Any of you want to be immortals, interested in building a theoretical computer?
Humans hunger for exploration, so I think it will always be the fascination of the journey that's important to us, not whether or not we figured out how to gather all the information in the universe into a vast database. After all, what's interesting about reaching a point where you have nothing left to discover?
a) "information cannot exist without some physical embodiment, whether a mark on a stone tablet, a hole in a punched card, or a subatomic particle with spin up or down. Information is 'therefore [...] tied to the laws of physics and the parts available to us in our real physical universe.'"
b) "'every it — every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself, derives its function, its meaning, its very existence... [from] bits.'"
So information could not exist without physics, but physics could not exist without information. What am I misunderstanding? Did one of the two sides of this discussion use sensationalist language? It still seems to me like bits are simple a characterization/interpretation/description/quantization of the real and the physical. Help a brother out, M. Gleick?
The article appears to be trying to show a progression from the "old way of thinking" to the new.
-- A countryman came into a telegraph office ... The operator took the message ... [the countryman] belched out, "Ain't you going to send that dispatch?'" The operator politely informed him that he had sent it. (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1873)
-- A hard lesson to learn was the difference between a message and the paper on which it was written.
-- But what is information?
-- One of the first to bring information theory firmly into physics was Rolf Landauer ... 1938 ... "Information is Inevitably Physical" ...
-- Information is "therefore" ... "tied to the laws of physics ..."
-- Actually ... John von Neumann ... 1949 ... [information processing = heat dissipation = (by Landauer's logic) information processing]
-- Landauer [could not] justify von Neumann's formula
-- The next generation ... Seth Lloyd ... "Earth, air, fire, and water in the end are all made of energy, but the different forms they take are determined by information. To do anything requires energy. To specify what is done requires information."
-- "it from bit." That was the title of a famous 1989 paper
-- He left behind a challenge ... to translate physics from the language of the continuum to the language of bits ...
-- The bit is the ultimate unsplittable particle.
@ Mightymelvin & Cosmic
I never attacked nor made fun of either one of you. Had you given some kind of scientific insight or comment I would have been perfectly fine with what ever it is you believe. Instead Cosmic was talking about the Tree of Knowledge and being "obedient children" which has nothing to do with science and everything to do with religion.
You are both pretentious and hypocritical and I suggest you think before you speak. Not once was I bossy in the post that I made, I simply asked if you could please keep religious ideas off of the site because it encourages posts like the ones you both made. Please grow up and stop acting like I'm attacking you when in reality you've blown this entirely out of proportion.
Next time you make a post, I just ask for you to do it in a dignified and educated manner.
Thanks for trying to explain. I think I see what you mean.
If this is a thought experiment, I guess I'm still convinced of the old way of thinking: that information requires the physical world to exist and not the other way around. For example, any of the trillions of biological processes (cell mitosis, binary fission, DNA replication... to name a few) can be considered information, but they only exist within their host cells/nuclei/acids. Without the physical, the instructions on how to accomplish these processes (the information) doesn't exist.
how am i hypocritical? i came right out and said im a jerk. if my use of the word attack bothers you then you can substitute any number of similar words and im fine with that. all im saying is dont mess with other commenters. while i do admit that your 'attack' was almost nice it wasnt necessary either to tell Cosmic to shut his word hole(my own choice of words, not yours) people spout personal beliefs and theories as comments all the time here. for the most part the only ones that get picked on are the seemingly 'religious' ones. i say pick on every comment that isnt relevent or pick on none. be consistent. and ignore any spelling errors i may have thrown in here
When I see a comment that isn't relative I call it out. So yeah, I'm consistent. Now if you're done being Mr.Comment Supervisor I'd rather not deal with any more posts not relating to the article.
Agreed, however they are mutually exclusive. You can't have the physical without information and you can't have the information with out the physical. One without the other would always result in a true "nothing" that would be both unexplainable and unobservable.
You wrote this on another article.
10.31.2011 at 01:15pm - Comment by NoConsequenc3
So if I'm reading this correctly, technology has the ability to become omnipotent? With our help of course. Where is your God now?
Seems you brought GOD into an article with your comment.
You are just a hypocrite.
You do realize anyone can click on your profile and read your comments, right.
My comment was relative to the article, a fact that seems to escape you. If you continued to read the further comments you'd see that what I wrote was a figure of speech. I apologize for the misunderstanding, but just because you don't know variations of uses in the English Language doesn't make me a hypocrite.
Yes, I realize people can click on my name and go read my other comments, the fact that you took time out of your day to do that just proves your trying to throw this articles comment section off track yet again. I've already stopped the arguments on my end, if you want to talk about this you can send me a PM or something. Otherwise I don't see the point in responding to anymore of your posts regarding this.
Aldrons Last Hope,
You are the fake one, the person who spell his login with an i, a coward, a liar.
Right click with the mouse of you login.
Look to the properties, read you login.
It is spelled with an i.
The real Aldrons Last Hope uses an l.
The login Aldrons Last Hope profile is old.
The login Aidrons Last Hope is short in time.
He shows up and displays shame and is a liar to the original.
He needs to be deleted.
this comment is not relevent to the article
I'm a terrible coward and a huge liar because internet comment sections are so important. Lighten up.
Is there a limit as to how small things can get?
I try to keep an open mind to the possibilities. In regard to the possibility that information could exist in an "un-embodied" state, I think the photon entanglement experiments came close to proving that it might be possible. One of the theories about what was going on in the experiments was that the information as to the polarization of the photon's opposite pair was traveling un-embodied trough a fifth dimension at a speed greater than the speed of light.
That's hard to define, I think there is a point in which we won't be able to detect any smaller, but most of the data shows the most likely answer to that question is no. Hell, for all we know the realm we live in is made of up 2d forces acting in tandem with some kind of cosmic kalediescope to form our 3d perspectives. Basically, we aren't at any point to answer that question, only speculate and theorize