How much information is there?

Science Daily has a story about “the world’s total technological capacity — how much information humankind is able to store, communicate and compute.”  It cites some unimaginably big numbers.  But what was most striking is this last sentence:

Looking at both digital memory and analog devices, the researchers calculate that humankind is able to store at least 295 exabytes of information. (Yes, that’s a number with 20 zeroes in it.)

Put another way, if a single star is a bit of information, that’s a galaxy of information for every person in the world. That’s 315 times the number of grains of sand in the world. But it’s still less than one percent of the information that is stored in all the DNA molecules of a human being.

via How much information is there in the world?.

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Brother Laurence

    That word “information” again applied to DNA can’t help but take my mind back to the evolution myth. Information is a design word. A creation word. It’s really hard to swallow the idea of “information” (especially of that volume or magnitude! Astounding.) simply “happening” through gradual and completely random mutation. Really? That such a belief can be called “rational” is beyond me.

    P.S. Do we really know how many grains of sand there are in the world?

  • Brother Laurence

    That word “information” again applied to DNA can’t help but take my mind back to the evolution myth. Information is a design word. A creation word. It’s really hard to swallow the idea of “information” (especially of that volume or magnitude! Astounding.) simply “happening” through gradual and completely random mutation. Really? That such a belief can be called “rational” is beyond me.

    P.S. Do we really know how many grains of sand there are in the world?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Absolutely incredible. Less than 1 percent of the information in our DNA? Staggering to think about.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Absolutely incredible. Less than 1 percent of the information in our DNA? Staggering to think about.

  • WebMonk

    Meh, the whole series of comparisons is like comparing apples and orangutans and a cuttlefish.

    For example – the “information” in all the DNA in a body is the exact same information repeated 50 trillion times. And, if we’re going to use a whole star as a single bit, why not use a whole body as a single bit. Or, if we’re talking about each individual strand of DNA in each individual cell in a body, why not count all the atoms that make up the star?

    Idiotic and useless comparisons.

  • WebMonk

    Meh, the whole series of comparisons is like comparing apples and orangutans and a cuttlefish.

    For example – the “information” in all the DNA in a body is the exact same information repeated 50 trillion times. And, if we’re going to use a whole star as a single bit, why not use a whole body as a single bit. Or, if we’re talking about each individual strand of DNA in each individual cell in a body, why not count all the atoms that make up the star?

    Idiotic and useless comparisons.

  • Tom Hering

    WebMonk, if we’re talking about units of information in the human body, wouldn’t that number be 25,000 – because that’s the number of genes in human DNA?

  • Tom Hering

    WebMonk, if we’re talking about units of information in the human body, wouldn’t that number be 25,000 – because that’s the number of genes in human DNA?

  • WebMonk

    There you go! Absolutely! If we’re picking out any random sort of comparison, let’s use units of information!

    But, Tom, you aren’t taking it far enough. Each gene has many areas to it made of many proteins. Every protein has many molecules (or at least sections of the protein molecule) and each section has many atoms! All those atoms have many subatomic particles!

    All the bytes of information in the world is only 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the number of subatomic particles in all the DNA in all the people in the world!!!

    Whoa!!! Amazing!!!!!

  • WebMonk

    There you go! Absolutely! If we’re picking out any random sort of comparison, let’s use units of information!

    But, Tom, you aren’t taking it far enough. Each gene has many areas to it made of many proteins. Every protein has many molecules (or at least sections of the protein molecule) and each section has many atoms! All those atoms have many subatomic particles!

    All the bytes of information in the world is only 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of the number of subatomic particles in all the DNA in all the people in the world!!!

    Whoa!!! Amazing!!!!!

  • nqb

    WebMonk, I have to severely disagree with you on a couple levels.
    First, I don’t think there is much “comparing” actually being done. The author (and Veith) are hardly saying that pieces of information are at all like stars or grains of sand. The whole point is to give the numbers context, and the analogies are very helpful for that. (Given your extensive science background, I assume you did realize that the author is referring to literal “bits” of information.)
    Second, I sort of see why you’re unhappy with the connection to human DNA, but you do realize that genes aren’t at all equivalent to pieces of information, let alone subatomic particles. Also, the issue is context again, and the “comparison” here is capacity potential. I could conceivably store 50 trillion unique strands of DNA in the same space as a human being, which is what the author is trying to say.

  • nqb

    WebMonk, I have to severely disagree with you on a couple levels.
    First, I don’t think there is much “comparing” actually being done. The author (and Veith) are hardly saying that pieces of information are at all like stars or grains of sand. The whole point is to give the numbers context, and the analogies are very helpful for that. (Given your extensive science background, I assume you did realize that the author is referring to literal “bits” of information.)
    Second, I sort of see why you’re unhappy with the connection to human DNA, but you do realize that genes aren’t at all equivalent to pieces of information, let alone subatomic particles. Also, the issue is context again, and the “comparison” here is capacity potential. I could conceivably store 50 trillion unique strands of DNA in the same space as a human being, which is what the author is trying to say.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Well, the whole concept of information is a bit nebulous – I’m not a great fan of attempts to quantify/qualify it, such as Shannon’s work (my conclusion after some minor interaction only, please note).

    For example – a grain of sand is mentioned here. As a geologist, a single grains of sane, and, depending on the mineral, a single crystal or small collection of minute crystals, such as could be contained in our grain of sand, is a massive fountain of information. For instance, with the right equipment, I could deduce the following: Age, pressure and temperature where it was formed, possible even a history of changes in pressure and temperature, if it has been exposed to the sun (ie, on the surface of the planet) or not, and when. That, in turn could tell me about it’s origin, and if not in situ, I could deduce where it comes from, and likely ways it came to be where it is. And so forth and so forth.

    According to Shannon’s theories, for instance, none of that would be information, even though I, as a geologist, would only be “reading” the information, not creating it.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Well, the whole concept of information is a bit nebulous – I’m not a great fan of attempts to quantify/qualify it, such as Shannon’s work (my conclusion after some minor interaction only, please note).

    For example – a grain of sand is mentioned here. As a geologist, a single grains of sane, and, depending on the mineral, a single crystal or small collection of minute crystals, such as could be contained in our grain of sand, is a massive fountain of information. For instance, with the right equipment, I could deduce the following: Age, pressure and temperature where it was formed, possible even a history of changes in pressure and temperature, if it has been exposed to the sun (ie, on the surface of the planet) or not, and when. That, in turn could tell me about it’s origin, and if not in situ, I could deduce where it comes from, and likely ways it came to be where it is. And so forth and so forth.

    According to Shannon’s theories, for instance, none of that would be information, even though I, as a geologist, would only be “reading” the information, not creating it.

  • WebMonk

    Louis, wait. What are you saying? Are you suggesting it is more complicated than a reporter writing a popular story is saying?!?

    No! Say it ain’t so, Joe!

  • WebMonk

    Louis, wait. What are you saying? Are you suggesting it is more complicated than a reporter writing a popular story is saying?!?

    No! Say it ain’t so, Joe!

  • Stephen

    From another angle, regardless of how much information there is and whether or not it can be or is being stored, there is the problem of retrieval. Whenever I read things like this, I can’t help bu think it is some sort of attmept to prove the maginatiude of how smart we are getting (or something like that). What is rarely talked about is how increasingly difficult it is becoming to retrieve information and how much is being lost even though it has been digitally stored. The National Archives is in a scramble to figure this out for instance. As we rely more and more on digital forms of data storage, we are finding that the ever-shifting formats make it that much more difficult to get at the information the further down the line we go. All these horror stories about every piece of our lives being out there available to whoevr can unlock the digital passowrd may be true to some degree until that information gets about five to ten years old. At that point, all bets or off. When is the last time you got information off a floppy?

    A wise person (I wish I could remember who, maybe Kierkegaard) once said something to the effect that it is the arrogance of every age to believe its problems are greater than those none other has had to face, and by the same token, its wisdom as ascended to heights like none other before. Sounds like Old Adam whining about Original sin on the one hand, and how he can fix it with his works on the other.

  • Stephen

    From another angle, regardless of how much information there is and whether or not it can be or is being stored, there is the problem of retrieval. Whenever I read things like this, I can’t help bu think it is some sort of attmept to prove the maginatiude of how smart we are getting (or something like that). What is rarely talked about is how increasingly difficult it is becoming to retrieve information and how much is being lost even though it has been digitally stored. The National Archives is in a scramble to figure this out for instance. As we rely more and more on digital forms of data storage, we are finding that the ever-shifting formats make it that much more difficult to get at the information the further down the line we go. All these horror stories about every piece of our lives being out there available to whoevr can unlock the digital passowrd may be true to some degree until that information gets about five to ten years old. At that point, all bets or off. When is the last time you got information off a floppy?

    A wise person (I wish I could remember who, maybe Kierkegaard) once said something to the effect that it is the arrogance of every age to believe its problems are greater than those none other has had to face, and by the same token, its wisdom as ascended to heights like none other before. Sounds like Old Adam whining about Original sin on the one hand, and how he can fix it with his works on the other.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There’s roughly 34 yottabytes of information out there. I counted.

    Okay, maybe 34.2.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There’s roughly 34 yottabytes of information out there. I counted.

    Okay, maybe 34.2.

  • Joe

    It ain’t so

  • Joe

    It ain’t so

  • Trey

    Yet according to evolution we are all here by chance, imagine that or as the Theistic Evolutionists (Webmonk) would say God designed it by chance. This is absurdity! I would even go a step further and say if God can design a human being this complicated, He can easily create the universe in <144 hours. That is 6, 24 hour days.

  • Trey

    Yet according to evolution we are all here by chance, imagine that or as the Theistic Evolutionists (Webmonk) would say God designed it by chance. This is absurdity! I would even go a step further and say if God can design a human being this complicated, He can easily create the universe in <144 hours. That is 6, 24 hour days.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Designed it by chance? Woa – now where did you read/hear such a nonsensical phrase?

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Designed it by chance? Woa – now where did you read/hear such a nonsensical phrase?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Does endless minutia really count as information?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Does endless minutia really count as information?

  • SKPeterson

    So, how many of you thought of Brazil when Stephen mentioned “information retrieval”?

  • SKPeterson

    So, how many of you thought of Brazil when Stephen mentioned “information retrieval”?

  • WebMonk

    What the … @ Trey??? Where on earth are you getting that nonsense?

  • WebMonk

    What the … @ Trey??? Where on earth are you getting that nonsense?

  • Stephen

    SK -

    “And here’s your receipt for my receipt.”

    My question would be – If you can’t get at it, do you really have it?

  • Stephen

    SK -

    “And here’s your receipt for my receipt.”

    My question would be – If you can’t get at it, do you really have it?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, how many blog comments have been entered since online blogging began?

    Do they count as information, too?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, how many blog comments have been entered since online blogging began?

    Do they count as information, too?

  • Tom Hering

    Number 6: Where am I?
    Number 2: In the Village.
    Number 6: What do you want?
    Number 2: We want information.
    Number 6: Whose side are you on?
    Number 2: That would be telling. We want information … information … information.
    Number 6: You won’t get it.
    Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
    Number 6: Who are you?
    Number 2: The new Number 2.
    Number 6: Who is Number 1?
    Number 2: You are Number 6.
    Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man!
    Number 2: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

  • Tom Hering

    Number 6: Where am I?
    Number 2: In the Village.
    Number 6: What do you want?
    Number 2: We want information.
    Number 6: Whose side are you on?
    Number 2: That would be telling. We want information … information … information.
    Number 6: You won’t get it.
    Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
    Number 6: Who are you?
    Number 2: The new Number 2.
    Number 6: Who is Number 1?
    Number 2: You are Number 6.
    Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man!
    Number 2: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

  • Trey

    @ Louis that is the essence of the claim by Theistic Evolutionists.
    @ Webmonk you have changed your view toward Genesis? You believe as the Scripture clearly states that it is a historical account of the beginning of the world?

  • Trey

    @ Louis that is the essence of the claim by Theistic Evolutionists.
    @ Webmonk you have changed your view toward Genesis? You believe as the Scripture clearly states that it is a historical account of the beginning of the world?

  • WebMonk

    Trey – that’s not even close to the essence of the claim by Theistic Evolutionists. It’s like saying YEC are all fixed-species-ists. If we’re going to be tossing charges around, let’s at least try to make them accurate ones.

    No, I haven’t changed any views on Genesis recently. I’m not a Theistic Evolutionist, though. That’s the (second) nonsense part. I completely believe Genesis.

    Like I said, where the frack are you getting those “facts”?

  • WebMonk

    Trey – that’s not even close to the essence of the claim by Theistic Evolutionists. It’s like saying YEC are all fixed-species-ists. If we’re going to be tossing charges around, let’s at least try to make them accurate ones.

    No, I haven’t changed any views on Genesis recently. I’m not a Theistic Evolutionist, though. That’s the (second) nonsense part. I completely believe Genesis.

    Like I said, where the frack are you getting those “facts”?

  • WebMonk

    I think I made a poor set of sentences there. It sounds like I’m saying a Theistic Evolutionist doesn’t believe Genesis. Those two sentences are not reflecting on each other.

  • WebMonk

    I think I made a poor set of sentences there. It sounds like I’m saying a Theistic Evolutionist doesn’t believe Genesis. Those two sentences are not reflecting on each other.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X