"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.
Timothy writes, “Diego Gómez is a Colombian conservation biologist. When he was a college student, he shared a single research paper online so that others could read and learn from it, just as he did. Diego was criminally prosecuted for copyright infringement, and faced up to 8 years in prison.”
Sometimes, in the course of his work, University of Florida molecular geneticist Martin Cohn must travel with unusual items like a 3D-printed mouse penis. Similarly, University of Massachusetts biologist Diane Kelly totes around anatomical models like a mold of a dolphin vagina. They’re not alone in the odd science-related items they must fly with, from […]
Rod McCullom at Undark has a terrific overview of the perpetual “virtual lineup,” where half of all American adults “are enrolled in unregulated facial recognition networks used by state and local law enforcement agencies.”
The Ticwatch 2 Active Smartwatch is a simpler take on an active wearable that raised over $2m dollars on Kickstarter and is currently offered in the Boing Boing Store.Somewhere in between the single-day battery life and platform-specificity of the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, there exists the Ticwatch. Instead of trying to shoehorn another […]
Loot Crate is a subscription service that delivers a box of curated pop culture goods to your doorstep. To sample their geeky wares, you can order a single mystery box exclusively from the Boing Boing Store.Each month Loot Crate sends you 6-7 unique items and apparel, including collectibles, books, and t-shirts. Pulling inspiration from all […]
Yes, yes there is. The ultraportable Twisty Glass Mini boasts all of the simplicity of its forebear, while fitting just a little bit better in your pocket.The Mini is perfect for casual smokers, and anyone who doesn’t have the patience or fine motor skill for rolling papers. This piece keeps the convenient design of its older […]