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It From Bit: Is The Universe A Cellular Automaton?

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Could the universe itself, at its deepest level, operate on the basis of similarly discrete digital rules? Such a scenario was speculated in the 1960s by innovative thinker Ed Fredkin, and later dubbed “It from Bit,” by the accomplished physicist John Wheeler.

One key difference between cellular automata and the universe is that the former are discontinuous in both space and time.

Alluding to the law of non-decreasing entropy, Wheeler used to jest that if he placed a hot cup of tea next to an iced cup and allowed them to even out their temperatures, he’d commit a crime by raising the amount of entropy in the universe.

Wheeler’s dropping of cups into the universe would enlarge the black hole’s invisible frontier and thereby lead to a net gain in entropy after all.

If the universe itself is a digital system involving superpositions of zeroes and ones, who would take the measurement that triggered “Collapse” into definitive values? Wheeler knew that it couldn’t be someone outside of the universe, so it would have to be activated from within by internal observers.

Wheeler pondered the concept of a “Self-excited” circuit, in which astronomical measurements of the past force the digital information in the early universe to assume particular values.

Today, as laboratories around the world are striving to perfect quantum computers, it will be interesting to see how the notion of the universe as a cellular automaton develops.


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Post Author: Starts With A Bang

5 thoughts on “It From Bit: Is The Universe A Cellular Automaton?

    Marshall Gatten

    (January 24, 2018 - 12:11 am)

    When I was about twelve years old I was fascinated by Cobway’s Game of Life. Recreating it from scratch was my favorite programming project. It would be REALLY interesting to see a quantum version of it played on qubits.

    Richard Saunders

    (January 24, 2018 - 12:11 am)

    Back to Platonic forms? Information without substance? Consider me skeptical. I’m waiting for the first computer built of nothing.

    Gilbert Abad

    (January 24, 2018 - 12:11 am)

    Fredkin and the rest called it Digital Physics.

    Gilbert Abad

    (January 24, 2018 - 12:11 am)

    The very structure and foundation of reality itself is information.

    Cecile G. Tamura

    (January 24, 2018 - 12:11 am)

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