Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What is the most basic form of information?

  1. Jan 8, 2010 #1
    As many of you may be well aware, there is a rare condition known as "phantom limb." For those of you that don't, it's when a recent amputee still physically feels the sensation (usually in the form of discomfort or pain) of still having the limb. The perceived sensation is very often directly related to the way in which the limb was lost (doctor amputation, accident, etc.)

    This implies that the nerves were not necessarily the result of sensation in the first place. The brain has begun receiving information from a new set of neurons and interpreting the stimulus as though it were received by the original set of neurons. The logical brain can see there is no limb, but the rest of the brain creates the limb and gives it full sensations of movement, pain, interaction, etc.

    Now, think of the brain itself... or perhaps for clarification, not the organic structure... but the function. The mind or the state of consciousness (I'm hesitant to use these words because they have transcendental stigmas attached to them, but let me attempt to redefine them as "the result of processing and interpreting quantum information".) The brain itself resides, tucked away in the dark and isolated housing of the skull. The brain has never touched a table or actually been hit by the photons emitted from a nearby light source, it never in essence even experienced these things in their true form. All the brain has done is to interpret an electrical representation of an arbitrary impulse conjured up by a nerve cell somewhere. In essence, the brain (or mind) has created what it thinks a table feels like, or what the color red looks like.

    The implications this has is that there are not actually a table or photons as we know them... but simply information. Information that exists on some level and is interpreted by the mind and essentially "projected" or "fabricated" to form our "virtual" environment. I have been fascinated with the idea of many scientist comparing the universe to a massive quantum computer in the fact that information is always created and never destroyed... even in entropy information is still created. When energy becomes unusable in entropy, information still increases about the system because the system has become more complex in the sense that it has processed multiple state changes. The universe itself is computing it's own existence, and we are interpreting a part of it. We do not see x-rays or hear incredibly high-pitched frequencies... yet they are out there. We only perceive a small fraction of the information.

    What could be the source of this information? What is the true nature of the universe? How can you actually differ "reality" from that of a vivid dream without using the idea of being asleep? Biologically both can affect you, and you have real emotions and experiences while sleeping because the mind is creating the reality. If we exist because our mind is creating perception... do we even exist at all in the traditional sense? Or do we exist as some sort of interpretation of quantum information?
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2010 #2
    The source of the information is probably just possiblity for things and random chance. The true nature of the universe is what we make of it imo. DO we even exist at all??? Of course but the nature of that existance will probably never be fully known to us. We are the observer and as being such we can't observer ourselfs directly. You really cant differ reality from a dream its just you wont accept a dream that isn't your reality. We probably exist in a way we do not understand very well but then again mby we do understand it there is however no really good way to check.

    These are my answers to your questions. I think the important thing to ponder is what we really are in nature and I think it could be a scary train of thought especially if we get the wrong ideas.
  4. Jan 10, 2010 #3
    When I think about "phantom limb" I think of sensations and memory and representations. One day you have it, it has skin all over, stimuli bombard it, you use it (let's say we talk about a hand), you move it.. everything you can do with a hand. Being a part of you since day one, the day you were born, it creates in the brain some neural connections. Now think of learning! You repeat the material till you know it's there and good for use at an exam. The same with the hand.. you use it on and on and on, the brain develops all kinda neural connections which are activated every time you do that very action.

    The hand is lost and all that's left is the neural connections in the brain. Through this amazing thing that the brain has (representation), it feels like you still have the hand there. Representations work with the help of memory and as stated before, in memory are stored every actions you did with that hand. That's how I explain it to myself.

    What is the true nature of the universe? We'll never really know this because we, as humans, are kinda very limited. Think about it... We interpret every stimuli that's out there through our 5 senses. I think there's more than that but... yeah. We're special, ok, but not that special as we think.

    How can you actually differ "reality" from that of a vivid dream without using the idea of being asleep? You can't. Actually, your brain can't do that. The brain is smart in its own way, yet it can't tell the difference between reality and imagination. Latest studies claim that when we dream, we're conscious. Feel free to believe what you want, but if I think of a sensation and the brain interprets it as if it were there... The way we understand and interpret things, I think, as humans, is indeed way too limited.
  5. Jan 12, 2010 #4

    I could give a reasonable answer, but you'd then ask me to define what i meant by that concept, and it could mean different things to different people.

    The trillion dollar question, one of everyone's favourites. It's best to think of the universe as an endless sea of vacuum fluctuations that come and go at approximately 10^-43 sec. While what we call "matter" is 99.999% empty space, this 99.999% of empty space is the ground state of the quantum field. We, and our reality, are embedded in this raging sea of virtual particles and our reality is manifested through the 4 fundamental forces(which are simply virtual, messenger particles). Those forces(gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and strong force) constitute everything that makes up reality. Some believe we will one day manage to describe everything as an inevitable consequence of the existence of those 4 forces, but in the end, it's the particulate configuration of those fleeting virtual particles that makes up what we term a "Universe".

    Since we don't really know what reality is, it's impossible to exactly tell apart a dream from the experience of reality, as you seem to imply.

    The traditional sense is constantly undergoing adjustments, some minor and some major(e.g. the world is not flat).

    I am not sure what you mean by this, but as long as there is information, there is existence(a perceiving mind).
  6. Jan 12, 2010 #5
    On the contrary, I would love to hear your thoughts. You have endured mine, it's only fair that I return the courtesy. Perhaps a discussion will grow out of it. :)

    I mean that in the sense only quantum information would exist because it is more encompassing that traditional information. For example, traditional information can be represented by a 1 or 0 representing two different states, whereas quantum information can be both a 1 and 0 at the same time, thus infinitely more possibilities present themselves.

    I have attempted to rehash this very thread in a more lucid and objective form here: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=368284
  7. Jan 12, 2010 #6
    I very rarely post long posts, but this question doesn't seem like it can be answered with a sentence. I was referring to the elusive mind of god, that a number of prominent physicists are hunting for. It has become the holy grail of physics for the likes of Michio Kaku, Paul Davis, David Deutsch, Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, I should not miss Einstein and of course many, many others.
    I think determinism, GR, QM and the exponential growth of quantum computing suggests that we are living in a simulated universe. The way the universe and reality behave in general is unrealistic. Some counter that a computer that runs a universe like ours is impossible as it has to be as big as the universe itself. OK... but how big is the universe really?? We can't know. What we do know suggests that depending on the FOR the universe can be anywhere from zero to 72 billion light years in diameter. And how big exactly is 72 billion light years? Right, it's also relative. Any number is relative. Is 120 big or small? Or 300 000? It's our human concepts that get in the way and give a result that a human mind will interpret as big. 10 dollars for me is pocket change, 20 dollars for Roman Abramovitch will be much less than a penny is for me and 20 dollars for someone from N'Djamena, Chad will seem like a fortune. Measures are numbers, and a number is just that - a number, it doesn't have any meaning unless a biased human gives it. 72 billion light years is just that - a number, and interpretations of what numbers mean are very subjective. 1 milimeter for a bacteria is very long way. I reject this kind of reasoning that the computer running the universe must be impossibly big. "Too big" is subjective, if we are living in a simulated universe, the hardware running it could be any size, as our concept of size will very likely be skewed by how we are structured to interpret the incoming data.
    The way mathematics seems to бе built into our reality seems to point in the same direction. Maybe you have read the arguments of string theorists defending ST - "It can't be wrong, the mathematical model is too beautiful to be wrong". Yep, a lot of high rank mathematicians have encountered the amazing beauty and harmony of the inherent mathematical laws describing reality, that they will never ever look back at reality in a different way. Look at Michio Kaku, Ed Witten and co., they are searching for the beauty of an inch long equation that would stay on top of the pyramid and describe everything downwards. Why should there be such a equation? Steven Hawking thinks this is a philosophical question. SOme like Tegmark, Plato, Penrose, etc are platonists, they reject the idea that anything else but mathematics exists. For them this universe is an unrealistic sum of beautiful maths.

    IMO, god is not an all-powerful being, as depicted in religions. Look at our reality and how it's built and behaves, look hard, and you'll see the cracks. It's not very realistic at all, there seem to have been limitations on how everything could have been made. Moreover, i don't accept the benevolent nature ascribed to god(s). I've seen children suffer and die that have never had the chance to sin. Having seen the "Food Inc." movie and the attrocities that we humans are capable of, i think it's much more likely that, if the universe has an intelligent creator(which seems to be very likely, in light of the turns of modern physics), it would be an advanced civilisation. We humans act very often immoral and unethical, we are prime candidates for creating multiple immoral and unethical copies of other universes in the future. You probably had an aquarium with fishes when you were a child, there are probably millions of reasons to have something that you would call a world if you had the means to do it.
    One of the best reasons for seeng the universe as virtual is the effect of virtual particles. They derive their energy from nothing. OK, some will disagree, it's the lowest ground state of the quantum field. Those virtual particles that make up the sensation of a human touch, of grabbing physically existing 3D objects, of kissing, of tears running down your face, etc., they aren't very real. They are "real" for merely a planck time unit. And they derive their energy from somewhere that nobody on Earth has an idea about. Some have gone so far as to claim they borrow their energy from the future. The same borrowed energy that somehow has the capacity to create real particles, like the lectron-positron pair in pair production. Why is there a speed of light limit? Couldn't the universe compute faster than that, that it has to disappear at c, for observations from that frame of reference? Questions, questions, ... they all seem to point to an awkward conclusion that appears to agree with all the evidence accumulated in physics and science in general.

    It's a matter of time till we learn how to take advantage of entanglement and superpositions(we already did with entanglemnt over the Danube river in Europe) and build a quantum computer. If i could be alive and technology was that advanced as to allow a simulated universe to be made, i know i'd be one of the first to attempt to create something that would resemble a universe. I know a lot of people would wish to feel like God and would probably give their creations something like a free will, restricted only by wide limits(what you might want to call our current "innate human imagination") so as to never get bored. But this is getting off-topic and this reasoning deserves a separate thread on the morals of humans and how they would behave if they were given the role of something that remotely approximates a God.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2010
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook