In physics and computer science, quantum information is information that is held in the state of a quantum system. Quantum information is the basic entity of study in quantum information theory, and can be manipulated using engineering techniques known as quantum information processing. Much like classical information can be processed with digital computers, transmitted from place to place, manipulated with algorithms, and analyzed with the mathematics of computer science, so also analogous concepts apply to quantum information.
- So, what is quantum mechanics? Even though it was discovered by physicists, it’s not a physical theory in the same sense as electromagnetism or general relativity. In the usual “hierarchy of sciences” – with biology at the top, then chemistry, then physics, then math – quantum mechanics sits at a level between math and physics that I don’t know a good name for. Basically, quantum mechanics is the operating system that other physical theories run on as application software (with the exception of general relativity, which hasn’t yet been successfully ported to this particular OS). There’s even a word for taking a physical theory and porting it to this OS: “to quantize.”
But if quantum mechanics isn’t physics in the usual sense – if it’s not about matter, or energy, or waves, or particles – then what is it about? From my perspective, it’s about information and probabilities and observables, and how they relate to each other.
- Scott Aaronson, Quantum Computing since Democritus (2013), Ch. 9 : Quantum
- Information? Whose information? Information about what?
- John S. Bell, "Against 'Measurement'", Physical World (August 1990)
- I argue that quantum mechanics is fundamentally a theory about the representation and manipulation of information, not a theory about the mechanics of nonclassical waves or particles.
- Jeffrey Bub, "Quantum Mechanics is About Quantum Information", Foundations of Physics, Vol. 35, No. 4, April 2005
- In my view the most fundamental statement of quantum mechanics is that the wavefunction, or more generally the density matrix, represents our knowledge of the system we are trying to describe. I shall return later to the question "whose knowledge?". It is well known that we have to use a wavefunction if we have a "pure state" i.e. if our knowledge of the system is complete, in the sense that any further knowledge is barred by the uncertainty principle. Failing such complete knowledge we must use a density matrix, which therefore contains both quantum and classical ignorance. The wavefunction is a special case of a density matrix, and I shall here talk about "density matrix" when I mean "wavefunction or density matrix".
- Rudolf Peierls, "In defence of 'measurement'", Physical World (January 1991)
- It from bit. Otherwise put, every it—every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes or no questions, binary choices, bits.
It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—at a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.
- John Archibald Wheeler, in Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology, ed. by S. Kobayashi, H. Ezawa, Y. Murayama, S. Nomura (Physical Society of Japan, Tokyo, 1990), pp. 354–368