Information and the Sunday Read

In Beyond Weird Philip Ball writes: "quantum mechanics is less about particles and waves, uncertainty and fuzziness, than a theory about information: about what can be known and how." This has the direct inference that as our way of acquiring information changes our view of what can be known changes.

Information allows us to understand what we call "reality", better. You might think that this is either something you can safely leave to the realm of mathematics or the hands of theoretical physicists but that is not how it works. Scientific knowledge, however complex or abstract, is our attempt to better grasp the world we live in so we can navigate it better.

The view we form of this perceived reality informs our belief system which then guides our choices and decisions. These choices and decisions reflect our values. Values guide our efforts because, as the name suggests, we think something is actually worth doing.

Newton's deterministic view of the universe, for example, gave rise to our understanding of change in the world and informed the formative stages of disciplines as diverse as geology and psychology. By raising our confidence level in what's real it enabled the flights of mind that produced breakthroughs and released fresh insights. Heisenberg famously said that "We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." As the latter changes, so does the former.

For someone who’s been active in information retrieval as long as I have the way information is encoded, stored and retrieved is something I see as a process that is constant in a universe where everything is a system. This means that information is subject to specific rules of permanence and degradation that are unique to its method of encoding, storage and retrieval. Take, for instance, how information can be intentionally recorded on even the simplest forms of storage, like a piece of foil opening up a window into the reality of a past we can only imagine.

Similarly, human memory is a process and like any process within a system, it can be buggy and it can be disrupted affecting not just what we can recollect but our very ability to understand what is real, what is permanent and what can be trusted.

Memory is so central to our identity and perception of the world that without it we can barely function. The thing is when everything is information it is ran by underlying patterns whose analysis itself becomes a signal.

Signals are subject to channel-specific encoding fidelity. This means anything can, maybe, be improved and nothing is, probably, lost forever.

There are other implications, much deeper ones. When everything is indeed information then all of us, the world we see, the universe we observe, the ideas we have and the thoughts we experience are expressions of something more fundamental, the information flowing through the lowest possible energy state of the cosmos manifesting itself thanks to energy perturbations which will eventually subside and reach the relative stasis predicted by the 2nd law of Thermodynamics.

This means that on the cosmic scale nothing is ever lost and one thing is transmutated into another as information flows from one state to another, losing something in the process and gaining something in its new transformation.

Does this make any of us immortal? Or the universe any different to what it is we perceive now? No. But, by considering all these possibilities and perspectives our brains open up to new permutations of memory and understanding, knowledge and information. We are the nodes and edges in a much wider interconnected web of energy flows. Materially we may be weak, dysfunctional and perishable. But our ability to consider things that stretch the boundaries of our comprehension can be transformative not just in terms of science and cognition but also in how we behave, what we think, what we believe and how we relate to each other and the world.

Information, in other words, turned into knowledge, makes us better human beings which might be a process through which information itself transforms itself.

I know you know. Donuts and croissants, cookies and chocolate cake and, of course, coffee. Lots of coffee. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.