Earlier today, I was asked to explain a quip I made over iMessage, Apple's new messaging platform for iOS. iMessage occasionally reveals flaws in data transmission, such as by not updating to a "Read" status or by inserting a comment from a previous conversation (apparently, to make more people watch Fringe).
My friend commented that we should note when things don't make sense, of course with regard to iMessage, to which I just had to reply that the Big Bang and the binary nature of reality don't make much sense to me. And of course, just as cosmology and information theory are topics of interest that I almost never discuss with anyone because most people outside of the respective fields of physics and computer science know very little (just as I know zero about fixing a carburetor), that remark required a bit of explanation.
Below is what I explained. I'm told it's accessible.
It's all about: Difference
At the heart of knowledge and understanding lies difference. In other words, you can learn or experience and know something only because it differs in some way from what you knew before. It's something new. So, you have a set of things you know and you add one thing to it, like this:
What you knew before: set of (1, 2, and 3)
What you just learned: 4
What you know now: (1, 2, 3, and 4)
You had 3, now 4. And 4 is not 1, 2, or 3. It's unique.
This can get complicated but the idea is that "learning" is short for "learning something new" and something new is something different, in some way, shape, or form in your mind, by necessity.
It's all about: Binary
This suggests that reality is binary. What? Why? By way of example, let's say you hear about a new color. If you think about it, all of the colors you knew before made up one big set of what you might call Color. And when you hear that Crayola just invented a new color called SMURF (not that they did; Google suggests not), you add one more color to Color.
Before you had: Color (lots of colors)
Now you have: Color (lots of colors + Crayola trying to make money and kill trees)
But why binary? What is binary, aside from how computers think? Binary is 0 and 1. It's two options or states. On and off. Yes and no. True and false.
Back to our example, before you learned about SMURF and Crayola's impending bankruptcy, Color contained a bunch of colors, right? That's one option or state of things, which we can call 0 (or A or X or whatever). And when you hear about SMURF, we need a way to call your new state of knowledge. Let's call that new state 1.
First 0, now 1.
It's about: Information
So, reality seems binary. Or, rather, it seems that what we know as reality is binary. And that means that reality is basically about information, not atoms. We get It from Bit. It's about knowing one thing from another. And it's about knowing lots of different things, all of which combine to hopefully clarify and sharpen our view of reality. Each new piece of knowledge adds one new perspective or understanding about this thing we're all going through for a little while before we return to dust and then make oil for Chevron and see none of the profit.
It's about: Illusion?
But if reality, as far as we know (pun?), is information at its heart, then maybe the Zen masters (yes, I know we are all Zen masters, so maybe Zen writers or legends would more accurate) are right and knowledge and words and thinking and making all of this difference is not really reality. Maybe reality is an illusion.
But, then, what is behind reality? It's not nothing. It has to be something, right? Oh, wait, that's binary.