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Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics 1st Edition

35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521762250
ISBN-10: 0521762251
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Editorial Reviews


"This is the anthology we have been waiting for ... seminal papers deal with matter through the history of Greek thought, seventeenth-century materialism and twentieth-century dematerialism, the need for a new scientific world view in the light of the quantum nature of the universe, and the storage and transmission of information in biological systems with the new knowledge of their genomes and development ... Philosophers, theologians and scientists all have their say, wrestling with the theme of God as the ultimate informational and structuring principle in the universe."
Professor Sir Brian Heap, St Edmund's College, President, European Academies Science Advisory Board, German Academy of Sciences

"... an illustrious cast of senior academics with backgrounds ranging from theoretical physics, through molecular biology, to philosophy and theology."
Bogdan Hoanca, Optics and Photonics News

Book Description

Many scientists regard mass and energy as the primary currency of nature. In recent years, however, the concept of information has gained importance. In this book, eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians chart various aspects of information, from quantum information to biological and digital information, to understand how nature works.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (November 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521762251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521762250
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

230 of 239 people found the following review helpful By Paul L. Nunez on November 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the past century or so most scientists have regarded mass and energy as nature's primary actors on the universal stage with information allowed only a secondary role. Essays in this book by authors from varied fields advocate a radically different view, one that elevates information as the fundamental entity underlying all of physical reality, implying the conceptual hierarchy: information -> laws of physics -> matter. I will not attempt a comprehensive review here, just hit a few highlights. Check the web for more detailed reviews.

Why should one take this idea of [information-as-fundamental] seriously? A short answer addressed by several authors is that known physical laws, relativity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics, are all laws about information, especially limits on the speed, quantity, and quality of information transfer. Relativity limits speed; quantum mechanics limits quantity. The wave function of a system of quantum particles encapsulates all that is known about the system; it is essentially an information field. It is not clear (to me at least) if the fundamental information envisioned here might be embedded in space-time (as the usual quantum wavefunction) or if the information may create space-time itself. Probably there are proponents on both sides of this question.

What are the implications of this revolutionary new paradigm? For one thing it is bound to be quite controversial. For some scientists this may be likened to opening Pandora's box (or at least a large can of worms) releasing all kinds of wild ideas about the origins of consciousness, implications for religious beliefs, mysticism, and so forth. Others, especially those interested in the "hard problem" of consciousness, may welcome the new ideas.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Kirk on September 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a rich topic with James Gleick's recent and eclectic volume stimulating more popular interest in the perspectives, small and large, that information theory may offer us. This book's treatment of `information' from different perspectives starts well but subsides into unnecessarily complex and discursive verbage. The volume assays a range of topics, and bibliographies accompany each chapter. The topics (chapters) are organised in the themes of history, physics and biology, with philosophy and theology combined at the end. Alas, the detail of this review trails off about half way through as I sped up my reading, finding less rewards and continuing with the main aim of getting it over with. A concluding chapter is definitely needed to wrap up the many strands of thinking. I dislike writing negative reviews, preferring to focus on the positive and noting that preferences vary. However, I felt it important to flag to readers of Paul Davies's books that he is only an editor here, writing one chapter, and that the collection of essays does not deliver the level of exposition that his books usually do.

In Part 1, History, Ernan McMullan surveys the changing theories of matter in Western philosophy. His writing and vocabulary reflect a philosophical review and may be considered poetic or opaque depending on reader preference. More importantly, it offers one of the most concise and intelligible accounts of our perception of matter from Aristotle to dark matter that this reviewer has ever read. As a philosopher reviewing science, his emphases are incisive and clear, and have no doubt benefited from the comments of the editors, as he states.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David J. Kreiter on October 30, 2011
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This book is divided into four main Categories: History, Physics, Biology, and Philosophy and Theology, with contributions by 15 prominent authors including the two editors, Paul Davies, and Niels Henrik Gregersen.

Information, like the concepts of matter and energy has been difficult to define. According to Terrence Deacon, the definition of energy wasn't fully realized until it was discovered that energy is not a substance, but rather, a dynamic process of change that is always conserved. Just as with the concept of energy, he said, we must give up the idea of thinking of information as some "artifact" or "commodity". In the broadest sense, says John F. Haught, information can mean whatever gives form, order, pattern, or identify to something.

Today most physicists divide information into two broad categories: syntactic information and semantic information. Syntactic information is sometimes called Shannon information after Claude Shannon who discovered that information can be thought of as a measure of entropy and probability. This is both a quantitative and physical definition, which describes how much information any system can carry and is not concerned with the meaning of the information. The more information a system carries the less entropy it contains, which also happens to be the least probable state of the system. Likewise, the most probable state of a system has a high degree of entropy and carries little information. So we can think of information as a complementarity between the message and the medium. Both are needed for a complete description of information. The second type of information is called semantic information, and it deals with the content of the message--what it means.
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