It from Bit

This program develops the idea that the universe, or physical reality, has, at the deepest level, a nonphysical basis and a nonmechanical explanation. The motivation is the following.

Physicists dream of the ultimate theory, the Grand Unified Theory (GUT), in which all the fundamental forces in Nature (electromagnetism, weak and strong forces and gravity) are unified. Even if this is achieved, one is left with a new question-- that of what causes this ultimate equation, who breathes fire into this alleged ultimate equation?

One might call it a random law and leave it at that, invoking the anthropic principle (the claim that had the equation been different, we wouldn't be around to wonder like this).

But there is another philosphical stand we may take: that there is a deeper cause beyond GUT. Call this the meta-cause. By this line of reasoning, there will be a meta-meta-cause, and a seemingly unending train of deeper causes. Are we any better this way?

Yes!-- for two basic reasons.

The first is that this stand clarifies to us the nature of the inadequacy of our knowledge: we understand what we know, and what we don't. One might say: here we now have the right kind of ignorance. We can be optimistic that future research will reveal more about the ultimate nature of Physical Law.

In the other position, we may be in the danger of not knowing what we don't know, and the situation is a bit more bleak!

Presumably the ancients the world over were aware of this problem one way or other, leaving with us the rich cosmogonies of the ancient Egyptians, Greek, Romans, Hittite, Germanics and the Hindus. Usually, any given force in Nature was attributed to a god, who acted as a causal cul-de-sac. No deper explanation was sought beyond the deity. (Yet, before we look back derisively on the ancients, it is worth pondering if we the moderns are better off with our GUT god?!)

Yet, among the ancients, it appears to be the Indian philosophers who grappled with and appreciated the problem of indicating the First Cause. They argued that there are immaterial causes beyond material Nature, culminating in a causal haze which they termed prakriti ("primordial Nature"> or adi karma ("First action">. As a tacit admission of their inability to push beyond, in certain Indic theological philosophical schools of thought, prakriti was accorded a primacy alongside God!

The second reason is that we can hope to make testable predictions that we otherwise would not. For one, this hierarchical train of meta-causes, irrespective of its terminating status, must in some sense be non-physical. We can thus look for signs of phenomena where there are real, measurable effects, that nevertheless have, in some fashion, nonphysical causes. One of the projects here uses an argument based on counterfactual cryptography to claim that the quantum mechanical wave function ψ is such a nonphysical, yet real, entity.

Another class of predictions we can make is by positing that although we are unable to characterize the immaterial layers, we can attribute to it certain reasonable information storing and computing properties (e.g., that the (strong) Church-Turing thesis remains valid even for for this immaterial layer), and causal constraints such as reversibility. It may be argued that information processing and computing capacities depend on underlying physical law, but we can start with the weakest assumptions. We can then look for physical phenomena that elude a conventional explanation, but may serve as a window on the informational and computational properties of this presume sub-physical layer. Two of the projects here fall under this class.


  1. No-signaling from computational intractability
  2. Wave function Collapse as a computational, rather than dynamical, process
  3. The wave function is real, but nonphysical
  4. Cosmological inflationary polyontogenesis
  5. External links

  1. No-signaling from computational intractability:

    We consider the problem of deriving the no-signaling condition from the assumption that, as seen from a complexity theoretic perspective, the universe is not an exponential place. A fact that disallows such a derivation is the existence of {\em polynomial superluminal} gates, hypothetical primitive operations that enable superluminal signaling but not the efficient solution of intractable problems. It therefore follows, if this assumption is a basic principle of physics, either that it must be supplemented with additional assumptions to prohibit such gates, or, improbably, that no-signaling is not a universal condition. Yet, a gate of this kind is possibly implicit, though not recognized as such, in a decade-old quantum optical experiment involving position-momentum entangled photons. Here we describe a feasible modified version of the experiment that appears to explicitly demonstrate the action of this gate. Some obvious counter-claims are shown to be invalid. We believe that the unexpected possibility of polynomial superluminal operations arises because some practically measured quantum optical quantities are not describable as standard quantum mechanical observables.


    1. R. Srikanth. Entanglement, intractability and no-signaling. Physica Scripta 81 (2010) 065002; ArXiv:1005.3449
    2. R. Srikanth. The World is Not Hard Enough. International Conference of Quantum Optics and Quantum Computation (ICQOC) Mar 24--26 (2011).
    3. R. Srikanth. Computation, information and physical reality: a quantum perspective. Talk delivered at Amrita University, Amritapuri-- May 4, 2010.
    4. R. Srikanth. What is Physical Reality?-- Looking at the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics from a computation theoretic and metamathematical perspective. XII Congress of Philosophy & Foundations of Science, 19 Dec 2007.

    -- R. Srikanth

  2. Wave function Collapse as a computational, rather than dynamical, process Is the dynamical evolution of physical systems objectively a manifestation of information processing by the universe? We find that an affirmative answer has important consequences for the measurement problem. In particular, we calculate the amount of quantum information processing involved in the evolution of physical systems, assuming a finite degree of fine-graining of Hilbert space. This assumption is shown to imply that there is a finite capacity to sustain the immense entanglement that measurement entails. When this capacity is overwhelmed, the system's unitary evolution becomes computationally unstable and the system suffers an information transition (`collapse'). Classical behaviour arises from the rapid cycles of unitary evolution and information transitions. Thus, the fine-graining of Hilbert space determines the location of the `Heisenberg cut', the mesoscopic threshold separating the microscopic, quantum system from the macroscopic, classical environment. The model can be viewed as a probablistic complement to decoherence, that completes the measurement process by turning decohered improper mixtures of states into proper mixtures. It is shown to provide a natural resolution to the measurement problem and the basis problem.


    1. R. Srikanth. A Computational Model for Quantum Measurement. Quantum Information Processing 2 (3), 153-199 (2003); eprint quant-ph/0302160.
    2. R. Srikanth. From quantum measurement to black hole evaporation: foundational problems in a computation theoretic and metamathematical light Quantum Computation and Quantum Communication (QCQC-2007) Symposium, 9--11 Dec 2007.
    -- R. Srikanth

  3. The wave function is real but nonphysical:

    Counterfactual quantum cryptography, based on the idea of interaction-free measurement, allows Bob to securely transmit information to Alice without the physical transmission of a particle. From local causality, we argue that the fact of his communication entails the reality of the quantum wave packet she transmits to him. On the other hand, the travel was not physical, because were it, then a detection necessarily follows, which does not happen in the counterfactual communication. On this basis, we argue that the particle's wave function is real, but nonphysical. In the classical world, the reality and physicality of objects coincide, whereas for quantum phenomena, the former is strictly weaker. Since classical cryptography is insecure, the security of quantum counterfactual cryptography implies the nonphysical reality of the wave function.


    1. Akshata Shenoy H and R. Srikanth. The wave-function is real but nonphysical: A view from counterfactual quantum cryptography.
    2. Invited talk "Counterfactual quantum cryptography and the reality of the wave function" at International Meet on Quantum Correlations and Logic, Language and Set Theory 2013, IIT-Rajasthan, Jodhpur, Dec 15, 2013.

    --R. Srikanth

  4. Inflationary Polyontogenesis

    We explore a possible cosmological consequence of replacing quantum nonlocality by a non-signaling superluminal locality, characterized by a `speed of quantum information' VQI. During a quantum wave function collapse, a putative sub-quantum information dynamics is assumed to enforce conservation laws at this speed, which increases linearly with the expansion of the universe. At inflation, this acceleration of VQI momentarily lags behind the exponentially increasing size of the universe, leading to formation of information domains, which are the largest regions over which (number) conservation can be enforced. This implies that a single pre-inflationary particle proliferates into (S(t_+)/S(t))3, which is about 1078 particles post-inflation, in agreement with the number of particles in the universe.

    -- R. Srikanth

    External References

    1. Many of Buddhism's core tenets significantly overlap with findings from modern neurology and neuroscience. So how did Buddhism come close to getting the brain right? -- by David Weisman.

Last updated: March 11, 2014.

menu categories

html templates website templates