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Decoding the Universe: How the New Science…
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Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining… (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Charles Seife

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4231039,762 (3.9)2
Charles Seife is the author of five previous books, including Proofiness and Zero, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for first nonfiction and was a New York Times notable book. He has written for a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, Wired, New Scientist, Science, Scientific American, and The Economist. He is a professor of journalism at New York University and lives in New York City.    … (more)
Member:gregvogl
Title:Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes
Authors:Charles Seife
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2007), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:computers, science, technology

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Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife (2006)

Recently added bySteveDuke, lwbrown, private library, jhale, themulhern, grizelda, mpultroon, K_R_Smith
  1. 10
    The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (waitingtoderail)
    waitingtoderail: Gleick looks at information theory with more of a view from a mathematical side, Seife more from a scientific side. They complement each other wonderfully.
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Decoding the Universe by Charles Seife is an attempt to connect Information Theory with the physical world. It is quite successful in this by changing the vantage point from which we view the results of the experiments.

Information Theory is a relatively new idea to the science scene, having only been formally introduced in 1948 by Claude Elwood Shannon in a Bell Labs Technical Journal. However, in using the concept of Entropy to define Information, Shannon linked the nascent field to the somewhat more established area of Statistical Thermodynamics. The equation is pretty simple. I don’t know if I can put a sigma into this text, so I won’t try.

Seife’s idea and the main thesis is that Information is everything and everywhere. Once we figured out how to quantify the stuff it was only a matter of time. Take the difference between living and non-living things for instance. What is the difference between a rock and a virus aside from the obvious ones like size? Well, a virus is capable of replication. It can copy its information and spread it on to descendants that are similar to it. Arguments arise as to whether a virus is a living thing. I don’t know if they still do have such arguments, but Seife argues that viruses can carry on the information present in their bodies, resisting the ever-present ravages of Entropy. DNA is a very effective tool for this information transfer. Mutations that occur are usually taken care of by enzymes and other proteins exquisitely suited to this task.

The same thing goes for relativity and quantum mechanics. Information Theory is everywhere once you look from a different point of view. The limit on the speed of light is not on the light pulse per se, rather it is on the information transfer inherent in that light pulse. The book does a great job of explaining things in simple everyday terms that a layperson should be able to understand. As for quantum mechanics, most people who read this know of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It is a limit to the amount of Information that we can glean from any measurement of a subatomic particle. More simply, you can’t know both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle with perfect accuracy. The measurement itself changes something about the particle we are trying to measure.

Going back to light, we know that light has a dual nature of particle and wave. Rather, light might be something else entirely and our understanding of it is limited by these ideas. We can show that light is either a particle or a wave depending on how we conduct an experiment to test for it. Take the now famous Double-Slit Experiment that ‘proved’ light to be a wave. In the present day, we can force an electron to become a probability distribution just by doing this experiment with single electrons at a time. As for the particle nature of light, we can show this by the photoelectric effect, the thing that earned Einstein his Nobel Prize.

This book is really entertaining and written with clarity and flair. The book is somewhat old, so I don’t really know if anything in Physics has drastically changed since 2006. I don’t know if this is a fringe theory or something that holds water, but the argument is compelling to me. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Delivers a good cross section of entropy and information across engineering, biology, and physics. Liked it more than, "The Bit and the Pendulum". This book had better explanations, for my taste. ( )
  tgraettinger | Feb 15, 2017 |
Exactly the book I was looking for. Needs a glossary. Someone needs to write a book specifically about the new ' holographic principle '. ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Exactly the book I was looking for. Need a glossary. Someone needs to write a book specifically about the new ' holographic principle '. ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
This book changed how I think about evolution. When you think about information, rather than species, attempting to survive, things like viruses and jumping genes make perfect sense. ( )
  Antoinette.M-- | May 13, 2013 |
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