Re: Programming the Universe

The one Big Idea I learned from Programming the Universe, by Seth Lloyd, is that random input, processed through rules, creates structured output. Information is encoded in the attributes (the location, velocity, etc of every particle) of physical objects, and the laws of physics operate on them like programming instructions. So for the universe, we begin with the one possible state of one big uniform blob, which holds no information. Then quantum fluctations cause localities to interact, based on physical laws, and generate the clumpy universe we know, filled with information.

You get the impression that the same process has been applied to writing this book. Even given that I didn’t fully understand the low level quantum theory, I found this book badly organized. I never got a sense of where we were going, or what the overall argument would be. The typing monkeys metaphor gets repeated several times. Or about 30 pages after remarking the objects we can just see as they were 15 billion years ago are now 42 billion light years away due to expansion, he belatedly emphasizes that by “universe” he means the “observable universe.”

There’s also a bit more of Seth Lloyd inserting himself than I cared for, and a fair amount of self-congratulation. He also seems to have a set of axes to grind, for example, against the very idea of Multiverses.

A good explanation of information theory, once you untangle the book.

Next week: In the end, we’re all frozen particles scattered through the void.


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