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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Sean Gryb: on 8/7/13 at 13:40pm UTC, wrote Hi Sundance! Hope things are well. Glad to see you in this competition! I...

Neil Bates: on 8/7/13 at 10:00am UTC, wrote Hi Sundance. Your essay was short but impressive. I thought it deserved a...

Sundance Bilson-Thompson: on 8/7/13 at 3:29am UTC, wrote Hi Joe, Thanks for your very short-but-sweet feedback on my essay. ...

Sundance Bilson-Thompson: on 8/7/13 at 3:02am UTC, wrote Hi Carlo, Thanks for your comments. I agree with you about the lack of...

Sundance Bilson-Thompson: on 8/7/13 at 2:33am UTC, wrote Hi Olaf, Maybe a little lonely. Did I mention that I like pino coladas,...

Charles Card: on 8/6/13 at 3:53am UTC, wrote Late-in-the-Day Thoughts about the Essays I’ve Read I am sending to you...

Hugh Matlock: on 8/4/13 at 7:52am UTC, wrote Hi Sundance, Thanks for a thoughtful critique of the simulation paradigm....

john selye: on 8/1/13 at 22:18pm UTC, wrote Having read so many insightful essays, I am probably not the only one to...


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FQXi FORUM
August 24, 2019

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: WHAT BIT OF IT DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? by Sundance Bilson-Thompson [refresh]
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Author Sundance Bilson-Thompson wrote on Jul. 5, 2013 @ 16:42 GMT
Essay Abstract

The saying “it from bit” conjures up the idea of a universe which is nothing more than information, a simulation running on a computer, or an amorphous collection of non-physical numbers from which solid reality somehow condenses. This idea makes for good science fiction stories and after-dinner conversations, but we are more likely to make scientific progress by treating information as a useful concept, just like energy, leaving aside the question of whether it is more or less real than matter.

Author Bio

Sundance Bilson-Thompson is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Adelaide. He has worked at Seoul National University and the Perimeter Institute. His interest centre upon combining the standard model with quantum gravity

Download Essay PDF File

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Roger Granet wrote on Jul. 6, 2013 @ 05:28 GMT
Dr. Bilson-Thompson,

Hi. I totally agree with your essay. I think it's right on. I said some similar things in my essay, too, which I attach below. I don't put these in to detract from your essay but just to say that I totally agree with this line of thinking. Plus, I like your first name!

Thanks!

Roger

1. In regard to making faster scientific progress, I totally agree and mentioned in my essay:

"I further propose that more and faster progress towards a deeper understanding of the nature of existence could be made if we argued less about whether or not to call this state an "it", a "bit" or anything else, and worked more on figuring out what the properties of a generic existent state might be and how these properties could be used to build a model of the universe"

2. In regard to your idea about "minimal arbitrariness", which you use to suggest why objects move in straight lines unless acted upon:

"It seems that an object set in motion is required to obey Newton's first law by a lack of information. It is tempting to say that Newton's first law could be derived from a “principle of minimal arbitrariness” - at least classically an object cannot invent new information to

define how it will behave.

In my essay, I use a similar idea to suggest that any existent entity that is a building block of our universe should have a spherical shape:

"Next, there is no other information about this three-dimensional existent state other than that there is a three-dimensional state. What does this imply about its shape? Because there is no information to define corners, angles, asymmetries or size differences in any dimension, the state would have to be identical in all three dimensions. That is, it would be a sphere.

http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Granet_fqxie
ssay2013final.pdf

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 03:07 GMT
Dear Sundance

Slightly short but well enough to describe the problem, but unfortunately that your conclusion are just is a "hope".

And to change the atmosphere "abstract" of the competition along with 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...

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 04:26 GMT
Dear Sundance,

I welcome your essay that really close to me. You honestly say - this is an empty pastime and nothing more and I am fully agree with you! I understand that you have written short because nothing more speaking on this matter - if we do not want such empty pastime. However, the serious problems in science starts from such ,,trifles,, that brought it to a wall ...

I just sure my workEssay will in according to your taste. If yes, then we can continue this talk! (I wait you in my forum)

Sincerely,

George

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Manuel S Morales wrote on Jul. 7, 2013 @ 21:11 GMT
Sundance,

I have sent an email requesting that FQXi extend to those of you who had their essay posted on July 5, 2013, be allowed additional days to compensate for the days of not being able to rate these essays.

My experience in conducting the online Tempt Destiny (TD) experiment from 2000 to 2012 gave me an understanding of the complexities involved in administrating an online competition which assures me that the competition will be back up and running soon. Ironically, the inability of not being able to rate the essays correlates with the TD experimental findings, as presented in my essay, which show how the acts of selection are fundamental to our physical existence.

Anyway, I hope that all entrants will be allocated the same opportunity to have their essay rated when they are posted, and if not possible due to technical difficulties, will have their opportunity adjusted accordingly. Best wishes to you with your entry.

Manuel

PS I will be reviewing and rating your entry after this function has been turned back on.

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Deepak Vaid wrote on Jul. 9, 2013 @ 17:40 GMT
Hello Sundance,

Your essay was a pleasure to read. It packs a punch and I really like it. However, I do take issue with your statement that:

"viewing the universe in terms of matter, energy, and spacetime is no better or worse than viewing it in terms of information".

I think the history of science has taught us that a change in perspective can dramatically alter our...

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 21:20 GMT
Dr. Bilson-Thompson,

I found your economically concise essay to be exceptionally clearly written, and your assertion as to the rational treatment of information as being a useful adjunct to our understanding of reality to be irrefutable.

Joe

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Author Sundance Bilson-Thompson replied on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 03:29 GMT
Hi Joe,

Thanks for your very short-but-sweet feedback on my essay.

Cheers,

Sundance

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 23:29 GMT
Dear Bilson,

Thank you for presenting your nice essay. I saw the abstract and will post my comments soon. So you can produce matter from your thinking or from information description of that matter. . . . ?

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...

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 10:33 GMT
Dear Sundance,

I just read your short and to the point essay and just wanted to mention that I found your discussion of a the "principle of minimal arbitrariness" a worthwhile example of the kind of conception of information that can usefully deepen our insights into the nature.

I suspect that that some people may perceive too strong a polemical tone in your essay (beginning with the title) for them to rate it highly, but I personally see nothing wrong with forcefully making your case.

All the best,

Armin

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jul. 16, 2013 @ 16:21 GMT
Sundance,

What a wonderful eminently sensible level headed view, incorporating all the key issues. Kipling comes to mind; "If you can keep your head while all about you are loosing theirs...". I agreed with all points, well expressed, even though my own approach is a little different, I kind of get on and test things to destruction resulting in my essay. (why does an exploding train carriage and the phrase; "dja think y'used enough dynamite there Butch?" come to mind?)!

But anyway; the highlights for me were; "We have moved from a clockwork universe, to a cosmic steam engine gradually winding its way down to a state of maximum entropy, to a computer."

"it makes no sense to ask whether matter or information is more real. The universe is a computer for running a perfect simulation of itself, just as Australia is a perfectly detailed 1:1 scale map of Australia." ...and;

"how does the object 'choose' the radius and centre of its circular path from the potentially infinite number of circular paths at its disposal?"

And I wholly agree your conclusion; "it is better to take a more pragmatic interpretation and see information (as) just another probe of reality."

I hope you may prove to be on the same wavelength as my essay, which builds an ontology deriving a new EPR paradox resolution from orbital angular momentum. The problem is it's seemed largely 'invisible' so far! I'd really value your thoughts and comments (not to mention score!). Do read the consistent McHarris and Watsone essays too if you have time.

Very well done for your own, getting far more value in three pages than many do in nine.

Very Best wishes

Peter

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Jennifer L Nielsen wrote on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 00:06 GMT
"If spacetime and matter are real, but their interactions are isomorphic to the

functioning of a computer, then viewing the universe in terms of matter, energy,

and spacetime is no better or worse than viewing it in terms of information, and

different approaches may suit different situations. But then it makes no sense

to ask whether matter or information is more real. The universe is a computer

for running a perfect simulation of itself, just as Australia is a perfectlydetailed 1:1 scale map of Australia."

Sundance, well said! The universe is a perfect simulation of itself. :) I agree with the very pragmatic approach you are taking here.

In my essay I also argue that "bit" results from "it" but I maintain that there may be also be an "inter-it" which cannot be adequately described by bits at all. (Although my approach to this is pragmatic not mystical.)

Cheers!

Jenny

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 18:40 GMT
Dear Sundance,

Nice essay. I will be commenting after a second read. Also since you are interested in quantum gravity I will like to know your take whether the Planck length is of any physical importance, if so what real or empirical evidence do you know. Meanwhile...

As the contest in Wheeler's honor draws to a close, leaving for the moment considerations of rating and prize money, and knowing we cannot all agree on whether 'it' comes from 'bit' or otherwise or even what 'it' and 'bit' mean, and as we may not be able to read all essays, though we should try, I pose the following 4 simple questions and will rate you accordingly before July 31 when I will be revisiting your blog.

"If you wake up one morning and dip your hand in your pocket and 'detect' a million dollars, then on your way back from work, you dip your hand again and find that there is nothing there…

1) Have you 'elicited' an information in the latter case?

2) If you did not 'participate' by putting your 'detector' hand in your pocket, can you 'elicit' information?

3) If the information is provided by the presence of the crisp notes ('its') you found in your pocket, can the absence of the notes, being an 'immaterial source' convey information?

Finally, leaving for the moment what the terms mean and whether or not they can be discretely expressed in the way spin information is discretely expressed, e.g. by electrons

4) Can the existence/non-existence of an 'it' be a binary choice, representable by 0 and 1?"

Answers can be in binary form for brevity, i.e. YES = 1, NO = 0, e.g. 0-1-0-1.

Best regards,

Akinbo

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adel sadeq wrote on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 06:26 GMT
Dear Sundance,

Your "principle of minimal arbitrariness" is exactly why reality exists, and my theory builds on exactly this concept. Thank you.

Fundamental Theory of Reality, “Reality is nothing but a mathematical structure, literally”

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1877

Adel

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Than Tin wrote on Jul. 26, 2013 @ 03:51 GMT
Hello Sundance

Richard Feynman in his Nobel Acceptance Speech

(http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/19
65/feynman-lecture.html)

said: “It always seems odd to me that the fundamental laws of physics, when discovered, can appear in so many different forms that are not apparently identical at first, but with a little mathematical fiddling you can show...

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Member Carlo Rovelli wrote on Jul. 27, 2013 @ 04:43 GMT
Sundance,

in ancient physics there was no arbitrariness in the choice of the center of the rotation of celestial bodies, because the structure of space was taken to be that of a ball with a center. Bodies on Earth where not assumed to move naturally in circles, but up and down. Newton changed the structure of space, in order to have his dynamics. So, ancient and classical physics equally implement a no-arbtrariness principle.

The general point you make seems correct to me, but you refer to a rather naive idea of information as a foundational notion...

ciao, carlo

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Author Sundance Bilson-Thompson replied on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 03:02 GMT
Hi Carlo,

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you about the lack of arbitrariness in choosing a centre for circular motion of the planets. However in the ancient astronomers' cosmology, this centre was chosen from the outside by a divine hand. It may be a semantic argument, but I feel you could argue that this didn't remove arbitrariness, it merely shifted the arbitrariness to "inside the mind of god". Nowadays we don't like preferred reference frames, and so there's a clear difference between ancient and modern (classical) physics, in that modern physics is more "egalitarian", for want of a better term. Taking the decisions about what goes where out of the hands of a divine architect itself makes physics less arbitrary.

Regards,

Sundance

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Member Olaf Dreyer wrote on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 09:46 GMT
Hi Sundance:

Nice short essay! I like your point that we should relax on the fundamental questions and just see what the concept can do for us to get actual results.

You make a number of points (maybe you could have used a bit more of the 12 pages to flesh them out) and I want to just ask one question. You say that the zeros and ones of information have to live somewhere (e.g. the computer of the bug eyed alien scientist). If that is so then you point out that we have not gained anything. We have just moved the questions up one level. I guess the hardcore "It from bit" people will object and say that you miss the point. Information is not living anywhere (no computer, no scientist, ...). It just is. There are then two question: Can we make sense of this, and is the world like this? Would you agree?

My answer to both of these questions is no. I try to give the arguments in my essay.

All the best from sunny Hamburg.

Cheers

Olaf

P.S.: Are these numbers in the essay your phone number?

+61 8 8313 5996

Lonely?

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Author Sundance Bilson-Thompson replied on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 02:33 GMT
Hi Olaf,

Maybe a little lonely. Did I mention that I like pino coladas, and getting caught in the rain...? :-) No actually I'm not sure how that number got into the middle of my essay, but I assume it's the result of a tragic cut-and-paste accident that I failed to notice while rushing to submit my essay before the entries closed.

To address your other question, it makes no sense to me to divide the world into its and bits and try to decide which category the fundamental building blocks of the universe fall into. That would be a little like arguing about whether quarks and leptons are made of Earth, Air, Fire, or Water. Likewise, I think that if there is a fundamental layer of reality, that it will be most sensible to refer to the fundamental building blocks (let's call them "True Atoms"), and relegate all other descriptions of the physical universe (fermions, flux lines, bits, chickens,...) to a secondary role as labels for the bulk behaviour of groups of True Atoms. "It" and "bit" would then be just labels, no more or less valid than each other. And addressing the question of whether information "just is", I'd have to say that my prejudice is that information will need to be associated with the state of a group of True Atoms, rather than existing freely in some disembodied Platonic realm of perfect forms.

Thanks for your interest and feedback.

Cheers,

Sundance

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Antony Ryan wrote on Jul. 29, 2013 @ 15:56 GMT
Hello Sundance,

I think your essay was flowed well and you raise good points. Perhaps The Fibonacci sequence as hinted at in my essay might be an answer to one of your questions.

I think you e planned things clearly to a broad audience in an interesting and relevant way.

Best wishes,

Antony

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Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga wrote on Jul. 30, 2013 @ 14:35 GMT
Hello Sundance,

short but very interesting essay.

Good luck for the contest

Torsten

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Than Tin wrote on Aug. 1, 2013 @ 05:51 GMT
Dear All

A standard-issue big city all-glass high-rise stands across the street from my usual bus stop. When I look up the high-rise facade, I can see the reflections of the near-by buildings and the white clouds from the sky above. Even when everything else looks pretty much the same, the reflections of the clouds are different, hour to hour and day to day.

After I boarded the bus,...

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john stephan selye wrote on Aug. 1, 2013 @ 22:18 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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Hugh Matlock wrote on Aug. 4, 2013 @ 07:52 GMT
Hi Sundance,

Thanks for a thoughtful critique of the simulation paradigm. You wrote:

> If the universe is nothing more than information we have to ask ourselves whether that information resides in some storage medium... But it seems doubtful that this would actually help us learn more about how the laws of physics came about, for instance.

In my essay Software Cosmos I take up this challenge. While it is not possible to learn much about the "hardware", the "software" structure of such a universe can reveal a lot, and actually answers a host of cosmological puzzles.

> Surely it is better to take a more pragmatic interpretation and see information of just another probe of reality.

I hope you get a chance to take a look, as I would be curious to see if my picture was compelling enough to change your views.

Hugh

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Charles Raldo Card wrote on Aug. 6, 2013 @ 03:53 GMT
Late-in-the-Day Thoughts about the Essays I’ve Read

I am sending to you the following thoughts because I found your essay particularly well stated, insightful, and helpful, even though in certain respects we may significantly diverge in our viewpoints. Thank you! Lumping and sorting is a dangerous adventure; let me apologize in advance if I have significantly misread or misrepresented...

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Neil Bates wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 10:00 GMT
Hi Sundance. Your essay was short but impressive. I thought it deserved a relatively high rating for not indulging in overambitious woo etc. but making a pithy and reasonably creative statement. I wonder if you could take a look at my own essay at /1610 and see what you think if not already. (It proposes an actual experiment to distinguish mixtures with the same density matrix.) Cheers.

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Member Sean Gryb wrote on Aug. 7, 2013 @ 13:40 GMT
Hi Sundance!

Hope things are well. Glad to see you in this competition!

I am definitely on your side in regards to "it from bit" taking the idea of information a bit too seriously.

Hope you are doing well!

Sean.

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