Physics learned more from the steam engine
than the steam engine ever did
I think about how ideas move. And, for some reason, I also think about thermodynamics – how heat moves. (and other things) I think about the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The 2nd law is – that in a closed system, spontaneous changes will result in an increase in entropy. “Closed system” means – that no energy or material can go in or out. Entropy is “disorder”, or chaos.
So – the 2nd Law is generally thought of as – the (inherent) “drive” toward Disorder.
When I was a kid, I (even so) had a ‘connect’ to the realm of SCIENCE. This is because I had an older brother (Dan. He’s still older than me; and still more of a scientist) and our next-door neighbors (Sam and Bud Bitler) were a little older than Dan. The Bitlers had a ham radio (which we could hear through our television) and were scientifically inclined.
There was a point in time – when the scientific community realized certain implications of the 2nd Law. The reasoning went like this – “The Universe must be a ‘closed system’ (since, by definition, it includes everything) … and therefore – it MUST BE DECAYING. The Second Law of Thermodynamics SAYS that IT MUST be.
I remember, (when this notion was still Fresh and Hot within the Scientific Community) that – in my own basement – it was discussed … in HUSHED TONES.
The tones were hushed because we felt trapped. We felt we had been FORCED to conclude something very unpalatable – that we somehow lived in a world which is DECAYING … Dying !
Well … I think this conclusion turned out to be a bit rash.
At this (early) point, not much thinking had been done – regarding how the Drive to Chaos (the 2nd Law) contributes to the Drive toward Complexity.
If you put sand into a box, putting white sand in one end and black sand in the other end, then you (randomly) stir the contents, the sands will get more and more mixed together. And eventually you will have (what appears to be) just a box full of grey sand. In the beginning there was order. Here it was white, and there it was black. Then you subjected the system to (nothing more than) random perturbations … and the order was lost. This is the functioning of the 2nd law.
If people walk into your house, they’re going to bring a certain amount of the world (whatever’s on the ground, outside – dirt or snow) INTO your house … and your house will (automatically) get dirty or wet. This is the 2nd law at work.
Now let’s think about what happens when we wash our clothes. (Many people in this world do not have a machine which will automatically wash their clothes for them … but many of us do.)
We put our dirty laundry into our Automatic Washing Machine, add some soap (and whatever), turn the machine on … and after a while, the clothes are “done”. They’re clean. (and we didn’t have to wash them!)
Our clothes (pretty much ALWAYS) get DIRTY through the functioning of the 2nd Law … and (when we throw them into our Washer) they get CLEAN through the same law. How is this possible?
It’s because our laundry gets ‘systematically processed’.
The machine (automatically) fills with water. And when it’s full, the twisty post in the center of the tub (called the ‘agitator’) begins to move (according to the design of that particular machine). In any case, its job is to subject the clothes to (many and moderate) acts of random violence. (Remember that time when you didn’t set your machine on ‘Delicate’ … but you SHOULD have?)
Then they go through a similar cycle … only THIS time – with no soap – the Rinse Cycle. Then they are centrifuged – to remove as much water as possible. Then they are “done”. Clean!
But what would happen if we filled the machine with (instead of CLEAN water) – water that was Very Dirty?
In SUCH a case – your clothes would come out – about as dirty as the water you washed them in. They may come out DIRTIER than when they went in. Mmm?
In THAT case – the 2nd Law would still have been functioning faithfully; it’s just that the GRADIENT got reversed. (The clothes were ‘clean’ compared to the water … so they came out dirtier than they were when you put them in.)
The 2nd Law functions BECAUSE OF A GRADIENT. And it always works “downhill”. Mmm?
If you never cleaned the floors of your house … eventually they would cease getting dirtier. As much dirt would get tracked OUT as was being tracked IN.
If your house had a dirt floor (dirt inside, dirt outside), you wouldn’t have the same problem that you have – if your house has ‘clean’ (non-dirt) floors.
The 2nd Law is functioning all the time and everywhere (like all the other Laws of Nature).
Our clothes get dirty (and our bodies get dirty) because of the 2nd Law. And we make these clean again … also by the 2nd Law.
I suspect that there are important Contextual Realities which are Unacknowledged by physicists:
particularly (I am thinking) – the door.
If you build yourself a house, it will have walls and a roof … and (no doubt) – a doorway. It will have an opening so that you may come and go. And (if you are serious about the walls) that doorway will have a door.
A door is essentially ambiguous. A door (when closed) is part of the wall. And (when open) it’s a hole in the wall. When it’s open, there’s a ‘doorway’. Then you may walk through your wall. Then you may close it again … and again it’s a wall.
The valves in your washing machine (and the lid on the top, or the front) are doors. The lid (on top) or the door (on the front) are important. They allow us to put clothes in … and take them out again. The valves are important. They are ‘doors’ in the plumbing, which open and close as needed (for that cycle). Within each cycle – the machine and its contents comprise (for practical purposes) – a Closed System. Between cycles – it’s an Open System. Clothes are going in or out. Water is going in … or it’s being pumped or is being thrown out. The status of the System is in a continual state of flux – Now open. Now closed. Open again. Closed again.
This is what allows the laundry to be (systematically) processed.
The copper bottom on (some) cooking pots – is there as a special sort of ‘door’. It is put there to facilitate heat transfer – from the stove top, through the pot, and into whatever you are cooking. And it does this while maintaining its integrity as a container. Water does NOT escape through the walls or bottom of the pot, yet heat passes through. That’s why it’s a kind of ‘door’. It’s selective: Water, you stay here. Heat, you may come through. Mmm?
Doors are important.
What about the mouth?
If we’re thinking about the 2nd Law, the mouth is very important. And it’s also a door, Mmm? Everything with a mouth – is an Open System (at least sometimes).
So, the 3rd Law is All-Pervasive … but does it not offer us the recipe for Spontaneous Evolution? I think it DOES. Perhaps this would be a corollary to the 2nd Law – “Spontaneous Evolution must occur through Open Systems – systems which throughput material and energy.”
After all – the Universe is big. (Surely physicists have also noticed this.) There is plenty of room for creation to exist in hierarchical layers. Plenty of room for Open Systems. Plenty of room (and plenty of time) for interaction and for evolution.
It took a long time for single-celled organisms to appear. Then, a long time again – for cooperation (multi-cell organisms) to occur. But once they did – this was a whole New Ball Game!
Now! Just have a look around! It’s out of control!
Creatures exist which we would never think of. Yet – HERE THEY ARE.
As G. K. Chesterton ably points out –
“The whole order of things is more miraculous
than any miracle which could presume to violate it.”
Let us consider the arrival of the Luscious Fruits.
I suspect that the luscious fruits (plums, apples, cherries, oranges, grapes, bananas, tomatoes, blackberries, persimmons, peaches, pawpaws, mangoes, etc.) these did not show up … till there were “customers” – creatures who wished to eat them – (raccoons, ‘possums, mice, bears, pigs, deer, goats, etc.).
With the arrival of a Customer Base – there was a pressure for the plants (fruit trees, etc.) to produce seed-coverings which were tasty and nourishing. These fruits became (more and more of) a bribe – to entice the customers into assisting with seed dispersal.
The berries are the specialists who “want” their customers to eat their fruit (seed and all) … then poop the seeds out somewhere else. Good for the plant species. Good for the ones who eat the fruit.
Now it’s a new situation. Living creatures (including humans) do not operate merely through the functioning of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Such laws do not go away, but new laws come onto the scene … and join in.
The mammals I have mentioned are sentient beings, creatures with consciousness. We have needs and desires.
Tony Robbins says – We’re going to find a way to get our basic needs met. Then, down the line some, desires become important.
No doubt – there are thousands … millions of vital processes within our own bodies which make use of the 2nd Law. But in the complex interaction between hungry and discriminating customers and the plants which are feeding them … pushing the plants to produce fruits which are ever more luscious, tasty, and nourishing … there’s a lot more happening than just the 2nd Law.
Such interactions are highly complex and tend to push the whole world … in the direction of heaven. Mmm?
So … the idea – that the universe must be a Closed System and (therefore) it must be heading toward entropy – is wrong for the same reason that many of our ideas are wrong:
The conclusion was drawn in the direction of the evidence. But the conclusion turns out to be wrong, because it imagined a world which was (much) simpler than the real world.
John Burroughs says –
It is good that fire should burn, even if it consumes your house; it is good that force should crush, even if it crushes you; it is good that rain should fall, even if it destroys your crops and floods your land. Plagues and pestilences attest to the constancy of natural law. They set us to cleaning our streets and houses and to readjusting our relations to outward nature. Only in a live universe could disease and death prevail. Death is a phase of life, a redistribution of the type. Decay is another kind of growth.
So what? – if we have to wash our clothes pretty often, and our bodies daily? We can handle that.
The 2nd Law gets us dirty … and it gets us clean again.
Not a bad deal, really.
And the 2nd Law is certainly NOT sweeping us to our doom.
WE … WE are the ones we need to be worried about.