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Information: The New Language of Science

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Confronting us at every turn, flowing from every imaginable source, information defines our era--and yet what we don't know about it could--and does--fill a book. In this indispensable volume, a primer for the information age, Hans Christian von Baeyer presents a clear description of what information is, how concepts of its measurement, meaning, and transmission evolved, Confronting us at every turn, flowing from every imaginable source, information defines our era--and yet what we don't know about it could--and does--fill a book. In this indispensable volume, a primer for the information age, Hans Christian von Baeyer presents a clear description of what information is, how concepts of its measurement, meaning, and transmission evolved, and what its ever-expanding presence portends for the future. Information is poised to replace matter as the primary stuff of the universe, von Baeyer suggests; it will provide a new basic framework for describing and predicting reality in the twenty-first century. Despite its revolutionary premise, von Baeyer's book is written simply in a straightforward fashion, offering a wonderfully accessible introduction to classical and quantum information. Enlivened with anecdotes from the lives of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists who have contributed significantly to the field, Information conducts readers from questions of subjectivity inherent in classical information to the blurring of distinctions between computers and what they measure or store in our quantum age. A great advance in our efforts to define and describe the nature of information, the book also marks an important step forward in our ability to exploit information--and, ultimately, to transform the nature of our relationship with the physical universe. (20040301)


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Confronting us at every turn, flowing from every imaginable source, information defines our era--and yet what we don't know about it could--and does--fill a book. In this indispensable volume, a primer for the information age, Hans Christian von Baeyer presents a clear description of what information is, how concepts of its measurement, meaning, and transmission evolved, Confronting us at every turn, flowing from every imaginable source, information defines our era--and yet what we don't know about it could--and does--fill a book. In this indispensable volume, a primer for the information age, Hans Christian von Baeyer presents a clear description of what information is, how concepts of its measurement, meaning, and transmission evolved, and what its ever-expanding presence portends for the future. Information is poised to replace matter as the primary stuff of the universe, von Baeyer suggests; it will provide a new basic framework for describing and predicting reality in the twenty-first century. Despite its revolutionary premise, von Baeyer's book is written simply in a straightforward fashion, offering a wonderfully accessible introduction to classical and quantum information. Enlivened with anecdotes from the lives of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists who have contributed significantly to the field, Information conducts readers from questions of subjectivity inherent in classical information to the blurring of distinctions between computers and what they measure or store in our quantum age. A great advance in our efforts to define and describe the nature of information, the book also marks an important step forward in our ability to exploit information--and, ultimately, to transform the nature of our relationship with the physical universe. (20040301)

30 review for Information: The New Language of Science

  1. 5 out of 5

    Satya

    Data are everywhere, forcefully and incessantly cascading down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain. But how much do we know about data? Data will indeed flow faster and more copiously through the pipelines of the future, but the information carried by the zeros and ones will inevitably suffer degradation through human error. The problem is already beginning to become apparent, probably be set by human frailty — for both our propensity to make mistakes and the limitations of our puny Data are everywhere, forcefully and incessantly cascading down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain. But how much do we know about data? Data will indeed flow faster and more copiously through the pipelines of the future, but the information carried by the zeros and ones will inevitably suffer degradation through human error. The problem is already beginning to become apparent, probably be set by human frailty — for both our propensity to make mistakes and the limitations of our puny brains, especially that of the data scientists. The incompetence in understanding data among data scientist more than convinced me that the word ‘data scientist’ is an euphemism for ‘imbeciles’. Should these imbeciles in the privacy of their thoughts really yearn to understand why — at least at some level — I encourage them to start with this book — the human fallibility in data management may be mitigated if not completely eliminated. This book offers a range of topics floating in the form of a soft, translucent box of peeled, seedless grapes shimmering indistinctly in all the colours of the rainbow at once. More explicitly, this book spans from Boltzman-to-Shannon’s classical information to unquestioned, unexplored terrain-incognito of quantum information. While this book is excellently written, this book set me peeved at times when the author extolled and gave much reverence to the ivy-league degrees, which in my view, are equivalent to a toilet roll. Except for this, the book serves as a lodestar and holds people’s — who do not know or understand data — course far away from the choppy waters of data and let sail though safely! Upon this gifted age, in this dark hour, Falls from the sky a meteoric shower Of facts …. they lie unquestioned, uncombined Wisdom enough to leach us of our ill Is daily spun: but there exists no loom To weave it into fabric …

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tessa

    This is a layman's book about the possibility of information being quantifiable and scientifically useful in a Quantum Bayesianist world. It was written before the term 'QBism' was even coined, so if you're interested in this topic (basically the leading non-realist foundation of quantum mechanics) and want a more up-to-date introduction, von Baeyer has a newer book which looks pretty swell. My dad is a disciple of Everett, so this was a fun lil foray from the multiverse interpretation. QBism st This is a layman's book about the possibility of information being quantifiable and scientifically useful in a Quantum Bayesianist world. It was written before the term 'QBism' was even coined, so if you're interested in this topic (basically the leading non-realist foundation of quantum mechanics) and want a more up-to-date introduction, von Baeyer has a newer book which looks pretty swell. My dad is a disciple of Everett, so this was a fun lil foray from the multiverse interpretation. QBism still feels pretty hokey to me but apparently people who work on quantum computing are really into it so idk maybe in the future I, too, will fuck with participatory realism.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bernard Yu

    This is the fourth book I've read that attempts to describe the quantum world so far and it has been the best, for a complete outsider like me. It goes through the past centuries of development and highlights the key names and breakthroughs. Very clear writing and relatable analogies. I enjoyed Carlos Rovelli's The Order of Time for it's beautiful prose, but didn't extract a lot out of it; Beyond Weird by Philip Ball described the experiments in detail but I finished with maybe 30% understanding This is the fourth book I've read that attempts to describe the quantum world so far and it has been the best, for a complete outsider like me. It goes through the past centuries of development and highlights the key names and breakthroughs. Very clear writing and relatable analogies. I enjoyed Carlos Rovelli's The Order of Time for it's beautiful prose, but didn't extract a lot out of it; Beyond Weird by Philip Ball described the experiments in detail but I finished with maybe 30% understanding of what he was trying to explain. With this book, I not only enjoyed learning about the developments of the field and how the giants (Bohr, Shannon, Einstein etc) all interacted with each other, but I felt that I understood all the concepts that were explained here. The book is a bit dated - the term QBism wasn't even coined in 2006, and in quantum computing we now have claimed quantum supremacy from Google (Sept 2020) and IBM's Q system one. Nonetheless, I think this book is still a great reference and recommend this as a starter for anyone with no technical background who is interested in the world of the quantum.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    Elementary philosophy of science focussing on Wheeler's "Really Big Questions" about the foundations of physics, in particular the 'digital physics'. (The Questions are ‘How come existence?’, ‘Why the quantum?’, ‘It from bit?’, ‘What makes meaning?’) Which wasn't what I was expecting from an out-of-print hardback tome by a serious physicist - particularly with that grand title - but still: nice. In fact it's hard to imagine anyone writing out these first steps any friendlier (ok, maybe Ben Orlin Elementary philosophy of science focussing on Wheeler's "Really Big Questions" about the foundations of physics, in particular the 'digital physics'. (The Questions are ‘How come existence?’, ‘Why the quantum?’, ‘It from bit?’, ‘What makes meaning?’) Which wasn't what I was expecting from an out-of-print hardback tome by a serious physicist - particularly with that grand title - but still: nice. In fact it's hard to imagine anyone writing out these first steps any friendlier (ok, maybe Ben Orlin). Its technical work feels effortless; think Schroedinger's What is Life? (which von Baeyer actually corrects, in passing). I needed a book on the method / meta-field surrounding mathematical "information", because it has surrounded me: it threatens to encompass science. Just as "energy" eventually became a unifying pillar of all the natural sciences, information has infiltrated that same salient: Energy <-> Entropy <-> Information. And then into other sciences: vB hints that we should see bits as money as ML-performance as Fisher information as VNM utility, which would seize about half of theoretical science. Info theory is a core part of a mathematico-philosophical witch's brew: computability, decision theory, computational complexity, Bayesian statistics, digital physics, quantum computing. Which together take big steps towards the naturalisation of logic - or, more, of maths - or more, of thought. (And is information larger than thought?) And/or the dematerialisation of physics? von Baeyer builds it all up, so we get Clausius (1852) for thermodynamics, Boltzmann (1877) for entropy (inverse info) as a proper physical object, Shannon (1930) for classical info theory, Solomonoff (1960) for algorithmic complexity, Landauer for the shocking physics of computation (1961), Bekenstein (1971) and Hawking for black hole theory (crucial experiments for it-from-bit), Deutsch (1985) for how quantum computing could work. And Wheeler setting the whole new agenda. (I call it new because it hasn't made it into undergraduate philosophy, or physics, or statistics, or ordinary computer science, yet.) The philosophy is very well done. I really liked his physicist's optimism about reflective equilibrium between science and folk physics: Information, too, has been defined operationally. Unfortunately, this technical, bottom-up definition is very restricted, and hitherto bears little resemblence to any of the common, top-down definitions. Eventually the two definitions should converge, but that hasn't happened yet. When it does, we will finally know what information is. It impresses me to find a pop science book that has aged this well, over 16 years. It's sad that that's impressive - obviously I'm not reading enough physics and maths. Von Baeyer maybe leans too hard on the physics-is-solid heuristic; he ends up being uncritical about some extremely late-breaking and radical work: the heterodox classical theory of Kahre (2002) and Zeilinger's (1999) grand quietist explanation for QM's weirdness (neither of which I've heard much about since). Zeilinger's principle... furnishes an answer to Wheeler's famous question "Why the quantum?" Why does nature seems granular, discontinuous, quantized into discrete chunks like sand..? The answer is that while we have no idea how the world is really arranged, and shouldn't even ask, we do know that knowledge of the world is information: and since information is naturally quantized into bits, the world also appears quantized. If it didn't, we wouldn't be able to understand it. It's both as simple and as profound as that. A second prediction of QM that is explained... is the randomness of the outcomes of some measurements... if the single bit of information in an elementary system is revealed, then there is no more information left over to answer additional experimental questions... so other independent measurements must have random answers. Each chapter takes an idea ("heat and entropy", "logarithms and message space", "qubits", "Morse and optimality") and builds it up with little informal proofs and thought experiments. This is nice, but because it has to do everything from scratch it's more of a grab-bag than an argument, and certainly not a "language of science" by the end. For instance, he stops short of one key philosophical outcome of all this technical talk, which is that there are two types of explanations, even though he covers all the ideas you'd need: 1) information compressions (e.g. General relativity explains the force on all of the infinite points in spacetime in one unbelievably terse tensor equation. We can often count the bits used by theories like this, and so solve theory selection!) 2) simplified algorithms, faster ways to reason about the world (e.g. much of computer science) As you can tell from the number of question marks in this review, I found this stimulating but not conclusive. But it would be foolish to expect a pop book to answer the Really Big Questions, and von Baeyer's reminds us frequently that the current answers he presents are unfinished. So this is step one of a currently unbounded algorithm. Minus a half for not quite taking things as far as they can go. --- Misc notes * This would be a pretty good primer for Map and Territory or Quantum Computing Since Democritus, if those assume too much for you. * Lots of literary illustrations of scientific ideas - Calvino, Wittgenstein, Borges - but it didn't feel forced to me. I suppose it might actually reduce the friendliness, for some readers. * Is this true?: The most important role of noise, however, is as the preserver of our sanity. Without noise, the measurement or observation of a single quantity would requite an infinite memory and an infinite amount of time - it would overload all our circuits. Neither science nor consciousness could exist... noise is a thick blanket of snow which softens the contours into large, rounded mounds we can perceive and sort out without being overwhelmed. We evolved lots of ways to ignore information. Why would this not happen again? A photosensitive patch arises in that noiseless world; since it is an analogue processor it simply trims off the infinite information by default when it runs out of molecules or reactions(?) * He calls the Bayesian interpretation of probability "the rational approach" which suits me but let's imagine that's a mistranslation of his meaning "the mental approach", "the personalist approach". * Gleick handles the social history and applications with unsurpassed skill, but I wanted the mind-bending crunchy side, natural information, digital physics, information as everything. * "Information is flow of form" * Solomonoff induction is intractable, another word for practically useless. Does this change the philosophical significance of the above brew? I don't think so - "Here is a way to work everything out; you can almost never use it" is a pretty plausible way for philosophy to end tbf. Does it change its scientific significance? Yes, absolutely - we have to seek approximations of the forbidden ideal or else it has none. * What's fundamental, thermodynamics or information? Neither? * Yet another way that info theory eats the life of the mind is the deeply practical "value of information", a way of deciding whether to bother with an experiment (q.v. the master, Gwern).

  5. 5 out of 5

    ger

    An excellent introduction to the history and recent position of various areas concerned with "Information". Thorough and precise. I was glad to see the 'Marilyn Vos Savant problem' explained in a correct and clear manner as well as other counter intuitive probability outcomes. I don't agree with his belief that the history of physics gives us hope that what information 'Is' will be explained. Tell that to those concerned with " What is consciousness ? " It is for this reason that it gets 4 stars An excellent introduction to the history and recent position of various areas concerned with "Information". Thorough and precise. I was glad to see the 'Marilyn Vos Savant problem' explained in a correct and clear manner as well as other counter intuitive probability outcomes. I don't agree with his belief that the history of physics gives us hope that what information 'Is' will be explained. Tell that to those concerned with " What is consciousness ? " It is for this reason that it gets 4 stars instead of 5. An excellent primer.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Beautifully boils down the world of both information and quantum weirdness with easy-to-grasp mathematical intuition. If you want to get into anything quantum-related, this is most definitely the book for you.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luis Omar

    Reflexiones y conceptos acerca de lo que es la información. Porque es tan importante esta idea en nuestro día a día.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    an interesting and well written book, it takes the reader chronologically through the history of the concept of information.[return]the pace is quite quick and hans christian von baeyer skillfully puts the necessary scientific insights and backgrounds into theories without making it a heavy tome. for each classical figure in scientific history who has given us a step change, we also get a brief overview of their character and how their efforts have formalised 'information' as we see it today. [r an interesting and well written book, it takes the reader chronologically through the history of the concept of information.[return]the pace is quite quick and hans christian von baeyer skillfully puts the necessary scientific insights and backgrounds into theories without making it a heavy tome. for each classical figure in scientific history who has given us a step change, we also get a brief overview of their character and how their efforts have formalised 'information' as we see it today. [return]we also get the contrasts of simply measuring the bits (even q-bits) of information through to determining what we know from expressing things as huge unknowns, there is also a good section on quality of information and noise.[return]later in the book we get the 'economy' of information where we try to express the most in most efficient way. [return]an example is the mention of samual morse as an inovator in the telegraphic age for the efficiency of his code (together with a background regarding his enthusiasm for expressing and informing...) then having moved forward into our present information age of high speed processing and communications, the final chapters of the book move into the realms of quantum theory and how we may move forward again in our processing and manipulation of information in the next few decades.[return]a good book based on a good scientific background, but expressed in a relaxed and informal style where you feel the personal input of each person in history who has moved us forward in our insight...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Josh Stewart

    Overall it was a good book but it waned near the end as it became more technical and focused on technology and the advancements that are yet to be had. The first few chapters were of most value to me as I selected the book with the aim of better understanding what information is, how to interpret it, and how to effectively process it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bobby Lin

    A starting place to get an overview of Information theory and its implications to Sciences. The book introduced some topics such as Bayesian Probability. Useful as a stepping stone to a specific area of Information Theory.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Touko Tahkokallio

    Book about the concept of information - how we should think about it, why it is important and what are the problems in defining it. Good stuff.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jukka

    Finally they are admitting it...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    Interesting , but sort of all over the road. ( you could just skip to Ch 15 if you're already familiar with any of this ) Interesting , but sort of all over the road. ( you could just skip to Ch 15 if you're already familiar with any of this )

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    You know how SAT reading passages are really hard to concentrate on? It was like that, but for an entire book. Ack. I lasted about 10 pages, some of which I read to Taylor for comedic effect.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jack Gidding

    A cross of information theory, bioinformatics, quantum physics, and mathematics. Quite interesting

  16. 5 out of 5

    Felix

  17. 5 out of 5

    Disciple

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dferriola

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mitch

  20. 5 out of 5

    Juan Casaravilla

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hanan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Piya

    Well, 3.5 stars. Charles Seife's book is better. Well, 3.5 stars. Charles Seife's book is better.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bog

  25. 5 out of 5

    Key Sole

  26. 5 out of 5

    McPhaul M.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kenefick

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ariel Cruz

  29. 5 out of 5

    Keijo Ahlqvist

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Petrounias

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