Learning, the act of gaining knowledge, is a craft unto itself. It starts with questions - the what ifs, how abouts, whys, . . . leading from the unknown to the known, through inquiry, experimentation, travel, and of course pure accident.

This is about how it happens in my life.

The Inevitability of Information

In some ways this post has its origins in a lecture I attended in April 2006 by Seth Lloyd,  MIT Professor, author and self professed "quantum mechanic". We got tickets through a friend, and happily made the trip to Bloor Collegiate for this Perimeter Institute sponsored event.  I quite enjoyed it, and can honestly say I understood not just what he was saying, but the implications of it (you can read an interview with SL where he discusses his research here.)
Now, I make no claim to even neophyte status when it comes to understanding quantum stuff. What I can claim is an active interest since at least 1993 thanks to the Star Trek Next Generation episode in which Worf goes through a quantum rift.  I bless Serendipity that my circle at the time included a few people who already knew something about the underlying theories; I found myself quite intrigued. It occurred to me then as much as now that the more we learn about the very very small i.e Quarks, and the more we learn about the very very big i.e Universe, it seems that the knowledge converges on itself.
So if this post has its origins in the lecture, the Star Trek episode certainly created the conditions to "make it so".

You see, it turns out that, in many ways, everything ultimately comes down to Information.  This is what makes a movie like The Matrix both compelling and unsettling. That on the one hand there is a way to "read" our environment as 1s and 0s, see patterns, identify threats and work proactively; on the other, it is a world where secrets are impossible and actions are at best telegraphed, at worst unavoidable.

Yet some how all this information appears to have come with it's own root kit.  All that Information, when combined with a means of making sense of it, turned into, well, you and me.

As Seth Lloyd comments in the interview noted above,
"My vision of the world as processing information arose out of my day-to-day work building quantum computers."  
He was working on the very small, and it turns out he was working on the very large at the same time.

So, the universe is one big information processor. Of course, theory also holds that the entropy in the universe is increasing . . . is the process of processing information yielding so much more information that it can never all be processed, hence entropy? I'll leave that avenue of exploration for another day.

If the quantum world unites universes and subatomic particles through information, then genetic research  certainly does so for living beings. Here it is study of RNA, DNA, bio polymers and the like. Researchers use concepts like "encoding", in the sense that RNA carries and transmits information, to discuss the interactions between the various elements required to create life.
The relevance of Information Processing to this research grew, shall we say, organically:
“The big realization is that biology has become an information science,” says Dr. Yang Huanming, cofounder and president of BGI. “If we accept that [genomics] builds on the digitalization of life, then all kinds of genetic information potentially holds value.”

Which bring us in a round about way to an idea that is integral to the concept of Library, and one that Libraries do very well: Taxonomy. It's origins are ancient Greek: Taxis, or "arrangement"; but that's not really the story. Rather, it is the way Carl Linnaeus used that word in 1735 to define his system of structuring the existing knowledge regarding differential biological elements and forms into a coherent schema we still use today that loads Taxonomy meaning.  Sure, one might posit that some other enlightened individual would have come up with a similar usage of the word, or even another word! to denote a means of arranging knowledge;  I'd equally posit that any system that helps bring order to Information chaos - tames entropy, as it were - is useful.

I don't know if the some aspects of bits and bytes approach to life a la The Matrix will be (or already is?) reality.  I do know that the Star Trek franchise provided ample inspiration for a number of now ubiquitous gadgets; and those ARPA folks had a good long view of what their little network might deliver (personal note: it sounds like 1971 was a good year for good ideas ;-)

Given the inevitability of Information in our entropic universe, I'd say there is a both a biological and quantum inevitability of Libraries,  and equally of the unique group of people who desire to work in them.  We work in the information continuum, and are perfectly placed where ever information is found.

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