Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Information, Entropy, and the End of the Universe

One of the first readings for my survey class was a review of James Gleick's The Information:  A History, a Theory, a Flood.  It's a fun read and I highly recommend it, touching as it does on a lot of the main points in the history of information theory, putting everything from Claude Shannon to Wikipedia into context.  What's more, it does what any good book review ought to do:  it makes me want to read the book.

But then the reviewer went and said a dumb thing:
The explosive growth of information in our human society is a part of the slower growth of ordered structures in the evolution of life as a whole.  Life has for billions of years been evolving with organisms and ecosystems embodying increasing amounts of information.  The evolution of life is a part of the evolution of the universe, which also evolves with increasing amounts of information embodied in ordered structures, galaxies and stars and planetary systems.  In the living and the nonliving world, we see a growth of order, starting from the featureless and uniform gas of the early universe and producing the magnificent diversity of weird objects that we see in the sky and in the rain forest.  Everywhere around us, wherever we look, we see evidence of increasing order and increasing information.  The technology arising from Shannon's discoveries is only a local acceleration of the natural growth of information.
There are a few things wrong with this.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

*Ahem* Um, hi. Been a while.

I swear I didn't mean to fall off the face of the internet!  I just... well, hit a little bit of a wall, fell off the ball, then kinda just laid there on the ground.  Staring.  The ball rolled off into the sunset.  I went to visit my folks for a while, went up to Canada for a bit, had a lot of fun times.

At some point along the way, I just got way too embarrassed to say anything, and I rationalized my continued absence by saying, "Oh, screw it, I'm gonna start grad school soon anyway."

So I started grad school and things are going great... but then... well, Freeman Dyson of all people went and said something dumb.  Well, maybe not "dumb" so much as "inaccurate."  But... look, I'm gonna work up a post on it, because I can't not write about this.  But somehow, picking a fight with an astrophysicist on the finer points of astrophysics just seems a little bit beyond the scope of the library science classroom.  Then I thought, "Oh, that can just go here on my own little internet soapbox."  And then I remembered that I kinda just left things hanging...

So I'm at least fixing that.  I have a couple ideas.  Don't know what else is gonna come up.  But at least now, I'm actually saying that things may be a bit sporadic for the foreseeable future.  And sooner or later I'm going to hit a point where I'm just going to feel compelled to write more Tooth and Claw.  This is hiatus, not quitting.

So yeah.  Kinda-sorta back for now.