"How We Know" is Freeman Dyson's essay on information theory in next month's New York Review of Books
, inspired by James Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
. Dyson's thoughts on Claude Shannon, Wikipedia, and twenty-first century science are illuminating, and man, does it ever leave me wanting to read the book -- Gleick being one of the greatest science writers of all time, and information theory being one of the subjects that interests me the most.
Jimmy Wales hoped when he started Wikipedia that the combination of enthusiastic volunteer writers with open source information technology would cause a revolution in human access to knowledge. The rate of growth of Wikipedia exceeded his wildest dreams. Within ten years it has become the biggest storehouse of information on the planet and the noisiest battleground of conflicting opinions. It illustrates Shannon's law of reliable communication. Shannon's law says that accurate transmission of information is possible in a communication system with a high level of noise. Even in the noisiest system, errors can be reliably corrected and accurate information transmitted, provided that the transmission is sufficiently redundant. That is, in a nutshell, how Wikipedia works.
How We Know
The information flood has also brought enormous benefits to science. The public has a distorted view of science, because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries. Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries. Our planet is covered by continents and oceans whose origin we cannot explain. Our atmosphere is constantly stirred by poorly understood disturbances that we call weather and climate. The visible matter in the universe is outweighed by a much larger quantity of dark invisible matter that we do not understand at all. The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness. We have no clear idea how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.
In a new scientific study, McGill University researcher Jay Olson combined stage magic with psychology to make people think that an fMRI machine (actually a fake) could read their minds and implant thoughts in their heads. Essentially, Olson and his colleagues used “mentalist” gimmicks to do the ESP and “thought insertion” but convinced the subjects […]
Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad riffs on “The Function of Music” in this spectacular cut-up video by Mac Premo.
Dip your dollar into liquid anhydrous ammonia, dry it, and repeat. The surface tension of the boiling and evaporating ammonia shrinks the bill. Caveat: It could prove difficult to use a mini-dollar and mutilating a bill may even be illegal. (Applied Science via Weird Universe)
The realm of web development is constantly evolving. New platforms, languages, and processes materialize all the time, so staying on top of all that innovation is a tall order.Whether you’re brushing up on new tricks, starting from scratch, or just looking to make your own website a little jazzier, Rob Percival’s new Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 (now […]
Folks used to rely on alarms to protect their home – and before that, the family dog. Now, anyone looking to guard their homes can choose from some high-tech options, including the Amaryllo iCamPRO FHD Home Security Camera (now just $219 in the Boing Boing Store).In fact, this 2015 CES “Best of Innovation” award-winner boasts so many features, it’s […]
If you want a quality vaping experience, it’s usually going to cost you. Vaporizers that deliver a fast, controlled burn will set you back up to $300, which is why the FEZ Vaporizer (now just $99) is an absolute steal.The FEZ dry herb pen does everything that more expensive models handle at a reduced price. It heats up […]