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February 25, 2018

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: The quantum does not reduce to discrete bits by Roger Schlafly [refresh]
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Author Roger Schlafly wrote on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 16:25 GMT
Essay Abstract

There is no way to reduce physics to information theory. Matter is not just empty space with isolated bits of information. The quantum is not digital data, logic, probability, or information. There is a long history of trying to understand the ethereal mysteries of quantum mechanics by reduction to discrete information, as if the universe were a giant ghostly digital computer without the hardware. These attempts have failed, and should be seen as evasions of the central truths of quantum mechanics. In short, there is no it from bit.

Author Bio

Roger Schlafly has a BSE from Princeton U, and a PhD in Mathematics from U California Berkeley, under I. Singer. He blogs at

Download Essay PDF File

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jun. 21, 2013 @ 23:41 GMT

While I find nothing I can disagree with in your essay, I think you're far too sober. You do not tolerate mystical views of non-observable "entities" that form the basis of much, if not most, of today's physics. How can you not be obsessed about whether information is lost in black holes? (based on the yet to be proven existence of black holes as singularities behind event horizons.) What's wrong with you? Maybe there's something wrong with your imagination (as with mine).

So I thank you for your impeccable logic and your being grounded in the sanity of real territory versus abstract maps and sophisticated fairy tales. You clarify concepts that are muddied and confused by long habits of "rigorization" of math (per James Beichler) and "ephemeralization" of matter.

I hope you will find the time to read my essay and comment upon it.

Best wishes and good luck in the contest.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Koorosh Shahdaei wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 03:37 GMT
Mr. Schlafly,

You wrote an interesting essay, and I agree to what you wrote about matter. Although we have a better insight into matter with contemporary physics but still we have long way to go, and in fact we can't never make sure if we could have a true understanding of the reality. But we can agree whatever is in the background, and no matter what size the elementary particles may have, one thing is clear that, the matter creates fields and interactions. 

The other facts is that we see is trace of something that in fact is not visible, what's your view on that?



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Paul Reed wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 05:38 GMT

You seem to put forward a number of propositions as being commonly regarded as true, then state that they are not. But I am not sure that they are commonly regarded as true in the first place.

For example:

- “but the suggestion has been made that information is more fundamental”. Where is this the case, when not translated as ‘information is all we have with which to discern the it’. Similarly…

-“The history of science could be viewed as systematically denying the substantiality of matter”. Again I am not aware of any mainstream thinking that has ever argued that ‘there is nothing there’. “It is now commonplace to say that modern physics has proved that there is no such thing as solid matter because it is almost entirely empty space”. Indeed, but this is not the same as saying there is no substance, just that there is less than we thought/appears.

By definition, if we physically receive something, which we do, then it physically exists. Indeed we physically exist. The issue is that our ability to receive what is there is limited. And if something exists then it is comprised of something. And to exist inherently involves a discrete physically existent state of that something. To deny that is to deny existence as manifest to us. What may or may not be ‘asctually’ happening, e can never know.

The issue with QM is that it asserts a form of indefiniteness in existence, which then, because that presumption is wrong, has to be rationalised by other incorrect assertions, for example, the role of observation.


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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 14:40 GMT
I supplied a quote for matter being mostly empty space. The quote did not say that matter was entirely empty space.

I do not agree that QM asserts a form of indefiniteness in existence.

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Jacek Safuta wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:45 GMT
Hi Roger,

I agree that there is no way to reduce physics to information theory. But I think that it is possible to reduce physics to pure geometry. You should like that view as a mathematician.

But then matter is just an empty space or rather deformed region of the conformally flat spacetime (so every entity is a wavepacket and we are close to Schroedinger and Einstein at the same time).

I think my publications could help you change your mind because my concept generates clear predictions that can be falsifiable by experiment. If the experiment falsified my idea than of course Standard Model and your concept would win.

Best regards

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 14:45 GMT
You could say that the Standard Model reduces physics to pure geometry.

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Jacek Safuta replied on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 16:30 GMT
In my concept I am looking for an universal, distance scale invariant metric. QM does not offer any metric as far as I know. Maybe you mean another geometric structure in QM?

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Antony Ryan replied on Jun. 30, 2013 @ 15:48 GMT

I'd agree that geometry offers many answers - perhaps even leading to a Quantum Gravity theory one day.



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Anton Lorenz Vrba wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 16:03 GMT
Roger, I fully agree with your sentiments and your statement "Whatever uncertainty there is may be entirely due to our lack of knowledge about the state, and the discreteness imposed by the measuring process." and I would add that our mathematics is not complete (Gödel) to describe quantum processes.

I can add support in with a simple analogy: These guys can control their spinning tops but can we model deterministically the motion of two spinning tops after they collide? I bet you the best we can do is a QM like probabilistic calculation - the reason there are simply too many variables.

The only critique I have, after raise doubt in the field of QM that this doubt is not carried forward when you raise the subject of black holes and quantum information, black holes in my opinion are figments of our imagination and artifacts of general relativity.

I personally believe in the power of the mathematics; in my essay I present a simple problem in physics, other may call it a paradox, mathematicians would call it a counter example. I am curious of your profession reaction to my essay.

PS. I just discovered your blog, excellent work!

PPS. To counter the cowardly 1 that every new essay seems to be given by some joker a 10 to even things out will not harm.

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 16:26 GMT
Thanks. My blog is at

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 15:32 GMT
My blog is at

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 20:54 GMT
Doctor Schlafly,

I found your essay to be superbly constructed, exquisitely written with all of its major points meticulously analyzed and dealt with perfect thoroughness and clarity.

Please bear with me; I am a creaky old self-taut (thinking makes me tense) realist. I am uneasy about the assertion that just because the physicists can break some purified matter down into particles that occupy skads of empty space at one time and that means that me and the chair I sit on have to be made of the same sort of particles. The chair and I obviously occupy a different part of the Universe than your particles do. Where does the reality lay sir? Is it in my head and my seated bottom, or is reality located in your spaced out particles? It cannot be in both places can it? How can I know about the space of your particles and not know of the supposedly only empty space surrounding the particles you are suggesting are contained compactly in my brain?

The “free willers who are convinced that only determinism or randomness could exist are completely wrong. As I have pointed out in my splendid essay BITTERS, Only unique exists, once. Unique cannot be determined. Unique cannot be random. Unique cannot be probable. Unique can only ever be inevitable.

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Anonymous replied on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 21:36 GMT
I agree with you that the determinism or randomness dichotomy is incorrect.

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Joe Fisher replied on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 14:05 GMT
Thank you for your support Paul


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Member Matthew Saul Leifer wrote on Jun. 22, 2013 @ 22:04 GMT
It is very refreshing to read a well written skeptical essay and I share much of your skepticism. However, in my view, there are a few misconceptions in your essay.

- The so called "free will theorem" does not establish that particles have free will or exhibit genuine stochasticity, whatever those terms may mean. It is just another proof of Bell's theorem, pure and simple. Of course,...

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Author Roger Schlafly wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 02:07 GMT
Thanks for your comments. The free will theorem may be overstated. I do not dispute that. My only point is that it is an additional reason to believe that whatever info is communicated by an electron beam, it is not classical info like ordinary bits.

Expanding a short shared secret to a long shared secret is easily done with classical cryptography. Just iterate a secure hash function, for example. It is vulnerable to someone with infinite computing resources, as is all practical cryptography. Quantum cryptography substitutes some other vulnerabilities. I just don't see any practical utility to it.

My skepticism about quantum computing has nothing to do with the free will theorem, and I do not dispute the mathematics of Shor's algorithm. Mainly I just think that a quantum computer executing Shor's algorithm would be surprising in a way that goes way beyond the standard experiments confirming quantum mechanics. But that is outside the scope of this essay.

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 03:04 GMT
I just stumbled across this quote: "Free will is to mind what chance is to matter." — Charles Darwin, Notebook M (begun July 1838). In Charles Darwin, Paul H. Barrett and Peter J. Gautrey, Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844 (1987, 2009), 536. Free Will Quotes

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basudeba mishra wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 02:21 GMT
Dear Sir,

Mathematics explains only “how much” one quantity accumulates or reduces in an interaction involving similar or partly similar quantities and not “what”, “why”, “when”, “where”, or “with whom” about the objects involved in such interactions. These are the subject matters of physics. The validity of a physical statement is judged from its correspondence to...

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 06:25 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafly,

Since you already called Einstein overestimated, it is not a surprise to me that you called a spade a spade and ridiculed Wheeler-related ideas: “as if the universe were a giant ghostly digital computer without the hardware”.

Your essay was enlightening and enjoying to me but certainly not to everybody. Let me just add one more aspect. You mentioned: “Einstein … later became dissatisfied with a theory of observables, and wanted a more “complete” view of reality.” I am the one who argues that future data are not observable in advance and this restriction provides a more complete view of reality. Please try and jump over Singer’s shadow.



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Manuel S Morales wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 14:26 GMT

If find your opening statement, "I consider different ways in which physics might be reduced to bits of information, but argue that none of these is more fundamental than quantum mechanics." true to the content of your well presented and logical essay. Although I agree with you position the QM is about 'predictable' measurable variables, I did not find an answer from you to 'how' these variables come to existence in the first place? Herein lies the chasm created by QM when it assumes measurements (effects) without its cause.

I appreciated your coin analogy comment, "The coin itself may be deterministic. Likewise a quantum mixture of two eigenstates could be a deterministic object that only seems like a coin toss because of the way that it is measured. Whatever uncertainty there is may be entirely due to our lack of knowledge about the state, and the discreteness imposed by the measuring process."

This lack of knowledge you speak of has indeed been identified in my essay using the coin-in-cup analogy which I invite you to rate: [\link]

There you will find how this 'knowledge' can be used to unify gravity with the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces as one super-deterministc force. Good luck with your entry of which I have rated highly.



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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 16:10 GMT
Dear Roger

You have many interesting evidence, will be much better if your conclusion is not a quote from someone else.

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James B. Wright wrote on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 21:07 GMT
Dr. Schafly:

I like what you write, and cannot argue 0’s or 1’s. But, tell me, do electrons flowing in a wire move by jumping from atom to atom, and are these jumps quanta of negative charge with a charge of -1? And, do these transitions generate electromagnetic waves? And, would not such waves, if they exist, be at an ultrahigh frequency, but occur randomly adding up to a single wavefront which we call a magnetic field, whether AC or DC?

And upon what do these waves ride, if not the Dark Mass, a mass which is gravitationally responsive and is therefore real, and to which, in my essay, I assign the permeability and permittivity of space. This Dark Mass fills the interstices of the atom as well as of all of space, so gives us a handle with which we can do wonders.

Jim Wright

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Jun. 23, 2013 @ 21:29 GMT
Electricity has both wave and particle properties, according to quantum mechanics.

Your Dark Mass seems to be different from dark matter, dark energy, and the aether, so I don't know what it is.

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James B. Wright replied on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 15:38 GMT
Dr. Schlafly:

In my paper I make an attempt to ID the Dark Mass using evidence supplied to us by our Astronomers, and by using new interpretations.

Jim Wright

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Sreenath B N wrote on Jun. 24, 2013 @ 07:59 GMT
Dear Dr. Roger Schlafly,

I have down loaded your essay and soon post my comments on it. Mean while, please, go through my essay and post your comments.

Regards and good luck in the contest.

Sreenath BN.

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Michael Helland wrote on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 23:38 GMT
A computer with no visible hardware is a consequence of my conjecture, which is specifically how and what things are visible.

Imagine a computer model of fundamental particles, arranged into atoms, molecules, and finally a clock.

As the program runs, the simulated clock runs too.

A faster computer would run the simulated clock faster compares to a slower computer, but an observer inside made of the same types of simulated particles as the simulated clock would not observed any difernce.

In fact, you could pause the whole simulation for a month, the CPUs clock will progress, but the simulated model clock will stop.

If you restart after a month long pause the simulated observer would not realize any time passed.

Likewise the only material that would exist to the simulated observer is stuff like the simulated clock, the hardware of he computer providing the simulated world with simulated particles of matter and light wouldn't be measurable itself

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 05:01 GMT
Send to all of you


To change the atmosphere "abstract" of the competition and to demonstrate for the real preeminent possibility of the Absolute theory as well as to clarify the issues I mentioned in the essay and to avoid duplicate questions after receiving the opinion of you , I will add a reply to you :

1 . THE...

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 00:55 GMT
Dear Roger,

Thank you for presenting your nice essay. I saw the abstract and will post my comments soon. I totally accept your view point.

I am requesting you to go through my essay also. And I take this opportunity to say, to come to reality and base your arguments on experimental results.

I failed mainly because I worked against the main stream. The main stream community...

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Marcus Arvan wrote on Jun. 28, 2013 @ 02:29 GMT
Roger: interesting essay. I think you are too quick in rejecting the digital computer hypothesis. As I argue in my essay, and my published article "A New Theory of Free Will", quantum uncertainty and other such phenomena are an inevitable emergent result of peer-to-peer networked digital computers. But, I agree with you (and say as much in my essay): not everything can be reduced to digital bits.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 18:25 GMT

If given the time and the wits to evaluate over 120 more entries, I have a month to try. My seemingly whimsical title, “It’s good to be the king,” is serious about our subject.


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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 4, 2013 @ 14:22 GMT
Dear Roger,

Interesting essay and good responses to comments above. On your skepticism of quantum computing, I have a motion/question I am trying to formulate appropriately for those enamored of the Qubit idea:

Given the different examples of binary choices and their physical supports (implicit in the assumption that bits must be carried by Its), e.g. vertical/horizontal polarization = photon; spin up/spin down = electron, etc

And, if existence/non-existence is a binary choice of messages (as has been admitted in evidence, e.g. by Georgina Parry on 28 June), viz."the binary choice of there being an atom or no atom at a location... is like existence or non existence...seems to me a most basic attribute, like 1 and 0. The way I was thinking about it a material structure of some kind is required to carry the absence so that it is communicated. It is a really interesting point though that the existent Bit has a corresponding It but the non existent one does not but the absence can still be information. Thank you for raising that very interesting question."

With the concurrence of Antony Ryan, Roger Granet, Edwin Eugene Klingman, etc

Whereas no material thing can carry non-existence as an information and

Whereas no superposition can be contemplated between existence/non-existence, unlike some other binary choices,

The least that can be said is that this particular information is not a Qubit,

And if this information is what lies at the "very very deep bottom" and "the ontological basement",

I hereby move that all further discussion of Qubits and Quantum computing, where Bits entangle themselves and are superposed on each other should henceforth be suspended unless further evidence contradicting the above are presented.

Best regards and all the best,

'Senator' Akinbo

*You are free to second or modify above motion before presenting to FQXi parliament :).

My essay is here.

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jul. 13, 2013 @ 14:20 GMT
Dear Roger,

A very sound and well written thesis for reality which I appreciate and find generally very agreeable.

I must question your 'one liner' summing up von Neumann's position as perhaps a little misleading, with particular regard to the EPR paradox. I discuss this in my essay, including the quote including his proposal that for a consistent QM;

" the 'system' and the 'meter' physically interact both must act as quantum mechanical systems, so each 'meter' should 'equally obey the uncertainty principle."

Now this would actually 'preclude' the need for FTL or 'saaad' as the cosine curve would first be produced at each detector. Not the kind of stochastic hidden variable anticipated, but resolving the paradox none the less, and also as Bell anticipated (also quoted).

My essay describes a way of obtaining this which you almost derive yourself, and related to Godel n-valued ('fuzzy') logic. You seem uniquely qualified to analyse this and I'd be most grateful of your comments. You'll also find the essay consistent with your last years thesis ref mathematics, hopefully pinning down a description using the "Dirac Line" or limit of describability.

Very well done for your essay. I'm quite relieved to find I may exist after all! Best wishes for the contest.


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basudeba mishra wrote on Jul. 28, 2013 @ 12:12 GMT
Dear Sir,

This is our post to Dr. Wiliam Mc Harris in his thread. We thought it may be of interest to you.

Mathematics is the science of accumulation and reduction of similars or partly similars. The former is linear and the later non-linear. Because of the high degree of interdependence and interconnectedness, it is no surprise that everything in the Universe is mostly non-linear....

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Paul Borrill wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 23:06 GMT
Roger - Nice essay, summarizing the state of the union in bits, probability no hidden variables, free will, qubits and black holes.

Before we begin, note that while I rated your essay highly, I am the other side of the fence. I believe that there remains at least one major gap in the analysis done so far of the potential interpretations of quantum theory which deserves our attention, and...

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Author Roger Schlafly wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 05:57 GMT
Thanks for your comments. I am glad to see you stick with locality and some form of causality, but I have a hard time understanding theories that try to do away with time. I will have to study your paper more.

I think that Minkowski was the first to explicitly say statements like "no space without time" in 1908.

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