A Computable Universe - Roger Penrose On Nature As Computation |

Written by Mike James |

Sunday, 03 June 2012 |

A Computable Universe is a collection of papers on the nature of computation and computation in nature. Is it time that computation took its place as the theory of everything?
Following on from the recent ten-year anniversary of the publication of Stephen Wolfram's The publication of a The papers, many of which are available online, discuss the foundations of computation in relation to nature. They take information and computation to be key to understanding and explaining the basic structure underpinning physical reality and focus on two main questions: What is computation? How does nature compute?
The articles range from the historical perspective of Dorian Swade's "Origins of Digital Computing" and overviews of computation through computation in biology e.g. Like any multidisciplinary volume, the range is from the almost crackpot to the completely opaque. Reading it should be an adventure. Roger Penrose's preface is worth recommending even to the general reader. It starts by going over the movement of physics as a predictive computation device from Newton to Einstein and quantum mechanics, a move apparently taking us from the continuum to the discrete. Then we have a summary of computational theory itself in the form of the Turing-Church thesis. Soon though, quantum mechanics raises its head and we confront the problem of measurement. Penrose then argues that a possible solution is that gravity is responsible for state collapse. The connection with computation is that this theory would have to be non-computable in some way to allow for non-locality. The reason put forward is the Godel incompleteness theory which is taken to mean that human thought must in some sense embody some sort of non-computability principle. In short, Godel's theorems imply that human thought is not the result of a computational process. From here we have a recap of the idea that human thought escapes computation by being quantum mechanical. If you are a computer scientist or a physicist then there is much here that you are simply not going to agree with. However, it is well argued and you could spend some time trying to see the flaws in the reasoning, if any.
It seems obvious that computation is just the continuation of theorizing by other means. The problem is that the connection between the digital and the seemingly unavoidable discretization at the Planck length and time just don't seem to want to fit together. Some new ideas are needed and in the meantime we just wait for a new Turing-like polymath who can see the connections. To pre-order a copy of ## More InformationIntroducing the Computable Universe ## Further ReadingTo be informed about new articles on I Programmer, install the I Programmer Toolbar, subscribe to the RSS feed, follow us on, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Linkedin, or sign up for our weekly newsletter.
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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 July 2012 ) |