Decoding the Universe
Charles Seife
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Buy *Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes* by Charles Seife online

Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes
Charles Seife
Penguin
Paperback
304 pages
January 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The farther one looks down into the finite details of the ever-increasing depths of computer science and information, into the cybernetic arterioles of the PC and the Mac, the farther one sees out into the universe.

That has been my belief since the first time I saw a film of UNIVAC computer. Now Charles Seife has written Decoding the Universe, affirming my opinion. This work presents in a style that is useful to students, professionals, and the lay public as well, although it helps to have a modicum of scientific understanding when reading it. It is not so simple as to bore the academic and not so complex as to put off the average person. If it were psychology (and it does affect that in making us consider new abstractions), Iíd say it was somewhere on a continuum between Psychology Today and the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR. Since it is physics and mathematics, Iíll have to say it lies centrally in a plane bounded by Popular Science, Engineerís Handbook, and the complete works of Stephen Hawking. It is a popular physics, both fascinating and enjoyable.

Decoding the Universe considers information science in relation to known physics, from Einstein to modern quantum, chaos, string, and ďeverythingĒ theories. It eases us into the hot waters of challenging subject matter by providing an entertaining and understandable explanation for the delightful SchrŲdingerís (undead) cat, as well as the speed of light (which some now think is not a constant). Of course, the universe is a computer, or at least a large external hard drive. That notion hurts some peopleís brains, but I find it fun. We live in a universe that is a non-spherical multi-dimensional set of some kind, operating under a certain continuum of physics and mathematics laws. When we are done exploring this one, what might we find in the next hard drive? Will we ever find Godís server?

For me, this book is a good review of quantum mechanics, black holes, multiple universes, paradoxes, dimensionality, and additional concepts. In addition, Seife concludes that Information Theory accepts bits of information as physical entities. Perhaps there are information electrons! This is where many brains twist up.

Information comprises concrete matter and energy that can be measured. Information has weight. It has mass and energy. This is easy to believe, since each new bit of information learned forges another wrinkle in the brain. Transmitting information also consumes energy. I know this to be true, because during the four hours of the ACT examination I took in one sitting, I lost four pounds. I also know that when my computer disk is full of information, I canít get anything else onto it. Further, conducting materials such as copper wires, fiber optic cables, and computer paper all are limited in the number of bits they can transmit. Info takes up space!

Information bits for the computer are expressed as either 0 or 1. Seife also explains DNA sequences as series of 0ís and 1ís (no charges and charges, off and on), and that makes perfect sense to me. Iíve long thought that there may be one long strand of DNA coiled up in everything organic, with only certain switches turned on (charged) in order to create a particular species. That is far-fetched, but similar to Seifeís thinking.

Even more interesting is Seifeís illustration that mathematical formulas for the expansion of gases (following fractal patterns, actually) are exactly like equations for the transmission of information. Fractals, fractals, everywhere and every bit is real. Letís consider the Big Bang. When the Bang occurred (or God lit a giant match), it threw out information bits that spread via explosive expansion in fractal pattern(s). When it is finished expanding and all of the bits of info are evenly distributed throughout forever-ness, the universe will be dark and empty and the light of Genesis will no longer ďbeĒ. This is entropy -- until the next match strikes.

Seife also includes an interesting history of early information theory that was developed by the cryptographers of World War II. These math whizzes reduced information to its basic components in order to code the un-crackable code. Of course, they eventually needed help from the Navajo nation for complete success. The Navajo were more in tune with the abstract (and, perhaps, the universe) and made the only codes that no one on earth could crack.

This book has encouraged me to explore the topic of information further. I recommend it to anyone interested in science, science fiction, and exploring the lesser known.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Patty Inglish, MS, 2007

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