A joint author for Dick-Ken’s blog
Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago last Tuesday. He is considered one of the greatest novelists of all time. Most of his novels were written in serial installments in monthly magazines. Often he would finish one chapter without having decided where the next was going. We wonder if Dickens would have been equally comfortable writing on blogs. It is apparently a myth that he was paid by the word, but on blogs one is generally not paid at all.
Today we, Dick and Ken, are honored to invite one of his most beloved characters, Pip from Great Expectations, to join the staff of our blog.
In the novel, Pip is short for Philip Pirrip, an orphan who becomes a gentleman with a hidden benefactor. On this blog, Pip is short for Dick and Ken in a post that is jointly authored in concept. Previously we’ve indicated this by saying “Dick and Ken” in a post’s second paragraph, but the WordPress software uses a single author name “by X” at the top. Hence we created a separate joint account for Pip. Posts that are mainly by one of us, even though the other may contribute a paragraph or even section, will keep our separate names.
We expected Pip to arrive in time for Dickens’ birthday, but his account was unaccountably blocking invitation e-mails until yesterday. He was almost pipped, so to speak, by another Pip from the same era—the ship-boy Pip from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Indeed Moby-Dick could be another joint association for the staff, since it was the favorite novel of Ken’s father. Another case of independent discovery? However, Dickens’ Pip avoided the fate of Wally Pipp by finally showing up on our site. Here is Pip, as acted by Oscar Kennedy for a BBC TV production in December:
As computer scientists and information theorists, we are accustomed to thinking of the bit as the fundamental unit of our field. A bit means 1 or 0, on or off, up or down, yes or no, left or right, this way or that way. We’ve wondered whether something or nothing is the same kind of dichotomy, and we’re beginning to think not. John Wheeler famously declared that the fundament of science was “it from bit,” but we suspect “chip from pip” has a role.
A pip is a mark or dot indicating a unit of value. The word is used for the spots on dice and dominoes, and repeated glyphs on playing cards that are not face cards.
Is a pip possibly more than a unary counter? Put another way, can there be more information on the nine-of-clubs in the center than the four bits 1001? It depends on what the absence of a pip signifies. A pip is like a 1, but its absence is not 0—it’s really nothing. A zero is not nothing, it’s nothing with a place. This is what we see in John Horton Conway’s use of rather than for zero.
Our question can be viewed as: is an elementary particle a bit or a pip? It seems like a pip, but in physics it equates to a bit. How does this happen? Insofar as the concept of degrees of freedom applies, this has to do with coordinates for judging placement, the locale of presence or absence. Thus we venture:
A bit is a designated place where a pip may or might not be observed. A pip is a bit whose placement was uncertain. (?)
Well we really don’t know. Sometimes we will use Pip to ask questions in a childlike manner, mindful that others may have reached definite answers already. Dickens’ Pip was always uncertain of his place in society. We may feel the same about fundamental questions, but we have great expectations of learning as we do.
Can you answer Pip’s question about particles?
Note this comment by our recent (and next) guest poster Aram Harrow. How, then, do qubits relate to bits and pips?