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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
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Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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February 20, 2018

CATEGORY: Is Reality Digital or Analog? Essay Contest (2010-2011) [back]
TOPIC: Can the Universe Be Completely Digitized? by Helmut Hansen [refresh]
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Author Helmut Hansen wrote on Jan. 24, 2011 @ 15:37 GMT
Essay Abstract

The well-known physicist John Archibald Wheeler coined the phrase: It from bit. It symbolizes the idea that our physical universe is information-theoretic in origin. According to this idea our universe can be completely digitized. Proponents of digital physics are thus convinced that the very heart of our universe is of discrete nature. In this paper an argument is presented, which shows that our universe is fundamentally of analogous nature

Author Bio

Helmut Hansen is author. He is convinced that metaphysics can be conducted as an exact science like nuclear physics. Out of this conviction have now emerged several books and articles.

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jan. 25, 2011 @ 06:46 GMT
Dear Helmut Hansen,

A very sweet little essay.

Information is confusing many people today. It is lovely in its essence. I first fell in love with it in 1967 with Amnon Katz's "Principles of Statistical Mechanics: The Information Theory Approach".

In another instance, when I told my major adviser about error detecting and correcting codes, he at first did not believe it possible.

Today entanglement, qubits, and holographic ideas have only made the confusion worse. So it is amazing that, in three short pages, you can so nicely argue that the world is not "made of bits".

Bits are not "the thing", they are *about* the thing. Bits depend upon a choice of representation, whereas real things are independent of representation. Korzybski was prescient when he noted in "Science and Sanity" that "the map is not the territory". Many people wish to build territory from maps these days. It's not Science.

Good luck in the contest.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Jan. 25, 2011 @ 15:58 GMT
Hi Helmut,

I agree with you that some metaphysical reasoning (as well as mental experiments), may help in understanding physical reality. But in the case of your essay, which I read with pleasure, I don't see the logic behind your claim that in a universe made of 'physical' bits, of 'bitoms' as you call them, nothing would happen.

You seem to relate this observation to the undeniable fact that, in order to have one bit of information I must be confronted with two equally likely alternatives.

Would this 'digital' universe then become lively, i.e. non crystal-like, just by unbalancing the 50-50 probability split of its 'atoms'? The reason for this (possibly bizarre, but respectful) question is to try and 'force' you to be a little more specific about the picture of a bit-based universe that you criticize. For example, the concept of probability invokes that of trial, experiment, in other words, some event. In a completely frozen universe of 'bitoms', who is testing the probabilistic nature of these atomic elements? Can we assume that they are pure bits (50-50) without anything ever happening to them? Can a bit exist without being read, or transmitted?

By the way, I also believe, with Edwin, that bits are not 'the thing', but they are *about* the thing. I would additionally suggest that, if we insist in using them as a map, the real 'thing' that they represent is also *digital*: it's a causal set -- a discrete spacetime.

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Philip Gibbs replied on Jan. 25, 2011 @ 17:11 GMT
It's pleasing to see an essay that recognises the importance of ur-theory in this subject. I mentioned it but only briefly in my essay.

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Helmut Hansen wrote on Jan. 26, 2011 @ 16:09 GMT
Hi Tommaso,

the idea of bitoms is only a -finger- which should point in an easy way that there is an ultimate limiting state in our universe, which can never be reached by any natural process, that is, the state of perfect order. This state is considered of being excluded because perfect order excludes any motion, but our (!) universe is obviously full of motion.

The other...

view entire post

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 25, 2011 @ 19:22 GMT
Hi Helmut

I enjoyed your essay, which I think touched on some profound points, and was very readable. It is certainly a top scorer for me.

Might you consider that the concept "Information measures form" has an analogy with a shortcoming of our application of the Cartesian system where we abstract to points and lines but forget Einstein's specification that the co-ordinates should be attached to a 'rigid body' or 3D form.

I believe it's Robert S's essay that also particularly identifies the shortcomings of the transformation in not considering at motion. (see my thread under '2020 vision..')

An interesting point re the CMB rest frame is that it's temperature varies with frequency, a slightly tricky concept to grasp! - but perhaps telling us something about the 'form' of the reference frame.

It has also been rather glossed over that the very fact that there is a CMB rest frame is inconsistent with SR's stipulation of no 3rd frame.!

I hope you will be able to read, score and comment on my own essay, which is consistent with yours if probably too brim full of... anyway I believe you may understand the underlying identification of a link with relativity and QM.

Best wishes


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Constantinos Ragazas wrote on Mar. 14, 2011 @ 02:20 GMT
Dear Helmut,

I agree with your idea that the universe is fundamentally continuous. In my essay, using exclusively continuous processes I mathematically derive Planck's Law for blackbody radiation and show that this Law is actually a mathematical tautology that describes the interaction of energy. I argue that this explains why the experimental blackbody spectrum is indistinguishable from the theoretical.

Furthermore, just recently I posted a mathematical proof of the proposition, “If the speed of light is constant, then light is a wave”.

I hope you find these results interesting and significant to comment and to support my efforts to place these before the panel for review.

All the best,


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