Isn’t it interesting that one of the contemporary interpretation that the cosmos is—in essence—information in pure form? This is the concept of Digital Physics. It’s hard to believe it’s just a coincidence that this explanation has emerged at a time in human history when Information Technology is the focus of such attention.
Charles Seife is one of the thinkers that proclaims that information is the basic building block of reality.
Information theory is so powerful because information is physical. Information is not just an abstract concept, and it is not just facts or figures, dates or names. It is a concrete property of matter and energy that is quantifiable and measurable.
—Charles Seife, Decoding the Universe
Before science, mythology and religion explained the universe. Our interpretation of the universe included explanations such as the Sun being our god, or that the heavenly bodies revolved around Earth, home of Man.
Today, at a time where computers (machines that manipulate information) dominate every aspect of our lives, our Science is telling us that at the heart of the cosmos there is no matter but information. It seems very convenient or coincidental to say the least.
“It from bit”
However—right or wrong—it could be that we simply rely on this explanation because our human minds like to find patterns and so, we look for something familiar that will explain the unknown. It could be that certain things (such as the origin of the universe) demand of us novel concepts and ideas. These new ideas are so alien to us that we must experience large enough events of global cultural impact (such the Digital Age) to then be able to think of new explanations by drawing similarities.
We could say that allegories (or symbols) are an essential part of acquiring knowledge and learning about reality.
A few months ago I attended a talk at SXSW titled Humans vs Machines: A Cognitive Revolution. Being the progressive place that SX is (or so I thought), I was hoping to hear some ideas about the thinking processes of humans and machines. Oh, boy…
What I heard was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. To put it briefly, the speaker’s point was that since “computers can’t be creative”, humans should leave all dirty work to them. Humans should dedicate themselves to the fine arts and those elevated activities of the mind and spirit. The speaker was so convinced that machines could not be creative that he never even explained why he thought so. Like many others, he assumed that machines are just a bunch of metal and gears put together and that nothing that was not there to begin with can arise from such basic components.
That line of thinking is a clear example of our ingrained mechanophobia or fear of machines. We love machines for all they can do for us but deep down we hate them for what they might become.
“Machines will become our most faithful servant”
That quote above is from the same talk and also what I call wishful thinking. I’m a rationalist materialist. This is it. Matter is all there is. We might not know what matter is (and some believe is ethereal information) but matter is all there is. We are matter, so are machines. We think, therefore matter thinks, and therefore, so machines will one day think.
One last note
This mechanophobia is so ingrained, it’s everywhere. I was just reading about the completely unrelated topic of web design and there it was staring back at me once again:
No machine will ever A/B test its way to a more meaningful relationship. —How to survive the digital apocalypse
Actually, if machines ever care to create a meaningful relationship with humans, it’s very likely that they will do so by trial and error. A/B testing would be a great idea in that regards.