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“Playing Physics Head Games” — NYTimes Review of Seth Lloyd’s new book

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“Programming the Universe,” by Seth Lloyd
Welcome to the Machine

. . .

More than once, I found myself recalling a scene in “Animal House” in which one of the Delta House guys has a cosmic epiphany during a cannabis-fueled conversation with his professor (Larry: “That means that one tiny atom in my fingernail could be. . . .” Professor: “. . . could be one little, tiny universe.” Pause. Larry: “Could I buy some pot from you?”) Is Lloyd doing anything more than playing physics head games? He anticipates the question, asking, “Just what does this picture of the universe as a quantum computer buy me that I didn’t already have” thanks to our “perfectly good quantum-mechanical theory of elementary particles?” For one thing, he answers, it could be a powerful new research tool. One of Lloyd’s M.I.T. colleagues, David Cory, has used a simple quantum computer to study how information flows through the subatomic world. If these devices truly match the workings of the universe, expanded versions could be used, for example, to develop a more complete theory of gravity, whose essence is still utterly mysterious. . . .


When things in nature (atoms, strong nuclear force) keep displaying properties of higher end (and sometimes obscure) mathematical forumulas, we should start thinking intelligence. geoffrobinson

The idea that an increase in entropy results in an increase in information seems a backwards conclusion. Lloyd gives an example of an a perfectly ordered deck of playing cards (I’m assuming he means all cards in rank order and sectioned by suit), saying it represents minimum entropy and information. I wonder then how he defines “information,” since to me the information content is highest in this initial configuration. I “know” exactly where to find every card in the deck; the information is useful, complex, and highly specific. Shuffle the cards and the useful information is lost with the increase in entropy. Shuffle the cards and the pattern is not more complex…the pattern is in fact gone!

I have yet to see an example of a purely naturalistic process (besides the dubious claims of biological evolution) that can be shown to create CSI. It has been offered by some that water freezing into ice crystals is just such an example. Ice certainly has the appearance of order when compared to liquid water. Yet, there’s no real increase in information. The water molecules bond to one another in a complete random order. It’s like taking a coffee can of marbles of various colors and shaking it. While you continue to agitate them, the marbles change places randomly. Stop shaking the can and all the marbles come to rest in a dense and somewhat predictable shape (that of the can). However, where each marble comes to rest is random, with no way to predict which marble will be where.

The ordered deck has less information content because it can be described in a simpler fashion than a list of 52 cards. The only way to perfectly describe a random sequence of 52 cards is to list each card in order. -ds

Is there supposed to be a connection between this post and ID? physicist
Ok, what are Euler's beta function and the Riehmann Hypothesis or rather, what is it that they do or point to? carbon14atom
I have a better question than why the univers is so complex... Why do higher, seemingly of interest only to mathematics professors, mathematical formulas like Euler's beta function and the Riehmann Hypothesis keep coming up in nature? geoffrobinson

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