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Crazy ideas for a crazy world


Bit from Binary Digit. What has information to do with reality?
John Wheeler Scientist
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Our colleague here in Princeton, John Tukey, is the one who, while working at Bell Laboratories, coined the word "bit", as an abbreviation for Binary Digit. And today, every computer user knows what the bit capacity of his machine is. The telephone lines, so many bits per second. But what has information to do with reality? Well, what do we mean by reality except as judged by our colleagues and ourselves. Observation, or in the sense of Bohr, irreversible acts of registration; and most of us know how hard it is to erase a registration on our memories, something that's happened. But is there any other reality in the world except what we get by these acts of registration? If not, then how could one expect to build a theory of the world on anything but acts of observation? That's where I think one has a doorway to the future.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008