Some Information on The Information
Twenty years ago James Gleick's book Chaos yanked me from the morass of post-modern fiction into the world of deftly written science, and reading Gleick's new book, The Information, felt like a comprehensive review of my past twenty years of literary science reading-- all bundled into a tour-de-force history of information theory that starts with African drums and ends with the noosphere, with commentary seamlessly merged into the text from all the "characters" that I've learned to know and love: Babbage and Turing, Dawkins and Shannon, Dennett and Hofstadter, Maxwell and his demon . . . who Thomas Pynchon famously used in his post-modern fiction, Heisenberg and Godel, Einstein and Von Neumann, and many more . . . but Gleick ends his book in a place that has outstripped what science has to offer, and so he relies on two of my favorite post-modern authors to conclude: Stanislaw Lem and Jorge Luis Borges . . . he uses Borges' metaphor for the universe, his story "The Library of Babel," to approximate where we might be headed: "The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms," but then Gleick ends with his own voice, more positive: "As for us, everything has not been written; we are not turning into phantoms . . . we walk the corridors . . . looking for lines of meaning amid leagues of cacophony and incoherence, reading the history of the past and future, collecting our thoughts and collecting the thoughts of others, and every so often glimpsing mirrors, in which we may recognize creatures of the information."