I mean a bit of information (data). Some say (do not know exactly who) everything on its smallest level consists of information. What does the information consist of?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Swami Vishwananda, Dan Hicks, Jordan S, Tim B II, Conifold Dec 28 '17 at 1:25

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  • Can you be a little clearer what you're after here? A bit is a binary decision, a yes-or-no answer to a specific question. – Joseph Weissman Dec 25 '17 at 21:13
  • Words consist of letters. What's less than a letter? – John Forkosh Dec 26 '17 at 2:04
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    Unhelpful: if something can have 3 possible states, it stores about 1.585 bits of information (log2(3)), so it's possible to have fractional bits. – barrycarter Dec 26 '17 at 3:15
  • @barrycarter I'm sure you mean 3 possible equiprobable states. – H Walters Dec 26 '17 at 3:17
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    The title is misleading, because it seems to be asking for smaller units for measuring information (compare "what's smaller than a meter? a centimeter.") But the question seems to be about metaphysics (if everything is constituted by information, what constitutes information?). – Dan Hicks Dec 26 '17 at 19:08

If by bit we mean a mathematical 1 or 0, then there is no smaller unit of information.

But if we are talking about implementations of bits, then a bit has smaller constituent parts. An electrical engineer can calculate the number of atoms that make up a bit in a particular semiconductor material. Read world bits are made of atoms. Same as if you used a sequence of coins showing heads or tails to represent a bitstring. Each coin is made of atoms, quarks, strings, whatever level of discourse you prefer.

Another interesting fact about the implementation of bits in a digital computer is that they are not absolute. If you have a particular electronic element representing one bit, that element has at any moment some particular voltage that rapidly transitions between high and low states to represent a 1 or a 0.

In theory, the transition is represented by a perfect square wave. But in practice, there are no perfect square waves. So the designers of the circuit never examine the bit during its transition state. They use the system clock to measure the bit only in the middle of the square-ish wave so as to avoid the transition period in which the state of the bit is indeterminate.

In other words we know the state of the bit only because we agree to measure its voltage during the stable part of its cycle, and never during the unstable transition. During the transition interval, the state of the bit can not be determined. It's not zero and it's not one.

In short, the answer to your question is that in theory, a bit is the smallest unit of information. But in practice, it takes a lot of electrical engineering to pretend that there is any such thing as a bit with an exact value. Bits are made of atoms; and their value is deterministic only by choosing to measure them during intervals of electrical stability.

  • Atoms seem too large to be what constitutes "bits" of reality because there are smaller pieces. Ppppp seems to be challenging the idea that everything actually is "information" by asking us to explain what information consists of and perhaps why we think reality should be described as information. Information may be a useful way to describe what a computer processes, but why should reality be like this computer information? – Frank Hubeny Dec 27 '17 at 15:57
  • @FrankHubeny OP said "I mean a bit of information (data) ..." I can't imagine what this would mean if not in the context of bits in computer science or information theory. A bit is a bit. An implementation of a bit is made of atoms, quarks, strings, whatever level of physics you choose. I don't know what else OP could have meant. How did you interpret "bit of information?" ps -- Oh I see. OP's asking about the idea that everything consists of information. You're right, that's a different question than the first one they asked. Perhaps I answered the less interesting of OP's two questions. – user4894 Dec 27 '17 at 19:25

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