- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Thus edition (November 30, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674018575
- ISBN-13: 978-0674018570
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Information: The New Language of Science First Thus Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
The murky relationship between reality and our knowledge of it is one of philosophys most famous conundrums. According to this engaging tour of contemporary information science, the question may be moot since, if some theorists are to be believed, "the stuff of the world is really, at bottom, information." That may be the sort of grandiose claim cyber-enthusiasts make when they get a new Palm Pilot, but physics professor and journalist von Baeyer (Warmth Disperses and Time Passes) manages to invest it with real intellectual substance. Delving into the history of science from ancient Greek theories of the atom to the frontiers of astrophysics, he shows how the concept of information illuminates a huge variety of phenomena, from black holes to the gamesmanship strategies of Lets Make a Deal. Along the way, he provides a lucid and easily accessible treatment of some fairly sophisticated topics in thermodynamics, communications theory and quantum mechanics; his account of such aspects of "quantum weirdness" as superposition and action-at-a-distance, in which the law of the excluded middle is repealed (e.g., how Schrödingers cat is both alive and not alive) and particles seem to have an eerily telepathic knowledge of regions of space where they have never been, is a tour de force of popular scientific exposition. Von Baeyer manages to steer clear of equations without resorting to the hand-waving metaphors that too many science popularizers lapse into when trying to convey difficult ideas. The result is a stylish introduction to one of the most fascinating themes of modern science.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Hans Christian von Bayer is well known for explaining the complexities of science to the rest of us, and in this book he lives up to his reputation by taking on one of the most difficult concepts around--information. Starting with his characterization of information as a gentle rain that falls on all of our lives, he leads us through a universe in which information is woven like threads in a cloth. Masterful! (James Trefil, Clarence J Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University and co-author of The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)
In Information, physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer sets out to explain why...information is the irreducible seed from which every particle, every force and even the fabric of space-time grows. This is deep stuff, but von Baeyer romps through a huge range of subjects, including thermodynamics, statistics, information theory and quantum mechanics with ease....You will never think of information the same way again. (New Scientist 2003-11-01)
Von Baeyer has provided an accessible and engaging overview of the emerging role of information as a fundamental building block in science. (Michael Nielsen Nature 2004-01-01)
Delving into the history of science from ancient Greek theories of the atom to the frontiers of astrophysics, [Von Baeyer] shows how the concept of information illuminates a huge variety of phenomena, from black holes to the gamesmanship strategies of Let's Make a Deal...Von Baeyer manages to steer clear of equations without resorting to the hand-waving metaphors that too many science popularizers lapse into when trying to convey difficult ideas. The result is a stylish introduction to one of the most fascinating themes of modern science. (Publishers Weekly 2004-03-01)
Top customer reviews
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How pleasant to find it dropped on my doorstep a week ago (3/16/04).
The book is published by Harvard University Press, so physically it is very high quality. Von Baeyer is an excellent expositor, and has written several books on science for the lay person.
Check out his other books by all means.
Information, as a physical quantity, has been rapidly evolving. It is destined to play a pivotal role in this century, especially in physics. We now distinguish between classical and quantum information, and it is safe to say that there are many mysteries still unsolved about how information is to be understood and what role it plays in the universe.
Von Baeyer's book begins with eight chapters on background information (pardon the pun!) --- how our ideas of information have evolved, the idea of the bit, Shannon's information theory, the role of genetic information in biology, the tension between the ideas of reductionism and emergence in the sciences, and a hint at how the ideas of Bohr, Wheeler, and Zeilinger suggest that, ``Science is about information.''
The next ten chapters flesh out our understanding of classical information. The connection between probability and classical information is explored, as is Boltzmann's discovery of the microscopic interpretation of entropy, noise, Shannon's model of communication theory, bioinformatics, and the discoveries of Landauer and Bennett about the destruction of information and the reversibility of computation.
Then follow four chapters on quantum information. Here we close in the frontier of our understanding. There is a discussion of some of the `weird' things that happen in the quantum mechanical model of the world, and the qubit, the quantum bit, a rich, complex object offering, perhaps, incredible opportunities for quantum information processing. There is a discussion of quantum computing, and finally, black holes. There are deep, deep mysteries lurking here. For example, information is conserved in a natural process described by quantum mechanics. Yet in Stephen Hawking's Black Hole Information Paradox, information disappears into black holes! Black holes involve general relativity, so the marriage between general relativity and quantum mechanics seems destined to involve an understanding of what seems to be a universal currency, information.
For me the last two chapters in the book, on `Work in Progress' were the most inspiring. Here we have a discussion of the frontier, of information theory beyond Shannon, of new entities called bucks, hits, and nuts. The last chapter discusses Zeilinger's brave attempt (1999) at a `foundational principle for quantum mechanics' --- `an elementary system carries one bit of information.' This work is only a few years old, and leaves the breathless reader wanting......MORE INFORMATION !
This is an exciting book, worth 5 stars in my opinion. It is well written, timely, and thought provoking. I wish it had more figures, and even some photographs to make it more visually appealing, but no matter, it is mentally stimulating, and leaves the curious reader wondering. One can't ask for more than that.
Like his previous book, von Baeyer has written a book with no equations, plots, or figures of any kind. Presumably, the idea behind this approach is to appeal to non-technical readers. As a person who knows some math, I found myself wishing over and over again to get just a peek at the equations behind the "talk" to figure out what is really going on. As they say about pictures, "one equation is worth a thousand words." I don't know whether the publishing proverb that "the number of copies sold is inversely proportional to the number of equations" is at work here, but omitting math so completely does a disservice to readers.
The goal of von Baeyer's book is to ask, over and over again, "what is information?" In this regard, the book attempts to give nontechnical insight into Shannon's ideas. Next, the book transitions to the truly exciting edge of information, namely, quantum information theory. Since I had only a very vague idea of how qubits work before I picked up this book, I hoped to get some real insight from von Baeyer. Unfortunately, I learned nothing from the presentation. I found no clear and simple explanation as to how qubits work and how they could be used to compute something. The "bead" contest was presumably intended as a "clear as day" explanation, but it was just too much to swallow. Next, we hear about a breakthrough qubit-based algorithm for factoring integers, but there is barely a hint about how the algorithm works. (Is there a Quantum Mechanics for Dummies?)
Similar comments can be made concerning how information is lost (or not lost, whatever) when a cup of tea is sucked into a black hole. In this case it isn't the lack of equations that causes confusion, but rather how to appreciate the fact that physicists take seriously the notion that warm-tea-into-the-hole lowers the entropy of the universe.
In summary, a 21st century discussion of "what is information, and how might it form the basis for a new physics" is a great topic. But I learned little from this book, and I can only hope that another author will take up this task and move it to the next level of exposition. What would be ideal, is a book that lies somewhere between this book and N. Gershenfeld, Physics of Information Technology, Cambridge. (Nahin: Are you listening?)
Final note concerning the Frenzen review: There is nothing "physically...high quality" about this book.
There are, however very interesting and informative (sic) parts of the book. Noise in the Shannon-Weaver -model is described in a way that really tells more about the concept, both in the respect if information theory and everyday life. The effects of noise are brought up in several parts of the book, in various fashions.
The book is well-written, and easy to read. But title is misleading, and the contents are quite thin for somebody interested in the subject.