Programming the Universe: Seth Lloyd


“Plurality should not be posited without necessity.”William of Occam

Ever since the emergence of quantum mechanics thanks to the efforts of an obscure patent clerk nearly a century back, scientists have been trying hard to reconcile two seemingly correct but mutually disagreeing theories about the way our universe works- Gravity and Quantum Mechanics. MIT (quantum) mechanical engineer, Seth Lloyd attempts to give us an alternative to the countless theories that spring up every day, most notably the String Theory. Throughout the book, Seth Lloyd thinly disguises his disdain for the aforementioned theory which strives to explain the universe by stating the building blocks of everything to be 1 dimensional ‘strings‘.


Lloyd follows Occam‘s (William of Occam’s) lead and puts forward a simpler theory (nothing in physics is that simple); he proposes that the universe is a giant quantum computer churning out complexity bit by bit. What’s better, the author takes us through the basics- the definition of information on a more macroscopic level. You see, the information the universe apparently creates is entropy, which Lloyd claims is an oft misunderstood word. What follows is a 211 page discourse on a variety of topics – consciousness, cosmology, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics (something I loathed from the bottom of my black soul in school) and chaos theory.

The book is an immense joy to go through; understanding something so complex has never been so rewarding and engrossing. I have always been fascinated by theoretical physics (never mind that I suck(ed) at math) and some of the questions attempted in this book are the ones that have plagued me for years- the initial moments after the big bang and the reasons for complexity in the universe. Seth Lloyd also gives valuable insights as to why the intelligent design debate may be moot because, if the universe is a quantum computer that creates complexity from simplicity bit by bit, serendipitous coincidences within cosmic chaos are inevitable.

This book is unlike most other popular science texts I’ve read. For one, it is understandable (for most part) and it does not rely heavily on the ignorance of the reader. Plus, my brother backs the book and that’s good enough for me.

Very highly recommended.



8 Responses to “Programming the Universe: Seth Lloyd”

  1. i found this book when i was walking around Barnes & Noble, The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav. I didnt find it the next time i visited and eventually forgot about it. but now that you’ve mentioned physics, i feel i must get it.

    So what is your stand on superstring theories and M-theory? i mean, they are pretty hypothetical arent they?

  2. Dude…I suggest you stay away from that book…it’s that new age crap a la “What the bleep do we know” film. Whenever they use quantum physics and new agey mysticism, it turns out to be nothing other than pseudo science: the worst kind of science.

    I’m not a big fan of string theory mostly because I can’t understand it. It seems too much like coming with a new theory just to prove an existing theory which defeats the purpose. I’d prefer it if a theory became a law through observational evidence without relying too much on new theories. Occam’s razor i.e. the simplest explanation.

  3. “serendipitous coincidences within cosmic chaos are inevitable” – you know the ID crowd will have a field day with that statement, right? πŸ™‚

    Nice post, I am going to add this to my list.

  4. @BPSK Er…yes. I was hoping nobody would notice. πŸ™‚

  5. 5 Ravenent

    Seth Lloyd also gives valuable insights as to why the intelligent design debate may be moot because, if the universe is a quantum computer that creates complexity from simplicity bit by bit, serendipitous coincidences within cosmic chaos are inevitable.

    Err, I think not. a) Most ID advocates are too far down the path to turn back, and b) They can always turn around and ask with a knowing (irritating) grin, “Ah, but who created the quantum mega-computer that is the universe in the first place?”

    Re. the book, it seems like a good read so I’m gonna see if I can lay my hands on it here. My guess was spot on though – as soon as I saw the subject, I knew your bro must have turned you on to it! πŸ™‚

  6. 6 jinx

    hmmm…what if the quantum mega-computer created God?…aah well…..i think i’ll wait till the scientist guys get it right

  7. @Ravenent: Er…well…see I knew that sentence would get me into trouble. But see…the Quantum Mega Computer which is a wrong term in itself was not created per se. Lloyd states that, ‘in the beginning’, it could have been just a couple of bits of information (i.e entropy) that were variables in the computation which went forth to give rise to complexity.

    A very interesting part of the book is the definition of complexity. For example, 3.14270….. is ‘more complex’ than 22/7. Man…you should read it. Bet you’ll get a kick out of it.

    @Jinx That my dear, is a very interesting concept. Remember Asimov’s short story, ‘The Last Question‘? They build a supercomputer to ‘compute’ the greatest question; the meaning of life. The story ends thus:

    “The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.

    And AC said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”

    And there was light—- “


  8. 8 Dee Dee

    Today is,
    Tuesday, November 11, 2008
    I bought the book Programming the Universe today, and am waiting for it in the mail. The person that wrote about the book titled, “Programming the Universe,” make it sound like something that goes along with what I’m writing about. I am wondering if some people try to read to much into an element of reality. If you look at space as one thought, and time as another idea, when you write up a formulas or theory that talk about each item. Reality is here all around us, and time and space are relative to where we are. Einstein said that didn’t he? Einstein said that relativity has to do with something dragging time and space with it. That it was gravity created from the mass of something I guess? We carry our personal baggage with us where ever we go. Our personal baggage is who we are, and how we got to where we are. Since time and space are man made concepts created to help express realty, times and space are tools, we carry with us the tools to express our reality. like our memories of emotions and event that we carry with us. So we have something that is relative to this point where we stand and we express right now with concepts. That is why time and space are relative to now. Now I’ll see if the writer think that the earth’s gravity drags timespace, has spacewarp, warped space, or timewarp on a place that can be computer enhanced to changed.
    I wrote a short story and a poem about programing a quark-quantum-computer. .

    I love mind candy don’t you. Reading is always a nice kind of mind candy when the books is thoughtful, or witty.
    Dee Dee Joan Marie Fountian

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