Demonology: The Curious Role of Intelligence in Physics & Biology (video)

James P. Crutchfield, Complexity Sciences Center, Physics Department, University of California at Davis

For the lion's share of its history, physics analyzed the inanimate world. Or, that is the view it has of itself. Careful reflection, though, shows that physics regularly invoked an expressly extra-physical agency—intelligence—in its efforts to understand even the most basic physical phenomena. I will survey this curious proclivity, noting that similar appeals to intelligent "demons" go back to Laplace's theory of chance, Poincaré's discovery of deterministic chaos in the solar system, and Darwin's explanation of the origin of biological organisms in terms of natural selection. Today, we are on the verge of a new physics of information that will transform this bad "demonology" to a constructive, perhaps even an engineering, paradigm that explains information processing embedded in the natural world. In the process I will show how deterministic chaos arises in the operation of Maxwell's Demon and outline nanoscale experimental implementations ongoing at Caltech with the Roukes Group.