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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
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Wandering Towards a Goal
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
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Peter Jackson: on 8/7/13 at 20:18pm UTC, wrote Steven, Great essay. Sorry I came to it so late (I failed the readathon!)....

Michel Planat: on 8/7/13 at 7:56am UTC, wrote Dear Steven, You describe a series of intriguing quantum experiments to...

Cristinel Stoica: on 8/7/13 at 7:44am UTC, wrote Hi, votes are vanishing again.

Steven Sax: on 8/7/13 at 7:21am UTC, wrote Hi Paul, Thank you so much for your very nice comments and comparison with...

Paul Borrill: on 8/6/13 at 23:16pm UTC, wrote Steven - nice job. I just rated your essay highly. I would like to home in...

Antony Ryan: on 8/5/13 at 12:59pm UTC, wrote Hello again Stephen, As you can see from my comments above. - I liked your...

eAmazigh HANNOU: on 8/4/13 at 18:53pm UTC, wrote Dear Steven, We are at the end of this essay contest. In conclusion, at...

john selye: on 8/2/13 at 1:53am UTC, wrote Having read so many insightful essays, I am probably not the only one to...


Brian: "From the Nature abstract cited: "There is no theoretical reason to expect..." in Time to Think

Georgina Woodward: "Sorry, what a pigs ear I've made of that attempt to elucidate. Got muddled..." in Answering Mermin’s...

Stefan Weckbach: "John, "An electron is like a 2sphere, there is no cowlick, the hairs on..." in Answering Mermin’s...

Steve Dufourny: "Hi Jonathan, thanks for developing , I am understanding. I consider like..." in Towards the unification...

Jonathan Dickau: "It all fits together Steve... The optimal case for close-packing of..." in Towards the unification...

Steve Dufourny: "it is the meaning of my intuitive equation, E=m(c^2+Xl^2)+ Y with X a..." in The Effects of Inertial...

Steve Dufourny: "What I tell in resume is that for a good explaination of the..." in The Effects of Inertial...

click titles to read articles

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Philosopher Jenann Ismael invokes the thermodynamic arrow of time to explain how human intelligence emerged through culture.

Lockdown Lab Life
Grounded physicists are exploring the use of online and virtual-reality conferencing, and AI-controlled experiments, to maintain social distancing. Post-pandemic, these positive innovations could make science more accessible and environmentally-friendly.

Is Causality Fundamental?
Untangling how the human perception of cause-and-effect might arise from quantum physics, may help us understand the limits and the potential of AI.

Building Agency in the Biology Lab
Physicists are using optogenetics techniques to make a rudimentary agent, from cellular components, which can convert measurements into actions using light.

Think Quantum to Build Better AI
Investigating how quantum memory storage could aid machine learning and how quantum interactions with the environment may have played a role in evolution.

October 29, 2020

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: On the Role of Information in Physical Interpretation by Steven P Sax [refresh]
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Author Steven P Sax wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 16:29 GMT
Essay Abstract

Abstract The causal relationship between information and physical reality is discussed. A working definition of information is attempted, as well as physical reality ‐ i.e. what it means to be “something” ‐ thus setting up the analysis of Wheeler’s statement regarding “It from Bit.” Several experiments are reviewed to demonstrate the conversion of information to physical effects. An expanded bound of the conversion, as well as transcendence of information throughout a physical system, is discussed. This is extended to see useable effects arising from the vacuum of space. Further ideas are discussed and expanded upon to explore information correlation and how it relates to causality in physical reality.

Author Bio

I'm a physicist working under the U.S. Department of Commerce. I received my Bachelors Degree in Applied Physics from Cornell University in 1992, and my Masters Degree also in Applied Physics from Cornell University, in 1994. On the side, I have been a visiting lecturer at University of Maryland (last 2005), and was an Adjunct Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2001.

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Zoran Mijatovic wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 03:04 GMT
Hello Steven,

I am fascinated by quantum entanglement, but having no time to study it I will offer no opinion. But I have two questions.

Entanglement is destroyed by measurement, but that tells us nothing about the means to non local interaction. In the double slit experiment single photons do not know where they are until they get there, and this indicates a non local interaction...

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 03:46 GMT
Dear Steven Sax,

I found your essay the most careful and complete study of the nature of information [the topic of this contest] of the hundred I've read.

You mentioned "the merging of Shannon's information entropy and physical entropy...", But Jaynes, the first (in 1957) to show the utility of Shannon's theory for statistical mechanics, states that Shannon entropy is a probability...

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Author Steven P Sax replied on Jul. 10, 2013 @ 21:59 GMT
Dear Dr. Klingman,

Thank you so much for your very nice comments and for sharing your wisdom. I liked the way you also distinguish information and energy, especially the concept of information transferred as being energy (and your essay is very fascinating and sheds light on many ideas in physics, and I'll try to comment there as well).

The entanglement issues are not as complex as they may seem, and a good way to approach them is to start with how entangled particles are created, like in the pion example I showed - the physics then follows through based on conservation laws and Fermi/Bose statistics for example. After that one can see how the measurement effects play out, bearing in mind of course the Uncertainty Principle and complimentary observables. Understanding Bell's Inequality is essential.

Thanks for appreciating the geometry/area to statistics correlation which my essay attempted to bring out. Wiles' paper (now that's complex!) amazingly bridges many field of mathematics together, and while I won't pretend to have fully navigated his paper, there are many everyday examples that also show this point besides the expectation value observation. That many geometries can have the same area already suggests area increase as the probable correlation with information intake, assuming the information conversion that we've been discussing.

Thanks again Dr. Klingman for taking the time to read my essay, and for your very valuable and insightful comments! I look forward to seeing your continuing contributions :)

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 14:20 GMT
Dear Steven,

Thank you very much for presenting a nice essay here. You have explained many experiments nicely. Is there any experiment that created matter from the thinking of the brain or from the information contained in some computer memory?

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...

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 18:31 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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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 19:16 GMT
Dear Steven

Analysis of you very good, but your conclusions seems like not yet definitive: "information is causal to physical reality,if not at least symbiotic with it . Further direction for investigation is suggested,with this and other continuing research eagerly awaited." - should have created a sense of unfinished writing.

That could also be one way interesting to...

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Matthew N Lienem wrote on Jul. 5, 2013 @ 18:14 GMT
Hello, Steven Sax:

I liked that your essay explains real physics throughout, and connects philosophy with experimental results & physical explanation. You mentioned about entanglement between different reference frames (see 'Causality, Again') I assume you mean viewed between different reference frames? That sounds very fascinating, and was wondering if you could elaborate. You can also email me directly if you think this could be a bigger discussion. Thanks, it was overall a very comprehensive and enjoyable read!


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Antony Ryan wrote on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 12:18 GMT
Hello Steve,

Thanks for the kind comments over on my page. I like your essay very much. It is clear and well illustrated with a fine balance of logic and experimentation. The exploration of Bit and It is very good. After all these are key to the contest.

Entanglement is always a nice direction to delve into. I think this was particularly well described. This is an area that my essay via simplexes might explain too.

Very pleasurable read - great work - congratulations!

Best wishes,


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Christian Corda wrote on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 08:38 GMT
Hi Steve,

As promised in my Essay page, I have read your interesting Essay. I have found it very pleasant. In particular, I liked a lot your aphorism concerning "the positive change in entropy and, in turn, the negative change in information to be like a potential driving the universe like a battery" and the tale on "Maxwell's demon". Your explanation on the issue that SLT has been upheld theoretically even for black holes should be sent to some guy I know who yet stresses me by claiming that Bekenstein entropy violates SLT. Your discussion on the entanglement like a framework with many scenarios for exploring information is also intriguing. Congrats, I am going to give you an high score.



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Author Steven P Sax replied on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 03:01 GMT
Dear Professor Corda,

Thank you for your kind review and I'm very honored you liked my essay. And thanks for picking out the idea, or aphorism as you nicely called it, of the battery model. This could lead to entropic force concepts, perhaps even related to some of Verlinde's ideas on gravity, and it's an avenue I'd like to pursue. Also, entanglement provides a wonderful insight into the nature of the universe, and it's amazing all the possible scenarios that can be constructed - this is definitely another area into which I'd love to delve much more.

As I mentioned on your essay page, I thought your essay to be a real cornerstone in physics, as you showed in very clear terms how information is preserved throughout black hole evaporation. You stated your goals precisely and you accomplished them, and you definitely advanced the topic of this essay project. Thanks again, and looking forward to seeing your continued work.

Steve Sax

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Christian Corda replied on Jul. 24, 2013 @ 09:10 GMT
Dear Steve,

Thanks for your kind words, I am very honoured by them. I completely agree with your ideas on the importance of entropic force and entanglement for a better knowledge and understanding of the nature of the universe. I strongly encourage you to further proceed in those studies.



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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 18, 2013 @ 18:35 GMT
Dear Steven,

There is not much to criticize in your remarkable essay. I have just two questions troubling me so your comments will be appreciated:

1) In your discussion you mention the second law of thermodynamics and exchange between hot and cold. I want to know what will be the entropy change, +Q/T, if T = 0, when energy is added? (note: I know absolute zero is difficult to achieve, but assume this was possible or at least some infinitesimal temperature value? Can entropy increasing to a value at infinity result therefrom? A kind of thermodynamic bomb.

2) Your analysis suggests the fundamental role of information in physical reality, would you consider existence/non-existence among the binary choices mentioned by Wheeler in his quote?

Best regards,


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Author Steven P Sax replied on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 05:02 GMT
Dear Dr. Ojo,

Thanks for the questions, and I the just read your very pleasant and intriguing essay (which I will comment more about on your essay page soon), which I think helps me to understand your questions better. I like discussions about monads and infinities, and think these to be very fundamental. Although the infinitesimal and the infinite may seem as opposites, that in fact...

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Akinbo Ojo replied on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 10:44 GMT
Dear Steve,

Thanks for your encouraging comments on my blog.

Regarding your answer 1), yes, the more precise formulation is (delta S) = (delta Q)/T, which I take to mean when you add energy, +Q, not -Q, the entropy S increases till it attains a new higher equilibrium value over a period of time (not instantaneously).

Assume for arguments sake, that in a "special" circumstance T can be zero, irrespective of what quantum physicists tell us about zero-point energy, by the third law S will also be zero.

If now, a change,+Q, no matter how infinitesimal is introduced (as you point out, how this can be done is open to many suggestions), the equilibrium entropy initially at zero should increase similarly over a period of time to the mathematically given equilibrium value which fortunately or unfortunately appears to be at infinity.

If "nothing" can be a state or system, certainly this will be a "special" circumstance where T = 0 can be attained. If this scenario is a possibility how will such an increasing entropy be manifest in a system of initial infinitesimal size?

Best regards,


*I will revisit here during the week to see your thoughts on this.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jul. 23, 2013 @ 16:14 GMT
Professor Sax,

I found your essay to be quite an entertaining read. I was particularly impressed with the idea of “direct counterfactual communication,” although I have to reluctantly admit that my admiration for it was somewhat colored by George Orwell’s observations on governmental contradictory communication in his novel, 1984.

As I have explained in my essay BITTERS, only unique, once is real. The only question Wheeler ought to have asked was:

Is the real Universe simple? Yes.

Is direct counterfactual communication simple? No

Good luck in the contest,


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Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Jul. 25, 2013 @ 22:38 GMT
Dear Steven P Sax:

I am an old physician and I don’t know nothing of mathematics and almost nothing of physics, so is almost impossible for me to give an opinion in your essay I read it and it seems to me seriously done and I rated for it. In this contest are many theories, mine is not.

Maybe you would...

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john stephan selye wrote on Aug. 2, 2013 @ 01:53 GMT
Having read so many insightful essays, I am probably not the only one to find that my views have crystallized, and that I can now move forward with growing confidence. I cannot exactly say who in the course of the competition was most inspiring - probably it was the continuous back and forth between so many of us. In this case, we should all be grateful to each other.

If I may, I'd like to...

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eAmazigh M. HANNOU wrote on Aug. 4, 2013 @ 18:53 GMT
Dear Steven,

We are at the end of this essay contest.

In conclusion, at the question to know if Information is more fundamental than Matter, there is a good reason to answer that Matter is made of an amazing mixture of eInfo and eEnergy, at the same time.

Matter is thus eInfo made with eEnergy rather than answer it is made with eEnergy and eInfo ; because eInfo is eEnergy, and the one does not go without the other one.

eEnergy and eInfo are the two basic Principles of the eUniverse. Nothing can exist if it is not eEnergy, and any object is eInfo, and therefore eEnergy.

And consequently our eReality is eInfo made with eEnergy. And the final verdict is : eReality is virtual, and virtuality is our fundamental eReality.

Good luck to the winners,

And see you soon, with good news on this topic, and the Theory of Everything.

Amazigh H.

I rated your essay.

Please visit My essay.

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Antony Ryan wrote on Aug. 5, 2013 @ 12:59 GMT
Hello again Stephen,

As you can see from my comments above. - I liked your essay, so I'm going to rate it highly now in the hope it helps in your rankings and if you get chance to read and rate my essay that'd be great too.



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Paul Borrill wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 23:16 GMT
Steven - nice job. I just rated your essay highly.

I would like to home in on a particular issue that you raised in your essay regarding “Dark” photons, which is proposed in the essay on subtime as exactly what is going in in the process of entanglement. Photons do land, but they are then “returned” to the source, creating a perpetual “hot potato”. I would love to hear your thoughts on my description of the two slit experiment as contrasted to your paragraph below:

“But would information still normally require some sort of physical carrier? Elitzur et al in 1993 developed an idea for interaction‐free measurements. This involves using light to detect the presence of an object without actually bouncing any photons off it. The wave–particle duality of light would allow that an object obstructing one of two paths inside an interferometer can destroy the interference pattern in that device, even though no photons actually come into contact with it, and this was confirmed experimentally. This was used in 2012 to create a quantum‐mechanically encoded key for the encryption and decryption of secret messages.”

You can find the latest version of my essay here:

(sorry if the fqxi web site splits this url up, I haven’t figured out a way to not make it do that).

Kind regards, Paul

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Author Steven P Sax replied on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 07:21 GMT
Hi Paul,

Thank you so much for your very nice comments and comparison with your essay. As I wrote on your page, I really liked your concept of subtime and how you related that to entanglement. Your explanation and development is very lucid and intelligent, and I enjoyed your essay very much. I still want to think about your question some more, and it's very intriguing. Although Elitzur's phenomena is a specialized example giving insight into entanglement and information, your approach may suggest that Elitzur's arrangement might key into something more fundamental from the onset, providing a model for how the universal nature of entanglement can be demonstrated. Perhaps it could be used as a way to actually map out subtime interactions - e.g. proverbially shining light onto a dark photon. It's great how our essays both navigate from different angles and end up converging on several ideas.

Looking forward to seeing how these ideas progress, and thanks again.


Steve Sax

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 07:44 GMT
Hi, votes are vanishing again.

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Michel Planat wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 07:56 GMT
Dear Steven,

You describe a series of intriguing quantum experiments to claim that

"information is causal to physical reality, if not at least symbiotic with it".

Well done. Although I am familiar with the many topics you introduce (entanglement, decoherence, quantum Zeno and so on), I learned from you much.

In particular, I have to read ASAP "Salih et al direct counterfactual communication" which seems close to the subject of my essay.

ons and a high rate from me now.

Best regards,


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Peter Jackson wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 20:18 GMT

Great essay. Sorry I came to it so late (I failed the readathon!).

I struggled with your; " measurement need not involve a particular observer; rather it is any interaction that determines the property of a system to a description that it is acceptable to be used in another interaction."

Yet; "...Anything that computes makes measurements."

I can't fully resolve this logically (it is QM after all!) If two brains or instruments detect a signal, must they both find precisely the same, even if in different places (as they must be) or states of motion?

Your analysis of the Bell Inequalities was excellent, so good that I would beg a moment of your time to consider an entirely new approach with a 'non-local' (in Bells terms) variable seeming to support von Neumann's assertion for consistent QM not relying on causality at Alice and Bob.

The model predicted an orbital asymmetry should be found in time resolved or single particle experiments. Searching Aspects papers I eventually found just this in his French thesis. Did you know he discarded ~99.9% of his results as the anomaly couldn't be explained at the time?. Statistical methods are 'blind' to it.

Please ignore my dense abstract which puts many off, the paper is very readable, with comments including; "groundbreaking", "significant", "astonishing", "fantastic", "wonderful", "remarkable!", "superb", etc. I hope that makes you at least curious, and perhaps none may be better qualified to comment.

Very well done for yours. Top Marks. Perhaps it's lower rated as your sentence/para structure was a bit too much like my abstract! But no problem for me.

Very best wishes, and greatly look forward to your comments and advice (after the contest would be fine). The Intelligent Bit.


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