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John Archibald Wheeler * t

This report reviews what quantum physics and information theory have to tell us about the age-old question, How come existence? No escape is evident from four conclusions: (1) The world cannot be a giant machine, ruled by any preestablished continuum physical law. (2) There is no such thing at the microscopic level as space or time or spacetime continuum. (3) The familiar probability function or functional, and wave equation or functional wave equation, of standard quantum theory provide mere continuum idealizations and by reason of this circumstance conceal the information-theoretic source from which they derive. (4) No element in the description of physics shows itself as closer to primordial than the elementary quantum phenomenon, that is, the elementary device-intermediated act of posing a yes-no physical question and eliciting an answer or, in brief, the elementary act of observer-participancy. Otherwise stated, every physical quantity, every it, derives its ultimate significance from bits, binary yes-or-no indications, a conclusion which we epitomize in the phrase, it from bit.


Quantum Physics Requires a New View of Reality

Revolution in outlook though Kepler, Newton, and Einstein brought us [1-4], and still more startling the story of life [5-7] that evolution forced upon an unwilling world, the ultimate shock to preconceived ideas lies ahead, be it a decade hence, a century or a millenium. The overarching principle of 20th-century physics, the quantum [8] — and the principle of complementarity [9] that is central idea of the quantum — leaves us no escape, Niels Bohr tells us, [10] from "a radical revision of our attitude as regards physical reality" and a "fundamental modification of all ideas regarding the absolute character of physical phenomena." Transcending Einstein's summons [11] of 1908, "This quantum business is so incredibly important and difficult that everyone should busy himself with it," Bohr's modest words direct us to the supreme goal: Deduce the quantum from an understanding of existence.
'Reproduced from Proc. 3rd Int. Symp. Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, Tokyo, 1989, pp.354-368. copyright of this paper is held by the author.

no reference at all to a bit seems to show itself. every it — every particle.0546 x 10 27 gcrn 2 /s is the quantum in conventional units. these questions. The idea behind th« operation of the instrument is simple." We know perfectly well that the photon existed neither before the emission nor after the detection. both before the flux is turned on and afterward. 1. binary choices [52]. • No question? No answer! • The super-Copernican principle. 16] — where both time and mass are measured in the units of length — f i = f i c = 2. • How come existence? • How come the quantum? • How come "one world" out of many observer-participants? Four no's. However. Quantum and Information In default of a tentative idea or working hypothesis. that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe. John Kris.616 x 10~33 = what we hereafter term the Planck area. "Did the counter register a click during the specified second?" If yes. "A photon did it. Otherwise put. its meaning. we also have to recognize that any talk of the photon "existing" during the intermediate period is only a blown-up version of the raw fact. Wootters and Zurek demonstrate [53. that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses. It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom. Nor will any abundance of clues assist a detective who is unwilling to theorize how the crime was committed! A wrong theory? The policy of the engine inventor. the photon. four no's and five clues: Three questions. Therefore we look closer. bits. like other searchers [48-51] attempt formulation after formulation of the central issues. That flux of magnetic lines of force finds itself embraced between — but untouched by — the two electron beams that fan out from the two slits. no time. as Anandan. its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatuselicited answers to yes or no questions. The beams interfere. in short. even the spacetime continuum itself — derives its function. Aharonov and others point out [56. When a magnetometer reads that it which we call a magnetic field. Field strength or spacetime curvature reveals itself through shift of interference fringes. (phase change around perimeter of the included area) = 2vr x (shift of interference pattern. and here present a wider overview. we ask the yes or no question. cannot be cloned. or in geometric units [4. in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation.310 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 311 How make headway toward a goal so great against difficulties so large? The search for understanding presents to us three questions. we often say. Here H = 1. First. The shift in interference fringes between field off and field on reveals the magnitude of the flux. Five clues. reassures us. A wire of length I carries a current i through . Here again the concept of it from bit applies [38]. "Start her up and see why she don't go!" In this spirit [12-47] I. 54]. • "Consciousness" • More is different.612 x 10~66 cm2 = the square of the Planck length. • The boundary of a boundary is zero. no's and clues — yet to be discussed — do not move us ahead.2 "It from Bit" as Guide in Search for Link Connecting Physics. fringes that stand for nothing but a statistical pattern of yes-or-no registrations. As second example of it from bit.1) 19. With polarizer over the distant source and analyzer of polarization over the photodetector under watch. measured in number of fringes) = (electron charge) x (magnetic flux embraced)/fie (19. Three examples may illustrate the theme of it from bit. The yes or no that is recorded constitutes an unsplitable bit of information. 57] the difference around a circuit in the phase of an appropriately chosen quantum-mechanical probability amplitude provides a measure of the field. Electron counters stationed off to the right of a doublyslit screen give yes-or-no indications of the arrival of an electron from the source located off to the left of the screen. taking for working hypothesis the most effective one that has survived this winnowing: It from bit. Not only in electrodynamics but also in geornetrodynamics and in every other gauge-field theory. every field of force. we recall the Aharonov-Bohm scheme [55] to measure a magnetic flux. • No tower of turtles • No laws • No continuum • No space. a count. A photon.

was put together. in a broader sense. N. down to a bottomless night. 65] that the surface area of the horizon of a blackhole. As third and final example of it from bit we recall the wonderful quantum finding of Bekenstein [58-60] — totally unexpected denouement of earlier classical work of Penrose [61] Christodoulou [62] and Ruffini [63] — refined by Hawking [64. 2.312 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 313 yields the Bekenstein number. yes. The formula displays a piece of physics that we have learned to translate into information-theoretic terms. "How come the quantum?" we thus answer. H. rotating or not. configurations out of which this particular blackhole. 16]. Tomorrow we will have learned to understand and express all of physics in the language of information. 19. 19. supported by yet another turtle." But how come existence? Its as bits.Blit = (flux per unit z) x (charge. derives from bits. thus serves as lamp. no plan of organization. Likewise with H\y equation that contains an H floats a banner. and the Bekenstein number. First no: "No tower of turtles. so Thorne and Zurek explain [66] tells us the number of binary digits. To the question.1. The numerical value of the ratio between the second and the centimeter totally lacks teaching power. times the Planck area. p. partitioned in imagination (Fig.612 x 10~66 cm 2 ? As well as ask why the speed of light is so great as c = 3 x 1010 cm/s! No such constant as the speed of light ever makes an appearance in a truly fundamental account of special relativity or Einstein geometrodynamics. no infinite regress. It is an historical accident. an it. N. We only then properly conceive them when we measure them in the same units [4. Its occurrence in equations obscured for decades one of Nature's great simplicities. Symbol. In consequence the piece of copper receives in the time t a transfer of momentum p in a direction z perpendicular to the directions of the wire and of the field. We deal with bits wholesale rather than bits retail when we run the fiducial current through the magnetometer coil." advised William James. supported by a turtle. and from foundation of truth to enemy of understanding. The quantum. also. but the definition of field founds itself no less decisively on bits. Reproduced from JGST. Its size. but by now indistinguishable. the number of bits. but whose information? How does the vision of one world arise out of the information-gathering activities of many observer-participants? In the consideration of these issues we adopt for guidelines four no's. of the theme that every physical entity. Thus this surface area.1) into domains each of size 4fUoge2. To endlessness no alternative is evident but loop [47. Giving us its as bits.3 Four No's This impulse is the source of the force that displaces the indicator needle of the magnetometer and gives us an instrument reading. underlaid by yet another level. To no community of newborn outside observers can the blackhole be made to reveal out of which particular one of 2N configurations it was put together. Symbolic representation of the "telephone number" of the particular one of the 2" conceivable.. is fixed by the number. in whatever correct physics formula it appears. ad infinitum. of bits of information hidden within it.2) 19. that would be required to specify in all detail the configuration of the constituents out of which the blackhole was put together. No structure. "It from bit". and physics as information. and so on. "Because what we call existence is an information-theoretic entity. understand wave number of light as photon momentum and think of field flux as bit-registered fringe shift. How come a value for the quantum so small as H = 2. p . It lets us see horizon area as information lost. yes. N. of Bekenstein number N and horizon area 4NHlogs2. measures the entropy of the blackhole.77. At that point we will revalue H = 2. such a loop as this: Physics . and for a simple reason: Time and space are both tools to measure interval. In other words. Existence is not a globe supported by an elephant. Entropy is a measure of lost information. a magnetic field B that runs perpendicular to it. that is. e. by yet another. no framework of ideas underlaid by another structure or level of ideas. Fig. 67].. every it.of carriers that pass in the time t) (19. the quantum presents us with physics as information.220. of the elementary carrier of current) x (number.612 x 10~66 cm 2 — as we downgrade c = 3 x 1010 cm/s today — from constant of Nature to artifact of history.

Moreover. is also the unifying theme of Maxwell electrodynamics. Heaven did not hand down the word "time". but orders of things." but Leibniz [70] reassures us." as Bohr puts it [10] by "an irreversible act of amplification. a scheme. Man invented it. no answer.. but to advance to new insight. A half-century of development in the sphere of mathematical logic [76] has made it clear that there is no evidence supporting the belief in the existential character of the number continuum. [85-88].4 Five Clues First clue: The boundary of a boundary is zero.. no time. so physical objects. though it is. which will turn out universes in infinite variety and infinite number" [47]. "Although the whole of this life were said to be nothing but a dream and the physical world nothing but a phantasm. not to retreat to old ground. Better put..' Moreover.9. bits though they are. a supermachine. percent emptiness. The conceptual scheme of physical objects is a convenient myth. Only a principle of organization which is no organization at all would seem to offer itself." Nothing so much distinguishes physics as conceived today from mathematics as the difference between the continuum character of the one and the discrete character of the other. even today.. perhaps positing hopefully as he did that "Time is Nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once" [79]. simpler than the literal truth and yet containing that literal truth as a scattered part. Einstein geometrodynamics and almost every version of modern field theory [42]. [80] " . .. "Just as the introduction of the irrational numbers. They must have come into being at the big bang. time and space are not things. the notes struck out on a piano by the observer-participants of all places and all times. the laws of physics cannot have existed from everlasting to everlasting. continuum-based physics. Irreversible? More than one idealized experiment [38] illustrates how hard it is. almost everything from almost nothing. they are of our own creation! As Leibniz tells us. I should call this dream or phantasm real enough if. no. This circumstance would seem to give us some reassurance that we are talking sense when we think of. Likewise with space. is a convenient myth [which] simplifies the laws of arithmetic. not even a pre-existing plan. inspires hope that we will someday complete the mathematization of physics and derive everything from nothing.. . Fourth and last no: No space. 82]. the predicted fluctuations grow so great at distances of the order of the Planck length that in that domain they put into question the connectivity of space and deprive the very concepts of "before" and "after" of all meaning [83]. Second clue: No question. "Belief in this transcendental world. [81] "Time and space are modes by which we think. . tautology. "So far as we can see today. we were never deceived by it. the closed circuit of ideas in a self-referential deductive axiomatic system [71-74]... We will not feed time into any deep-reaching account of existence. yes. Directly opposite to the concept of universe as machine built on law is the vision of a world self-synthesized. observer-participancy gives rise to information." or as Einstein put it. Third no: No continuum. nothing of this kind more obviously offers itself than the principle that 'the boundary of boundary is zero. Thomas Mann may exaggerate when he suggests [69] that ". Those difficulties supply pressure. a miracle. information-based physics. This circumstance reminds us anew that no account of existence can ever hope to rate as fundamental which does not translate all of continuum physics into the language of bits. a device. "taxes the strength of our faith hardly less than the doctrines of the early Fathers of the Church or of the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages" [77]. On this view. we know. Universe as machine? This universe one among a great ensemble of machine universes.." Second no: No laws. and not conditions in which we live. using reason well. Existence thus built [68] on "insubstantial nothingness"? Rutherford and Bohr made a table no less solid when they told us it was 99. however. no bit- . This lesson out of mathematics applies with equal strength to physics. all law from no law. There were no gears and pinions.." such as the click of a photodetector or the blackening of a grain of photographic emulsion. and information gives rise to physics.. physics being" [32] as foundation-free as a logic loop. No continuum in mathematics and therefore no continuum in physics.. We must derive time — and time only in the continuum idealization — out of it. triviality.. identity. In brief. no bit-level question. we are actually bringing about what seerns to be happening to us. all three great field theories of physics use this principle twice over." Hermann Weyl tells us. If there are problems with the concept of time." What are we to say about that weld of space and time into spacetime which Einstein gave us in his 1915 and still standard classical geometrodynamics? On this geometry quantum theory. imposes fluctuations [13. Nothing does so much to extinguish this gap as the elementary quantum phenomenon "brought to a close.14... in and by themselves constitute the great wide world of space and time and things. This central principle of algebraic topology [84]. In all of mathematics. to give an all-inclusive definition of the term irreversible..314 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 315 gives rise to observer-participancy. 19. no Swiss watch-makers to put things together. each differing from the others in the values of the dimensionless constants of physics? Our own selected from this ensemble by an anthropic principle of one or another form [75]? We reject here the concept of universe as machine not least because it "has to postulate explicitly or implicitly.. That one can get so much from so little.." Willard Van Orman Quine tells us [78] "are postulated entities which round out and simplify our account of the flux of existence.

careful." one which exhibits "maximal classicity" — maximal classicity by reason. bulk-based count of bits bound in a blackhole: All are examples of physics expressed in the language of information. Fisher proved [110. 109] from information to quantum theory.. Unimportant nuisance? No." Complementarity rules." one solution of which is "the" wave function for the universe [14. play a part — not the whole part. no answer. And so it is for the electron circulating within the atom or a field within a space. 104] — or in default of that. In microphysics. is a concept invented by humans. and as Saxon made more readily understandable [114] in 1964. And complementarity as E. But this electron charge — when we take the quantum itself to be Nature's fundamental measuring unit — is governed by the square root of the quantity e 2 / H e . on bits of information! What this enterprise is we perhaps see more clearly when we examine for a moment a thoughtful. the rest of the nearby world irresistibly thrusts itself. Zurek [98-100] and Unruh and Zurek [101]. Fisher. Likewise the shift of fringes in the Aharonov-Bohm experiment depends not only upon the magnetic flux itself. but how? No one has done more than William Wootters towards opening up a pathway [108. Hope to derive that theory by way of one or another plausible line of reasoning. Try to go on from Wootters's finding to deduce the full blown machinery of quantum field theory? Exactly not to try to do so — except as idealization — is the demand laid on us by the concept of it from bit.1/137. Thus the atom-to-atom distance in a ruler — basis for a bit count of distance — evidently has no invariant status. that gene and the third gene (for example). he notes. To neither field nor particle can we attribute a coordinate or momentum until a device operates to measure the one or the. depending as it does on the temperature and pressure of the environment. Build physics. Already before the advent of wave mechanics. Probability. Among conceivable solutions of this wave equation select as reasonable one which "maximally decoheres. continuity in the features that it predicts. Instead. that physics at bottom is continuous. THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 317 level answer. yes. This we know from the analyses of Bohr and Mott [94]. But don't try to derive quantum theory. Evidence the whole show is wired up together? Yes. but little known. Instead. Thus Wootters derives familiar Hilbert space with its familiar complex probability amplitudes from the twin demands of complementarity and measure of distinguishability. a bit-registration of the arrival of a photon. A. Aharonov-Bohm bit-based determination of the magnitude of a field flux. on Einstein's 1915 and still standard geometrodynamics. 113] as long ago as 1952. demands that the probability amplitudes of quantum physics must be complex. 43]. that is to say. Wootters proves. wide-reaching exposition [102] of the directly opposite thesis. that theory or the other theory and turns out a "wave equation. Treat quantum theory as a magic sausage grinder which takes in as raw meat this theory. It from bit. Nature in the small confronts us with a revolutionary pistol. but the rest of the world also makes a contribution. "No question. however. So it is in the game of twenty questions in its surprise version [89]. Bit-registration of a chosen property of the electron. the distinguishability between the two populations is measured by the angle in Hilbert space between the two state vectors." How compare the opposite outlooks of decoherence and it-from-bit? Remove the casing that surrounds the workings of a giant computer.. The other outlook regards the bit to be the primordial entity.036. and choice of when it's asked. a "constant" which — for extreme conditions — is as dependent on the local environment [93] as is a dielectric "constant" or the atom-to-atom spacing in the ruler. Rate as false the claim that the bit of information is the basic entity. Zeh [95. and humans have to bear the responsibility for the obscurities that attend it. but also on the charge of the electron. into a bit count that one might have thought to be a private matter. and the bit to be idealization. Joos and Zeh [97]. that the bit of information is not the basic entity. In brief. the information does not sit out there. and wave equation and wave function to be secondary and approximate — and derived from bits via information theory. continuity in its solution. More precisely. Examine the bundles of wires that run here and there. 96].316 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER.G. He puts into connection two findings. the analyst of population statistics R. 105-107]. What is the status of an individual wire? Mathematical limit of bundle? Or building block of bundle? The one outlook regards the wave equation and wave function to be primordial and precise and built on continuity. long known. like time. The contribution of the environment becomes overwhelmingly evident when we turn from length of bar or flux of field to the motion of alpha particle through cloud chamber. How come? Probabilities exist "out there" no more than do space or time or the position of the atomic electron. but the square roots of these probabilities. continuity in the wave equation. yes. 92]. Stueckelberg proved [112.. Derived. dust particle through 3°K-background radiation or Moon through space." but something in "the initial conditions of the universe specified within quantum theory itself. From start to finish accept continuity as right and natural: Continuity in the manifold. the two probability amplitudes.C. attempt to build everything on the foundation of some "grand unified field theory" such as string theory [103. Moreover any apparatus that accurately [90] measures the one quantity inescapably rules out then and there the operation of equipment to measure the other [9. both real. Obscurities . was dealing with information that sits "out there". 102. 111] that the proper tool to distinguish one population from another is not the probability of this gene. not of "something external to the framework of wave function and Schrodinger equation. a contribution that suitable experimental design can minimize but not eliminate. however. Objection to the concept of every it from bits? No. the choice of question asked. with its false face of continuity. Treat it as supplied free of charge from on high. each probability amplitude being a vector with three components. However.other. but a part — in deciding what we have the right to say [38. 91.

25 x 1028 cm and of volume 27T2 radius3. we follow familiar reasoning [128] and translate into the language of the bits the entropy of the primordial cosmic fireball as deduced from the entropy of the present 2. nevertheless. [102] "cannot be fundamental notions in a theory which seeks to discuss the early universe when neither existed. By no prediction does this concept more clearly expose itself to destruction. Enough bits to structure a universe so rich in features as we know this world to be.. A forensic investigation of sufficient detail and wit to reconstruct the evidence of the arrival of that nucleus is difficult to imagine. What about probabilities of a Bayesian cast. In default of a better estimate. to be sure. We today. No contribution to meaning! Or at least no contribution then. the whole cell would get together to produce an adequate confession .318 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 319 there are whether we consider probability defined as frequency [115] or defined a la Bayes [116-119]. For this purpose. or two (when it passed an intervening gravitational lens) or one. It from bit offers us a different vision: "Reality is theory" [126]." What we call the past is built on bits. so far as we can judge. (number of bits) = (log^e) x (number of nats) = (log^e) x (entropy /Boltzmann's constant. What is an observer-participant? One who operates an observing device and participates in the making of meaning. The count of bits needed. imprisoned in Kharkov during the time of the Stalin terror. an asteroid atomizes his laboratory. . kT/Kc)3] = 8 x 1088 (19.735°K (uncertainty <0." it has been said. This principle rejects nowcenteredness in any account of existence as firmly as Copernicus repudiated herecenteredness. Preposterous! Mice and men and all on Earth who may ever come to rank as intercommunicating meaning-establishing observer-participants will never mount a bit count sufficient to bear so great a burden. This registration like every delayed-choice experiment [21. different probabilities assigned to the same proposition by different people [121]? Probabilities associated [122] with the view that "objective reality is simply an interpretation of data agreed to by large numbers of people?" Heisenberg directs us to the experiences [123] of the early nuclear-reaction-rate theorist Fritz Houtermans. meaning in the sense of F011esdal [124]. . "Meaning is the joint product of all the evidence that is available to those who communicate.3) It would be totally out of place to compare this overpowering number with the number of bits of information elicited up to date by observer-participancy. "the past has no evidence except as it is recorded in the present" [127]. but as degrees of plausibility one assigns to each hypothesis based on the data and on one's assessment of the plausibility of the hypotheses prior to seeing the data" [120]. . implicating as few others as possible. [and] helped them [the prisoners] to compose their 'legends' and phrase them properly. reminds us that no elementary quantum phenomenon is a phenomenon until. moreover.2 x 109 light years (uncertainty <35%) [130] or 1." On this view the past has a status beyond all questions of observerparticipancy./:) = 1. x [(Sir4/45)(radius.05°K) microwave relict radiation [129] totaled over a 3-sphere of radius 13. "It has been brought to a close" by "an irreversible act of amplification. Do bits needed balance bits achievable? They must. through our registering devices. The photon that we are going to register tonight from that four billion-year old quasar cannot be said to have had an existence "out there" three billion years ago. billions on billions of sites of observer-participancy yet to be occupied. declares the concept of "world as system self-synthesized by quantum networking" [47]. huge though it may be. " . however. Their findings contribute to the establishment of meaning.44. give a tangible meaning to the history of the photon that started on its way from a distant quasar long before there was any observer-participancy anywhere. 40]. So warns the super-Copernican principle. no answer. does not reach infinity. his rocks and him. there are billions of years yet to come. or even a day ago. Belief-dependent probabilities. . However. in Bohr's words [10]. How far foot and ferry have carried rneaning^making communication in fifty thousand years gives faint feel for how far interstellar propagation is destined [131. 132] to carry it in fifty billion years. Before he can communicate his findings. his records." Evidence that is available? The investigator slices a rock and photographs the evidence for the heavy nucleus that arrived in the cosmic radiation of a billion years ago [38]. the far more numerous establishers of meaning of time to come have a like inescapable part — by device-elicited quesstions and registration of answer — in generating the "reality" of today." Existence as confession? Myopic but in some ways illuminating formulation of the demand for intercommunication implicit in the theme of it from bit! So much for "No question. probabilities "interpreted not as frequencies observable through experiments. "Measurements and observations." Third clue: The super-Copernican principle [47]. in the sense of Popper [133].. Not until we have fixed arrangements at our telescope do we register tonight's quantum as having passed to the left (or right) of the lens or by both routes (as in a double slit experiment). 1952 H-bomb blast. Probability in the sense of frequency has no meaning as applied to the spontaneous fission of the particular plutonium nucleus that triggered the November 1. What about the famous tree that fell in the forest with no one around [125]? It leaves a fallout of physical evidence so near at hand and so rich that a team of upto-date investigators can establish what happened beyond all doubt. It repudiates most of all any tacit adoption of here-centeredness in assessing observer-participants and their number. .

the giant telecommunications system of today finds itself inescapably evolving [151. or parochial. When he does.C. about which we know something. We have traveled what may seem a dizzying path. consciousness [134-137]? And doesn't Marie Sklodowska Curie tell us.6 Agenda Intimidating though the problem of existence continues to be.) may tell us that "What is." What shall we say of a view of existence [147] that appears. to the establishment of meaning? As another issue associated with communication. Who I am has nothing to do with this finding.450+ B. as to build what we call existence.C. we have yet to learn how to draw the line between a communication network that is closed. and in this connection quotes analyses by Chauncey Wright. I get such and such a number. "Meaning is the joint product of all the evidence that is available to those who communicate. "communication" and "communication employed to establish meaning. making such and such a measurement. too. THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 321 Fourth clue: "Consciousness"." The line between the unconscious and the conscious begins to fade [146] in our day as computers evolve and develop — as mathematics has — level upon level upon level of logical structure. "Physics deals with things. Parmenides of Elea [145] (« 515 B.. For example. and one that is open. 139]? Or am I one of those poor souls without the critical power to save himself from pathological science [140-142]? Under such circumstances any claim to have "measured" something falls flat until it can be checked out with one's fellows. will the questions put to the world around by the ant and the answers that he elicits contribute their share. Distinct organs. It is wrong. Fifth and final clue: More is different [153]. more is different. the theme of it from bit breaks it down into six issues that invite exploration: One: Go beyond Wootters and determine what.. Second. liquid and gas phases. however. The information thus solicited makes physics and comes in bits. 149] — so intense as to appear more real than reality. We may someday have to enlarge the scope of what we mean by a "who". Determine whether "an elementary quantum phenomenon brought to a close by an irreversible act of amplification" has at bottom . 155] reminiscent of biology by reason of its segregation of different activities into distinct organs. Fourth. elementary quantum phenomenon brought to a close by an irreversible act of amplification. in terms of an entity about which we know almost nothing. We do not have to turn to objects so material as electrons. is identical with the thought that recognizes it. has to be added to distinguishability and complementarity to obtain all of standard quantum theory. we continue to accept — as essential part of the concept of it from bit — F011esdal's guideline [124].5 Conclusion The spacetime continuum? Even continuum existence itself? Except as idealization neither the one entity nor the other can make any claim to be a primordial category in the description of Nature." F011esdaTs statement supplies. not people?" Using such and such equipment. Two: Translate the quantum versions of string theory and of Einstein's geometrodynamics from the language of continuum to the language of bits. atoms and molecules to see big numbers generating new features. however it is figured. this information used by observer-participants — via communication — to establish meaning. And how to use that difference to distinguish between reality and poker — or another game [148. so much exchange of information. too. Josiah Royce and Charles Saunders Peirce [144]. the resulting information expressed in the form of bits. First. And. Phase changes. No term in F011esdal's statement posses greater challenge to reflection than "communication. Third. The count of bits drowned in the dark night of a blackhole displays itself as horizon area. superfluidity and superconductivity all bear witness to Anderson's pithy point. This granted. So also is the number of elementary acts of observer-participancy over any time of the order of fifty billion years.. 152]. moreover. is ten raised to a very large power. to regard this or that physical quantity as sitting "out there" with this or that numerical value in default of question asked and answer obtained by way of appropriate observing device. so many observer-participants. if anything. 19. steer clear of the issues connected with "consciousness. Doesn't this it-from-bit view of existence seek to elucidate the physical world. Or does it? Am I sleepwalking [138." That's why we take seriously the theme of it from bit. man has not yet learned how to communicate with ant. Will we someday understand time and space and all the other features that distinguish physics — and existence itself — as the similarly self-generated organs of a self-synthesized information system [156-158]? 19. The bit count of the cosmos. so many bits." descriptor of a domain of investigation [150-152] that enlarges in sophistication with each passing year. Three: Sharpen the concept of bit." We. no way has ever offered itself to construct what we call "reality. expressed in the language of Bekenstein number. except via those time-leaping quantum phenomena that we rate as elementary acts of observer-participancy. but the doorway to new questions.320 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER. The evolution from small to large has already in a few decades forced on the computer a structure [154. Not by plan but by inner necessity a sufficiently large number of H20 molecules collected in a box will manifest solid. Checked how? Morton White reminds us [143] how the community applies its tests of credibility." still overly centered on life and consciousness? It would seem more reasonable to dismiss for the present the semantic overtones of "who" and explore and exploit the insights to be won from the phrases. not an answer. if not anthropomorphic in its use of the word "who. from the past through the billeniurns to come.

28-31 August 1989. Quantum: The Search for Links. Finally: Deplore? No. and to Warner A.. Feynman as well as David Gross. Vigier.P. Six: Capitalize on the findings and outlooks of information theory [160-163]. Two problems. Seek out. Four. Consider. Bennett. . Survey one by one with an imaginative eye the powerful tools that mathematics — including mathematical logic — has won and now offers to deal with theorems on a wholesale rather than a retail level. as the Penrose Lecture at the 20-22 April 1989 annual meeting of Benjamin Franklin's "American Philosophical Society. — strange quantized N0/log(l + z) relation — correlation with galaxies (Arp) — angular correlation with brightest nearby galaxies (Burbidge et al. Hopfield. the number of supplementary lemmas contained in which. moreover. evolution of organisms [165-167] and pattern recognition [168-175]. Pierce. algorithmic entropy [164]. Unruh. Tokyo. we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple. Physics. Paul C.e. Jeffries. David . the length of which. John R. The observer does not influence the past. under the title "Information. how -could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind so long!" Deutsch. Rome. he decides about what feature of the object he shall have the right to make a clear statement. William K. The second is that the idea (Einstein et al. so beautiful. to make headway on that issue." If and when we learn how to combine bits in fantastically large numbers to obtain what we call existence. i. 29 May-2 June and 4-8 June 1989 and at the 3rd International Symposium on Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology. Dicke. John J. and work to do.. Wigner. Wheeler. Willard Van Orman Quine. To contest it is to make the meaning of dynamical behaviour purely observer-dependent. Barrow. van Kampen: Did you mean to say that the observer influences the observed object? J. Arkady Kheyfets and Rolf W. submitted to proceedings of all four in fulfillment of obligation and in deep appreciation for hospitality. and for each such technique work out the transcription into the world of bits. we will know better what we mean both by bit and by existence. advice or judgment on one or another issue taken up in this review. Charles H. 'Define your terms before you proceed. G. L. Bennett and NSF grant PHY245-6243 to Princeton University. Instead. I give special thanks to the sponsors of the 28-31 August 1989 conference ISQM Tokyo '89 at which the then current version of the present analysis was reported. I am indebted to Nandar Balazs. we can believe. J. so compelling that we will all say to each other. and 0110001.. . or (2) the accordion property of a mathematical theorem. by his choice of question." and headed "Can We Ever Expect to Understand Existence?". Miller. Hartle. every realization in the realm of physics of the information-theoretic triangle inequality recently discovered by Zurek [178]. for instance.) 2. Preparation for publication assisted in part by NSF Grant PHY 245-6243 to Princeton University. Landauer. the analyst can stretch or shrink according to his convenience. Search out every link each has with physics at the quantum level. Wootters. James B.e. the string of bits 1111111 .. systematize and display every feature that illuminates the levelupon-level-upon-level structure of physics. Tipler as well as William G. law and method of measurement — forever inseparable — are born into the world in union [179]. A. John D.' The truly creative nature of any forward step in human knowledge. This report evolved from presentations at Santa Fe Institute Conferences." and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Conference on La Verita nella Scienza. "Oh. Explore and exploit the connection between this information-theoretic statement and the findings of theory and experiment on the correlation between the polarizations of the two photons emitted in the annihilation of singlet positronium [176] and in like Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiments [177]. Acknowledgements For discussion. Bernulf Kanitscheider." we know. 13 October 1989. to kill the reality of the physical world. Morton White.322 JOHN ARCHIBALD WHEELER THE SEARCH FOR LINKS 323 (1) the 0-or-l sharpness of definition of bit number nineteen in a string of binary digits. one and another self-referential deductive system. that is. Five: From the wheels-upon-wheels-upon-wheels evolution of computer programming dig out. Benjamin Schumacher and Frank J. Zurek. "is such that theory. For assistance in preparation of this report I thank E. Surely someday. held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge.) of the reality of fields has led (assuming that "particles" are field singularities) to the only known justification of the geodesic law. Give special attention to one and another deductive axiomatic system which is able to refer to itself [159]. concept. Hans Dieter Zeh and Wojciech H. 1. Robert H. celebrate the absence of a clean clear definition of the term "bit" as elementary unit in the establishment of meaning. and its representation as the sum of the two strings 1001110. Discussion A discussion followed: N.. A single question animates this report: Can we ever expect to understand existence? Clues we have. The first is that the QSO raise lots of unsolved problems. i. We reject "that view of science which used to say. Freeman Dyson and the late Richard P. Eugene P.

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