Absent Knowledge:
: The Impact of Information-theory on 20th Century Physics

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The dissertation topic is the impact of the Informational turn (modern Information and Computation) on science in the 20th century, with Physics as a case study. The main conceptual aspect is the influence of Information-Theoretical terminology, such as Information-entropy, on mathematical physics.
There are two main sections to the work:
The first section makes use of Hacking’s Styles of reasoning as a scheme for the shift in science: This change manifests in the practice of research in the Information-Age, the creation of new institutions, the rise of a new semantic field for expressing physics in Informational terms. These practical and theoretical moments culminate in a new Style of reasoning of Information-laden science.
The second section follows the research of one physicist – Jakob Bekenstein, who formulated Black Hole thermodynamics in his PhD work under John Wheeler. Bekenstein made a strong Information-physics connection that was both supported and objected (both reactions strengthening the Informational trend in physics), eventually becoming the mainstream description for black holes. Later far-reaching results such as the Holographic Principle and Wheeler’s “It from Bit”, can be traced to Bekensein’s or the dynamics surrounding it. Bekenstein represents the type of revolution science has undergone, and participates in it: not a traumatic but a calm shift in perspective that combines the classic (energy and particles) with the novel (Information).
The Information-laden Style of reasoning sheds light on scientific developments in an Informational context, but the illumination goes both ways: Tracing its development also brings out the Information-physics connection of quantified missing knowledge. This serves as a conceptual approach to understanding the ubiquitous, overused but persistently vague concept of Information.
Date of Award10 Jun 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Bar-Ilan University
SponsorsBrandeis University
SupervisorRaz Chen-Morris (Supervisor) & Slivan (Sam) Schweber (Supervisor)

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