Archive for November 15th, 2019

One Bit

A “bit” is the very smallest unit of information, representing the result of a choice between two and only two possibilities.  One bit can tell you whether a switch is on or off, a number 1 or 0, a charge positive or negative, etc.  It takes at least five bits to designate a letter of the Roman alphabet, and because designating a character from the traditional ASCII character set required eight bits, that was designated a “byte”, the smallest unit of computer memory.  The information contained in this column to the end of this sentence is roughly 600 bytes (4800 bits); not much really.  So what would you say if I made the facially-absurd claim that the entirety of human political thought, from its earliest beginnings to the present day and spanning every single person in every country on the globe, could be accurately and concisely summarized by 1/4800 as much information?  You would correctly surmise that anyone who actually believed such a thing would have to be some kind of imbecile, and yet tens of millions of people believe exactly that; they think everything important about any person’s entire range of political cognition can be summed up precisely and acurately by exactly one bit of infomation.  Left or right, blue or red, good or evil, Little-endian or Big-endian.  Is it any wonder that modern US politics bears almost no resemblance to the real world?

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