Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information

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OUP Oxford, Feb 25, 2010 - Science - 240 pages
For a physicist, all the world's information. The Universe and its workings are the ebb and flow of information. We are all transient patterns of information, passing on the recipe for our basic forms to future generations using a four-letter digital code called DNA. In this engaging and mind-stretching account, Vlatko Vedral considers some of the deepest questions about the Universe and considers the implications of interpreting it in terms of information. He explains the nature of information, the idea of entropy, and the roots of this thinking in thermodynamics. He describes the bizarre effects of quantum behaviour - effects such as 'entanglement', which Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance' and explores cutting edge work on the harnessing quantum effects in hyperfast quantum computers, and how recent evidence suggests that the weirdness of the quantum world, once thought limited to the tiniest scales, may reach into the macro world. Vedral finishes by considering the answer to the ultimate question: where did all of the information in the Universe come from? The answers he considers are exhilarating, drawing upon the work of distinguished physicist John Wheeler. The ideas challenge our concept of the nature of particles, of time, of determinism, and of reality itself.

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The news is that a symmetrical pair of processes, the second law of thermodynamics and derived meaning, are enough to generate reality. This bootstraps the existence of information which outweighs matter and energy, while the universe moves to maximize entropy and disorder, and we embody natural laws. That provides a source of ideas which the scientific method, or its analogs in other disciplines, turns into rules of nature. Quantum physics reveals meaning and the other side of the story of creation. The author synthesizes a coherent framework for quantum information science. Landauer’s principle that information is physical, where entropy is proportional to surface area, inspires a combination with Shannon’s information as inverse probability, Boltzmann’s constant, and qubits, to yield randomness at small scales and determinism at large. Twelve chapters explore perspectives of biology, thermodynamics, economics, computer science, sociology, philosophy and quantum physics. Each chapter mixes explanation, observation, anecdotes and humor, and is followed by a summary of the key points. Applications include cryptography, teleportation, climate, diet, segregation and gambling. Literature sources include Popper, Smolin, and Singh. Compare publications by Seth Lloyd, George Johnson, Michael Nielsen and Isaac Chuang, Amir Aczel or Raymond Kurzweil. The challenge is to integrate gravity to quantum physics. 

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About the author (2010)

Vlatko Vedral studied undergraduate theoretical physics at Imperial College London, where he also received a PhD for his work on 'Quantum Information Theory of Entanglement'. Since June 2009, Vedral has moved to Oxford as Professor of Quantum Information Science. Throughout his career he has held a number of visiting professorships at different international institutions. He has published more than 130 research papers and has written two textbooks. He has written for popular science journals and major daily newspapers, as well as doing extensive radio programmes and television interviews.

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