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Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  814 ratings  ·  78 reviews
The author of Zero explains the scientific revolution that is transforming the way we understand our world Previously the domain of philosophers and linguists, information theory has now moved beyond the province of code breakers to become the crucial science of our time. In Decoding the Universe, Charles Seife draws on his gift for making cutting-edge science accessible t ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Penguin Group (first published February 2nd 2006)
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Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I spotted this book in Readings, on the famous bargains table, and since I’d been trying to explain to a friend of mine the importance of information theory (and had made a complete dog’s breakfast of it) it became urgent that I read a book on this subject again to refresh my memory. My first taste of information theory was Grammatical Man by Jeremy Campbell – and what a joy that book was, pure magic. The only problem was that I read it probably 20 years ago and so my memory was hazy at best. An ...more
Jun 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Seife gives the reader a sense of how looking through the lens of information theory can help in understanding some of the questions of current science, particularly modern physics and cosmology.

In the early part of the book he relates it to entropy, and not just the common way we think of entropy, that is, things going toward chaos, but to the another more specific underlying principle of entropy dealing with thermodynamics. You don't have to be a science type to read this book, but on the oth
Doug Dillon
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Information Theory for the average person at its best. Charles Seife clearly and concisely explains to readers how the universe is made up of pure information. In the process, he helps us to see where theoretical physics, biology and chemistry are pointing. Seife makes intricate scientific concepts understandable and interesting at the same time.

Chapter titles such as “Demons”, “Faster Than Light”, and “Quantum Information” ease readers into this fascinating world and occasional graphics help to
Modern Hermeneut
Oct 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one.
Narrowly conceived and poorly argued. Seife, a mathematician, writes in the style of a born-again Christian, combining reductive thinking with wide-eyed zeal. The Good News that has him fired up this time is the "discovery" that we can use similar mathematical formulas to describe events in a variety of different fields, ranging from genetics to computer programming to neurochemistry to astrophysics. This (supposedly) revolutionary approach is called information theory, and, quite frankly, it's ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
If you're less than a physicist but have the desire to expand your knowledge of science and universal information, this book for you.

Charles Seife does an excellent job of blending (many) scientists past and present works smoothly into only 9 chapters, while preparing the reader for the future of transitioning the world into the realities of modern day science.

Chapter 4 & 5 were the hardest to get through personally. At times it was written in a textbook fashion, yet every time I was ready to p
Dennis Littrell
Aug 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting, but a little annoying

Seife begins with an introduction to information theory. He talks about redundancy and the relationship of entropy and probability to information. He recalls the work of Turing and Shannon. Then he reviews relativity as he leads us to quantum mechanics. He recalls the paradox of Schrodinger's cat and other peculiarities of QM.

In general what he tries to explain to the general reader is how science is reinvestigating the fundamentals of physics from the standpoin
Todd Allen
Oct 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From a non-specialist perspective, I found Seife’s presentation remarkably engaging. Admittedly, when I purchased the book a few years back, I was unable to grasp enough to keep me going. Since then I’ve read other books that delved into Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Information Theory, wave-particle duality, entanglement, “spooky action at a distance,” among other abstract ideas in Physics. The authors’ presentations in those books were down-to-earth enough to keep be engaged from cover to cov ...more
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is the fourth or fifth book that I have read by Charles Seife. I liked the others so much that I have deliberately spaced out reading more of his work to "savor" the experience when I do pick another up.

First off, this book is very well written, researched and organized. It presents a tricky and important topic with clear exposition, excellent examples and morsels of humor, much like his other works (although perhaps with a greater dollop of wit). If you simply like a great book on any topi
Sam Webster
Apr 12, 2011 rated it liked it
The crux of this book is the link between the traditional domains of information theory and more unlikely fields, such as thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. This gives the book immense scope as it strides from computer science and linguistics to relativity and black holes. In some places this works well. For me at least, the inclusion of information theory was very useful in understanding some of the stranger points of quantum mechanics. In other sections, however, it definitely seemed like a ...more
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have bought this book 3 times. Each time I loaned it out to someone and needed another copy. I found it one of the most influential book I have read in a long time. Maybe a little has to do with the fact that the discovery or invention of information theory was by Claude Shannon who worked at Bell Labs and I also work at AT&T. It paints a view of the universe as being the exchange of information. The author gets into the idea that the laws of thermodynamics are the same as the laws of informat ...more
Brendan  McAuliffe
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brendan by:
Exactly the book I was looking for. Needs a glossary. Someone needs to write a book specifically about the new ' holographic principle '.
Reid Siljestrom
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoyed reading this book. A lot of cool ideas that allowed my mind to wander.
Ami Iida
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: math, ict, physics
Since Chapter 7
Description there are many things of undetermined
It is discussed in only the subjectivity of the author
There is no credibility
William Schram
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Decoding the Universe by Charles Seife is an attempt to connect Information Theory with the physical world. It is quite successful in this by changing the vantage point from which we view the results of the experiments.

Information Theory is a relatively new idea to the science scene, having only been formally introduced in 1948 by Claude Elwood Shannon in a Bell Labs Technical Journal. However, in using the concept of Entropy to define Information, Shannon linked the nascent field to the somewha
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book that slightly over eggs the pudding in pushing the information agenda. It got better as it went on. Seife seems on firmer ground when he is actually writing about the most speculative aspects of Information theory.
For me, it started off poorly when Seife said that Mary, Queen of Scots was undone by a secret message about a plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth being broken. While it added some colour to his chapter about cryptography it simply wasn't true. Mary was set up by
Kevin Page
May 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Charles Seife is a science writer and associate professor of journalism at New York University. In this 2006 book, subtitled: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes, the author endeavors to take us on a whirlwind tour of both classical and quantum physics (interestingly enough, he leaves out any mention of chaos theory, which would seem to be cogent to the particular “lens” of information theory through which he weaves his story) ...more
Esculapio Poblete
Nov 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
The book is a very technical list of issues, it begins with information, showing that it’s a concept based in physical properties, information it’s not something ethereal. It relates information with thermodynamics, and wastes a bid deal of energy trying to demonstrate that information is even more fundamental, more real than concepts like temperature, space or time.

It explains briefly relativity and quantum theory with the purpose of once again showing that information science fits perfectly i
Ian Schulze
Jan 05, 2020 rated it liked it
It taught me what I was looking for but Seife must love typing. The examples drag on longer than needed. If he were describing a deck of cards, he'd have to say something like "A heart is not a club, diamond, or spade. A diamond is not a spade or heart or club. A spade..." going through each possible iteration. Meanwhile also explaining basic things like what a hologram is. Who is reading about quantum physics that doesn't know what a hologram is? So yeah, the expansions are clear though long an ...more
Robert Mason
May 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This popular science book does a good job of introducing different applications of information theory to science. The chapter on life was particularly interesting. Sadly he plays the part of information theory cheerleader too enthusiastically for my taste, equating everything to a theory of information.
Rayfes Mondal
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exploring the connections between information theory (in the broadest sense) and other phenomena like thermodynamics. Good descriptions of various aspects of quantum mechanics and the strange things implied by it. Another excellent book from this author.
Sangkug Yi
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
It helps understanding some key concepts of information theory and its relation to modern physics. But too great a portion of the book is rehash of information repeated in too many books already.
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved the detailed explanations of the relation between computer theory and our universe!
Steve Matthews
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Makes the interesting case that information is the stuff (as opposed to matter or particles)that makes up everything. Information theory underlies much of the computing power we enjoy today.
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good overview for information theory for the average person.
Leland William
Dec 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Information Theory is hard to wrap your head around. There are many ways to communicate: you can say your message in your language, you can draw a picture, perform a dance, sing a song, but what happens if your intended audience isn't next to you? Well, you can send an e-mail, or send smoke signals, break out your telegraph machine, or dare I say it? Write a letter! All of these modes of communication send the same message, and yet they do it in very different ways. Speaking in your language inv ...more
Pretty interesting how the author related the field of computer science to all fields of science. Got a bit repetitive though and I'm not sure how to feel about the whole information and thermodynamic theories being interlinked. It was a new concept that was interesting to see but I'm a bit iffy about since I haven't heard any professor talk about the 2 being interlinked.
Donald Whalen
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a great piece of pop science literature. It inspired me to return to school.
May 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Really interesting book approaching various aspects of science from the perspective of "information theory". Seife explains information theory as a possible truth underlying both quantum and classical physics in which "information" is not just an intangible concept but as an actualy physical presence.

Seife is writing a science book for the non-scientist, which, like legal writing for a non legal audience, is not so easy to do well. He succeeds - for the most part. He does take care to try to pr
Nov 11, 2010 rated it liked it
An interesting update on the tie between quantum physics and astrophysics. It gives a reader a good idea of what current science has discovered and highlights the differences between classical Newtonian physics and quantum physics, where things like superposition and particle entanglement give physics an Alice-in-Wonderland appearance.

But the sub-title, promising an explanation on how everything from "our brains to black holes" work is overdrawn. Indeed, late in the book Seife writes, "This idea
Bob Nichols
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Information theory is a big deal these days but Seife may overstate his argument about the significance of what he calls the law of information, which he puts up there with relativity and quantum theory as the third great revolution in physics in the 20th century. Seife even states that "when the theory of relativity faces off against the law of information, the law of information seems to win." Seife argues that all matter and energy give off messages that are received and interacted with by ot ...more
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CHARLES SEIFE is a Professor of Journalism at New York University. Formerly a journalist with Science magazine, has also written for New Scientist, Scientific American, The Economist, Science, Wired UK, The Sciences, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Zero: The Biography Of A Dangerous Idea, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He holds an M.S. in mathemat ...more

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