Monday, March 7, 2011

Wonders of the Universe - order to chaos

The new Prof. Brian Cox series, Wonders of the Universe, began last night. And it sparked a lot of questions for me and got me thinking. And, since those thoughts aren't really appropriate elsewhere, they're going here! Hello! Sorry for not being around much or being in touch. Life is going in a few different directions.

Anyway, Wonders... the main point of the first episode was that time flows in one direction and that direction is oblivion. Pretty much. Everything tends towards chaos. Order breaks down and things decay. Merging together to form amorphous nothingness.

Low entropy eventually becomes high entropy. Low entropy being ordered, yet fragile.

So the example Prof. Cox used was a sandcastle he built. An ordered form. What will happen to that sandcastle is obvious - it will eventually break down, through winds or any other force. It will tend towards a big ol' pile of sand.

The idea was that the Universe began with low entropy, very ordered (was it really?) and, as we move through time, it moves towards high entropy. Like a sandcastle falling apart.

The big question not asked in the show, however, was this - if everything breaks down and physical laws all point towards that chaos, where did that initial order come from? As Prof. Cox tweeted after the show, "the origin of low entropy in the universe at the big bang is probably THE biggest mystery in cosmology." As far as I know, the current thinking is that the Universe just spontaneously came into being.

Prof. Cox likes to use Earthly examples to illustrate his points, like the sandcastle. Firstly, it makes things easier to understand and, secondly, the same laws often work here and out in the Universe. Or at least versions of those laws. But, man, I can't think of any time I have heard of anything spontaneously coming into being. Physicists may have examples. They're not common, I'm sure.

But Prof. Cox, without bringing it up, presented a very easy answer to the question - where did that low entropy come from? At least in the ordered way he presented it.

You see, while the Universe may well tend towards chaos, order is created every day. Every second. Right now, raw materials are coming together into new ordered shapes. Because we make order out of chaos. Consciousness tends towards order. We build boxy houses, sleek cars, clothes, arcade machines. While the Universe conspires to destroy those things, we strive to make them. We create order.

In building a sandcastle, Prof. Cox presented an Earthly example of just how low entropy situations are created.

A conscious mind takes chaos, and puts order to it.

Is this a God post?! Well, you see, the whole God thing leads the thought off in a whole other direction. The problem with a God is this - the people being vocal about a god, pretty much no matter who they are, seem to present God as an all-knowing, ever-present being. They present the idea of 'intelligent design'. And the atheists and scientists pull this apart - if it's so intelligent, how come we have an appendix? How come the world is a complete shithole? What the hell kind of god allows that?

I come down on the side of the scientists on this. This isn't about some divine being.

But... that doesn't mean there wasn't some creator of sorts. He/she/it could be long gone/dead/uninterested/absent parent. It doesn't mean a conscious mind didn't initially create those original conditions that have eventually led to the clearly imperfect us.

Is the idea that the Universe was actively created unlikely?

Look around you. Most of what you see was actively created. I have spent most of my life creating worlds. Every time you go and see a movie, you're seeing a created world. Every computer game and programme is a created world. What you're reading this on right now has been created. We create. Order from chaos. We tend towards order.

And look at what we can create now compared with what we could create just a few hundred years ago. How does the world of Tron Legacy compare with a play put on in a field? How does Sim City compare with a porcelain doll?

Give us a few thousand years. What then will we be able to create? Whole worlds? Easily. Whole Universes? Given the time, I don't see why not. Whether the Universe was created or not, we're going to be doing it ourselves soon. If we can do it, not only does it not seem a stretch that someone else could do it, it seems pretty arrogant to think otherwise.

Brian Cox made a sandcastle. He showed the answer. It seems so obvious.

I wonder what he'd think if he knew it made me a believer in a creator?


Andy Latham said...

It's an interesting point. I've never discounted the idea of a creator simply because noone knew how the universe came into being. It could have been farted out by a purple elephant for all we know.

Something happened though - and I would guess not for the first time. If the universe ends in nothingness then maybe we'll be due another Big Bang. One thing I want to know though is what happens to space and time? I mean the Big Bang didn't just bring matter and energy into existence, it brought the fabric of space-time along with it. What is the future of this framework? Brian talked about the demise of even the most elemental matter, but what about the space and time that that matter existed in?

And how is a completely empty universe not complete order? A space in which everywhere is perfectly the same. Sounds pretty ordered to me. Perhaps at some point entropy peaks and ends up decreasing, spinning time backwards. Who knows!!

Bitter Animator said...

You're right about an empty universe being complete order but it is one without form and it seemed like that was the point. Or at least as far as I understood it. It is formless, amorphous. Whereas we take something that has no real form, like clay, and make something from it. Something ordered, with a form.

In terms of the framework, we see time as a simple progression in our daily lives. You astrophysics types seem sure it's not that simple! So perhaps time holds many answers. He talked of the arrow of time. It works in one direction now, for how the universe is as we see it. But when it reaches that end point maybe, as you suggest, it reverses. And it's like the universe is breathing. In and out.

But I can't help thinking our consciousness (and quite possibly the consciousnesses of beings like us) may play a massive part of that.

Those predictions on the universe don't take into account that we may, at some point, attempt to prevent the outcome. We create. And we try to create order from chaos, like we're the opponents of the laws of physics. Gravity? Bah! We'll make planes. Rain? Bah! We'll make umbrellas. We're not changing the laws of physics. But we're effectively using them against the natural outcome.

Given how long it will be before the Sun dies, I would think we'll have long since left this rock. And by the time the universe reaches an end, I would have thought we'd be busy kicking its ass back into shape. Or creating a whole new universe for ourselves.

And the cycle continues...

Red Pill Junkie said...

The arrow of Time only flowing in one direction? That hallowed article of faith is probably one of the reasons why scientist cannot stand the idea of experiments that seem to suggest the Future CAN influence the past, or "New Age-y" concepts like precognition. Spooky stuff for sure, but it's no the first time we've had to come in terms with "spooky action at a distance".

To me it's beginning to feel (yes, I know, rather "unscientific" but in the end for us humans it's all about experiences) that the fundamental building blocks of the Universe are not Time and Space, or Matter and Energy, but Consciousness and Information.

So, if we are co-creators of reality, shouldn't we extrapolate it even further and imagine for a moment, that our actions are contributing to a much more complex and rich field of consciousness —or putting it in other terms, that we are helping God becoming?

Always a pleasure to read your posts, dear friend.

Red Pill Junkie said...

PS: Any ideas on how one can circumvent the idiotic region-banning settings of the BBC, in order to watch those programs?

Bitter Animator said...

Ah, RPJ, I should post more often so I can read your comments! There is a way of getting around region restrictions but I've never done it so I don't know what's involved.

I think it's something to do with proxy servers so googling a combination of those might well get you the answer. I know a lot of people do it and I'll probably look into it myself as I get fed up seeing US-only messages.

Edcander said...

Hrm. IIRC, Brian Cox is a non believer of some type. If this type of thing interests you, you really should look into Stephen Hawking, until very recently, he held similar positions to you, until he very publicly changed them.

I have also been reliably told by my physicist flatmate that it is possible for something to come out of nothing, but I'm not sure of the exact details. The probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics also supports a non deist argument.