Wednesday, April 16, 2008

it from bit

the creative and accomplished physicist, john archibald wheeler, passed away a couple days ago at the commanding age of 96. he popularized the term "black hole" in the late 1960's after thinking for a long time about the seemingly unfathomable "completely collapsed gravitational object". two of his more famous graduate students authored some of my favorite popular physics books: kip s. thorne and richard feynman. his resume goes on an on...

i've enjoyed reading the reflections of others encounters with wheeler that have been published recently. a former student of his, daniel holz, wrote a nice piece at cosmic variance titled simply, goodbye.

there was also a nice article in scientific american from 1991. the author describes a quote wheeler found in the men's room of the old pecan street cafe here in austin, texas, which states: "Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once." i like that.

wheeler spent a good bit of time thinking about quantum mechanics... the existence of the universe as small bits that exist because we are here to ask about them and observe them. more:
What is reality, then? Wheeler answers his own question with the koanlike phrase "it from bit." Wheeler explains the phrase as follows: "Every 'it'—every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits."

thank you for the inspiration and information, mr wheeler.

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