Information, for most of us, is an airy, abstract thing--the stuff of ideas, images, and symbols. But for Tom Siegfried and the scientists he writes about in The Bit and the Pendulum: How the New Physics of Information Is Revolutionizing Science, information has become something much more fundamental to the workings of the world. "Information is real," Siegfried explains. "Information is physical." What that means depends somewhat on the discipline it's applied to (cosmology, particle physics, computer science, cognitive theory, and molecular biology are among the fields examined here), but in general it comes down to the radically simple notion that the universe, at its deepest levels, is made not of matter and energy but of bits. Information is real, yes. But more to the point: reality, in some increasingly meaningful sense, is information.
So goes the argument anyway. And Siegfried, science editor of the Dallas Morning News, does a pretty good job of presenting it. His prose, admittedly, puts the flat in flat-footed, and his explanations of the relevant scientific phenomena (which include cool stuff like teleportation and quantum-mechanical computing) are sometimes murkier than they ought to be. But his knowledge of the last 10 years of theoretical research is sweeping, and he's especially deft with the tricky philosophy-of-science issues that pervade his topic. Have scientists really discovered, in information, the world's true foundation? Or have they simply found a handy new metaphor with which to think about the world? Siegfried wisely comes down on neither side of the question. For him, the power of metaphor is inseparable from the quest for scientific truth. And his book convincingly suggests that information, as a concept, will be generating deep scientific truths for years to come. --Julian Dibbell