Entropy is something I have to re-read about from time to time. It tends not to stick in my head for some reason. Nick, in the way only he can, suggests a possible way of thinking about it.
I’m still not entirely sure the statistical description answers the questions he asked at the beginning though. Personally, I tend to think of entropy as burnt out stuff, such as dead stars or ashes.
11 thoughts on “Nick Lucid on entropy”
The statistical description is all there is. It explains why you don’t find all the pennies in the jar showing heads. It’s because that would be extremely improbable. Most of the possible configurations are mixed heads/tails.
That’s why heat flows from hot to cold. There is no microscopic physical law that says it has to, but it would be extremely unlikely. Given the huge number of particles involved, you would typically have to wait many times the age of the universe to observe such an anomaly.
Entropy isn’t really the dead stars – it’s all the energy that was released in turning the stars from hydrogen to heavier elements. The heavier elements are in a lower energy state than the lighter elements, and so ordered potential energy was converted into disordered heat during nuclear fusion.
When the universe was created it was in its most ordered state, and disorder has been increasing ever since. That creates structure (nuclei, atoms, molecules, galaxies, etc) but generates a lot of waste heat too.
Thanks for the explanation. I wonder if you would be willing to define what you mean by “order” and “disorder” in this context. What makes the potential energy in hydrogen more ordered than the photons and whatever else it gets converted into? Is order just energy away from where nature eventually wants it?
Order is any unlikely combination, like finding all of the pennies in the jar showing heads. Disorder is finding them all jumbled up. Ordered states can be used to store information, whereas disordered states cannot.
If you give the hydrogen atoms in a star a good “shake” you will tend to find them in their lowest energy state, i.e fused together to form helium atoms and heavy elements.
Eventually, after a lot of time, the universe will be in a low energy state, with most of its potential energy dissipated as heat (random movement and vibration).
Question – why did the universe begin in a state of order? Answer – because it had to. Anything else would have been impossible, for the above reasons.
If you ever read my novel – The Yoga Sutras available at Amazon – you will find a nice explanation of entropy using beer as a metaphor 🙂
Thanks Steve. I bought your novel but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Looking forward to the beer / entropy explanation.
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I guess you can look at it this way.
The universe started out with almost all protons paired with one electron and no other particles. This is like throwing a pack of cards around a room and finding that when the cards have landed, they are always stacked in pairs, so that there is no card touching the floor that doesn’t have a card on top and no card on top that is not touching a card which is touching the floor.
As the universe gets more disordered, particles are shuffled and recombined almost at random as heavier elements are created. This is like sliding the cards all around so that now there are solitary cards as well as stacks four or five deep.
Thanks DM. I think what’s always bugged me about the “order” vs “disorder” description is the implied value judgment, which seems like it brings additional baggage into the explanation.
Entropy is a physics quantity, mainly used and defined in Thermodynamics but is now extended into many connotations.
In this universe has two arrows, time and entropy. They are related but not the same. Entropy is simply the ‘action-counts’. When you give me one dollar yesterday, and I give you that dollar back now. On the money (energy, in terms of physics) level, nothing changed, but there are two ‘actions’ which can never go back to zero. When ‘a hand waving’ produces nothing ‘physical’, it increase the ‘entropy’ (the action counts).
Interesting. I’ve actually heard of some arrow of time theories that equate the increase of entropy with the flow of time. Doesn’t sound like you consider them to be equal. Given the possibility (albeit astronomically improbable) that entropy could go the other way, I’d have to agree with your characterization: related but not identical.
The arrow of entropy is differently different from the arrow of time. For a totally ‘dead’ universe, that is, it has no activity of any kind but only with time ticking (which is still actions), then they two will be the same, as all the action counts are coming from time ticking only.
This action count does implicitly measuring the disorder which is a direct result when something (anything) getting big in number. But, disorder by all means is not ‘no’-order. In fractal, there is a ‘shadow-theorem’: every disorder is a shadow of an ordered-system. This is a big subject and I will not go any farther than this. This web page (http://www.prebabel.info/lifesys.htm ) can provide some hints on it.
The work of Ilya Prigione in the field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics (showing how non-equilibrium can be a source of order) will be of interest to you if your interested in entropy.
Thanks. His work sounds interesting, albeit out of my league.