Book: Decoding The Universe

Decoding the Universe
Charles Seife

ISBN-10: 067003441X

This one is somewhat a sidetrack from the entrepreneurial nature of his blog but I am still putting it since it has got some quote interesting points about… everything. It is a little technical but bearable. Here’s a few highlights:

  • It used to be that scientists believed energy was the one unit, building block of the universe. Since we knew that matter turns into energy and vice versa, that seemed understandable. This book has a new proposition for building block – information. Anything contains information about itself and the surroundings and also can be reduced to bits and qubits.
  • No information can be transmitted magically for free. It takes time and energy to do so…or rather it takes more information.
  • You can’t measure information without altering what you are measuring. If you are measuring light you have to use some of its photons to trigger your measuring device.
  • Quantum supposition means that one coin falls heads and tails and rolls at the same time until someone (or something) decides to check the result. At this point all the possible outcomes, by which he defines entropy, collapse into 1 single outcome.
  • Charles Seife also proposes a reductionist view of the purpose of our existence: all we are is an organism that keeps randomness from happening by methods (DNA replication) powered mostly by the sun.
  • One neuron of a fly can transmit 5bits per millisecon. (: how fascinating!

On a slightly off topic – he also talks of speed of light and why it can’t be overreached and I wonder why this method of transporting information can’t surpass c(c is speed of light): you have 2 bars extremely long, crossed at a very very small angle like so:
As you move bar1 the crossing point will travel along from one end to the other.
The angle of the bar crossing determins basically the speed of travelling of intersection point (information). Now we have a cap which we want to achieve and surpass (speed of light) but we don’t have any limitations on how small the angle is (I mean we are thinking theoretically here). So why can’t we reduce the angle (keeping the movement constant) till we get speed higher than c?

Waiting for comments…

Book: Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert

ISBN-13: 978-1400042661

Every now and then you stumble on a book most randomly that overturns the way you think about something in life. In this brilliant explanation of why people are poor at predicting what makes them happy, the psychology professor Daniel Gilbert brings tons of evidence and research that will blow you away. I urge you to get that book and read it no matter what you do in life. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • What is interesting about optical illusions is not that we all make mistakes but that we all make the SAME mistakes. Trying to predict how you will feel about something in future happens to abide the same “lawful, regular, and systematic” mistakes. In other words, there are reasons why we are bad at knowing what makes us happy.
  • Phineas Gage is a guy whose head got pierced with a metal bar. He survived but had partly damaged frontal lobe but functioned normally. Subsequent studies led to the understanding that removing this part of brain could calm people down. 1930’s this became a practice for angry bipolar patients. And it worked until someone discovered that those patients had no concept of future. They blank out when they have to plan ahead and think of future. The connection here, “The key to happiness, fulfillment, and enlightenment, the ex-professor argued, was to stop thinking so much about the future.” Makes sense doesn’t it? Why think about crashing plane if it won’t crash? Why think of being victim of terrorist attack if you won’t? Most of our lives we deal with useless worrying about stuff that never happens.
  • He explains that our ability to imagine future and remember past are quite flawed and super-influenced by our present moment. You overeat and you tell yourself, “I will never eat so much again, my stomach hurts” and your future of not eating so much is influenced by the current pain in the stretching stomach. But wait till tomorrow only and you are ready do devour the new meal with no traces left of your previous vows. He explains it really well.
  • I already wrote a post the amazing observation that we are horribly bad at dealing with ‘negative’ information. Information that is not in front of us and is not easy to see.

one more

  • “Because those interpretations [of the world by our brain] are usually so good, because they usually bear such a striking resemblance to the world as it is actually constituted, we do not realize that we are seeing an interpretation” and “…because we do not consciously supervise the construction of these mental images, we tend to treat them as we treat memories and perceptions – initially assuming that they are accurate representations of the objects we are imagining.”

The book is filled with fantastic observations about our miserable wretched prediction of what makes us happy. Buy it here. Oh, and btw, he also says that it turns out people feel much worse about not trying something than trying and getting it wrong.