Is information the fifth form of matter?
- Researchers have been trying for over 60 years to detect dark matter.
- There are many theories about it, but none are supported by evidence.
- The mass-energy-information equivalence principle combines several theories to offer an alternative to dark matter.
The “discovery” of dark matter<p>We can tell how much matter is in the universe by the <a href="https://www.space.com/20930-dark-matter.html" target="_blank">motions of the stars</a>. In the1920s, physicists attempting to do so discovered a discrepancy and concluded that there must be more matter in the universe than is detectable. How can this be? </p><p>In 1933, Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky, while observing the motion of galaxies in the <a href="https://www.space.com/vera-rubin.html" target="_blank">Coma Cluster</a>, began wondering what kept them together. There wasn't enough mass to keep the galaxies from flying apart. Zwicky proposed that some kind of dark matter provided cohesion. But since he had no evidence, his theory was quickly dismissed. </p><p>Then, in 1968, astronomer Vera Rubin made a similar discovery. She was studying the Andromeda Galaxy at Kitt Peak Observatory in the mountains of southern Arizona when she came across something that puzzled her. Rubin was examining Andromeda's rotation curve, or the speed at which the stars around the center rotate, and realized that the stars on the outer edges moved at the exact same rate as those at the interior, violating <a href="http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/10/vera-rubin" target="_blank">Newton's laws of motion</a>. This meant there was more matter in the galaxy than was detectable. Her punch card readouts are today considered the first evidence of the existence of dark matter. </p><p>Many other galaxies were studied throughout the '70s. In each case, the same phenomenon was observed. Today, dark matter is thought to comprise up to 27% of the universe. "Normal" or baryonic matter makes up just 5%. That's the stuff we can detect. Dark energy, which we can't detect either, makes up 68%. </p><p>Dark energy is what accounts for the Hubble Constant, or the rate at which the universe is expanding. Dark matter on the other hand, affects how "normal" matter clumps together. It stabilizes galaxy clusters. It also affects the shape of galaxies, their rotation curves, and how stars move within them. Dark matter even affects how galaxies influence one another.</p>
Leading theories on dark matter<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5ODExNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTY4MzM0Nn0.3AXqxP2fpr37ZFWTbMp1lYrLt2VYVAbT7BngypUYfoc/img.jpg?width=980" id="ccb58" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="984bda92c8dfd2a770d107e403c3b66c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
NASA writes: 'This graphic represents a slice of the spider-web-like structure of the universe, called the "cosmic web." These great filaments are made largely of dark matter located in the space between galaxies.'
Credit: NASA, ESA, and E. Hallman (University of Colorado, Boulder)<p>Since the '70s, astronomers and physicists have been unable to identify any evidence of dark matter. One theory is it's all tied up in space-bound objects called <a href="https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/educators/galaxies/imagine/dark_matter.html" target="_blank">MACHOs</a> (Massive Compact Halo Objects). These include black holes, supermassive black holes, <a href="https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and neutron stars.</p><p>Another theory is that dark matter is made up of a type of non-baryonic matter, called WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Baryonic matter is the kind made up of baryons, such as protons and neutrons and everything composed of them, which is anything with an <a href="http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/B/Baryonic+Matter" target="_blank">atomic nucleus</a>. Electrons, neutrinos, muons, and tau particles aren't baryons, however, but a class of particles called <a href="http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Particles/lepton.html" target="_blank">leptons</a>. Even though the (hypothetical) WIMPS would have ten to a hundred times the mass of a proton, their interactions with normal matter would be weak, making them hard to detect. </p><p>Then there are those aforementioned neutrinos. Did you know that giant streams of them pass from the Sun through the Earth each day, without us ever noticing? They're the focus of another theory that says that neutral neutrinos, that only interact with normal matter through gravity, are what dark matter is comprised of. Other candidates include two theoretical particles, the neutral axion and the uncharged photino.</p><p>Now, one theoretical physicist posits an even more radical notion. What if dark matter didn't exist at all? Dr. Melvin Vopson of the University of Portsmouth, in the UK, has a hypothesis he calls the mass-energy-information equivalence. It states that information is the fundamental building block of the universe, and it has mass. This accounts for the missing mass within galaxies, thus eliminating the hypothesis of dark matter entirely.</p>
Information theory<p>To be clear, the idea that information is an <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/the-basis-of-the-universe-may-not-be-energy-or-matter-but-information" target="_self">essential building block</a> of the universe isn't new. Classical Information Theory was first posited by Claude Elwood Shannon, the <a href="https://www.bell-labs.com/claude-shannon/" target="_blank">"father of the digital age"</a> in the mid-20th century. The mathematician and engineer, well-known in scientific circles—but not so much outside of them, had a stroke of genius back in 1940. He realized that Boolean algebra coincided perfectly with telephone switching circuits. Soon, he proved that mathematics could be employed to design electrical systems. </p><p>Shannon was hired at Bell Labs to figure out how to transfer information over a system of wires. He wrote the bible on using mathematics to set up communication systems, thereby laying the foundation for the digital age. Shannon was also the first to define one unit of information as a bit. </p><p>There was perhaps no greater proponent of information theory than another unsung paragon of science, <a href="https://futurism.com/john-wheelers-participatory-universe" target="_blank">John Archibald Wheeler</a>. Wheeler was part of the Manhattan Project, worked out the "S-Matrix" with Niels Bohr and helped Einstein develop a unified theory of physics. In his later years, he proclaimed, "Everything is information." Then he went about exploring connections between quantum mechanics and information theory. </p><p>He also coined the phrase "it from bit" or that every particle in the universe emanates from the information locked inside it. At the Santa Fe Institute in 1989, Wheeler announced that everything, from particles to forces to the fabric of spacetime itself "… derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely … from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/why-information-cant-be-the-basis-of-reality/" target="_blank">bits</a>."</p>
Part Einstein, part Landauer<p>Vopson takes this notion one step further. He says that not only is information the essential unit of the universe but also that it is energy and has mass. To support this claim, he unifies and coordinates special relativity with the <a href="https://physics.aps.org/articles/v11/49" target="_blank">Landauer Principle</a>. The latter is named after Rolf Landauer. In 1961, he predicted that erasing even one bit of information would release a tiny amount of heat, a figure which he calculated. Landauer said this proves information is more than just a mathematical quantity. This connects information to energy. Through experimental testing over the years, the Landauer Principle has held up.</p><p>Vopson says, "He [Landauer] first identified the link between thermodynamics and information by postulating that logical irreversibility of a computational process implies physical irreversibility." This indicates that <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.5123794" target="_blank">information is physical</a>, Vopson says, and demonstrates the link between information theory and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature10872" target="_blank">thermodynamics</a>. </p><p>In Vopson's theory, information, once created has "finite and quantifiable mass." It so far applies only to digital systems, but could very well apply to analogue and biological ones too, and even quantum or relativistic-moving systems. "Relativity and quantum mechanics are possible future directions of the mass-energy-information equivalence principle," he says. </p><p>In the paper published in the journal <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.5123794" target="_blank"><em>AIP Advances</em>,</a> Vopson outlines the mathematical basis for his hypothesis. "I am the first to propose the mechanism and the physics by which information acquires mass," he said, "as well as to formulate this powerful principle and to propose a possible experiment to test it."</p>
The fifth state of matter<p>To measure the mass of digital information, you start with an empty data storage device. Next, you measure its total mass with a highly sensitive measuring apparatus. Then, you fill it and determine its mass. Next, you erase one file and evaluate it again. The trouble is, the "ultra-accurate mass measurement" device the paper describes doesn't exist yet. This would be an <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.5126530" target="_blank">interferometer</a>, something similar to <a href="https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/page/what-is-ligo" target="_blank">LIGO</a>. Or perhaps an ultrasensitive weighing machine akin to a <a href="https://www.nist.gov/si-redefinition/kilogram/kilogram-kibble-balance" target="_blank">Kibble balance</a>.</p><p>"Currently, I am in the process of applying for a small grant, with the main objective of designing such an experiment, followed by calculations to check if detection of these small mass changes is even possible," Vopson says. "Assuming the grant is successful and the estimates are positive, then a larger international consortium could be formed to undertake the construction of the instrument." He added, "This is not a workbench laboratory experiment, and it would most likely be a large and costly facility." If eventually proved correct, Vopson will have discovered the fifth form of matter. </p><p>So, what's the connection to dark matter? Vopson says, "M.P. Gough published an article in <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/10/3/150" target="_blank">2008</a> in which he worked out … the number of bits of information that the visible universe would contain to make up all the missing dark matter. It appears that my estimates of information bit content of the universe are very close to his estimates." </p>
The I Ching serves as a foundation for many Eastern philosophies and Western mathematics.
- The I Ching is the basis for polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's binary code and subsequently basis of our digital technology.
- Psychologist Carl Jung used the Book of Changes to explore notions of synchronicity or "meaningful coincidence."
- Alan Watts considered the I Ching to be a model that mapped the thinking processes of the human mind.
Research shows that the way math is taught in schools and how its conceptualized as a subject is severely impairing American student's ability to learn and understand the material.
- Americans continually score either in the mid- or bottom-tier when it comes to math and science compared to their international peers.
- Students have a fundamental misunderstanding of what math is and what it can do. By viewing it as a language, students and teachers can begin to conceptualize it in easier and more practical ways.
- A lot of mistakes come from worrying too much about rote memorization and speedy problem-solving and from students missing large gaps in a subject that is reliant on learning concepts sequentially.
Why the U.S. needs to change its collective view of mathematics<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODYzODYxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDQ1MzU5Nn0.p10l4JFZqwwzCLhgRCJYCmxUtexBcEgtmv3t1_ywcGw/img.jpg?width=980" id="b7b38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="567d61a0ab2f98c24e3e9bf017611e35" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="math teacher in front of blackboard, woman in mathematics" />
Mathematics has been taught a certain way for decades in U.S. schools. Maybe it's time for that to change.
Getty Images<p>One of the first things that comes to many people's minds when they think about math is rote memorization, impracticability, and the old slacker adage, <em>"When am I ever going to need to use this?</em>" The quadratic formula, sines, and cosines have gotten a bad rap and taken a verbal beating by an innumerable amount of high schoolers for probably more than a century. </p><p>The vast majority of people who haven't had to use an equation since their senior year or cram session in college just don't see the value in math. That's because they fundamentally misunderstand what mathematics is. </p><p>Neil deGrasse Tyson put it succinctly when he said, "Math is the language of the universe. So the more equations you know, the more you can converse with the cosmos."</p><p>Now, that's part of the equation, but not all of it. Math, in a sense, is a way to speak and manipulate the world in a logic- and reason-based system using a specialized written language. </p><p>It is the language of numbers, quantity, and space, and it's used in applications for engineering, physics, and so on. It's doubtful that math is presented this way to children or students at an early age. But that's just one part of the problem with how we approach math.</p>
Why it's easy to fall behind in math<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="2K39Mwx4" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="d76ff340b9154e09be01edb737e03f6f"> <div id="botr_2K39Mwx4_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/2K39Mwx4-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/2K39Mwx4-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/2K39Mwx4-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Professor Po-Shen Loh at Carnegie Mellon believes that everyone is a math person; all they lack is proper instruction. In an <a href="https://bigthink.com/videos/po-shen-loh-says-anyone-can-be-a-math-person-if-they-know-the-best-learning-techniques" target="_blank">interview with Big Think</a>, he went on to say that math is a language that builds upon itself, and not understanding the foundations of math is like not understanding the roots and structure of a language. </p><p>Essentially if a student doesn't catch on in their first years of instruction, it's going to be very difficult for them to reverse course and excel later on down the line. He believes it is essential to catch this early on and address it before a student's issues with math reach a point where they feel "they're just not good at math."</p><p>Professor Loh goes on to say that "Mathematics is the principles of reasoning. There are ways to show you how these basic building blocks of reasoning can be used to deduce surprising and difficult things."</p><p>One major reason that mathematics is difficult to understand is because it is a network of prerequisites. Everything, all of the concepts, are chained in sequences of dependencies. </p><p>If you miss an important concept earlier on—say, not being able to understand how to chart a simple algebraic equation on a line graph, you'll have no idea how to go on to charting even more complicated equations. </p><p>Loh goes on to say that this is much more prevalent in mathematics than history, for example. If you didn't fully understand the War of 1812, it's not going to impact how you learn about the Civil War—aside from the occasional historical patterns you may or may not recognize, of course. </p><p>The way to address this is to provide a learning environment for everyone that moves at their own pace, to make sure to fill in the gaps, and to catch those lapses in understanding before they get out of control. </p><p>And if you're already in too deep, say, as a college grad or just an adult who wants to learn… well, it's time to start from square one.</p>
A faulty learning and teaching methodology<p>A few years back, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) dug a little deeper into how math is taught. A 2012 assessment questioned how students approach the subject. Their responses were categorized in three learning styles: some students relied mostly on memorization, others tried to relate new concepts to ones they've already learned, and finally, some used a self-monitoring approach in which they evaluated their understanding and focused on concepts they had yet to learn. </p><p>Without much of a surprise, it turned out that the memorizers were the least likely to achieve high scores and understanding. The United States ranked in the top three for this learning method. A more in-depth look showed that memorizers were about a half year behind students who used either relational or self-monitoring strategies. </p><p>Research has shown and most likely loads of anecdotal evidence shows that most math classrooms in the United States equate comprehension and skill with speed. Students who are the fastest on their time tables race against the clock to see how fast they can write down their memorized lines. This is not learning, this is not comprehension. </p>
Studies show that stress interferes with the part of our brain we use to manipulate mathematical facts.
Getty Images<p>Studies have shown that children manipulate math facts with their working memory, an area of the brain that will go offline when they experience stress.</p><p>Now put together 45-minute timed tests in a condensed school year or semester combined with math anxiety, faulty instruction and expectations, poor learning methods, potential lapses in the fundamentals, and the problems start to pile up. As a result, the part of the brain responsible for mathematical thinking literally shuts off, and you start to see why Americans are so bad at math.</p><p>Leading mathematician Laurent Schwartz <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html" target="_blank">wrote in his autobiography</a> that he was a slow thinker in math and even believed that he was stupid. That is until he realized that "What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other. This is where intelligence lies. The fact of being quick or slow isn't really relevant."</p><p>The problem has been diagnosed, and a few pieces of the solution have been put together, but something is still missing.</p>
Why new methods of teaching math aren’t working<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODYzMTcwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzE4NjExMX0.xTtJFgPgc1y7botCByUEHfu2d6Yu1esdpkih4o96ngg/img.jpg?width=980" id="71cb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="513d77ca20c38d5494f1115b3193fea5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
We've tried different methods of teaching math over the years, but have any of them worked?
Getty Images<p>Many potentially great minds have probably been turned off by the fast-paced timed tests and wonky teaching methods presented through the years. The language of math needs to be presented in a way that shows how it connects to the world and demonstrates its great capacity for understanding and manipulating reality.</p><p>If more people could tap into this infinite matrix of power, they'd be able to engage in the wondrous world of math and unlock unknown potentials. It's not for a lack of trying that we've failed; it comes down to instruction yet again. </p><p>Despite being today's newest fad and the subject of ire from many on both sides of the political spectrum, <a href="https://bigthink.com/videos/the-common-core" target="_blank">Common Core is our latest panacea</a> for our math woes. Yet we still suffer from what math professor and author John Allen Paulos calls innumeracy—a mathematical illiteracy akin to not being able to read or write. </p><p>What is needed is a fundamental shift in how we view mathematics as a subject so we can learn to imagine how it can benefit and help us in different fields. In addition, we need to make sure that it's taught in a way that no student skips past the fundamentals. Instructors and teachers at all levels must make a systemic change if we're to see any progress. Could this change be Common Core or a different teaching philosophy? We'll find out in the years to come.</p>