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Random reality

February 18, 2012, 12:00 pm

In this month’s online issue of Books & Culture magazine, I have a short article called Random Reality, Part 3. This is (wait for it…) the third part of a series of articles written by science people focusing on the book The Matchbox that Ate a Forty-Ton Truck by Marcus Chown. This series itself is part of a larger series that B&C magazine is running called “Science in Focus” where a single book on science is examined from different points of view by people in the sciences. The first article in my series was written by a geologist, the second by a neuroscientist.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Bible describes the early universe as “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). This is certainly true, according to Marcus Chown, in terms of how much information was in the universe then. Expanding on the ideas of physicist Stephen Hsu, Chown argues that, just after the Big Bang, the universe contained no more than 200 bytes of information. By comparison, the first two sentences of this article contain 190 bytes of information. A universe with so little content would certainly seem “void.” But today, the amount of information just within arms’ reach—to say nothing of the rest of the universe—seems infinite. Where did all that information come from?

My piece goes on to discuss how random processes introduced information into the universe, the relationship between randomness and information content, and what the notion of ubiquitous randomness means when thinking about an ultimate purpose in the universe.

I’ve been a fan of Books & Culture for a long time, and it was a real thrill to be able to contribute something. I hope you find it interesting.

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