The Bit and the Pendulum, From Quantum Computing M Theory The New Physics of Information by Tom Siegfried

“… there must be a different framework for understanding the universe that hasn’t revealed itself yet, and the success of the information-processing approach to science may offer a clue about where to look for that missing framework.”

Rolf Laudauer

The Bit and The Pendulum was written in 2000 by Dallas science reporter Tom Siegfried. The books explores the different sciences from quantum physics to biology and neurosciences that relate information theory. Quantum teleportation and DNA computing are some of the more sensational topics covered in the book.

The title The Bit and the Pendulum is a reference to Edgar Allan Poes The Pit and The Pendulum, a short story about a man in a Spanish prison. The prisoner in the story gradually learns the nature of his cell. This correlates to scientist groping around in the dark trying to find the nature of a greater reality.

The book alludes to a post “cybernetics” emergence of an information processing based view of the universe. In the Bit and The Pendulum, Cybernetics is described as a fad that has come discounted by current thinking.  It argues however, it might have only be dismissed in the early 50’s and 60’s because it came too soon after the invention of the computer for society to comprehend. Understanding of the world in a clockwork or steam engine paradigm took time after their respective inventions.  Its argued that perhaps as society becomes more familiar with the computer perhaps a cybernetic style understanding of nature may re emerge or is in the process  of emerging.

Laudauer and Wheeler

Information Theorists Rolf Laudauer and John Wheeler are two central figures in The Bit and The Pendulum. They are both proponents of information being something real and physical.


Rolf Laudauer was a pioneer of the idea that information is limited by the physical world in which it is encased. An example of this limitation would be the number PI. It is generally accepted that the number PI is a knowable. However, Laudauer argues to the contrary. PI is unknowable because of the physical limits on the processing power of the universe. He argues information and information processing are physical and take place in the physical world so they are therefore constrained by the limits of physical reality.

Laudauer is also famous for showing that information processing can occur with no loss of energy and that there is  only a loss of energy when erasing information. Since the amount of “memory” in the universe is limited one must eventually erase information. Thus information processing will eventually incur an entropy cost.


John Wheeler is famously credited for coining the phrase black hole and is know for the statement “it from bit” Meaning information is something real and physical and the foundation of everything.

The book does a good job of informing the reader of some of the interesting areas and implications of information theory and is one of the easier reads on the subject. For a book written in The Bit and the Pendulum does a good job of leading the genre of books on Information theory to come. It’s written with a science headline science reporter style. If it wasn’t for Decoding the Universe The Bit and The Pendulum might be the best place for those just curious about information theory to start.