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Imagine Alice has an idea,
and she wants to share it.
There are so many ways to share an idea.
She could draw a picture,
make an engraving, write a song,
send a telegraph,
or an email.
But how are these things different?
And more importantly,
why are they the same?
This story is about the fundamental particle
of all forms of communication.
It begins with a special skill
you likely take for granted --
All language allows you to take a thought --
or mental object --
and break it down in a series of conceptual chunks.
These chunks are externalized
using a series of signals – or 'symbols.'
Humans express themselves
using a variation in sound and physical action –
as do chirping birds –
and dancing bees –
and man-made machines,
exchanging a dancing stream of eletrical vibrations.
Even our bodies are built according to instructions
stored inside microscopic books – known as 'DNA.'
All are different forms of one thing – 'information.'
In simplest terms,
information is what allows one mind to influence another.
It`s based on the idea of communication as selection.
Information – no matter the form –
can be measured using a fundamental unit –
in the same way we can measure
the mass of different objects – using a standard measure –
such as kilograms or pounds.
This allows us to precisely measure and compare
the weight of, say, rocks, water, or wheat –
using a scale.
Information, too, can be measured and compared
using a measurement called 'entropy.'
Think of it as an information scale.
We intuitively know that a single page
from some unknown book
has less information than the entire book.
We can describe exactly how much
using a unit called the 'bit' –
a measure of surprise.
So, no matter how Alice wants to communicate
a specific message –
hieroglyphics, music, computer code –
each would contain the same number of bits,
though in different densities.
And a bit is linked to a very simple idea –
the answer to a yes-or-no question.
Think of it as the 'language of coins.'
So how is information actually measured?
Does information have a speed limit?
A maximum density?
Information theory holds the exciting answer to these questions.
It`s an idea over 3000 years in the making.
But before we can understand this,
we must step back –
and explore, perhaps, the most powerful invention
in human history –
And for this, we return to the cave.
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