It From Bit

The idea of “it from bit” is pretty central to my information metaphysics view of reality, but I rarely use the expression, and in fact don’t believe I’ve ever made explicit reference to John Wheeler’s seminal paper that coined this view. There is so much secondary referencing in the EES and IIT sphere’s of modern science. In coining the expression, even Wheeler acknowledges “little new under the sun”, with Bohr as one source of the concept (also acknowledged here previously).

Anyway, that seminal paper:


by John Archibald Wheeler, 1989

Bohr was already there, very recently mentioned here. Where Wheeler talks of our “registration” with knowledge of an empirical fact, Bohr and Whitehead (and I) talk of the “interaction” of subjective we with the objective world “out there”.

Wheeler was one of the last living links with Einstein and Bohr until his death in 2008, and there are several related video interviews with him on YouTube shortly before his death.

[Suffice to say – that’s a wonderful paper in the “one I wish I’d actually read earlier” category. Apart from himself, his first ten references are Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Mendel, Darwin, Crick and Watson. Only one von Neumann reference and no Shannon references, but dozens of references to his own publications which no doubt include these two. One ref to J. W. Tukey which intrigues because I heard another recently. Reading list continues to grow the more I read – and boy, is Tukey’s list of stuff enormous, where to start?!? Time to start using my British Library membership, methinks. Background paper on Tukey.]

[… the term bit (binary digit) that is coined by John Wilder Tukey, statistician at Princeton University, in 1946. It refers Claude Shannon, often misquoted as the one who used the term for the first time, which, in a paper published in 1948, talks about ‘bit’ and attributes its origin to Tukey: ‘The choice of a logarithmic base corresponds to the choice of a unit for measuring information. If the base 2 is used the resulting units may be called binary digits, or more briefly bits, a word suggested by J. W. Tukey.’ C.E. Shannon, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, Bell System Technical Journal, (1948) 27, p. 380. Cfr. H.S. Tropp, ‘Origin of the Term Bit’, Annals of the History of Computing, (1984) 6(2), pp. 152–5. Source Paper about Konrad Zuse – another connection(!)]

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