Saturday, May 23, 2015

Did We Take the Red Pill?

A couple of other things along these lines have shown up here before, but this one poses an interesting question: What if the core "stuff" of the universe isn't stuff after all, but information?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, creator of the public television show Closer to Truth, ran across the idea when interviewing some scientists. Scientists have almost always believed that the universe and everything in it is made up of things, so to speak. Although as time and technology have progressed we have found smaller and smaller things, the idea is still that these things are little pieces of bigger things. Even the word "atom," which we use to describe the building blocks of matter, comes from ancient Greek, showing how long this concept of the universe has been engrained in our thinking.

But what if the core stuff of the universe was not stuff at all? What if it was information instead?

The idea requires a specific understanding of information that diverges a little from our common use of the word. It doesn't mean knowledge, data or trivia. The latter may make up the entire programming schedule of Comedy Central but not the universe.

As Kuhn notes, the concept of information being used here is much more like the one a computer uses in its binary code. A circuit is either on or off, and if you string together those ons and offs in a series, you create programming directions that tell the computer what to do. Whether or not the circuit is on or off is the kind of "information" that Kuhn's interviewees were speaking of.

As he notes in the piece, this could be seen as something like the spin of an electron. Electrons spin one way or another -- they don't actually spin around like a planet, but physicists have decided to label one of their characteristics "spin" in order to mess with non-physicists' heads. Whether or not the electron is spinning up or down determines a lot about it, and that "information" is basic to what the electron is doing. By extension that's basic to what the atom is doing, which in turn influences what the element is, which in turn influences what compound it is or isn't a part of, and so on.

Several physicists are not convinced, and the theory itself is in the early stages of development. At this point scientists aren't even sure what kind of experiments would be needed to test the idea, let alone what results would come about from them.

On the other hand, if a Laurence Fishburne pops up and offers to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes, that might be an indicator.


Todd Bergman said...

I can get behind this theory. DNA is essentially what traits are switched on or off. Some that appears random. But what if there were another layer of switches that preceded that?

And I can see that in application in atomic science. Given the pursuit of quantum physics and the growth of subatomic theory, we have yet to grasp how the natural world actually "works".

Friar said...

Gives a new twist on the phrase "mind of God," doesn't it?