Category Archives: Physics

Information Is Energy: One More thing

Information Is Energy: One More Thing

 © 2017 Michael A Hill

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If it is a real thing, then informational energy should “be” someplace, shouldn’t it? Modern standard physics models do not have a place for it though. Information is usually treated as entropy, not energy. Entropy is always a function of energy, however, and not the other way around.  No particular form of energy has ever been named to accompany information entropy, though. What sort of energy should this be? Let’s speculate.

Vacuum Energy

hubble-images-2-2004In some places deep in the darkest intergalactic reaches of spacethat contain neither matter nor radiation, nothing else exists but space, time and gravity. Well, it has at least one other thing, and that is an inherent energy, called “vacuum energy.” It may also be named “zero point energy” or “cosmological constant.” Vacuum energy exists not just in intergalactic space, though, it exists everywhere. It’s not very noticeable because it is so small, having an energy density of only 10-8 ergs/cm3. But wait, there’s more! Because its energy density can be measured, vacuum energy also contains information.

Dark Energy

The universe is expanding, faster and faster. Vacuum energy might be sufficient to explain that, but cosmological equations indicate there should be even more stuff out there. That stuff is “dark energy,” which includes almost 70% of the universe. Nobody realized it was there until about 20 years ago. Sean M. Carroll [2] showed that dark energy should have 10120 times the energy density as vacuum energy. That’s a super-inconceivable-huge number, but it is based on the value of Planck’s constant.

Information Content of the Universe

Another super-inconceivable-huge number is the universe’s information content. By considering the universe to be like a giant computer, Seth Lloyd [3] determined that the total number of elementary logical operations that occurred since the universe began equals about 10120 bits of information. Since computation requires energy, information therefore contributes to the universal energy budget. A short back-of-the-napkin calculation shows that this corresponds to an energy capacity of approximately 1.78 x 1050 ergs/cm3.

Dark Energy = Information?

It’s not a good idea to equate big numbers like these just because they are big. They are approximations that can be off by a few orders of magnitude. Or they might even describe different concepts, like apples and oranges. However, the important thing is that imminent theorists, working separately and using different methods, came to similar conclusions about the total amount of energy in the vast cosmos. One group identified a gap in the universal energy budget, and another group found a way to fill that gap.

Even so, the energy densities still do not add up. It is difficult to compare information with standard energies when no firm theoretical basis linking them has been formulated yet. However, there exists a kernel of a hypothesis here that should be tested: Does information energy comprise the bulk of the universe’s energy budget? Or is there even more stuff out there? More work should be funded. After all, even 1.78 x 1050 ergs/cm3 is a whopping chunk of energy to go untapped!


An entertaining way of seeing the information-is-energy concept is by analogy with fictional “L-space” invented by satirical fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett [4]: “The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space…. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.”


[2] Carroll, Sean M., “Dark Energy and the Preposterous Universe,” Cornell University Library arXiv Team, 2001, p.3-5.

[3] Lloyd, Seth, “The Computational Universe,” Edge, John Brockman, 2002.

[4] Pratchett, Terry, Guards! Guards! Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1989, p. 8.

Photo Credit: NASAESA S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team


Information Is Energy!

© 2017 Michael A Hill

Information is a distinct form of energy, just as electricity, magnetism, steam, nuclear, or solar radiation are also alternate forms of energy. To illustrate this, consider that information behaves similarly to other energy types. Many physicists agree that information is conserved, especially at the quantum level. Also, information contains entropy, which is the foundation of Information Theory.* Information flows at the speed of light, but it can also go slower via sound waves or nerve impulses. Like potential and kinetic energy, it converts to magnetic energy for storage on hard drives, and then back to electricity for flipping switches, sending signals, displaying photos, and playing pianos. At each step, information is converted to a different sort of energy, or else the other energy is converted to information. The transformability of information is a property of energy conservation.

A Nontraditional View of Information


In a traditional or classical view, information travels passively as it is carried along by some type of energy wave. In our new perspective, however, a radio or Wi-Fi signal combines two types of energy: electromagnetic and informational. Specific actions modulate and demodulate carrier waves, imprinting and extracting the information. That is, something must be added to the carrier wave in order to send a message, and that something is informational energy. This is true whether we send our messages via cell phone, fiber optics, or smoke signals.

Work and Heat

By definition, energy is the ability to perform work or generate heat. Information fulfills both criteria.

Consider the first case, work: Playing a piano requires work. A player piano powers up but sits idle until the encoded roll begins to turn. Only then, the music plays. Therefore, information performs work.

In the case of heat, suppose you just installed a computer server farm. The wiring is in, the computers are powered up, and the air conditioners are cooling. But the servers sit idle until information starts coming in. Then the air conditioner loads increase in order to dissipate the heat given off by the servers. Therefore, information generates heat.

So what, who cares?

Why does this idea make any difference? Well just for fun, let’s assume that knowledge is accumulated information. Recalling that power is the release rate of stored energy, we should be able to say now with new confidence that “Knowledge Is Power.”

* Information theorists will of course say that information is entropy. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Allowing a subtle paradigm shift here might allow us to get more work done.