Introduction to Non-Genetic Darwinism/Physics of Self-Organization
Physics of Self-Organization
Although some of the terms used in this article are engineering rather than physics terms, the subject is under review by physicists, as a result of recent work on Quantum Gravity.
- To Introduce the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
- To build an understanding of what it means
- To note exceptions or special interpretations of the law
- To build an new understanding of Entropy
- To Introduce the idea of an Energy/Entropy Balance
- To show that Self-organization may not be an exception to Entropy
2nd Law of Thermodynamics
Any Process that starts in an equilibrium state, and ends in another will go in a direction that causes the entropy of the process plus the environment to increase.
The Concept of Equilibrium States
Equilibrium is a state of zero net force. There are two types of equilibria, Stable, and Unstable. A Stable Equilibrium, is where, when you put a force against the mechanism it returns to the state of equilibrium, and oscillates across the equilibrium point until the energy associated with the force is all used up, at which time it remains at the equilibrium point, and an Unstable equilibrium is a state where when you add force to the state, the system accelerates away from the equilibrium state.The examples of these two different states can both be illustrated by the action of a pendulum There are two equilibrium points that are important, the equilibrium point where the pendulum is at the bottom of its swing, and the equilibrium point where the pendulum is at the top of its swing, and it actually stops in space for a split second. The top of the swing is an unstable equilibrium, and the point where the pendulum is perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the swing, is the stable equilibrium. You can tell because the pendulum always ends up in the stable equilibrium when it quits moving.
History of the 2nd Law
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was developed as a result of the development of the Steam engine. It attempted to predict why some types of mechanisms resulted in reversible processes while others resulted in irreversible processes. The answer was that moving from one state to another involved work, and therefore, movement to a more entropic state, reversible processes added energy to overcome the entropy, while irreversible processes stayed in the more entropic state because they had already used the available energy in getting there.
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is why physicists do not believe in perpetual motion devices, unless there is an energy source, no process can trend towards greater entropy perpetually.
The Problem with the Law
While the law does exactly what it claims and describes the case of a process moving from one equilibrium state to another, It does not well describe the case where energy is added to a system, or energy is taken away from a system. Furthermore, it doesn't describe the case where entropy flows from one system to another. Worse, at the time it was developed we didn't know about quantum uncertainty, so it was thought that equilibrium was the standard case. Now we are not so sure that Equilibrium even exists. Perhaps what we think of as equilibrium is only a temporary balance between energy going into the system and energy leaving the system. Inside the system much can be happening, just to transfer the energy from the location where it comes into the process to the location where it leaves the process. We just think it is Equilibrium because we don't see the dynamics which are below our abiltiy to observe with the naked eye.
Introduction to Quantum Uncertainty
I am not going to explain Quantum Uncertainty to you here, it is too big a subject and too confusing for most, even advanced physics students have trouble understanding it. However I will describe it for you, and let others do the explanation. At a certain level of physics, the laws of Newtonian Mechanics begin to break down, any element smaller than this, begins to become uncertain in one manner or another, to the point where describing the location of an object below this threshold, involves probability rather than measurement. When we consider that our whole world of things that stay in place when you put them somewhere, is built on top of the Quantum Layer, the idea of Equilibrium is questionable. If you actually could reach equilibrium the quantum level elements that make up our stuff, would be predictable, not statistically measured. This draws into question the assertion made at Newtonian Physics Levels that an object is in equilibrium if no forces are applied to it. The second law of Thermodynamics is not Quantum-Safe because it demands equilibrium under this definition as part of its definition. Some scientists believe that there is a temperature, absolute zero, or 0 degrees Kelvin, at which quantum Uncertainty stops but that would preclude equilibrium at warmer temperatures.
The last concept you need to understand when talking about the second law is the concept of Entropy. To understand this concept, let us restate it in terms of energy, as energy flows from the point of greatest potential to the point of lowest potential, entropy increases. Thus at a point where there is no differential in energy across the whole Universe, a state called the energy death of the Universe, Entropy will be at its highest point. Another way of looking at this, is that when energy is flowing from a high potential to a lower potential that is when the second law seems to be most correct. However there is another side to entropy, that of a breakdown in complexity that goes with the increase in entropy. When entropy increases supposedly the breakdown in complexity also increases. One interpretation of this, is that disorder increases with entropy.
Open Systems Theory, When is a Law not a Law?
It is this latter interpretation that makes life especially difficult for the second law of thermodynamics. Despite the fact that entropy is increasing at least in the environment around the life-form, it seems to decrease within the life-form itself during growth. The second law, doesn't deal well with growth, if it is interpreted in the loss of complexity manner. What it seems is that life somehow is increasing the entropy of the world around it, but reversing that trend within its own body. Now this is not illegal by any means, since it is the entropy of the environment plus its own body that determines if a process follows the second law, but it does seem to buck the trend. In fact anything that increases order seems to buck the trend described by the second law.
Scientists that are not sure, have decided that the best way to claim compliance to the second law, is to describe life in the terms of an Open System versus a closed system. In an open system, the environment can be involved in the determination in a closed system the environment can't. If the law didn't say plus environment, this would be called an exception to the law, however the law as stated today, does say plus the environment, so no exception is called for.
It is a tautology that, if there is but one exception to a law, then by definition it isn't a law. A law applies always.
Failure of the 2nd Law to predict Astronomical Features of the Universe
It is naturally interesting that within the last few years, researchers have noted a number of places where they have assumed that they can apply the second law, but when their research is done the answers they get back, are different than what has been observed. This suggests that either their observations are suspect, or the law as it is formulated, is not up to the task of predicting some of the effects that have been observed. As a result some scientists have put the second law on probation, and others are considering how to reformulate it to meet the needs of today's science.
The Red Shift
One of the places where the second law is not operating as expected, is in the Red Shift, if scientists are correct about what the red shift is, when an object is moving away from you, and you observe the frequency of the light that comes from it, you can expect that the frequency of the light will shift slightly towards the red end of the spectrum. Scientists use this theory to find known frequency spectra for particular elements in the spectral signatures of distant stars.
Now an interesting problem occurs when you can reach out and gather the spectra from more distant stars, and that is that the further away the star is, the deeper the frequency is shifted to the Red. What this seems to suggest, is that the Universe is expanding and the further away a star is from us, the faster it is moving away from us. As our telescopes get better, we can see galaxies further and further away, and detect deeper and deeper red shifts.
The problem comes from the fact that we can also detect from the dimness of stars how far the light has travelled to get to us. Distant galaxies are too dim for our current calculations of the distance they should be from us, even according to the red shift to be correct. Either there is some change in the speed that galaxies are moving now than they were then, that throws off our calculations, and indicates that the galaxy is expanding faster now than it did then, or all our calculations imply some sort of black energy that forces the Universe apart, something that is not found in our current physics.
The problem is that this doesn't jibe with our calculations of how fast the Universe should be cooling, and how quickly it should begin to collapse back into itself after the Big Bang. Either the Big Bang is wrong, or some laws including the second law of thermodynamics is wrong, or both. There could be a different interpretation there are so many other factors when we look at astronomical intergalactic distances, but the biggest things should follow the most basic laws more closely, if only because individual variation is lost in the distance.
Another indication that the second law might be wrong, is in galaxy formation. Quite simply put, there are too many galaxies and in too many orientations for our understanding of the Universe to be correct. If the Second Law worked the way historically it has been said it does, there wouldn't be nearly the number of galaxies that we can now detect via the Hubble and its sister satellites. Somehow this concept of Entropy always resulting in a reduction in complexity must be wrong, not only in life-forms but in the formation of Galaxies as well. Either that, or the Universe is much older than we think it is, and it has gone through more than one Big Bang. One theory that is suggested is the Big Bounce theory, where the Universe periodically collapses in on itself and has another big bang. But that is a fairly new theory and not all the mathematics of it have been worked out.
Failure of the 2nd Law to predict Quantum Level Features of the Universe
One of the problems with the current formulation of the second law, lies in its assumptions of Equilibrium. What does Equilibrium mean, when it is applied to the Quantum Layer where the location of small elements is no longer determinable? Our physics assure us that nothing moves without a force being applied, yet if nothing ever stays still long enough to measure it accurately, how can we say that no force is being applied? And thus, does the concept of Equilibrium really have any validity? Quantum Uncertainty leaves us with the impression that at the quantum layer things are much more chaotic and dynamic than at the Newtonian layer on which science the original law was based.
Why does Quantum Chaos result in Order?
We are left with the impression that underneath the Newtonian layer of reality where Equilibrium makes sense, the Second law, doesn't make sense anymore, but somehow the order of our Newtonian Universe emerges from this chaotic under-layer, and then the second law makes sense. But if this were actually true, then the law as it is presently formulated is wrong. If only because it describes Any process, and Quantum processes still must be taken into account. It is not that Quantum Physicists have thrown away the second law, so much as they are using it without thought that it can't apply because in the quantum layer equilibrium doesn't make sense. But again we are stuck wondering why, when the quantum level is so complicated, and dynamic, order has precipitated out of the chaos, when entropy is supposed to break things down and reduce complexity.
One possible interpretation is that there is an intermediate state between energy and entropy at which order precipitates out of chaos. Called by some the Edge of Chaos, such a state would be a sort of equilibrium of its own. I assume that we can find this point by monitoring the Energy/Entropy Ratio. When the Energy entropy ratio is 1 we are at equilibrium, at some point around this ratio we will get order precipitating out of chaos, at some point below this ratio we will get a breakdown in order, and if we get too large a ratio, we will increase the dynamism of the system and get chaos.
Perhaps, the function of the quantum uncertainty increasing entropy is for quantum particles to become larger, better defined particles. To stop being uncertain bosons and anti-quarks, and become fairly certain subatomic particles, and then eventually particles, protons, neutrons, anti-neutrons, and so, as the scope of the microverse becomes larger. Maybe we live in a very uncertain universe, constantly decaying into certainty. The Big Bang started very small, and very uncertain. And resolved to become us and our observable universe. Perhaps the move towards always greater order at always greater magnitudes of physical size is an expression of entropy. Perhaps it has the unrecognized potential to create greater and greater completixity, at greater and greater size, until we all collapse back into a singularity of complete order, and then become the next universe. Perhaps the equilibrium sought is larger, rather than smaller.
Towards a new formulation of the 2nd Law
Perhaps we need to rethink the 2nd law, or perhaps we simply need to rethink how we deal with Entropy and what we expect it to do. Probably both, since the second law is based on the classical definition of entropy. If we described the terms of the 2nd law in terms of the Energy/Entropy balance instead of on equilibrium of forces, it might be more accurate. On the other hand, it might work as it is, if we redefine equilibrium as a state of balance between energy and entropy.
Open System versus Incremental/Decremental System: Which is the better description?
If it is the Energy/Entropy balance that is important, not the source of the energy, then the concept of an open system is really only important in that there is a source of energy outside the system. What is important is that in an Incremental or Decremental system, the meaning of Entropy as breaking down complex elements into simple ones with a release of energy, being dependent on the Energy/Entropy balance, is critical to whether complexity is increased or decreased within the system. Life must therefore increase the Energy/Entropy balance locally during growth.
Decremental Systems within an Incremental System, Classical Entropy
If the Universe is expanding and energy in the Universe is increasing, then, why does entropy continue to break down complex structures into simpler ones and release energy? The answer lies in the relative energy/entropy balance in the local area, rather than the Universal Energy/Entropy balance. Because Entropy is not uniformly spread across the Universe, but depends on the processes within the universe to be created, the net effect is that some areas of the universe get lower Energy/Entropy balances than others. Within these local confines, with higher entropy, it is possible for the Entropy to cause the breakdown of complexity despite the fact that a foot further over the Energy/Entropy balance is different.
- Read up on the Big Bounce Theory, does it make sense?
- Consider Quantum Uncertainty, if you can't predict where something is going to be, can you say it hasn't moved? How does this fit with the idea of equilibrium where equilibrium states that no forces are being applied. You remember in basic science the law of inertia, where an object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest until acted on by an outside force.
Does this make sense in the Quantum Realm? What forces are being applied at the quantum level when an object seems to be at rest on the newtonian level of physics?
- Consider the idea of order emerging from chaos. What possible mechanism could cause this? Would the Energy/Entropy balance be a factor?
- In chemistry Entropy is a factor in whether or not certain chemicals will combine, Is this an indication that self-organization (chemicals combining) is a result of local entropy levels?
- Fundamentals of Physics, Second Edition, Extended, David Halliday, Robert Resnick,(1970,1974,1981) Wiley and Sons, New York, ISBN 0-471-08005-5
- Can Black Energy Exist? Scientific American April 9 2009