Mar 052011

Laura Von Rosk alerted me to this fascinating book review essay on James Gleick’s The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood in The New York Review of Books: information theory, science, the world we live in—things it helps to know when you’re sinking in fast waters.


According to Gleick, the impact of information on human affairs came in three installments: first the history, the thousands of years during which people created and exchanged information without the concept of measuring it; second the theory, first formulated by Shannon; third the flood, in which we now live. The flood began quietly. The event that made the flood plainly visible occurred in 1965, when Gordon Moore stated Moore’s Law. Moore was an electrical engineer, founder of the Intel Corporation, a company that manufactured components for computers and other electronic gadgets. His law said that the price of electronic components would decrease and their numbers would increase by a factor of two every eighteen months. This implied that the price would decrease and the numbers would increase by a factor of a hundred every decade. Moore’s prediction of continued growth has turned out to be astonishingly accurate during the forty-five years since he announced it. In these four and a half decades, the price has decreased and the numbers have increased by a factor of a billion, nine powers of ten. Nine powers of ten are enough to turn a trickle into a flood.

via How We Know by Freeman Dyson | The New York Review of Books.

  3 Responses to “The Information Flood, or the State of the State of Things We Know”

  1. I am in love with the beautiful mind of Freeman Dyson. He must be almost 90 and is still writing with penetrating clarity. There is lots in the essay/book review worthy of discussion but in the context of NC in general and Adam’s recent post in particular, Dyson makes a provocative statement that puts scientists in an entirely different camp than “artists and writers and ordinary people.” HA! Classic Dyson.
    So, what do you “ordinary” folks 🙂 think of this:
    “The vision of the future as an infinite playground, with an unending sequence of mysteries to be understood by an unending sequence of players exploring an unending supply of information, is a glorious vision for scientists. The vision is less attractive to artists and writers and ordinary people. Ordinary people are more interested in friends and family than in science. Ordinary people may not welcome a future spent swimming in an unending flood of information.”
    (If you are new to Dyson, check out the Profile that the NYTimes Magazine did on him a couple of years ago).

  2. Perhaps I should clarify what I am on about.
    It is certainly true that even beautifully brilliant minds can be out to lunch sometimes. Is Dyson out to lunch when he claims that artists and writers, while they obviously embrace mystery in some forms, do not embace overwhelmingly complex uncharted mystery? My gut response is that he is wrong, but I keep wondering why science-inspired spirituality isn’t a driving cultural paradigm.

  3. Thanks, dg. Fascinating article.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.