"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.
I learned that there are two forms of mimicry in nature — honest mimicry (e.g., bees and wasps look similar and advertise that they can sting) and dishonest mimicry (e.g., some flies look like bees and wasps to trick predators into thinking they can sting). Inés Dawson, a graduate and PhD student at the University […]
In 1960, parapsychologist Anthony Donald Cornell donned a bed sheet and attempted to scare an audience watching an X-rated film in a movie theater. Why? Cornell, a believer in ghosts himself, wanted to understand how people reacted during “apparitional experiences.” Today at the BBC, University of Oxford experimental psychologist Matthew Tompkins explores Cornell’s strange experiments […]
With so many costumes adorning this election season, you might think the Halloween get-ups are overkill. Think again, because David Ng and B.R. Cohen are here to present the official universal survey about your candy favorites for the 2016 hierarchical delineation of candy virtue.
With Xamarin, coders can develop native apps for both iOS and Android without learning two different programming languages. Obviously, hiring one programmer rather than two is beneficial for companies and makes Xamarin experts highly in demand.You can easily learn Xamarin online with this Xamarin Cross-Platform Development Bundle. It will teach you to use Xamarin and code […]
TV antennas are making a comeback, and the Ghost Indoor HDTV antenna is a great example of why. Unlike the old bunny ear-style antennas, this compact antenna is barely noticeable and picks up channels easily. Plus with the addition of streaming services like Netflix, we find ourselves with plenty to watch without a pricey monthly cable bill. The Ghost […]
I’ve never really felt the need to purchase a smartwatch because a lot of them aren’t very functional, but at just shy of $30, the Martian Notifier Smartwatch was worth checking out. For that low of a price, it actually does feature an impressive amount of functionality, and comes in handy when you don’t want to be carrying around your […]