By Adam J. Pearson
I recently came to the conclusion that the universe is not fundamentally composed of ‘matter,’ at its explanatory bottom, but rather of information, indeed a field of infinite potential and informational possibilities that manifest as finite actualities within universes constrained by discrete sets of physical constants and universal principles (“laws of Nature”). “Matter” and “energy” to me are both modes of information more fundamentally.
Indeed, I see matter as described by the Standard Model of Physics as a kind of epiphenomenon arising out of an informational substrate. I call this theory “informationism” to distinguish it from materialism. One pleasant thing about informationsim as a theory is that it can equally and elegantly hold true whether our universe turns out to be in a sense objectively existing as posited by materialism, intersubjectively existing as posited by idealism, or even simply a simulation within a larger overarching reality as Nobel Prize-winning physicists George Smoot and others have hypothesized.
I had not read this idea of an informationist model of reality anywhere before, so I researched it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it has gained some support from some truly spectacular physicists from Paul Davies to the great John Wheeler, MIT information quantum information specialist Seth Lloyd and string theorist Raphael Bousseau as the article cited below reveals.
To quote an excerpt from the article:
“Information has multiple meanings: facts or knowledge (things one can learn); a measure of difference or surprise (how much one learns); one of two opposite states (on-off, yes-no, one-zero); the mathematical description of a communication system; the content of computation; quantum entangled states (enabling vast computing power); and power to explain and possibly to cause. [National Geographic: First Glimpse of the Hidden Cosmos]
So here’s the deep question: Is information the ultimate constituent from which the cosmos is constructed? I started as a skeptic. Information as reality seems so outlandish, so trendy — a metaphor on steroids.
But here’s how physicist Paul Davies, director of BEYOND: The Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University, frames the question: “Historically, matter has been at the bottom of the explanatory chain, and information has been a sort of secondary derivative of it,” Davies said. Now, he added, “there’s increasing interest among at least a small group of physicists to turn this upside down and say, maybe at rock bottom, the universe is about information and information processing, and it’s matter that emerges as a secondary concept.”
Seth Lloyd, an MIT professor specializing in quantum information, defends this idea by likening the universe to a computer, “a physical system that breaks up information into bits, and flips those bits in a systematic fashion.”
He explained that electrons have spins, which are described by the laws of quantum mechanics. Electrons can take only two distinguishable values: spinning up or spinning down — the same binary characters as computer bits. So, at rock bottom, Lloyd said, the universe consists of information; every elementary particle carries information.
“So, what is the universe?” Lloyd asked. “The universe is a physical system that contains and processes information in a systematic fashion and that can do everything a computer can do.”
To Lloyd, information is not just a way of appreciating or approximating how the universe works, but the literal, most fundamental way it actually works. He sees the universe not like a computer as an explanatory metaphor; it really is a computer as scientific fact. As such, he claims that all changes in the universe are “computations.”
The claim is monumental.
To Raphael Bousso, a string theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, information is not just a tool of measure — it is a primary constituent of what is happening in the world. Information, Bousso said, is not so much “modeling the system” — it is the system. Reality won’t work, he stressed, unless information is, in some sense, real.
Think of an ocean wave crashing on the shore, Lloyd said. “Every molecule of water — by its configuration, by its rotation, by its position relative to other water molecules — carries with it bits of information,” Lloyd explained. “And then whenever any two water molecules collide, they change by processing those bits of information.”
Think of each water molecule as essentially instructing other water molecules what to do, combine countless molecules interacting with one another, and you have a wave, he said.”