The invasion of physics by information theory

When we think of a revolution in physics, we usually think of a physical theory that manages to overthrow its predecessor. There is another kind of revolution, however, that typically happens more slowly but that is often the key to achieving the first sort: it is the discovery of a novel perspective on an existing physical theory. The use of least-action principles, symmetry principles, and thermodynamic principles are good historical examples. It turns out that we can refine our understanding of many of these principles by characterizing certain properties of physical states as resources. I will discuss some of the highlights of two resource theories: the resource theory of asymmetry, which characterizes the relations among quantum states that break a symmetry; and the resource theory of athermality, which characterizes the relations among quantum states that deviate from thermal equilibrium. In particular, I will discuss how Noether's theorem does not capture all of the consequences of symmetries of the dynamics, and how the second law of thermodynamics does not capture all of the constraints on thermodynamic transitions. Finally, I will show that both asymmetry and athermality are informational resources, and that rehabilitated versions of Noether's theorem and the second law can both be understood as constraints on data processing. Considerations such as these---as well as evidence from other fronts of the invasion---make a compelling case for the revolutionary cause of reconceiving physics from an information-theoretic perspective.

Event Type: 
Seminar
Collection/Series: 
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Event Date: 
Mercredi, Mars 26, 2014 - 14:00 to 15:30
Location: 
Lazaridis Theatre