Friday, 24 March 2017

Born to do Math 17 - "It From Bit"

In-Sight Publishing
Born to do Math 17 - "It From Bit"
Scott Douglas Jacobsen & Rick Rosner
March 24, 2017

[Beginning of recorded material]

Rick Rosner: We’re trying to figure out where the information in the universe is, and we know some stuff. But it is not completely helpful stuff. When people started talking in the 70s, Wheeler and other people, there is this famous book called Gravitation. It is a 10-pound book. An awesome book about gravitation. There’s this one page about “It from Bit.” That, somehow, there’s a way to look at the universe as a computer, as a codifier of information, as a processor of information.

It is like the way the computers process information. However, if the universe consists of information, it has to do certain things that when we look at how those things are done in computers they are very systematic and regimented. But when you look at how things are in the universe, stars boil for billions of years, then explode, then boil some more, then they explode again, and then they explode again.

And they bubble down until they blow off their skin again and again in novas, until you’re left with this core of stuff that might be neutronium, or might be carbon-oxygen, or it might be a ball of iron slowly cooling because it can’t do fusion anymore, but it doesn’t look like those things are really good engines of the systematic storing of information. So you have to look at two things. Where the universe might store information, and how the universe might store information that is generated through mess, non-systematic processes.

The way a fusion goes on in stars is systematic. It’s a well-understood process, but it takes place among 10^58th atoms in a typical star, just swirling in this big chaotic mess, and there’s nothing, even though the physics is well-structured. The actual process is this chaotic swirl of nearly 10^60th atoms and who knows how many photons, all ping-ponging off of each other. It really doesn’t seem to be a good way to store information.

So we know some stuff. We know there’s information in the clusters. The universe has forms at various scales. The smallest cluster being, if you don’t count quarks and protons – and you should, I think, but the smallest clusters beyond that would be nuclei. Protons and neutrons clustered in atomic nuclei. Beyond that, you have molecules bound by electromagnetic van der Waals forces that can—things that can stick together because of electromagnetic forces.

Past that scale, all you have are clusters gravitationally – asteroids, planets, stars, solar systems, and whatever groupings, sub-galactic groups there might be within galaxies. Then clusters and superclusters of galaxies, and then you get into the very largest structures like filaments, which are like strings of galaxies and some other junk across billions of light years. So there’s information there. 

[End of recorded material]

Rick Rosner
American Television Writer
Rick Rosner
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
In-Sight Publishing
[1] Four format points for the session article:
  1. Bold text following “Scott Douglas Jacobsen:” or “Jacobsen:” is Scott Douglas Jacobsen & non-bold text following “Rick Rosner:” or “Rosner:” is Rick Rosner.
  2. Session article conducted, transcribed, edited, formatted, and published by Scott.
  3. Footnotes & in-text citations in the interview & references after the interview.
  4. This session article has been edited for clarity and readability.
For further information on the formatting guidelines incorporated into this document, please see the following documents:
  1. American Psychological Association. (2010). Citation Guide: APA. Retrieved from
  2. Humble, A. (n.d.). Guide to Transcribing. Retrieved from
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