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SNS: Energy vs. Information: Solving the Paradox of the Second Law

SNS: Energy vs. Information: Solving the Paradox of the Second Law


In This Issue
Week of 03/19/2018
Vol. 23 Issue 10

Energy vs. Information: Solving the Paradox of the Second Law

  • The Second Law
  • The Ultimate Paradox
  • Time’s Role: A Speculative Examination

Quotes of the Week



“If there is a single entity that is the most basic in the universe, it is Energy. Of all the laws in physics, the law of Conservation of Energy – it cannot be made or destroyed – is held above all others.

At least, that’s what a physicist will tell you.

But if you ask a computer geek, she’ll quickly tell you that the most basic entity in the universe is Information. Thanks to Stephen Hawking, who passed away last week, even black holes can now be mathematically described not just in terms of energy, but also in terms of information flow and capture.

The same, we now know, can be said for cells, and there are few technologists alive today who do not also see cells as some form of the ultimate computing system. Is life the highly orchestrated flow of information and energy together? Today, almost all future-oriented computer designs are moving toward biomimicry, with artificial intelligence and its most advanced hardware taking lessons daily from evolution.

Computer scientists know that millions – or billions – of years of trial and error in design have provided them with a nearly infinite, priceless catalog of lessons learned in engineering, almost all of them directly applicable to software and hardware design and function.

Energy and information, in this sense, represent the twin peaks of our current understanding of the universe. And increasingly, among advanced scientists and thinkers, there seems to be a trend to relate them almost as replaceable parts. If you’re a computer geek, you see everything in terms of information; if you’re a science geek, it’s energy.

Cellular processes are a fascinating example of this, and seem to underline the concept. Watching the manufacture of proteins according to instructions taken from nucleic acids is a perfect case in point. Are we watching energy move from the precursor molecules into the finished products, or are we watching information transfer from DNA into the finished products?

There’s so much symmetry and beauty in these questions that it’s almost irresistible to see them as identical twins. If this concept needed any further underlining, there is a massive acceptance of the meme that atoms and bits are increasingly fungible in some basic way. If mass is energy (it is), and energy represents information, then the universe just became very much simpler.

What could possibly go wrong?


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