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The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory- The New Physics of Information Hardcover – February 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0471321743 ISBN-10: 0471321745 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471321745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471321743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Information, for most of us, is an airy, abstract thing--the stuff of ideas, images, and symbols. But for Tom Siegfried and the scientists he writes about in The Bit and the Pendulum: How the New Physics of Information Is Revolutionizing Science, information has become something much more fundamental to the workings of the world. "Information is real," Siegfried explains. "Information is physical." What that means depends somewhat on the discipline it's applied to (cosmology, particle physics, computer science, cognitive theory, and molecular biology are among the fields examined here), but in general it comes down to the radically simple notion that the universe, at its deepest levels, is made not of matter and energy but of bits. Information is real, yes. But more to the point: reality, in some increasingly meaningful sense, is information.

So goes the argument anyway. And Siegfried, science editor of the Dallas Morning News, does a pretty good job of presenting it. His prose, admittedly, puts the flat in flat-footed, and his explanations of the relevant scientific phenomena (which include cool stuff like teleportation and quantum-mechanical computing) are sometimes murkier than they ought to be. But his knowledge of the last 10 years of theoretical research is sweeping, and he's especially deft with the tricky philosophy-of-science issues that pervade his topic. Have scientists really discovered, in information, the world's true foundation? Or have they simply found a handy new metaphor with which to think about the world? Siegfried wisely comes down on neither side of the question. For him, the power of metaphor is inseparable from the quest for scientific truth. And his book convincingly suggests that information, as a concept, will be generating deep scientific truths for years to come. --Julian Dibbell

From Library Journal

Siegfried, the science editor of the Dallas Morning News, presents the radical idea that information is not merely something abstract and intangible but that it is physical. He asserts that bits and bytes of information are the foundation of reality; in other words, "it from bit." He argues that everything in the universe, from the biology of living things to the cosmology of a black hole, is constructed of nothing more substantial than bits of information. Whether one agrees with this far-out concept or not, Siegfried weaves a provocative and convincing argument, supported by a plethora of scientific and mathematical research cited in numerous sources recommended for further reading. This is the new physics of information, and Siegfried says it is leading to major breakthroughs in a vast range of science such as teleportation and the development of "quantum computers" designed to decode the mysteries of DNA and human consciousness. Recommended for an informed audience.
-Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Not a Clue on October 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I knew absolutely nothing about quantum computing and initially found this book fascinating. But it left a couple of troubling questions. How could qubits do computations that are impossible with bits? How does one extract a solution from all the concurrent possibilities? So I did a search on qubits AND quantum AND information. I didn't look far enough to find a real algorithm, an answer to the second question, but immediately found an answer to the first. The answer is that they can -- if they work -- solve NP-hard problems in polynomial time; that is, they extend the power of computation in practive, but not in principle. Still no truth value for paradoxes, what a relief!
I am getting really annoyed with books by reporters, however knowledgeable, who waste pages obliquely describing equations and concepts that can easily be described clearly in a line or a couple of paragraphs. Does he really know what he is talking about? Whether or not the writer understands high school algebra, he certainly appears to assume that the reader does not. If you don't, you will have a hard time with this book anyway; if you do, you can learn more faster and free at your nearest friendly (i.e. not related to AOL) search engine.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ever get the disturbing feeling that computers and video games and virtual reality are fogging up our view of the real world, the natural one with stars and gravity and grass and Pontiacs? This book won't set your mind at ease, but it will get you to thinking about information and whether our technological society's computers and other data-chomping, perception-bending devices are actually converging with the way the whole universe has worked all along. With a wonderful clarity of prose, science writer Tom Siegfried explores the idea that information itself, whether in a computer or embedded in tree rings or the vibrations on the sun's surface, is a component of the universe just as real as mass and energy. Physicists, he tells us, are learning that the rules of information theory sort of like those that the phone company uses to wire up its networks, apply to everything. A cell develops into a bee or a plant because of the information in its genes, a leaf flutters this way or that because of the "information" it gets from the breeze, and stars blow up and die because of the information in its core. Every event, they say, can be broken up into a logical string of yes and no questions and answers, and that's just like the ones and zeroes of binary computer code. Anyway, it's all darned interesting, and Siegfried manages to keep it pretty funny and light. He talked to and quotes a lot of weird, smart people. The book delves in the end into ideas that we need to explain all of physics with something called M-theory ("M" for membrane, or magic, or marvel ...Read more ›
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David J. Kreiter on December 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just as the clock defined society in medieval times, and the steam engine defined life in the nineteenth century, so the computer defines society today. But Tom Siegfried believes that the metaphor of the computer is much more profound than the tools of previous eras. In an interdisciplinary effort, Siefgried interviews some of the most renowned scientist and thinkers or our day to illuminate his belief that information is what the universe is made at the most fundamental level of reality. An interview with physicist John Wheeler, reinforces his hypothesis. Wheeler states that his view of the universe has changed over his lifetime. Initially, Wheeler believed that the most basic entity was the particle, then in later years, he believed that the universe was made up of fields, and now he believes, as does Siegfried, that everything is information. To state it another way, information is real-- a physical aspect of the universe as real as atoms. Wheeler, in turn, adddresses the quantum measurement problem. In a departure from a rising tide of opinion among scientists that quantum measurement merely selects a reality that already exists, he believes instead, that we are not acquiring information from the great void, but in actuality "creating" information out of a chaotic confusion of "yes--no" possibilities. Information is not an abstraction, but is always tied to something physical, whether it be ink on paper, holes in a punch card, magnetic patterns on floppy discs, or the arrangement of atoms in DNA. Information is always physical in some way. Just what constitutes an observer has been a controversial subject in quantum theory since the Copenhagen interpretation of reality.Read more ›
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was reading my 11-year old a chapter from The Bit and the Pendulum this morning. Space, we learned, might be made up of elastic band-like things called superstrings. Or of loops. Or yet bubble-like entities called p-branes. My kid gleefully latched on to the p-brane thing, at least as a moniker with which to tease me on the way to school, but seemed less accepting of the notion that space might be made up by as many as 11 dimensions instead of the standard three. ("Yeah, right!" she said, with an adolescent roll of the eyes.)
Siegfried's book covers a wide sweep of topics: DNA, consciousness, quantum codes, chaos, complex adaptive systems, the nature of space, alternate universes...and more. The unifying theme of the book is "information"--which, he explains, stands as a metaphor, today, for scientific inquiry, the way the clock and the steam engine did in centuries past. Wilder than "information as metaphor," though, is the notion that information--instead of simply being something abstract--is something physical and real.
I didn't understand everything in the book, but I always like learning about the crazy world of quantum physics, where, for instance, the act of measuring a photon of light can set in stone the nature of another light photon somewhere else. (My kid and I didn't get around to discussing THAT strange business.) And I was fascinated by much that I learned.
Tom Siegfried, science editor at the Dallas Morning News, is one of the smartest science writers I know. He also--hallelujah--writes with a sense of humor. The Bit and the Peundulum is filled with wry little gifts to the reader that help pull you along when the theoretical going gets tough.
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