Hans Christian von Baeyer

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Underneath the shifting appearances of the world as perceived by our unreliable senses, is there, or is there not, a bedrock of objective reality?

Hans Christian von Baeyer (born 1938) is a Chancellor Professor of Physics at the College of William and Mary.


Information, The New Language of Science (2003)[edit]

  • Information gently but relentlessly drizzles down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain.
    • Chapter 1, Electric Rain, Information in our lives, p. 3
  • We don't know what energy is, any more than we know what information is, but as a now robust scientific concept we can describe it in precise mathematical terms, and as a commodity we can measure, market, regulate and tax it.
    • Chapter 2, The Spell of Democritus, Why information will transform physics, p. 11
  • In order to understand information, we must define it; bit in order to define it, we must first understand it. Where to start?
    • Chapter 3, In-Formation, The roots of the concept, p. 18
  • Claude Shannon, the founder of information theory, invented a way to measure 'the amount of information' in a message without defining the word 'information' itself, nor even addressing the question of the meaning of the message.
    • Chapter 4, Counting Bits, The scientific measure of information, p. 28
  • Science has taught us that what we see and touch is not what is really there.
    • Chapter 5, Abstraction, Beyond concrete reality, p. 35
  • Numbers instill a feeling for the lie of the land, and furnish grist for the mathematical mill that is the physicist's principal tool.
    • Chapter 6, The Book of Life, Genetic information, p. 48
  • If you don't understand something, break it apart; reduce it to its components. Since they are simpler than the whole,you have a much better chance of understanding them; and when you have succeeded in doing that, put the whole thing back together again.
    • Chapter 7, A Battle Among Giants, Reductionism and emergence, p. 54
  • Underneath the shifting appearances of the world as perceived by our unreliable senses, is there, or is there not, a bedrock of objective reality?
    • Chapter 8, The Oracle of Copenhagen, Science is about information, p. 64
  • The solution of the Monty Hall problem hinges on the concept of information, and more specifically, on the relationship between added information and probability.
    • Chapter 9, Figuring the Odds, How probability measures information, p. 70
In fact, an information theory that leaves out the issue of noise turns out to have no content.
  • If the intensity of the material world is plotted along the horizontal axis, and the response of the human mind is on the vertical, the relation between the two is represented by the logarithmic curve. Could this rule provide a clue to the relationship between the objective measure of information, and our subjective perception of it?
    • Chapter 10, Counting Digits, The ubiquitous logarithm, p. 85
  • Entropy is not about speeds or positions of particles, the way temperature and pressure and volume are, but about our lack of information.
    • Chapter 11, The Message on the Tombstone, The meaning of entropy, p. 97-98
  • The smell of subjectivity clings to the mechanical definition of complexity as stubbornly as it sticks to the definition of information.
    • Chapter 12, Randomness, The flip side of information, p. 104
  • In fact, an information theory that leaves out the issue of noise turns out to have no content.
    • Chapter 13, Electric Information, From Morse to Shannon, p. 121
  • Time has been called God's way of making sure that everything doesn't happen at once. In the same spirit, noise is Nature's way of making sure that we don't find out everything that happens. Noise, in short, is the protector of information.
    • Chapter 14, Noise, Nuisance and necessity, p. 127-128
    • von Baeyer did not originate the quip about time, which dates back at least as far as the 1929 book "The Man Who Mastered Time" by Ray Cummings, where it appears on p. 1.
  • The problem of defining exactly what is meant by the signal velocity, which cropped up as long ago as 1907, has not been solved.
    • Chapter 15, Ultimate Speed, The information speed limit, p. 135
  • Both induction and deduction, reasoning from the particular and the general, and back again from the universal to the specific, form the essence to scientific thinking.
    • Chapter 16, Unpacking Information, The computer in the service of physics, p. 138
  • To put it one way, a collection of Shakespeare's plays is richer than a phone book that uses the same number of letters; to put it another, the essence of information lies in the relationships among bits, not their sheer number.
    • Chapter 17, Bioinformatics, Biology meets information technology, p. 145
  • The switch from 'steam engines' to 'heat engines' signals the transition from engineering practice to theoretical science.
    • Chapter 18, Information is Physical, The cost of forgetting, p. 154
  • An electron is real; a probability is not.
    • Chapter 19, The Quantum Gadget, Quantum weirdness brought to light, p. 172
  • Nowhere is the difference between either/or and both/and more clearly apparent than in the context of information.
    • Chapter 20, A Game of Beads, The wonder of quantum superposition, p.182
  • As with all quantum devices, a qubit is a delicate flower. If you so much as look at it, you destroy it.
    • Chapter 21, The Qubit, Information in the quantum age, p. 187
  • This is not what I thought physics was about when I started out: I learned that the idea is to explain nature in terms of clearly understood mathematical laws; but perhaps comparisons are the best we can hope for.
    • Chapter 22, Quantum Computing, Putting qubits to work, p. 203
An electron is real; a probability is not.
  • Paradox is the sharpest scalpel in the satchel of science. Nothing concentrates the mind as effectively, regardless of whether it pits two competing theories against each other, or theory against observation, or a compelling mathematical deduction against ordinary common sense.
    • Chapter 23, Black Holes, Where information goes to hide, p. 204
  • As every bookie knows instinctively, a number such as reliability - a qualitative rather than a quantitative measure - is needed to make the valuation of information practically useful.
    • Chapter 24, Bits, Bucks, Hits and Nuts, Information theory beyond Shannon, p. 221
  • If quantum communication and quantum computation are to flourish, a new information theory will have to be developed.
    • Chapter 25, Zeilingers Principle, Information at the root of reality, p. 231

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