What is the nature of the physical universe? This has been a perennial question and has certainly been dominant in the Digital Age since the 1970s. It has been a long-time inquiry by theoretical physicists who seek to connect information with this universe. Why? They are analysts of matter, in line with quantum physics, which in itself is made up of “information.”

For example, take genetic information coded in human DNA. Reality is all about such data as it informs what we know of the universe. It is an equation: physical reality = data. Such concerns have motivated theories and experiments, some engendering rather odd paradoxes. It is a natural consequence of mining the cosmos for information.

One research is Dr. Melvin M. Vopson, a noted UK Senior Lecturer and mathematician at Portsmouth University. It is his goal to determine how much information is encoded in the ordinary matter of the universe, known as baryonic or luminous matter.

He has done a study that can be found in AIP Advances, a scientific journal from the American Institute of Physics. He offers new estimates that rely on IT (Information Theory) and in consultation with prevailing concepts of information transmission, processing, extraction, and utilization. He uses the central Milky Way as his evidence. It is a novel approach to the “problem” that yields potential answers to why information is in fact stored in the universe and how much.

In his own words, “The information capacity of the universe has been a topic of debate for over half a century. There have been various attempts to estimate the information content of the universe, but in this paper, I describe a unique approach that additionally postulates how much information could be compressed into a single elementary particle.”

His work is not new in that other prior research was on track to divulge answers to how we can know and measure information precisely with insight into its physical significance. It has been an elusive area to be sure, but one in need of resolution. So we have the likes of Vopson jumping into the fray. It takes a genius mathematician to make a definitive mark on the subject.

Cryptographer Claude Shannon was his forerunner, also a mathematician and electrical engineer. He is known as the “Father of the Digital Age” and a true pioneer of work in the arena of Information Theory. A paper of 1948 was entitled, A Mathematical Theory of Communication. In the text, he offered the notion of the “bit” as a unit of measurement.

Vopson hopes to go a bit further (pun intended) into IT and “physically-encoded” data. He has been working on extrapolating information to estimate the mass of data as witnessed in a paper of 2019, called The mass-energy-information equivalence principle. It takes Einstein’s theories into new territory in examining the relationship of matter and energy to data. To be in such an intellectual company is indeed a feat.

What has ensued is consistent with IT. It comes down to the fact that information is physical and all physical systems register information. His conclusion is that the mass of a bit of information (at room temperature or 300K) is 3.19 × 10^-38 kg (8.598 x 10^^{–}38 lbs.).

Shannon’s method has been given a push by Vopson who posits that every elementary particle in the observable universe has the equivalent of 1.509 bits of encoded information.

“It is the first time this approach has been taken in measuring the information content of the universe, and it provides a clear numerical prediction…even if not entirely accurate, the numerical prediction offers a potential avenue toward experimental testing.”

Of note, Vopson employed the Eddington number, a known reference to the total number of protons in the observable universe. In fact, the current estimates place it at 10^80. His formula obtained the number of elementary particles in the cosmos. As with any mathematician, his estimates had to be adjusted as he sought to know how much each particle would contain. It would be based on the temperature of observable matter – the stars, planets, interstellar medium, etc.

He went on to calculate the amount of encoded information. It came to 6×10^80 bits. This means in computational terms these bits are equal to 7.5 × 10^59 zettabytes, or 7.5 octodecillion zettabytes. Immediately, we think of the data produced in 2020 at 64.2 zettabytes, surely an astronomical difference.

Vopson’s research is ongoing and builds on his prior work. He had already claimed that information is the fifth state of matter alongside solid, liquid, gas, and plasma). Even Dark Matter itself might consist of information. Recent research has attempted to illuminate how the laws of physics and such information interact.

It incorporates the issue of black holes, aka the Black Hole Information Paradox. Black holes emit radiation and thus lose mass over time such that they do not preserve the information of infalling matter as once believed. Stephen Hawking gets credit for first discovering this phenomenon, aptly called Hawking Radiation.

So many related issues are raised such as holographic theory, consisting of string theory and quantum gravity. The goal is to fathom how information engenders physical reality, just as a hologram comes from a projector or a computer-simulated reality stems from a genius creator and incomprehensible software (known as Simulation Theory).

Imagine a universe created from a computer by an advanced species. Imagine a concept as ingenious as Simulation Creationism that goes a bit further in adding a spiritual dimension to artificial reality, with a different and more profound purpose. It is all there in the work of Nir Ziso, founder of The Global Architect Institute.

These are all variations on a theme, but some have problems to solve. For Vopson, it is how antimatter and neutrinos work into the picture. It pertains to the transfer and storage of information in a universe of “concrete values”. Whatever issues are at stake, as for Simulation Theory and Simulation Creationism, all speculations entertain positing the information content of the universe.

They may be pixels, bits, or elementary particles of matter. Whatever the result, it is thought-provoking and fodder for future research. The implications are vast and paradoxical.