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James Gleick And ‘The Information’


We’ll have a conversation with James Gleick on his opus “The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.”

(Dave Pearson/Flickr)

(Dave Pearson/Flickr)

We live in the information age. We hardly understand yet what that fully means. And yet, we can join the crowd of humans through history.

Plato worried that the written word would produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who wrote instead of memorizing. Now, vast machines – and some very tiny ones – record so much of our lives and thoughts that we can feel overwhelmed.

Science chronicler James Gleick says fear not: We can be emboldened by the information flood that now frames our world.

This hour in an archive edition of On Point: We’re going deep with James Gleick on information.

- Tom Ashbrook


James Gleick, author of “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman” and “Isaac Newton,” which were both short listed for the Pulitzer Prize. His book “Chaos: Making a New Science” was a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist. His new book is, “The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.”


The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.
By James Gleick
From the Prologue

We can see now that information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle. It pervades the sciences from top to bottom, transforming every branch of knowledge. Information theory began as a bridge from mathematics to electrical engineering and from there to computing. What English speakers call “computer science” Europeans have long since known as informatique, informatica, and Informatik. Now even biology has become an information science, a subject of messages, instructions, and code. Genes encapsulate information and enable procedures for reading it in and writing it out. Life spreads by networking. The body itself is an information processor. Memory is stored not just in brains but in every cell. No wonder genetics bloomed along with information theory. DNA is the quintessential information molecule, the most advanced message processor at the cellular level—an alphabet and a code, 6 billion bits to form a human being. “What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life,’” declares the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. “It is information, words, instructions. . . . If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.” The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment.

James Gleick (Phyllis Rose/Courtesy)

James Gleick (Phyllis Rose/Courtesy)

“The information circle becomes the unit of life,” says Werner Loewenstein after thirty years spent studying intercellular communication. He reminds us that information means something deeper now: “It connotes a cosmic principle of organization and order, and it provides an exact measure of that.” The gene has its cultural analog, too: the meme. In cultural evolution, a meme is a replicator and propagator—an idea, a fashion, a chain letter, or a conspiracy theory. On a bad day, a meme is a virus.

Economics is recognizing itself as an information science, now that money itself is completing a developmental arc from matter to bits, stored in computer memory and magnetic strips, world finance coursing through the global nervous system. Even when money seemed to be material treasure, heavy in pockets and ships’ holds and bank vaults, it always was information. Coins and notes, shekels and cowries were all just short-lived technologies for tokenizing information about who owns what.

And atoms? Matter has its own coinage, and the hardest science of all, physics, seemed to have reached maturity. But physics, too, finds itself sideswiped by a new intellectual model. In the years after World War II, the heyday of the physicists was at hand. The great news of science appeared to be the splitting of the atom and the control of nuclear energy. Theorists focused their prestige and resources on the search for fundamental particles and the laws governing their interaction, the construction of giant accelerators and the discovery of quarks and gluons. From this exalted enterprise, the business of communications research could not have appeared further removed. At Bell Labs, Claude Shannon was not thinking about physics. Particle physicists did not need bits.

And then, all at once, they did. Increasingly, the physicists and the information theorists are one and the same. The bit is a fundamental particle of a different sort: not just tiny but abstract—a binary digit, a flip-flop, a yes-or-no. It is insubstantial, yet as scientists finally come to understand information, they wonder whether it may be primary: more fundamental than matter itself. They suggest that the bit is the irreducible kernel and that information forms the very core of existence. Bridging the physics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, John Archibald Wheeler, the last surviving collaborator of both Einstein and Bohr, puts this manifesto in oracular monosyllables: “It from bit.” Information gives rise to “every it—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself.” This is another way of fathoming the paradox of the observer: that the outcome of an experiment is affected, or even determined, when it is observed. Not only is the observer observing; she is asking questions and making statements that must ultimately be expressed in discrete bits. “What we call reality,” Wheeler writes coyly, “arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions.” He adds: “All things physical are information-theoretic in origin, and this is a participatory universe.” The whole universe is thus seen as a computer—a cosmic information-processing machine.

How much does it compute? How fast? How big is its total information capacity, its memory space? What is the link between energy and information; what is the energy cost of flipping a bit? These are hard questions, but they are not as mystical and metaphorical as they sound. Physicists and quantum information theorists, a new breed, struggle with them together. They do the math and produce tentative answers. (“The bit count of the cosmos, however it is figured, is ten raised to a very large power,” according to Wheeler. According to Seth Lloyd: “No more than 10120 ops on 1090 bits.”) They look anew at the mysteries of thermodynamic entropy and at those notorious information swallowers, black holes. “Tomorrow,” Wheeler declares, “we will have learned to understand and express all of physics in the language of information.”

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  • David Eddy64

    Having spent 40+ years in EDP/MIS/IT/IS (gotta love that acronym soup) the one major fly in the ointment is the lack of management of information.

    Basic issue… they don’t teach information systems management as a REQUIRED full year course at the Harvard Business School. Therefore these future masters of the universe learn that systems are not important.

    As long as I can manipulate the system to get my $100M bonus, things are just fine.

    • jeff

      The “alphabet soup” speaks volumes about our age. We are trying to communicate more complex, technical and nuanced ideas faster and more regularly, requiring acronyms rather than names!

    • CarlFrappaolo

      I too am a veteran of the EDP/MIS/IT/IS, and let me add KM industry. Library science and the study of how we learn and transfer “information” is a critical tool for all people. While they do not teach it in Business School – the “business” should always realize that it needs a staff of people who do understand this and model systems that fit the organization’s flow of knowledge and learning. While Mr. Gleick carries this concept to the fascinating extreme, I have long instructed the organizations I worked for to challenge what the mean by “Document” and “information”, for virtually anything can be viewed as a “document” or “information.” Information, document, content, knowledge – whatever you call it – management is fundamental to growth and understanding.

      I for one loved this article and shout Mr. Gleick’s praises.

  • Bob Reardon

    data is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom.

    Information as described id more properly considered synonymous with data. The overwhelm is about gleaning knowledge from data, and wisdom form our knowledge.

  • Alan Shulman, NH

    The “information” age is an extension, a magnification of what processes were afoot in the industrial age, and each individual must make a choice as to what extent s(he) will be a part of this ever larger and more complex organism whose purposes are less and less clear to that individual, or to some extent to opt out, draw a line, refuse to participate, construct a narrow circle in which one can preserve some level of autonomy.

  • Sonia

    Well, we might consider that the Big Bang was the ultimate on-off button. Energy generated from that led to more on-off digital pieces. So once again, Who’s the Button Pusher? The New Testament (in John) says “in the beginning was the Word.”

    • Tina

      Except for this question: IF the Big Bang was the ultimate on-off button, where did it exist, and into what space was its choice expressed? If there was space, how and from where did space arise, and where does it end, if it does? Does space change in its constitution? I know there are/were some Moebian strip-like structures used as explanations for what — for space? — but are they still considered? If so, what is the explanation for that which is not the Moebian strip, or not within the Moebian strip? Is the term “that” in “that which” a misleading concept? Are these even the ways that physicists express questions like mine?? They feel outdated to me. Was the Big Bang button, if it were like a button, space or matter or energy, some combination of those, or Other?

      I’m guessing now completely, but I think that your question is phrased in an analog fashion, and that my questions are also from analog ways of thinking.

      Thanks for the topic!

  • Alan Shulman, NH

    The view that the universe is an information processing machine represents some stage of human perception evolution; it will be supplanted by a more sophisticated view at some point down the road. Nothing permanent here in the current perception…

    • Bob

      excellent observation Alan

  • Bob

    What we need is an independent unbiased agency that rates the accuracy of the various sources of info, like news shows and web sites, like the ratings that restaurants and hotels have. fox news would get .5 stars.

  • steve

    I fear that what we do with what have may be the problem. R&D has churned out so much ‘information’ but how do we approach this stuff? Don’t we use Aristotles throttle-logic- to make sense of anything, denying our own sensory imput and intuition thus throwing out critical info. that may add or improve on our decisions? To look at any subject whether tangible or not, quickly, in-depth and creatively, you must place that subject in time and place. What was once plentiful in a less populated world must know be farmed, hopefully organically. I believe we as an operating system have been destructive to our nest and have not used information properly or gleaned all relavent info. to make ‘informed’ descisions!

    • Tina

      We especially dislike and dismiss technologies WE consider “more primitive” — like the English colonists thinking that the Native Americans were nomadic, when, in fact, the tribes that those early colonists met only moved up and thru a close range of territory as a way of rotating their crops. They also had summer and winter residences for reasons of conservation of energy. The colonists, supposedly not “savage” quickly wrecked the soil that they over-used, then moved west, forcing tribal peoples to move, such that they were once again termed “nomadic”. I spell this out at length because so many issues get dropped into that “superior technology soup” including social and governmental structures; terminology; identity politics, economic disparity, etc.

  • Sonia

    what about the new book positing that our brains are just collections of various bits of responding to different stimuli? For example, a face recognition module is developed as one neural network. Then it gets overlaid with memory networks and naming networks. Speaking networks are different from reading networks, ability to say what one reads is different yet again.
    Highlighted in Boston Globe’s “G”–Interview with Prof. Robert Kurzban and his book “Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite.” And so this explains why we can hold contradictory views and operate outside our own “best interest.” It’s not hypocritical, just modularity in operation.

  • David

    When I imagine the vastness and availability of information available to humans today, and how much of a life it has taken on seemingly on its own, the one encouraging thought that helps me catch my breath (and feel like I’m not being left behind) is that it is WE that give it life and meaning, by allowing it to enrich our own lives. Without us it is all rotting pages and rusting circuitboards.

  • Tina

    Is the logical conclusion that the making of art by means of traditional materials — paint, clay, glass, metal, etc. — is “old fashioned” and need not be studied?


    • Tina

      I don’t believe what I wrote above, about “the logical conclusion”, AT ALL. I am fishing for replies for a specific reason. Can anyone help me out on this? Thanks!

  • Jan

    Yes you can get some information without visiting your local library, but you have to be careful of your source of information on the internet. Libraries have reliable databases for information that can be accessed from your computer. Just doing a Google search does not mean you are getting the right information.

  • Paul Fegan

    LIBRARIANS!!! How can we all be our own Librarians? In this time of information deluge is it not a great idea to hire and train more people to man the pumps (as it were) in our libraries? We see more communities downgrading their libraries when they should be professional information specialists (Librarians)
    The main place for librarians is in schools. If we as adults can not process all this information how can we expect the kids?
    Thanks for all your work both of you

  • john hutchinson

    Phillip K. Dick in his book VALIS suggested that something was awakened with the unearthing of the Nag-Hammadi texts in 1949 (?) reintroduced a “living” form of information or “Logos” after its long slumber in a sealed clay jar. When awakened it once again almost parasitically attached itself to the brains of humans where it began to spread along with its own “mission”. Could the collective consciousness of humans be outstripping the form it inhabits. Arthur Clarkes’ “Childhoods End” suggested that something like that was occurring. Perhaps they were onto something after all ???

    • Tina

      Somewhat related to your ideas – maybe – is this: the NY Times did an article DECADES AGO wherein the author posited that the computer would change us such that we would no longer be a species with an endoskeleton, but rather we would become one with an EXOSKELETON!

  • GregB

    Tom, curse you for interrupting my Friday with a fascinating surge of information! …I’m now having to recalibrate my productivity for the rest of the day. Incidentally, whenever you say “information” you remind me of the opening of the series from the 60′s, The Prisoner:
    “What do you want?”
    “You won’t get it!”
    “By hook or by crook, we will!!”

  • darla

    What is your estimate of the rate of change of the rate of change of information growth? Might it reach the point of passing the ability of the human mind to comprehend, requiring us to leave it to machines to tell us what it means?

  • Sonia

    See an interesting transcript of a lecture at Harvard Divinity School

    by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    “When you negate that in the beginning was consciousness, and you end up with this idea of consciousness being an island within certain creatures known as human beings, who occupy a certain planet called the earth, then how can we know anything? The Cartesian bifurcation has never been solved. None of the prevalent answers really provide the complete solution. How do I know that something is out there? Not because of the neurons in my brain reacting—neurons and consciousness are not the same thing. There is a very big leap between them. It is like the leap between the material of the canvas and the meaning of the painting on top of it. They are not the same thing. We just identify brain activity with consciousness to evade the profound problem that comes up when we deny the principality of consciousness and its ubiquitous nature.

    So how is it possible for us to know the world out there if there is no common element, nothing that unites the knower and the known? This enfeeblement of the methodology of epistemology, which was never a problem for traditional philosophies, has everything to do with the total and radical partition created between what we call consciousness and matter—”matter” meaning the material world, the corporeal world. With the very deep, categorical, absolute, division drawn between consciousness and matter, how can one know anything belonging to a completely different order of reality? ”

    Ancient questions meet science.


    • (the real one {really})

      Sounds like Carlos Dwa, except perhaps for the distinction that I suspect that Dwa actually is what he talks about and I suspect that whom ever you are quoting is merely guessing. Personally I know of now instance of consciousness that is neuron free. Could you please provide and example?

      • (the real one {really})


        I hold my inferior Micro$oft wireless keyboard entirely responsible for any typos, grammatical errors, faux pas, erroneous statements, errors in judgment, logic, and quoted facts. As well as any personal inadequacies in my behavior.

      • Sophia

        Guessing is good. It got us wherever we are today. The problem is testing the guess. Of course you don’t personally know of any instance of consciousness that’s neuron free. You think, therefore you am.

        You think, therefore yam. I think, therefore sweet potato. Consciousness creates you, since outside of thinking about you/object, you can’t be sure you exist, yam don’t exist. My sweet potato don’t exist, either. Only interbeing/your thought shaping mine and vice versa. We argue what an orange-colored root vegetable is. Perceptions are faulty.

        Maybe you don’t “really” exist and I don’t, either, we are constructs in some blippin’ binary system coded thru chemical imbalances/flows/pulses/prime numbers/sine functions. Could be you’re a hologram on a screen somewhere, “acting” conscious, like the computer on Jeopardy. How do I know, never having met you to test my (faulty) perceptions of who you really are? Once the electricity is disrupted, no transmission between you and me, Jeopardy viewers and TV screen and artificial consciousness answering trivia questions.

        Yes, non-neuron-based consciousness is not testable, since we need consciousness/bodyparts to manufacture perceptions. Therefore no examples of unconscious consciousness are currently available or can be examined. The catch 22.

        Do radio waves exist without radios? Evidently, since we now have them and use them. But before sombodies consciously invented radios, the great-grandparents did not think about listening to ON Point. Yet the idea of On Point was arguably out there–as the oak DNA contained in the acorn contains the huge tree–the calculations/chemical interactions just hadn’t occurred yet, but, with the proper sequences of events, chosen by conscious beings inventing radios and then NPR, would in time develop On Point. So in time (or outside of time–that is, matter/electron-moving event changes), perhaps we can also have and experience instances of consciousness that are neuron free. What created the initial binary impulse/Big Bang? Random energy concentration from . . . your guess is as good as . . . And we’re back to Time = Zero.

        Or think of it this way (as others have): You are like a wave. Your Upness-and-Downess entity depends on actions of other waves around you. You are up and down, living and dying, but you and all other waves are water. Each wave may “think” it’s something unque, special–and it is. But it also shares a greater commonality that holds and transmits all “waveness.” Just an analogy. This is where words fail. There may be information we have not yet collectively discovered that will enable us one day to be aware of the ocean of consciousness-without-uniqueness while still interbeing with one another in unique ways as individual wave-blips.

        You will no doubt find this answer inferior and lacking. The limits of consciousness and language are apparent. Transcending them . .. who knows? That is where religion meets science. Metaphorical explanations as attempts to view the Alpha-Omega Whole. Not binary. Unified.

        How not to be dismayed to the point of despair by what seems to be simply a mechanistic unfolding is the more interesting question. How much more suffering can the Japanese/Sudanese/Libyans/ take? Making meaning where none exists? There is no meaning, only being? Microbes without humans would still have information.

        • (the real one {really})

          Dear Sonia, you are confused, and you are so confused that I would have to charge you large sums of money to untangle you. And though in the end you would be delighted to find out just how in error your statments are, unfortunately for you, I do not need large sums of money. However I will tell you this. What you are professing will not ever cause the quite significant metabolic change that is necessary to see just exactly why you are so confused. Try another approach if you are really interested in such things. Awakening is not a subject and cannot be approached as such. For you to actually see what you think you are referring to, you would need to do that first, or else you can do nothing but mislead yourself and others. I will admit, though I could only read part of you post, I have found it an outstanding example of mistaking the finger for the moon.

        • (the real one {really})

          Since I have already written this for the first hour I am posting it here for you. If you are actually the type of person who wants to get to the bottom of things and not just entertain themselves by playing with concepts then I bid you bon appetit. You could do worse than looking into the work of some of the people I quote, and perhaps reading The Ego Tunnel. Good luck

          * * * * *

          The effect of stupidity on human events (complete with feet notes.)

          “Stupid is as stupid does.” – Forest Gump’s mammy

          “Both the universe and human stupidity are infinite, and I’m not sure about the universe” – Albert Einstein

          “Even God has no defense against human stupidity.” – George Gurdjeff

          The valuation of a symbol above that which it symbolizes seems an endemic human stupidity that has lead to many of our most ingenious developments and all of our most heinous actions. We, even the most brilliant of us, are so stupid that even if I had the intelligence to explain it, and you to understand it, you wouldn’t like it, and you wouldn’t believe it. I will say this, however: when science, and eventually, the consensus zeitgeist of mankind comes to realize the real sense, significance, and substance of human identity and what they erroneously refer to as consciousness,* they will have come a long way toward realizing how stupid we were back here in the 21st. At present anyone who sees this for themselves will be both surprised, horrified, and ultimately delighted by a tidal influx of meaning into their lives.#

          * “The inherent deception in all conceptions
          of consciousness
          can be traced to the suffix “ness”.
          This is sometimes referred to as the “ness” lock monster.”
          - Carlos Dwa

          # It is not the meaning of life that is of interest to one such as this,
          but the life of meaning.” Jan Cox

          This comment has proudly been underwritten by the Solid Gone Society
          “A force for irrelevance in or time.”
          and Monsanto Corporation “You are our amber fields. We own you.”

  • Chris Rice

    Mind blown! Thanks for this fascinating interview.

  • Eric M. Jones

    Hope you get this after the show. Good Talk.

    When I was in college I worked nights as a person who transmitted and received news photos for UPI. I developed relationships with other editors in far far distant places. One day at the start of my shift I told a joke to my Australian counterpart. At the end of the shift my London counterpart said…”Hey, I have a good joke for you….”

    Later, someplace (sorry, can’t cite the source), I learned that telegraph operators had a lot of free time on their hands and did the same thing.

    I am fairly sure that few people suspect this side-chatter is going on.

  • Darryl

    Dear Tom,
    You are a genius! As usual, you bring to the airwaves fascinating discussions that leave my mind whirling; but this time you hit me dead-on! I have not yet read James’ book, but I thank you in advance for bringing your listeners this particular topic – information theory. Thank you for allowing us to consider it and consider what it means to us.
    The book may not focus on information theory itself, but its at the core of everything; and your interview seems to have brought that to light. I am an electrical engineer who works with information technologies, and I have made it my career objective to bring information theoretic analysis to my work. I took a graduate course in information theory, and it changed everything for me. It was an epiphany. The textbook we used seems to be a very popular reference, found in nearly every publication I have read on topics related to information theory: “Elements of Information Theory” by Thomas M. Cover and Joy A. Thomas. It may be too technical for most and too elementary for some, but read the preface and chapter 1. The authors make the case that information theory is fundamental to all the sciences, giving examples of its use ranging from communications theory to statistics, to computer science, to physics, and even economics.
    I have read about information theory in biology, the field of Bioinformatics for instance, which James described in your interview. Bioinformatics has fascinating implications not only for describing the structure of life, but also for analyzing behavior, human and machine. Information theory really is a fundamental study of everything, and I read about and hear about its application all over – even now on NPR! I have read that Stephen Hawking used information theory to prove that black holes evaporate and allow information to escape, thus conserving it. I think his proof is still controversial, but at least some top scientists are thinking in terms of information theory. Not all are, I think. Some physicists deny that information theoretic Entropy is related to thermodynamic Entropy, so it seems the theory related to everything is controversial everywhere! I find in my work that most colleagues have little awareness of information theory or little desire to pursue its deeper applications. Whenever I work with researchers, even in academia, I find few who apply information theory to their work. There is work to be done.
    By the way, if information is conserved and never destroyed, as Stephen Hawking and others contend, then it seems everything that we do and everything that exists is somehow remembered (stored) somewhere. Given computers, networks, social media, and databases, are we not now starting to relate? I also think some physicists believe that all matter in the universe and all of its states are finite and repeatable within eternity. Hmmm, “…what is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven, and what is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven”. No? What goes around, comes around. I think we need to consider what it all means, and how we are caught up in it. Maybe its our raison d’etre.
    I am sure I will enjoy reading James’ book, no matter where it takes me! Thank you Tom.

    • Bill

      A lot of his topics come from Wired, Fast Company etc.

  • http://PHonePHriendly.Com Ozzie Osband

    Mr Gleick mentioned that a message of “One if by land, two if by sea” could be sent with a single lantern. People will wonder why two lanterns would be used if by sea. The thing is, the message needs a “Start Bit” to say, “The message is starting now, and the Bit that follows is the Significant Bit of the message”. One lantern is in reality “no lantern” in the mesasage, and two lanterns is “one lantern’ of message content.

    Old fashioned teletype characters used Start Bits and stop Bits. If a character is 0010010 You needed a 1 it for the equipment to start counting the timeing sequences to “detect” the 0 characters that started the character transmission.

    • at

      Excellent comment — obvious when pointed out, yet usefully informative.

    • Freefillbill

      And your very post used all manner of special bits that envelope the multiple packets that your message transversed the cloud with. Telling it were to go, were it came from, how to check itself for errors in transmission and so on.

  • Ross Hardter

    I’m listening to the rebroadcast on WMFE Orlando, so I’m behind the curve in submitting a comment. I’ll be 81 in less than 3 months. I’ve been working with computers for over 50 years. I don’t feel overwhelmed with information. I rejoice in it. What I’m overwhelmed with are a constant flow of mundane tasks which interfere with my learning even more, and with the frequent failures of technology to work as it is supposed to, and with occasional incompetent organisations and individuals. More information? To quote “W”, bring it on!

    • Tina

      Wishing you a Very Happy Birthday Ahead of Time, just in case I forget!

    • Geekest1

      Ross, as an older Geek I have to agree with your perspective. I have always felt that it was our task to remove the B S from work (that ‘constant flow of mundane tasks) leaving only the joy of creating. Creating whatever the process deliverable might be.

    • nj

      (Commenting now just before the 9/1/11 rebroadcast)

      I appreciate what Ross is saying (though invoking Dubya in any sort of intellectual discussion seems rather oxymoronic).

      But i find i can only revel in the digital flow for so long. I’m just as happy picking and munching fresh peas off the vine, lying in the sun, or chopping wood.

      I wonder about the evolutionary changes the huge increase in information processing might eventually be responsible for.

  • Shelagh Foreman

    You have done it again! Another marvelous hour has provoked our thoughts and talk for the rest of the day. Still looking for the eloquent quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne- Can hardly wait to get hold of Gleick’s book. Thank you for your important contribution to our lives.

  • Yar

    Mass and energy are information. The bing bang was simply unpacking information. We existed in the beginning, we have always been a part of the information of the universe. We are all connected through mass and energy. I am a former information technology worker and current bee keeper. Both occupations have changed my understanding of life and the universe. I now see myself as a part of a whole. My individuality is defined by how I convert information into a better world. The difference in entropy and life is that life builds order into the universe. Life converts energy into mass. With that understanding of life then the universe is very much alive.

    • at

      You are starting to sound like JacFlasche use to. I always liked his comments as I do yours.

    • Guest9

      This is also my experience. And by that I do not mean that my life experiences led me to make the assumption that the universe is alive. I mean that I have directly experienced it. Or as the religious types would say, “It has been revealed to me.” However, while I understand why you could conclude that physical stuff is information, because everything that we perceive does inform us, I suggest that there may be a more startling aspect of the underlying nature of stuff that is unsuspected, as yet, by anyone, and I am not going to spoil it for you, because there is a very good chance you will discover it for yourself, which is the only manner in which you can see it for real, not just as a conception or belief, and it will coincide with a physical change in your functioning, that you will be eternally grateful for.

      • Yar

        I am eternally grateful. I left the revelation of God out of my comments because it becomes a stumbling block for unbelievers. Faith is my guide. The church often misuses the understanding of God to manipulate people. The church should be judged on its mission not on its position. What we do with others to build community is more important than words the ‘institutional Church’ uses to divide neighbors. I believe in a universal Church. I see the work of God in everything.

    • BangGanger

      The big bang theory is mostly a projection of three dimensional minds onto a higher dimensional theater of activity. It is a myth of our time.

      • guest

        We have space-time minds, not three dimensional minds.  The birth of space-time may be the natural outgrowth of a timeless pure potential.  Physics may be able to prove heaven exits, but probably not God.

  • ThePope

    Information is vastly over rated. There is a truth, did being informed about it make any real difference to you? A sage, if so inclined, could tell you in very few words what you would have to do to awaken. Not only would this information do you absolutely no good at all. It would decrease any possibility you had of actually awakening. There is another piece of information. In all but .0001% of people it is totally irrelevant and useless, yet every striving of the human heart and mind is just a (usually diverted) attempt to assimilate the substance that this info alludes to. Information: cant live without it, can’t live on it, can’t come alive solely because of it.

    • Jasoturner

      Interesting.  If all humans thought like this…well, I guess we’d still be living in caves and hunting with spears.  Data and information and resulting knowledge have built the world in which we live.

    • Billbodge

      Everything in the world is information.  Our space-time world is a parasite on timeless potential.

  • Lata Rele

    Being a Librarian myself, I ejnoyed the conversation. There is an information overload but we have the choice of concentrating on what we need. There are thousands of books published but we don’t attempt to read all of them. If we do that, we won’t feel the stress disorder.

  • Jasoturner

    Oh man, I missed this one.  This should be great.  Information theory is like thermodynamics at the time of Carnot.  Exciting ideas are being hatched and theories formulated, but it is a field still in its infancy.  I don’t think (though this broadcast may prove me wrong) that we yet know what it will reveal about the world or how powerfully it may leverage our use of information.  But we do know that thermodynamics is an insanely applicable predictive tool despite its seeming generality, and information theory seems a closely linked cousin.  Thank you On Point!

  • ChrisWatts

    One of the almost inevitable side effects of viewing the world in this way – the universe as giant information-processing machine – is that data begins to seem more important than people. While information is indeed incredibly valuable (esp. when it leads to knowledge), we also have to remember that it is people, not machines, who make meaning from this universe of information. We need to find a balance between information theory and humanism that is healthy and productive, don’t we?

  • Billbodge

    I came up with a theory that the universe was a computer.  Turns out other people have as well.  I was looking a Bell’s Theorem and entanglement.  When you send two entangled particles off in opposite directions and change the spin of one, the other particles spin changes instantly. That led me to believe that the motion of subatomic particles is discontinuous or digital. 
    I believe particles essentially are part of a binary system.    You could use Kalusa Klein and the idea of a parallel universe.  When a particle disappears, it travels to parallel universe that  has a timeless characteristic, that allows the spin information to travel to the other entangled particle with no time elapsing.  
    Particles freely travel to the dimension parallel to our space time dimension, but when they return, they pass through quantum logic gates that are governed by the Uncertainty Principle.  This permeates every aspect of our reality and leads to a sort of Bell Curve continuum.  High probability events to high probability events.
    This would allow for a universe that would expand at ever increasing speed as information begets more information. 
    This is similar to right and left side of the brain, where you have the expansive timeless right brain and the segmented linear left brain.

  • Christa Hillhouse

    stress caused by too much information? for me, quite the opposite – my ability to access information is a great relief to me because i am able to solve issues faster. worrying is a disease i don’t suffer from. if someone suffers from information overload, it’s their own fault imo.

  • Ken Rubenstein

    Our amazingly increased abilities to access and transmit information is, like so many things, neither intrinsically good nor bad. The good aspects are fairly obvious, but the bad may not be so apparent. Look, for instance, at how Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have made use of the Internet for communication and recruitment. Look at how political groups have used cable TV and the Web to polarize politics to the point of gridlock. Look at how information has allowed hedge funds to create investment instruments that are beyond human control and understanding, such as the CDOs that nearly brought down the economy.

    On the whole, the world today is not doing very well in many respects, and information technology is playing a large role in our downfall.

  • U Radio

    After clicking to
    listen to the NPR On-Point program called James Gleick And ‘The Information’; I
    clicked to look inside the book on amazon.com. 
    I came across the following quote at the start of the second chapter:


    “Odysseus wept
    when he heard the poet sing of his great deeds abroad, because, once sung, they
    were no longer his alone.  They belong to
    anyone who heard the song.”  Ward
    Just (2004)


    Shortly there after,
    I heard the quote mentioned on the NPR program.


    So why does Odysseus
    weep?  Is it with pleasure at the
    prospect of a fame that comes from sharing one’s experience?  Surely Odysseus had no worry about royalties?

  • Pingback: The Information- A book by James Gleick | Findability Sciences

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