Nautilus

The Noise None of Us Can Live Without

Noise is one of my favorite things in the universe. I don’t mean the neighbor’s rusty old lawnmower thundering you out of bed on a Sunday morning; like everybody else, I despise that kind of noise. No, what I am talking about is noise as the scientist understands it: a limitation of deterministic systems. As intractable randomness, noise may be an unlikely source of all things creative—the root of all progress, motion, and free will.

The modern creation “myth” is a story of bottom-up emergence—be it the beginning of the universe from a simple energetic state or our understanding of living systems as complex assemblies of molecules. At the very bottom of this reality are physical forces and symmetries—and noise. They’re equally fundamental. The very universe began as a random quantum fluctuation. Quantum mechanics tells us, for

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