Friday, 15 March 2013

Can a floppy disk hold the universe?

At high school I did nothing. True, literally nothing. I was thinking during the classes and was thinking again when was at home. Thinking about anything but school. My best friend (Mr Sanyi: his blog) and me had all these crazy ideas back that time. I really miss those times. The problem is not just the time itself passing by but the way you transform your thinking. Missing those environments I'm not sure I can do the same. Well, life, yeah. However let me tell you one story.

We used to just sit still and do nothing. And then a sudden moment one of us came out with an idea. This one was an example.

Imagine a floppy disk. 3.5 inch HD good old floppy disk:

It was one of the latest magnetic non flexible disk storages we've used. 1440 KB clean capacity when it was formatted. You have the idea. What is 1440 KB? That was a small game back then. Couple of documents. A gallery. An album of midi files. We used it also for a secret messaging service with my nephew.

This floppy can hold this image as well:

Pixel perfect 8 bit PNG, 72 DPI, 1160 by 1160 RGB pixels. Pretty nice picture, don't you think? 1160^2 is a quite enough large image for anything. A cat. A family. Food. Columbia. Cat eating a smashed hot unicorn on a burning tree in Columbia with Lenin in the background. Even with those details this is a very large image size.

But seriously. Think about it. This image can contain all the people on the world. All the grass, the leaves and objects. Everything. In every single combination. And that's still nothing. Imagine how small of a fraction is the set of pictures that are making any sense. I'm guessing it could be around (0.1 * 10 ^ 100). That's so tiny it's very unlikely we randomly generate a real life picture with our current global computing power in our lifetime.

Nice job from such a tiny floppy disk, I think. It's less surprising if you count a little. 1.44 MB means 12'079'595 bits, the usable part is a little less: 11'796'480. That means 2 ^ 11'796'480 possible bit layout can be on a disk - and to be fair we have to divide it with a C constant because the PNG format is not as random as we are. But that's still incredibly big. 2 ^ 1000 has just 301 digits. To show the level of exponential growth see the number of digits on an Y-logarithmic scale:

But - if we ever can generate that 2 ^ 11'796'480 images and finally analyze them we can see everything that happened, or will happen in the future or actually happening in all parallel universes. Well, the visible RGB spectrum at least.

I'm happy to believe the little floppy can show us the universe. Some day it will.




  1. Remember my comment thinking about God in an information theory way? You know, the good old anything and everything. Even 42.

    Now consider others describing the whole "you" as a snapshot picture. Or even a series of snapshots. Can "you", the whole human being, be depicted in 2 ^ 11'796'480 images? Since I think "you" are not only a picture, but a person, I don't think a floppy disk could hold you. I mean the whole human being, not only a picture of it. If even "you" cannot be depicted on a floppy disk, then how could it hold the universe?

    In other words: one MUST apply some lossy compression if s/he wants to put anything and everything on a floppy disk. This is true even for 2 ^ 11'796'480 disks. If the compression is lossy, who can predict the results? Who can decide what's the "unneeded" part (of the visible RGB spectrum, or anything)?

    Additionally, if you think that any large number of floppy disks can hold anything and everything, then these floppy disks are holding themselves as well (at least in an information theory way). Now remember the good old turtles and elephants.

    So what's the point? I don't think we can even think about "anything and everything", because if we could, then "anything and everything" would be already in ourselves. You would exists inside of me and I would exist inside of you. We all would be part of each other. Even the horny girl and the fat guy from your favourite Soho bar. And that would be the end of the life, the universe and everything. ;S

  2. Hi Laszlo, it's interesting what you're saying. I agree - at some extent. However when it's about personality I tend to be more practical than theoretical - maybe because somebody has to support that side as well. I don't think it was ever defined what is a personality. How much prediction is that? How much forecast? Or probability of actions? On a human or even any scale I'm not that special. I eat, sleep, appreciate 1% of all jokes and adore maybe a bit less percentage of things because of their special attribute. I could list these items still but it has an end and also highly redundant. I believe personality - whatever it is - can be quantified and measured.
    And maybe it's all about past - as the future is a mixture of personality and environment. So I'm pretty sure I could fit on some floppy disks. ... damn, I started to list them in my head :S