"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.
When Zoe Stavri woke up with a yeast infection, she had a strange and intriguing idea: what about adding some of her vaginal candida to sourdough starter?
Nick Sousanis, who delivered his doctoral dissertation in comic book form, has a new comic in the current Nature magazine, explaining the last 25 years’ worth of climate talks, as a primer in advance of the Paris climate talks next week.
Randall “XKCD” Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words arrives in stores today: it combines technical diagrams and wordplay in pure display of everything that makes XKCD brilliant and wonderful in every way.
Today and tomorrow only we are offering an additional 15% off the entire Boing Boing store (some exclusions may apply). Simply use coupon code: BLACKFRIDAY at checkout! Below are a few of our favorites from the store: First Generation Lytro 16GB Camera: The First Consumer Camera to Capture the Entire Light FieldAdobe Training Videos: Lifetime Subscription: 6,000+ Adobe […]
Today only in the Boing Boing Store we are offering an extra 15% off of the below VPN deals just use coupon code: VPN15 at checkout. proXPN VPN: Premium Lifetime Subscription Surf the web with ultimate peace of mind – both at home and on the road – over proXPN’s fully-encrypted, lightning-fast servers. Your lifetime premium subscription […]
These knitted gloves are here to save the day (and your hands) with an ultra-comfy, double-layer that will allow you to stay warm and use your phone. Now you can take photos on the fly, text, Tinder, and more without letting freezing temperatures get in your way. Plus they work with all touchscreens, so no […]