Constructor Theory

From a fascinating interview with physicist David Deutsch:

There’s a notorious problem with defining information within physics, namely that on the one hand information is purely abstract, and the original theory of computation as developed by Alan Turing and others regarded computers and the information they manipulate purely abstractly as mathematical objects. Many mathematicians to this day don’t realize that information is physical and that there is no such thing as an abstract computer. Only a physical object can compute things.

On the other hand, physicists have always known that in order to do the work that the theory of information does within physics, such as informing the theory of statistical mechanics, and thereby, thermodynamics (the second law of thermodynamics), information has to be a physical quantity. And yet, information is independent of the physical object that it resides in.

I’m speaking to you now: Information starts as some kind of electrochemical signals in my brain, and then it gets converted into other signals in my nerves and then into sound waves and then into the vibrations of a microphone, mechanical vibrations, then into electricity and so on, and presumably will eventually go on the Internet. This something has been instantiated in radically different physical objects that obey different laws of physics. Yet in order to describe this process you have to refer to the thing that has remained unchanged throughout the process, which is only the information rather than any obviously physical thing like energy or momentum.

The way to get this substrate independence of information is to refer it to a level of physics that is below and more fundamental than things like laws of motion, that we have been used thinking of as near the lowest, most fundamental level of physics. Constructor theory is that deeper level of physics, physical laws and physical systems, more fundamental than the existing prevailing conception of what physics is (namely particles and waves and space and time and an initial state and laws of motion that describe the evolution of that initial state).What led to this hope for this new kind of foundation for the laws of physics was really the quantum theory of computation. I had thought for a while that the quantum theory of computation is the whole of physics. The reason why it seemed reasonable to think that was that a universal quantum computer can simulate any other finite physical object with arbitrary accuracy, and that means that the set of all possible motions, which is computations, of a universal computer, corresponds to the set of all possible motions of anything. There is a certain sense in which studying the universal quantum computer is the same thing as studying every other physical object. It contains all possible motions of all possible physical objects within its own possible diversity.

Read the rest (with video) here.

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One Comment

  1. JK says

    Looks to be just the place!

    Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink