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The Materials Paradigm as a Theory of Information

Prof Glenn Hibbard | University of Toronto

The Materials Paradigm as a Theory of Information

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Cyril Stanley Smith wrote the opening article of a special 1967 edition of Scientific American that was dedicated to the then emerging field of Materials Science and Engineering [1]. Smith took a sweeping approach to his article, writing: "Now that the ultimate structure and gross properties can be related fundamentally, it is seen that there is less difference between different kinds of materials than had been supposed when they were the basis of totally separate crafts and industries." Smith focused on what he felt was the key contribution to come from this new field: "The most useful properties are the structure-sensitive ones with which the classical physicist was utterly incapable of dealing and therefore did not consider to be physics." and he finished his article by speculating that 'the habits of thought' coming from this new materials paradigm might prove to be more important than the actual materials themselves. Some 50 years later we can now see what these habits of thought might entail. It was Claude Shannon who gave us a means of quantifying information [2], but it is the materials paradigm, which tells us how to solve the semantic information problem, i.e. how does one bridge information of one kind to another in order to generate meaning? In this talk we will argue that the materials paradigm represents our first materials-based theory of information, that the paradigm is a powerful ontology, and we look at what opportunities such framing might hold for the discipline going forward, in particular the implications on teaching practices and modes.