SteveGrossman

Second Law Thermo. & Evolution

20 posts in this topic

This LTE from today's (New Bedford, MA) Standard-Times contains the claim that the 2nd Law of Thermo. proves or means the universe as a whole is becoming disorganized, ie, entropy. I believe that someone on an online Objectivist forum some months ago said that the entropy was of parts, in a context, but not the whole. Does anyone understand this and its relation to evolution?

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ST 03.26.05

Good science should be taught in public schools

FREDERICK F. CORREIA PH.D. Weymouth

I wish to comment on and correct a common misconception contained in the letter "Science still in its adolescence" published on March 19 in The Standard-Times. In this letter, it was stated that the major weakness of the theory of evolution is that it contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. This is false.

The second law states that any system and its surroundings must increase continually in entropy. Entropy can be thought of as disorder or randomness. So as time passes, the universe as a whole is becoming less organized. Living organisms as highly ordered systems appear to violate this law, but they do not. An organism makes order only at the expense of energy obtained from its surroundings. For example, we eat food and obtain energy from the biochemical breakdown of sugars, proteins and fats. The energy contained in foods comes ultimately from the sun. The sun, by constantly radiating enormous amounts of energy into space creates enormous amounts of entropy. This allows organized biological systems to exist. As a byproduct these biological organisms replicate and are subject to evolution.

Evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because when the entropy of biological systems and the entropy of their surroundings are considered together there is a net increase in entropy.

I have no problem with people who believe that God created the cosmos and ourselves. If you reach this position through faith, then there is no theory concerning human origins derived from systematized knowledge based on observation and experiment that will persuade you otherwise. Faith and compiling systematized knowledge are separate ways of understanding. Faith is personal, science should be impersonal. One should be taught solely in a religious setting. The other should be taught in public schools.

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I like Dr. Binswanger's description of entropy. To paraphrase him, "Entropy denotes the metaphysical fact that that which has a higher probability of happening, happens more often."

When people use the word "order" when describing entropy that only muddies the issue more. The term "order" is not a metaphysical concept. No state of existence is any more or less orderly than any other (as far as the universe is conserned). The unique arrangements of matter that we consider 'orderly' are very rare. So it is not suprising that when a tornado goes through a junk yard the result is not a 747 airplane.

It is my opinion that evolution is a perfect expression of the law of entropy. Unlike the quoted biologist who believes evolution is a localalized exception to it.

Evolution *IS* a form of entropy. The replicators that are best at replicating are more numerous. Given a primordial soup with many competing molecular replicators the replicators that will be most populous in the pond will be those replicators that copy themselves better. What could be more in harmony with the notion of entropy than that?

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The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to an open system. The universe as a whole is a closed system. Thus this assertion is false. The disorganization would only happen if the universe as a whole was "open" to an outside source.

(Correct me if I'm wrong Stephen :excl: I've only had basic physics.)

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The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to an open system.  The universe as a whole is a closed system.  Thus this assertion is false.  The disorganization would only happen if the universe as a whole was "open" to an outside source.

The 2nd law applies to open, closed and isolated systems, but in different ways. The reason why entropy makes no sense in regard to the universe is that there is no meaningful way to define the state of the universe, i.e., those properties that distinguish it from other systems, whether open, closed, or isolated. It is also interesting to note that Einstein demonstrated in special realtivity that entropy is relativistically invariant (On The Relativity Principle and the Conclusions Drawn From It, A. Einstein, Jahrbuch der Radioaktivitat und Elektronik 4, pp. 411-462, 1907).

But, more generally, I am against the notion of entropy that Ken referenced, which links the (proper) metaphysical aspect with probabilities. The problem is that it buys into an extremely insidious distortion of a proper physical principle that was perpetrated some more than fifty years ago. Entropy is a meaningful physical concept rooted in thermodynamics, and it was Claude E. Shannon who ushered in the double-edged sword of modern "information theory" in 1948 (A Mathematical Theory of Communication, C.E. Shannon, The Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 27, pp. 379-423, pp. 623-656, July, October, 1948).

Shannon provided an almost inestimable benefit that has ensued from a great deal of his work, but Shannon was also the one who offically "probabilitized" entropy, sundering it from the physical context which gave it meaning. Shannon re-formulated entropy as a measure of uncertainty and tied it to the probabilites of abstract systems, giving rise to notions such as "conditional entropy," not a measure of a physical system but a measure of the uncertainty in what we know. The notion of order, of which Ken properly dispelled as a metaphysical concept, is just one of many ill-defined notions that can be traced back to this probabilistic formulation of Shannon. Shannon has a whole section on the "Entropy of a Continuous Distribution," which he distinguishes from his already existing formulation of entropy as a "discrete set of probabilities." (I once counted in Shannon's paper 152 uses of "entropy" where not a single one should have been properly defined.)

But, I am leaving out a huge amount of relevant technical issues in an attempt to get the main point across. Otherwise would require an inordinate amount of time to document and explain the full insidious nature of this destruction of the proper notion of entropy.

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Stephen, do you have any opinion about Swenson and Turvey's attempt to identify evolution, as well as the "perception and action cycles" of sentient organisms, as means for maximizing the rate of entropy increase? http://rodswenson.com/SwenTurv1.pdf

I actually have respect for some of Gibson's work, but I cannot say the same for some others in the "ecological" approach. I read Swenson's paper on spacetime and it is mostly a pile of hooey. I found the paper you referenced when I was reading some of Schroedinger's papers about life and I was curious about modern references to him. As I recall, when I looked at the paper they had misunderstood the full sense of Schroedinger's meaning. Coupling that with the spacetime fiasco, I had no motivation to go any further. All I can honestly say is that which I looked at in detail was not good.

But, why do you ask? Do you find some value in their work?

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But, why do you ask? Do you find some value in their work?

I was just curious about your opinion, if any, of that particular article, since I found it difficult to decide if it had any merit. It seemed to me to imply falsely a materialist account of purposeful human action.

I think that my old mentor, J.J. Gibson, despite certain limitations, was the best perception psychologist ever, and Objectivists would do well to be familiar with his defense of Direct Realism. But I have no illusions :excl: about his followers, the "ecological psychologists," who often seem more like Pragmatists than Realists.

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I think that my old mentor, J.J. Gibson, despite certain limitations, was the best perception psychologist ever, and Objectivists would do well to be familiar with his defense of Direct Realism. But I have no illusions  :excl: about his followers, the "ecological psychologists," who often seem more like Pragmatists than Realists.

I did not realize you studied with Gibson. I think that is great. As I said, I do have respect for some of his work, and I think your advice is well given. As to the followers: based on the little I have read, pragmatism would already seem to be an accomplishment, since their papers sufferred a great deal from an other-worldliness. Swenson's "space-time" paper comes to mind.

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How about this. Entropy is stability. The more entropy a system has, the more stable it is.

So, for example, if a marble sits atop a high parabolic curve the system has low entropy, because it is unstable. However, if the marble rolls down to a parabolic trough and rests there, the system has high entropy, i.e. is stable.

Systems tend to move toward stability and away from instability.

Evolutionary theory works by the mechanism of natural selection, where the fittest survive. The stability of the system is determined by which species is more fit.

Note, this is me surmizing, so don't take it as absolute!

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How about this.  Entropy is stability.  The more entropy a system has, the more stable it is.

So, for example, if a marble sits atop a high parabolic curve the system has low entropy, because it is unstable.  However, if the marble rolls down to a parabolic trough and rests there, the system has high entropy, i.e. is stable.

Systems tend to move toward stability and away from instability.

Evolutionary theory works by the mechanism of natural selection, where the fittest survive.  The stability of the system is determined by which species is more fit.

Note, this is me surmizing, so don't take it as absolute!

You seem to have some interesting, if isolated, comments. Do they have any systematic relationship?

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entropy is relativistically invariant

I may be dropping the proper context but it seems that youre claiming that stability is not stable.

In special relativity an invariant quantity is one whose value is measured the same regardless of the inertial frame in which the quantity is measured. So to say that entropy is relativistically invariant means that any two observers in constant motion relative to each other will measure the same value for the entropy of a system. We contrast this, for example, with the quantity of time; in generral, two inertial observers in relative motion to each other will measure different values for the time separating two events.. Time is not an invariant quantity.

Does that make the point clear?

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In special relativity an invariant quantity is one whose value is measured the same regardless of the inertial frame in which the quantity is measured. So to say that entropy is relativistically invariant means that any two observers in constant motion relative to each other will measure the same value for the entropy of a system. We contrast this, for example, with the quantity of time; in generral, two inertial observers in relative motion to each other will measure different values for the time separating two events.. Time is not an invariant quantity.

I've peripherally read, without a full understanding, that entropy and "information content", analogous to storing data in patterns of bits, are closely related. If so, there's a kind of common sense with entropy being an invariant quantity. Why would "information content" change simply due to changes of relative perspective/relative velocity? Does that make sense, Stephen?

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I've peripherally read, without a full understanding, that entropy and "information content", analogous to storing data in patterns of bits, are closely related.

In my post #4 in this thread, right here -->, I briefly laid the blame at the feet of Claude Shannon for the travesty of undercutting the physical concept of entropy by expropriating its use into "information theory." Many aspects of Shannon's work is valid, and some consequences are extremely useful, but his misuse of the physical concept of entropy has led to an entire array of highly distorted applications of entropy in entire areas where it does not belong.

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You seem to have some interesting, if isolated, comments. Do they have any systematic relationship?

Well, the point was to provide a clearer description of entropy. I was hoping this would help get you part way there.

As I think of it, evolution has a primary power source, the sun. It's like the batteries you place in an animated toy. Slowly the batteries wind down, and the toy stops.

The sun is continually winding down, i.e. losing power and moving toward a more stable state, but so long as it generates power, and the earth holds the basic conditions for life, life is sustained. Solar energy, in effect, puts chemicals in a more active state. This activity causes interactions and these interactions result in complex processes.

Life forms are derived from carbon chains. Carbon atoms have the ability to link at four sites and form long complex chains of hydrocarbons. Other elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen also will connect to a carbon. Examples of a complex hydrocarbons are amino acids, which are also the building blocks of proteins. So, carbon atoms are great building blocks, unlike most other elements. Water is also important. Most chemical intereactions involving life require water.

Solar energy is required to provide energy to atoms so that they are in a more active state, and to keep water as water and not ice, thus providing a place for the reactions to occur. So, a primitive life form would get its ability to exist from solar energy. And, in fact, all life would get its ability to exist from solar power, since all life is built on the same kinds of chemicals.

When the sun winds down, and other smaller energy sources cease to be, life will come to an end. [*] Chemical intereactions will be slowed down, and water turned to ice.

So, I say, in conclusion, evolutionary theory does not violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

[*] Note, I'm ignoring man's ability to generate his own power sources.

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I remain confused by all replies. Does anyone have a clear, simple, brief, common sensical, hierarchical understanding of entropy and its relation to evolution?

BTW, order is metaphysical. It's merely shorthand for "existence is identity" or the combo of identity and causality. And, of course, there is no greater or lesser order, merely one kind of order or another. A burned house is not disordered. The laws of physics and chemistry absolutely determined that the house respond to fire in a specific way. The burned wood is ordered in its own specfic way. This metaphysics leads to a surprising appreciation of the I Ching claim that, by correctly interpreting the pattern of chicken bones that land in the dirt after being tossed in the air, one knows something important. Of course, ancient Chinese didnt have the experimental science and supercomputers needed to know the trivial relationship between some tossed chicken bones and the rest of the universe. Don't get lost in this example. I'm merely noting that everything is ordered, chickens and chicken bones, equally. There is no metaphysical disorder of the universe as a whole. Disorder is of the parts relative to other parts. The sun doesnt lose order, as if there is now a disorderly sun, subject to arrest from a metaphysical cop. "Turn it down! The neighbors are complaining." Sun order changes into non-sun order. The hydrogen burns into space, etc.

Physics can take over from here.

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This metaphysics leads to a surprising appreciation of the I Ching claim that, by correctly interpreting the pattern of chicken bones that land in the dirt after being tossed in the air,  one knows something important. Of course, ancient Chinese didnt have the experimental science and supercomputers needed to know the trivial relationship between some tossed chicken bones and the rest of the universe. Don't get lost in this example.

Oh LAWD! How this made me laugh! Superb!

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Oh LAWD! How this made me laugh! Superb!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Just think of me as the Objectivist Robins Williams. :)

I spent four

years listening to the bizarre ideas of contemporary philosophy in a university. I have to decompress. Logically, I take their ideas to their logical, absurd limit. Argumentum ad absurdum. Rand occasionally does it. Eg, the waltzing dialectic, the selfless schmo or the Kantian hippo. I also spent ten years arguing serious metaphysics with a friend who, whatever his philosophical flaws, was contemptuous of the modern evasion of metaphysics. See our essay at http://home.att.net/~sdgross. The technical ability acquired during our research (screaming about technical flaws at each other) made me sensitive to very wide contradictions and associations.

Medea? (to the tune of West Side Story)

I once met a girl named Medea.

She said, "Come with me or I'll kill ya."

You've been a great audience.

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