Friday, March 24, 2006

Integrating Information Theory, Physics, and Biology

An important popular science book on modern physics which ties information theory to physics is:

The Matter Myth: Dramatic Discoveries Challenge Our View of Physical Reality

by distinguished physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin. It's very readable. Here is a review:

From Publishers Weekly: Recent breakthroughs in physics are causing a revolution in how scientists view the universe, according to Davies ( The Cosmic Blueprint) and Gribbin ( In Search of the Big Bang ). The authors survey the discoveries that have caused this shift from the traditional mechanistic worldview (which sees the universe as "a gigantic purposeless machine") to a less rigidly determined one that includes chaos, black holes, antimatter and even the possibility of multiple universes. They explore how it would feel to be swallowed by a black hole (one would be stretched and squeezed before being crushed into nonexistence) and why going through a wormhole, a kind of space tunnel, would allow one to travel backward in time. The authors explain why cosmic strings (which may stretch across the universe and outweigh galaxies) could fit into a single atom and how space can be curved. This accessible work also examines fundamental questions such as how the universe's "big bang" origin probably sealed its fate (it will end in a reverse process known as the "big crunch") and whether time is real or simply an illusion.

Though I don't agree with everything in the book, one must realize that some of the best cutting edge scientific literature comes mixed with things we may find distasteful. There may be a lot of material that is irrelevant to information theory in the book, but that book is a good place to get description of the connections. This is probably the most readable book on the topic. The chapter, "The Death of Materialism" would be a good read.

The most important book linking Information Theory to Biology is

Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life by Hubert Yockey, 2004

it's a tough read and for a scholarly audience. It's is friendly to Darwinian evolution, but decidedly emphatic that the origin of life problem lies outside of science.

Because of specializations within the sciences, it is sometimes hard for various disciplines to alert the other disciplines of important relevant developments. It's even harder when an outside discipline (like information theory) begins criticizing the ideas in another discipline (like biology).


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