The Second Law

 Wendell Krossa 

This material below is from a site somewhere online.  My interest in it had to do with the comment that the Second Law is often taken beyond its arena of proper application and used to define the direction of the entire universe.  One of the Nobel scientists named below, Prigogene, disagreed with this pessimistic use of the Second Law.

The question is, does the Second Law define the fundamental trend of material reality; or does increasing order define the fundamental trend of reality?

‘The second law states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases, and that when two systems are joined together, the entropy of the combined system is greater than the sum of the entropies of the  individual systems.  However, the second law of thermodynamics is not like other laws of physics, such as Newton’s law of gravity, precisely because it is not always applicable.

Originally derived from a particular sphere of classical mechanics, the second law is limited by the fact that Boltzmann took no account of such forces as electromagnetism or even gravity, allowing only for atomic collisions.  This gives such a restricted picture of physical processes, that it cannot be taken as generally applicable, although it does apply to limited systems, like boilers.  The Second Law is not true of all circumstances. Brownian motion contradicts it, for example. As a general law of the universe in its classical form, it is simply not true.

It has been claimed that the second law means that the universe as a whole must tend inexorably towards a state of entropy.  By an analogy with a closed system, the entire universe must eventually end up in a state of equilibrium, with the same temperature everywhere.  The stars will run out of fuel.  All life will cease.  The universe will slowly peter out in a featureless expanse of nothingness.  It will suffer a “heat-death.”  This bleak view of the universe is in direct contradiction to everything we know about its past evolution, or see at present.  The very notion that matter tends to some absolute state of equilibrium runs counter to nature  itself.  It is a lifeless, abstract view of the universe.

At present, the universe is very far from being in any sort of equilibrium, and there is not the slightest indication either that such a state ever existed in the past,  or will do so in the future.  Moreover, if the tendency towards increasing entropy is permanent and linear, it is not clear why the universe has not long ago ended up in a tepid soup of undifferentiated particles.

This is yet another example of what happens when attempts are made to extend scientific theories beyond the limits where they have a clearly proven application.  The limitations of the principles of thermodynamics were already shown in the last century in a polemic between Lord Kelvin, the celebrated English physicist, and geologists, concerning the age of the earth.  The predictions made by Lord Kelvin on the basis of thermodynamics ran counter to all that was known by geological and biological evolution.  The theory postulated that the earth must have been molten just 20 million years ago.  A vast accumulation of evidence proved the geologists right, and Lord Kelvin wrong.

In 1928, Sir James Jean, the English scientist and idealist, revived the old arguments about the “heat death” of the universe, adding in elements taken from Einstein’s relativity theory.  Since matter and energy are equivalents, he claimed, the universe must finally end up in the complete conversion  of matter into energy:  “The second law of thermodynamics,” he prophesied darkly, “compels materials in the universe (sic!) to move ever in the same direction along the same road which ends only in death and annihilation.” (46)

Similar pessimistic scenarios have been put forward more recently. In the words of a book, published recently:

“The universe of the very far future would thus be an inconceivably  dilute soup of photons, neutrinos, and a dwindling number of electrons and positrons, all slowly moving farther and farther apart.  As far as we  know, no further basic physical processes would ever happen.  No significant event would occur to interrupt the bleak sterility of a universe that has run its course yet still faces eternal life-perhaps eternal death would be a better description.  “This dismal image of cold, dark, featureless near-nothingness is the closest that modern cosmology comes to the ‘heat death’ of nineteenth century physics.” (47)

What conclusion must we draw from all this?  If all life, indeed all matter, not just on earth, but throughout the universe, is doomed, then why  bother about anything?  The unwarranted extension of the second law beyond its actual scope of application has given rise to all manner of false and nihilistic philosophical conclusions.  Thus, Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, could write the following lines in his book Why I Am Not a Christian:

“All the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the  vast death of the solar system, and…the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins-all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (48)

Order Out of Chaos

In recent years, this pessimistic interpretation of the second law has been challenged by a startling new theory. The Belgian Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine and his collaborators have pioneered an entirely different interpretation of the classical theories of thermodynamics.  There are some parallels between Boltzmann’s theories and those of Darwin.  In both, a large number of random fluctuations lead to a point of irreversible change, one in the form of biological evolution, the other in that of the dissipation of energy, and evolution towards disorder.  In thermodynamics, time implies degradation and death.  The question arises, how does this fit in with the phenomenon of life, with its inherent tendency towards organisation and ever increasing complexity.  The law states that things, if left to themselves, tend towards increased entropy.  In the 1960s, Ilya Prigogine and others realized that in the real world atoms and molecules are almost never “left to themselves.”  Everything affects everything else.  Atoms and molecules are almost always exposed to the flow of energy and material from the outside, which, if it is strong enough, can partially reverse the apparently inexorable process of disorder posited in the second law of thermodynamics.

In fact, nature shows numerous instances not only of disorganization and decay, but also of the opposite processes-spontaneous self-organisation and growth.  Wood rots, but trees grow.  According to Prigogine, self-organizing structures occur everywhere in nature.  Likewise, M. Waldrop concluded:  “A laser is a self-organizing system in which particles of light, photons, can spontaneously group themselves into a single powerful beam that has every photon moving in lockstep.  A hurricane is a self-organizing system powered by the steady stream of energy coming in from the sun, which drives the winds and draws rainwater from the oceans.  A living cell-although  much too complicated to analyze mathematically-is a self-organizing system that survives by taking in energy in the form of food and excreting energy in the form of heat and waste.” (49)

Everywhere in nature we see patterns.  Some are orderly, some disorderly.  There is decay, but there is also growth.  There is life, but there is also death.  In fact, these conflicting tendencies are bound up together.  They are inseparable.  The second law asserts that all of nature is on a one-way ticket to disorder and decay.  Yet this does not square with the general patterns we observe in nature.  The very concept of “entropy,” outside the strict limits of thermodynamics, is a problematic one.

“Thoughtful physicists concerned with the workings of thermodynamics realize how disturbing is the question of, as one put it, ‘how a purposeless flow of energy can wash life and consciousness into the world.’  Compounding the trouble is the slippery notion of entropy, reasonably well-defined for thermodynamic purposes in terms of heat and temperature, but devilishly hard to pin down as a measure of disorder.  Physicists have trouble enough measuring the degree of order in water, forming crystalline structures in the transition to ice, energy bleeding away all the while.  But thermodynamic entropy fails miserably as a measure of the changing degree of form and formlessness in the creation of amino acids, of microorganisms, of self-reproducing plants and animals, of complex information systems like the brain.  Certainly these evolving islands of order must obey the second  law.

The important laws, the creative laws, lie elsewhere.” (50)  The process of nuclear fusion is an example, not of decay, but of the building-up of the universe.  This was pointed out in 1931 by H. T.  Poggio, who warned the prophets of thermodynamic gloom against the unwarranted attempts to extrapolate a law which applies in certain limited situations on earth to the whole universe.  “Let us not be too sure that the universe is like a watch that is always running down. There may be a rewinding.” (51)

Julia Tyack (Jan 26)

Well Wendell this is something to get our heads around.  My first thought  is a bit like Herb’s when he said that he came to trust God for his future  even if it were hell.  Now I keep thinking that this notion is really something and a conclusion few would come to. You certainly make some points to think about.

However for things to constantly be on a trajectory of improvement is it necessary to have the physical universe as we know it on that trajectory?  Could there be some different type of in-breaking as the author of “The Big Bang” Singh alludes to?  Swimme does make an interesting point about self organizing entities, and it helps one define the physicality we observe constantly.  But can both questions be affirmed and held in balance. Is the material necessarily always to be operating the way it is now?  Such thinking need not be classed as apocalyptic as it is not destructive thinking, but simply a trust that if this physical world/universe were to die as the physical body dies, it is still death but on a bigger scale.  Then the human race would not see through a glass of the material, darkly.

I’d be interested in other’s comments, reading this now brought to mind,  “Oh Yes, that is the journey, the story of the universe we have been discussing over these last years.  So I would  like to ask Paul (who may be far too busy) does one of these questions  necessarily negate the other.  Can both the Second Law and increasing order, both  define the future?  Again this is not to discount what you have written but hold it in the full tension of physical universal truth, but also that consciousness is more than all that!!  It is past my thinking time so if I’m not making sense then hopefully some group discussion will.

Bob Brinsmead (Jan 27)

Paul’s comment is on the ball:  If the outward man is perishing, the  inward> man is renewed day by day.   Everywhere we look we can see degeneration, a running down, a descent  toward decay.  You can see it in some cities, yet at the same time we can see

renewal going on everywhere.  Even the pagans celebrated this in the cycle of Winters and the renewal of Spring.

Wendell Krossa (Jan 27)

Roger Penrose’s new book, Cycles of Time, is stirring a lot of controversy. He tries to answer questions such as where does order/organization come from and why such low entropy at the start of the universe. Many others disagree with his theses but the argumentation is dense and not easy to follow. Penrose apparently explains things in terms of endless cycles of new universes which is similar to appealing to unknown gods or similar invisible, unknowable things.

I have been trying to get a good clear summary of his ideas in this book. Does anyone know of such a summary? Something for the lay person.  The issue is getting a hold of a good up-to-date grasp of where Second Law perspectives are going.

Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe by Roger Penrose – review

Manjit Kumar examines Roger Penrose’s theory of the big bang

When I first encountered the work of MC Escher, I couldn’t understand how he managed to depict the seemingly impossible. I was nine, and the two pieces that puzzled me were Waterfall and Ascending and Descending. In the first, water at the bottom of a waterfall flows along a channel back to the top without defying gravity in a never-ending cycle. The second is even more striking, with one set of monks climbing an endless staircase while another group walk down it without either ever getting any higher or lower. Years later I learnt that both works were inspired by Roger Penrose.

As a student in 1954, Penrose was attending a conference in Amsterdam when by chance he came across an exhibition of Escher’s work. Soon he was trying to conjure up impossible figures of his own and discovered the tri-bar – a triangle that looks like a real, solid three-dimensional object, but isn’t. Together with his father, a physicist and mathematician, Penrose went on to design a staircase that simultaneously loops up and down. An article followed and a copy was sent to Escher. Completing a cyclical flow of creativity, the Dutch master of geometrical illusions was inspired to produce his two masterpieces.

Doing what most find impossible has long been Penrose’s stock in trade in mathematics and physics, even when it comes to publishing. His previous book, The Road to Reality, was a 1,049-page bestseller, although it was mostly a textbook. Penrose doesn’t do “popular”, as he peppers his books with equation after equation in defiance of the publishing maxim that each one cuts sales in half. By that reckoning Cycles of Time will have about four readers, though it’s probably destined to be another bestseller. As Penrose puts forward his truly Extraordinary New View of the Universe, that the big bang is both the end of one aeon and the beginning of another in an Escheresque endless cycling of time, he outlines the prevailing orthodoxy about the origins of the cosmos.

In the late 20s it was discovered that the light from distant galaxies was stretched towards the red end of the visible spectrum.  This red shift was found to be greater the further away the galaxy was, and was accepted as evidence of an expanding universe. This inevitably led theorists to extrapolate backwards to the big bang – the moment of its birth some 13.7bn years ago, when space and time exploded into being out of a single point, infinitely hot and dense, called a singularity.  That at least was the theory, with little more to back it up until 1964, when two American scientists discovered “cosmic background radiation” – the faint echo of the big bang. In the decades since, further evidence has accumulated and theoretical refinements made to accommodate it. Yet in recent years a few physicists have challenged the big bang model by daring to ask and answer questions such as: was the big bang the beginning of the universe?

Traditionally such questions have been dismissed as meaningless – space and time were created at the big bang; there simply was no “before”.  Although it’s possible to work out in incredible detail what happened all the way back to within a fraction of a second of the big bang, at the moment itself the theory of general relativity breaks down, or as Penrose puts it:  “Einstein’s equations (and physics as a whole, as we know it) simply ‘give up’ at the singularity.”  However, he believes we should not conclude from this that the big bang was the beginning of the universe.

Acknowledging that he’s not the first to think such heretical thoughts, Penrose looks at earlier “pre-big bang proposals”. Finding them “fanciful”, Penrose looked anew at the big bang, because of an unsolved mystery at its heart involving the Second Law of Thermodynamics. One of the most fundamental in all of physics, it simply says that the amount of disorder, something that physicists label “entropy”, increases with the passage of time. Herein lies the mystery for Penrose. The instant after the big bang, “a wildly hot violent event”, must have been one of maximum entropy. How can entropy therefore increase? Penrose thinks he has the answer; there must be a pre-big bang era that ensures that entropy is low at the birth of the universe. And here’s how.

In what Penrose calls “conformal cyclic cosmology”, the beginning and the end of the universe are in effect the same, since these two phases of its evolution contain only massless particles. Between now and a far off distant future, everything from the tiniest particles to biggest galaxies will have been eaten by black holes. They in turn lose energy in the form of massless particles and slowly disappear. As one black hole after another vanishes the universe loses “information”. Since information is linked to entropy, the entropy of the universe decreases with the demise of each black hole.

The strangest thing about massless particles is that for them there is no such thing as time. There is no past or present, only “now”, and it stretches for all eternity – but since there is no tick of the clock, what eternity? With some mind-numbing maths, Penrose argues that as time ends in the era of massless particles, the fate of our universe can actually be reinterpreted as the big bang of a new one: “Our universe is what I call an aeon in an endless sequence of aeons.” Escher would have approved.

Wendell Krossa (Jan 30)

There are questions even about the assumptions in this science summary below. Is the universe really “winding down” like a wound up clock? It appears to be endlessly expanding within matter and energy that we don’t even understand. And what about the mystery of the quantum? With so much we don’t even know about basic features of reality, how can anyone say it is winding down?

I take the perspective that all the past and where it has come from and where it  has moved till now is evidence of where it is going. And that trend has been toward more order, organization, development, advance, progress. All toward something better.

An Article from:  All About Science

Second Law of Thermodynamics – The Laws of Heat Power
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is one of three Laws of Thermodynamics. The term “thermodynamics” comes from two root words: “thermo,” meaning heat, and “dynamic,” meaning power. Thus, the Laws of Thermodynamics are the Laws of “Heat Power.” As far as we can tell, these Laws are absolute. All things in the observable universe are affected by and obey the Laws of Thermodynamics.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, commonly known as the Law of Conservation of Matter, states that matter/energy cannot be created nor can it be destroyed. The quantity of matter/energy remains the same. It can change from solid to liquid to gas to plasma and back again, but the total amount of matter/energy in the universe remains constant.

Second Law of Thermodynamics – Increased Entropy
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is commonly known as the Law of Increased Entropy. While quantity remains the same (First Law), the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time. How so? Usable energy is inevitably used for productivity, growth and repair. In the process, usable energy is converted into unusable energy. Thus, usable energy is irretrievably lost in the form of unusable energy.

“Entropy” is defined as a measure of unusable energy within a closed or isolated system (the universe for example). As usable energy decreases and unusable energy increases, “entropy” increases. Entropy is also a gauge of randomness or chaos within a closed system. As usable energy is irretrievably lost, disorganization, randomness and chaos increase.

Second Law of Thermodynamics – In the Beginning…
The implications of the Second Law of Thermodynamics are considerable. The universe is constantly losing usable energy and never gaining. We logically conclude the universe is not eternal. The universe had a finite beginning — the moment at which it was at “zero entropy” (its most ordered possible state). Like a wind-up clock, the universe is winding down, as if at one point it was fully wound up and has been winding down ever since. The question is who wound up the clock?

The theological implications are obvious. NASA Astronomer Robert Jastrow commented on these implications when he said, “Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence.” (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 1978, p. 16.)

Jastrow went on to say, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (God and the Astronomers, p. 116.) It seems the Cosmic Egg that was the birth of our universe logically requires a Cosmic Chicken…

Herb Sorensen (Jan 30)

I don’t really relate well to the lack of personalization in the questions and answers. It???  Something better???

I don’t dismiss cosmic cogitation, but when it comes to creativity, as the pragmatist, I’m more in tune with the “near field” view.  And what I have seen around me, and my own creativity, seems to always burst from an idea.  For me, these are often vague and imperfectly formed.  I’m speaking here of the business world.  But something drives me.

Some months ago, whether here or another place online, someone called attention to a famous scientist (Newton?) who on his deathbed reflected on these ideas that appeared without bidding – but there they were.  Whence did they come?  Before the trashy atheistic Darwinists got involved, scientists pretty uniformly considered that these were the thoughts of God.  It’s part of the rationale of the hierarchy of science, physicists at the top, with mathematicians transcending scientists, moving directly to thinking the thoughts of God after Him.

But there is an important bridge here between the passive, what God has done – in the universe – to the active participation of man, us, ME!  We ARE actively creating.  Steve Jobs is just one large example.  Man is most like God when he IS creating.  And we are not just passive agents through whom God works creativity.  I know he doesn’t just prime the pump and disappear.  But creativity is something that we humans can individually cultivate, although the slaughterhouse of existence seems VERY effective at squelching the creativity.

But my point here is that creativity begins with a vision, to conceive of that which does not yet exist.  The second phase of creativity is bringing the vision to pass – marshaling the forces and guiding to them to YOUR purposes.  No different for God than for you or me.  The mass and energy required just IS, little girl.  Maybe it just IS for God as well. But intelligence?  Ah, how divine!

And what a divine privilege to have even the smallest soupcon of it.

Henry Hasse (Jan 30)

Hmmm. Powerful words, Herb! Now check this out:

Herb Sorensen (Jan 31)

Woohoo!  Fantastic, Hank.  Actually, this nails half my life.  The first half is figuring out what is, that needs saying, and the second is figuring out how to say it.

I’m sure everyone shares this struggle, without always recognizing that the first half can be a very private struggle, but the second half requires another person(s), the other.

Bob Brinsmead (Jan 31)

Yes Hank, words are the most powerful, creative thing in the Universe.  In the beginning was the word.  A word fitly spoken.

Word is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.  Every idle word will be accounted for in the day of judgment.  Let your words be few and well chosen.  Faith comes by hearing the Word…