Nothing is Always Something
Could I and everything I know be nothing more than lines of computer code?
The movie The Matrix and the manga and books it spawned enthralled and appalled. Yet the idea of the universe as “mere” artificially created information lies at the base of much human creativity. Mathematical equations describe multiple multi-dimensional universes; authors define fictional individuals, societies, and worlds inside worlds; visual artists envision places that never were and cannot be—and into which we walk.
Are you just a figment of someone else’s imagination?
The probable truth is far more interesting. For everything is information. Especially nothing.
The Zero as Hero
When we want to describe the null, the void, we usually point to a zero. It gives us a sense of nothingness, as in the “great vacuums” of space, or the mathematical realms where there is no matter, no energy, no existence.
Yet we use the same zero as “placeholder” for large numbers; as the definer of absence; and as one of the two units of binary code out of which we have constructed computers, electronics—and most of our technologically advanced world.
Zero itself represents very powerful information. Or, as the old Yiddish proverb says it, no answer is also an answer.
Physicists embrace zeroes with pleasure and trepidation. To explain the Big Bang, they recognize that from fields of “nothing” came that event approximately 14 billion years ago where all that we regard as mass, energy, possible life, and the world began.
In other words, everything starts with information. The universe itself is a giant information field.
So quantum mechanics has morphed into quantum information theory. The search for the “God Particle” or Higgs Boson was and remains a search to find inferential information suggesting or “proving” that a Higgs field exists. For if a Higgs Field exists, then there is support for the “standard” theory of physics.
Which still leaves the 96 percent of the universe made up of dark energy and dark matter of which we know practically nothing except that it has to exist in order to explain everything else—according to the standard theory.
Yet within information theory, such worries become details. The universe itself is all information; from it come new and constantly changing forces which we call the universe—the place where we live.
So what becomes possible realizing you are an information superorganism, whose ten trillion cells, hundred trillion bacteria and uncounted viruses all interact to make you you?
Something nice—that you can use that information to create the life you want to lead.
Life as Living Information
Seeing is not believing. Our brain and sensory systems would just prefer to have the world work that way.
We know seeing is not believing, but we want to believe nonetheless. Take movies. They’re nothing more than a group of stills—stationary images, photographs.
Yet speed them through a projector faster than our brain's “flicker fusion” rate can appreciate, and now we see images of people and stories that are continuous, active, three-dimensional—even real.
Movies are good evidence that it’s pretty easy to fake out the human brain. Magicians know this; politicians know this; advertisers know it well.
Yet much of the time we don’t. Our brains thirst for order, so we sometimes see it where none exists.
And we forget to notice what’s happening underneath our skin.
Looking Beneath the Hood
We can see hair grow, we can see nails grow. But we don’t see our brain grow—or the truly vast information flow from and within cells that keeps us alive and makes us us.
We certainly don’t visually see these information flows. Perhaps 90 to 95 percent of brain function involves “non-conscious” material—stuff we can’t directly verbalize or discuss without lots of inferential conjecture.
So people—including most medical practitioners—have a very hard time seeing our gut’s bacterial population as potentially causing autism; or heart disease; or multiple sclerosis. Yet recent evidence declares all these things are true.
And that the number of toxoplasma parasites she possesses increases a woman’s chance of suicide. Or that tooth decay predicts Alzheimer’s disease.
We should not be surprised that most folks don’t believe these examples. It took 20 years for people to believe that bacteria caused ulcers.
The “discoverer” of that fact saw universal ridicule transform to triumph—and a Nobel Prize.
But it’s still hard for people to believe information flow changes people’s lives—constantly. It’s hard for them to recognize their bodies are constantly reinvented and updated—never, never the same from moment to moment.
I’m the same person I was when I was 18, right?
Actually, no. Like any living information system, you are continuously updated and remade.
Which provides you a tremendous opportunity.
Because when you lay down to sleep at night you dream and think and learn. You rewire your brain and body. You wake up a new person with new knowledge and new capacities every morning you’re alive.
So the trick is to control that information flow. Even if you are just a bunch of code written by someone else.
Because happily, much of that code you write yourself.
Check it out.