Friday 10/11/2019 8:30 a.m.
It from bit?
Last night I read John A. Wheeler’s original paper on “It from bit” (“Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, 1990), and it was maybe the strangest writing style –OK, maybe the most “original” style – for a scientific paper I have ever read. Yoda-esque you might say.
The basic idea is that the universe at the bottom is pure information, and through the process of registering phenomena, such as in measurements, we make this information “real,” turning potential into actuality. In computers, information is stored in bits, so the Wheeler’s idea is that we get “it” (the physical world) from “bit” (the information). Today, there are several theories advocating the idea of information driving physics, called “digital physics.”
Anyways, so.. information. Not that I understand all of Wheeler’s points yet. But this notion of the bit means 0 vs. 1, off vs. on, and it strikes me how this is similar to, or even the same as, what we called the first distinction.
So let me try a dialogue, tune in a bit [bit!], listen to the rain and the birds… [a moment of meditation…] So Club, are you there? I am ready to communicate through my subconscious …
The Club: We are here!
So how does “the first distinction” relate to this notion of “It from bit?”
You are right. It IS the same thing. The first distinction is in fact a registration, an act of registering phenomena: “I vs. you (or it).”
This is the first distinction, an “on”vs. “off.” So it has the character of a bit: on, off. And as we showed, out of this flows all else.
Now, Wheeler then goes into how many bits in the universe there would have to be, and comes up with, what?, 1088, at any rate a very large number, but not infinity.
[I had read the paper only last night, so the number was fresh in my mind. Another scientist, Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker put this number at 10120, large but also not infinite. ]
[Lost connection for a moment, refocus]
But the other notion he had was that of the loop: we can’t break down reality into smaller and smaller and smaller parts infinitely [a better term would have been fragments], at one point has to loop back! So that is the idea of the hologram, which contains all.
OK, but let’s stay with the topic of information, bits, and so on. As a computer scientist, we know how all can be modeled as bits. Even today, what was for example analog TV and video, is now all digital and is modeled with bits. So is this not a small indicator of how this can work [meaning, the universe as information] ?
Analog vs. discrete bits. A good topic. So remember how this works. We take a whole, reality, and sample this into discrete snapshots. For example Video: it is patterned after the human visual system, which can see motion if individual pictures play fast enough, 25 frames per second or more. [European Systems use 25 or 50 fps, American 30 or 60fps ].
This is a discretization of something whole. Now, an image itself, as you well know, is then represented as individual pixels [“picture elements”], say 1280x720 picture elements. So when you see a video, it is just all a discretization of space and time, which appear otherwise continuous, into these discrete elements, that can be stated as bits.
That is the first point: with the model of bits you can only get a discrete representation of reality [the whole].
The second point is: the bits by themselves do hold information, but it needs an observer that can interpret these bits AS a video or image, etc. So, first you need to have the ordering of bits into bytes, which then represent numbers, and then an algorithm that takes [converts, interprets] these bytes into images, video, and so on.
The point is, it takes an observer which asks the right question to get an understandable meaning: “give me the video from this information.”
So now, you expand this to reality; it would be also a “digital sampling” of an underlying more whole.
I understand. So if electrons blink on-off they still come out of something deeper, for example what Bohm called the implicate order. At that point, it all superimposes. But this reality we perceive, made up of “perceived” entities, could possibly be indeed modeled from bits: electrons and photons and on, turning on and off.
Yes, but it takes a certain consciousness to interpret that data / information. And that consciousness would come out of this as well, as a monetary [partial] snapshot of All-That-Is. [This goes back to the notion of churning: that consciousness and matter are enfolded together, and unfold together].
OK. Now earlier [in this session] I also got “neurons.” In our brain, we store and interpret reality in a network of neurons, and each can fire an electrical impulse. So the firing of neurons could also be seen as a bit? [Meaning, when the neuron discharges or fires its electrical impulse, that moment is “the 1,” otherwise it is “the 0”].
Yes, but it is a bit different. As you know, the firing only occurs if a certain input (that is, from all other neurons that connect to this one) exceeds a threshold, the “activation potential.”
Interesting word: “activation potential.”
We smile. But yes, so the neuron has a certain internal state, and only if it [the external electrical charge, stemming from all connected neurons] exceeds some threshold, it fires.
And we can model this with neural nets in software, again a digital representation. So out of a collection of smaller bits, meaning the inputs, fires the neuron: yes, no. And that then itself feeds back into the network to the other neurons, and thereby a sort of loop or holographic structure is created
[See Karl Pribrams’s notion of the holonomic brain, influenced by David Bohm idea of the holographic universe].
Yes, that is exactly the point, that it is not a single layer of bits, say 1088 of them, but that these must be connected to each other, feeding in and out of each other just like neurons.
And yet, this is only a [discrete] sampling of a deeper order, brought up to [and out as] consciousness at this moment and space and variant. There are other “layers” as we talked about.
Interesting. So when we talked about this enfolding/unfolding out of these deeper layers, this is then a sort of discretization?
Yes, absolutely. It makes an electron blink on/off based on a deeper information that all feeds back into each other. Reality as you perceive it is really a digital sampling of these deeper layers.
Interesting. There was something else in Wheeler’s paper that stood out to me; that really there may not be a past at all, but it is all in this moment. But let’s leave this for a second talk later. Work is beckoning and I am getting anxious, smiling…
Fine, no past, huh? You may be on to something. Laughing.
OK, until later.
[After getting up, I got this insight, which I sat down again and wrote it down:]
Just as a neuron has an internal order and state, and will not fire (bit: on/off) until it exceeds some threshold, so there is a deeper order as well beyond our perceived reality, beyond an apparent event or phenomenon. An electron that is registered or measured also has this deeper order. In a way, the observation or registration then triggers the potential into action – just as the action potential of a neuron is linked to a deeper order.
I probably could have stated this better, but just to state the insight as it came, i.e. in a thought particle.
Namaste — I bow to you and the Divine in you.
Copyright © Hanns-Oskar Porr