Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

The Information

I finished James Gleick's latest, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Like Marissa, I thought it was overly ambitious for what it actually delivered. The best parts were biographical, and while the science was well-explained it was often superficial (and his treatment of quantum computing came perilously close to just being wrong.) I wanted more on dictionary-making, so I might look for some nonfiction in that area. The chapter on 'information overload' was a mere sketch (quick! I need a third bullet point!) and I found the sections on behaviorism and the soft sciences kind of tedious--- maybe more specifics on research would have helped, and less description of who got together with whom.

One of the anecdotes is about Chaitin getting in touch with the (then-elderly) Godel and trying to meet with him, only to have it canceled due to a snowstorm. Gleick reports Godel making some clueless statement like "well, it doesn't matter which paradox you use" which indicates that he really wasn't getting the point. But I wondered whether there are any examples of a young turk visiting the Grand Old Person of his or her field and actually getting something out of it. It seems much more likely that these meetings involve the established master dismissing the new work, misunderstanding it, or simply not being interested in anything but the direction he or she laid out. Marissa mentioned Joe Haldeman meeting Heinlein as perhaps a counterexample.

I also wonder how long it would have taken for Babbage to be re-discovered if Turing had not mentioned him right off the bat. Babbage's work seems like exactly the sort of dead end that you could imagine some latter-20th century historian discovering and publishing about as the "prehistory of computing" (or maybe even struggling to publish about due to its lack of influence!)

ETA: Also I think there could have been some mention of Bayes, if you're going to talk about probability and information (and knowledge.)
Tags: books
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