Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This Explains a Lot  

Never stop learning. That's my motto: the more you know, the more you know you don't know. That's usually an accumulative process: the more you learn, the more you can learn, and the faster you can learn it.

But in the magical fairyland known as IT, some people seem to actively destroy knowledge, creating more confusion wherever they go. We've had a word for it for a while - FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Now we have an explanation, at least analogically - the uncertain world of vaporware and project requirements must be quantum, yeah that's the ticket, and we've just discovered that Quantum information can be negative:

Even the most ignorant cannot know less than nothing. After all, negative information makes no sense. But, although this may be true in the everyday world we are accustomed to, negative information does exist in the quantum world ... What could negative information possibly mean? In short, after I send you negative information, you will know less. Such strange situations can occur because what it means to know something is very different in the quantum world ... Negative information turns out to be precisely the right amount to cancel the fact that we know too much.

Really I don't want to be a typical popularizer abusing quantum mechanics for my little analogies ... long before the concept of negative information appeared, the philosophical concept of defeasible reasoning captured the idea that in most real-world situations learning new facts can force you to give up previously held conclusions. Certainly this is true in any scientific revolution, where switching from the Ptolmaic to the Copernican world view or from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics required throwing out vast amounts of knowledge.

But the next time I encounter a confusing cloud of fuzzy figments surrounding the slippery, unfocused requirements of the latest vaporware, I want to believe I've encountered negative quantum information, dang it.

-the Centaur


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