User:Graeme E. Smith/Article Sandbox/Darwinism and Complexity in Self-Organization
Darwinism and Complexity in Self-Organization:
The Second Law of Thermodynamics Revisited
Graeme E. Smith, GreySmith Institute of Advanced Studies
The Second Law of Thermodynamics can be given in a nutshell as "Everything Trends Towards Disorder" The actual Law is not that general, and uses the word Entropy instead of Disorder. Recently, researchers and engineers have had to revise their understandings as more and more cases of Self-Organization have been detected. In fact, instead of winding down, as fast as expected, the Universe seems to be expanding and becoming more complex instead. It is time to revisit the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. In this article, I bring together the concepts of Darwinism, and Complexity, to explain an alternative interpretation for the effects that resulted in the formulation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and, make the alternate Quantum-Safe where the 2nd Law is not. I would not presume to formulate the alternate as a law, But it might be useful for determining when entropy or self-organization should happen.
The second Law of thermodynamics was written during the time of the design of the steam engine, as an attempt to explain the difference between reversible and irreversible processes. At the time there was a flurry of attempts to patent so called Perpetual Motion Machines, and scientists needed a way to tell the difference between valid machines and hoaxes that used little understood physical laws to simulate perpetual motion mechanisms. The difference, they determined was that the hoaxes tended to have no visible energy inputs that could overcome the entropy of the system over time. The second law stated that a system that moved from equilibrium to equilibrium must always move in the direction of increased entropy, Thus systems that did not gain energy in some manner would eventually stop because of entropy, while systems that gained energy in some manner might survive as long as their parts continued to function.
This caused scientists to look for hidden energy supplies, and in most hoaxes these undocumented energy supplies were found to exist. Where they weren't the machines were often underwhelming in their power and constituted Novelties rather than serious contenders for Perpetual Motion.
There are still some so called perpetual Motion Machines that are not well enough understood, to prove that they are hoaxes, but the patent office has determined that it will not accept applications for Perpetual Motion Devices in order to reduce the number of hoaxes it has to deal with. An increase in interest in Perpetual Motion Machines has arisen lately with the possible discovery of Dark Energy, and the Fictional Concept of a "Core Tap" based on zero-point energy.
The idea of something for nothing is always attractive, but not necessarily all that practical. The fact that there might be exceptions to the general statement that everything trends to disorder, should not be taken as an excuse to assume that hoaxes in the past were anything but Hoaxes. However the 2nd Law of Thermo-Dynamics is under attack, from a number of different directions, and may need to be replaced with a more comprehensive law.
If everything is trending to disorder, why can we have biological life, where we break down food, and build from it, building blocks of a more complicated organism? Growth seems counter intuitive. Scientists have hedged their bets, by saying that it is the whole of the organism plus its environment that must trend towards entropy, not the organism itself. The idea of an Open System where energy can come from outside the element being measured, versus a closed system where energy must be measured within the system, How we can have evolution, that seems to increase order by self-organization of populations must therefore be based on the effect of the population causing greater disorganization in its environment. But then how do we explain civilization where Organisms namely humans have added order to the environment, unless there is some sink somewhere that is absorbing all the excess disorder. It seems that humans have a natural propensity to imbue their systems with order, If disorder is the law, where is it going?
Some of it can be found in crime, in poverty, in 3rd world countries, in pollution, but is there enough to balance the immense amount of order we have required from our world in the last century or two? Or is the Law something less than a law? That is the question that we need to solve.
The answer might be a simple as recognizing that we have made a mistake in understanding entropy, what if entropy isn't disorder? What could it be? Well, Entropy could be, simply the flip side of the concept that Energy always flows from areas of high potential to areas of low potential, if it is not blocked in some way. This for example is exactly like the statement that water always flows downhill unless it is blocked in some way. Now, if we understand the nature of flow, we understand that the reason that water flows downhill is because it is being pulled by the force of gravity.
Inertia tells us that an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest until operated on by a force. Is energy an object? good question, evidence of the Quantum nature of energy suggests that it might be. If it is, then there is a force that is causing energy to flow from areas of high potential to areas of low potential just like water flows downhill. If so it is a strange type of force, because it tends to push energy away from concentrations rather than attracting it to concentrations. The idea of Dark Energy, is based on just such a distributive force. Many scientists are opposed to the existence of such a force, and would bridle at the presumption of anyone that claimed that it existed.
Perhaps Entropy is the measure of that force acting on Energy. If so, why does it have the reputation of bringing disorder? To get to that answer, we need to look at our water metaphor a little closer. When you first flood an area, water is destructive it rushes in almost at random, Chaotically pushing order out of the way. But later as it flows away downhill, it leaves behind it puddles which eventually evaporate until the next time that water comes rushing in. The puddles exist because there are local depressions in the ground, that block water from rushing off downhill.
Now suppose that space is complicated dimensionally, there may be areas equivalent to puddles that are formed by highly dimensional structures made out of space. When Energy floods an area, it pushes these structures aside, and you get a large pool of energy, but over time, the energy is spread to areas of lower potential, and as it goes it uncovers knots in space that keep energy from being released to lower potential. Will it not seem as if Order precipitated out of the chaos of the high energy field? Now suppose that there is some relationship between energy and the complexity of the field. It is entirely likely that as energy flows out of the area, the force pushing the energy towards lower potential, is no longer balanced by the ambient energy of the surrounding space, and overcomes the dimensional structure, essentially causing the energy to leak out of the structure, and become available to spread according to the difference in potential again. Then over time, It will seem as if the order is being reduced as energy flow, (Entropy) gets larger. Essentially the energy evaporates out of the puddles and leaves behind even smaller puddles, and so on.
If this is true, then entropy isn't disorder, so much as the force pushing the Energy, and BOTH increases in order and increases in disorder are the natural result of Entropy acting on energy just in different states.
The interesting thing about this, is that it suggests that increases in order and increases in disorder are in fact inevitably an oscillation since puddle formation from evaporation, acts in the same way as puddle formation from flooding and then gravity causing the water to flow downhill. The main difference is in the size of the puddles being formed, if everything was trending to disorder, we could expect the puddles to be getting smaller and more plentiful, when we go through a period of precipitation of order out of chaos. If everything was trending towards more energy coming into existence we could expect the puddles to get gradually larger and for fewer of them to exist within a set area of space.
The problem is that the set area of space, doesn't seem to exist as such, and instead, space itself, the size of the Universe seems to be growing. Even worse, the growth might be accelerating. This does not bode well for the theory of Dark Energy, if only because it seems to rebel against accepted standards of cosmology.
There are theories which project such an acceleration, but they often fall afoul of the law of Conservation of Energy that states that energy can neither be created or destroyed. It is for this reason, that Dark Energy attracts the Perpetual Motion Crowd, If energy is created constantly, the idea is that we can capture that energy and put it to use. The idea of Zero-Point energy is that space itself is immensely energy rich, and all we need to do, is find a space that is less energy rich, and the flow of energy between the two spaces can be managed to drive some sort of device. This is called Zero-Point energy because it can be recovered from what classical Newtonian science has called an Equilibrium state. The fictional concept of a core-tap, is based on this theory. In 1948 Hendrick B. G. Casimir and Dirk Polder proposed the existence of a force that would act on two uncharged plates in a vacuum with no external electro-magnetic field. They were able to successfully demonstrate that this force existed to within 15% of the theoretically predicted value. Because the strength of the field drops off drastically with distance, it is only measurable when the distance between the plates is very small. On a submicrometer scale this force becomes so strong that it dominates. In fact at a separation of 10mm the Casimir Effect is the equivalent of 1 atmosphere of pressure. Although it can be explained in terms of Virtual Particles, it is considered best described and more easily calculated in terms of the Zero-Point energy of a Quantized Field in the intervening space between the plates.
In fact Zero-Point energy is well documented in Quantum Field theory. I won't go into the theory here because it would be a digression, and I don't know the theory all that well, but I can say that in order to deal with the high level of zero-point energy expected in quantum field theory, it is assumed that the various characteristics of the fields cancel each other out, in an effect called renormalization resulting in a net energy level of zero. Otherwise Cosmology would be disturbed by the large numbers involved.
Renormalization works because there is an ambient level of energy within space. Since this level is fairly uniform across space, we can set our zero-point at the ambient level, and ignore the fact that in comparison to an area with less energy in it, the amount of energy in space is fairly large. The assumption behind the core-tap, is that we can artificially create an area impoverished in energy, and guide the energy through some portal between the artificially created impoverished space, and normal space, using the force of Entropy to generate power in a more useful manner.
One interpretation of the other Forces we have measured, is that they may, in fact exist, because of just such an effect. If space itself is absorbed into just such an impoverished area, it might act as an attractive force that could for instance attract matter, in a manner similar to gravity. If impoverished areas are a natural part of our Universe then perhaps we can learn to make them, and achieve effects such as artificial gravity.
It is entirely plausible under such a theory, that all forces are merely the result of applied, entropy as interpreted by the complexity of space. If this is true, then the nature of our universe, is defined by Entropy and space. Thus the number of Galaxies in the Universe, and the nature of Evolution, might both be characteristics of Entropy.
Let us then look at the nature of the system we have proposed. The role of space, in this system, is to lock energy away from the general trend to spread it evenly across the Universe. The fact that we have a fairly general ambient level of energy, as indicated by renormalization, suggests that in general, Entropy is quite efficient at spreading energy evenly across space. So anything that keeps energy from spreading evenly across space, is an exception. Further, we know that many different forms of energy exist, especially since Einstein's E=MC2shows us that mass is energy in another form. In fact mass comes in a number of different elemental forms, and aggregative forms called molecules.
If the earlier suggested version of the 2nd Law were accurate, we would expect that nature would be filled with large particles being broken down into small particles, thus the oldest particles would be heavy particles like Uranium and Lead, and the newest particles would be smaller particles such as Hydrogen and helium. If instead this version discussed here is accurate we would expect the Universe to be filled with light particles with gradually larger particles that gradually have smaller and smaller populations. Furthermore we would expect to find arrangements of these particulate elements where the particles aggregate into larger elements such as molecules.
This latter interpretation is closer to observed fact, and this supports the contention that the second law is inaccurate in its "Everything trends to disorder" version. Yet just as obviously, people age, things break down, and disorder develops in even the most ordered systems. There is still a trend to disorder, but it may not be directly because of entropy. If this dissociation between entropy and disorder is valid, then entropy can increase, and it may result in order rather than disorder, such as happens, as our water flow example suggests when puddles form from flood waters.
In Thermodynamics you can't have entropy without cooling. Anyone who has done chemistry knows that for certain types of chemical reactions to happen, you need certain temperatures and to stir the reagents. If the original second law were correct, when you heated a solution up, order would precipitate out. But instead, we find that it is often cooling that allows chemicals to precipitate out. For instance solutions tend to saturate, a state needed for precipitation of crystals at a lower temperature than the chemicals are mixed at. Which chemical precipitates out, however seems to depend on temperature, which means that if you regulate the temperature well enough you can get a near pure crystal, and if you let the solution cool too quickly you get an impure crystal, because other chemicals precipitate out as well. Without getting into chemistry itself, it seems reasonable that some entropy, is required for order to precipitate out of chaos, but too much entropy results in a much less ordered state. Managed properly, you could build a layered system of precipitates where each chemical precipitated separately building up sedimentary layers of almost pure chemicals, simply by lowering the temperature of the solution in steps, that took advantage of the saturation temperature for each chemical.
I don't know if you can envision it, but this experiment illustrates the nature of entropy where different layers of order are found at different measures of entropy. A similar mechanism can be found in petroleum engineering in something called a frac column, where, after cracking, heavy oil is separated into a number of different chemicals simply by heating the oil into a gasseous state and progressively lowering the temperature of the frac column as you go up the column so that smaller and smaller molecules will precipitate out of the gasseous state and become different grades of petroleum products. The gasses bubble up through plates that contain the chemicals in fluid form, and when they bubble up through the right plate they become fluid and are drawn off into separate reservoirs. This wouldn't work if there wasn't set entropic states at which the precipitation of order out of the chaos of the gasseous state was not likely to favor a specific molecular weight.
We have known about these chemical processes for centuries, but because we have not connected them to entropy, we have not known that they actually indicated a problem with the second law of thermodynamics, or that instead of entropy acting to break things down, that it actually defines an oscillation between order and chaos.
Further this is not a unidirectional effect, in fact distillation has been shown to prove that it works in the opposite direction as well. By gradually increasing the temperature, liquids of specific types evaporate, at different temperatures allowing us to take a mixed solution such as corn mash, and with regulation of the temperature create a system that isolates only those chemicals that are associated with ethyl alcohol, which boils at 78.4 degrees, making whiskey. If we boil away the lighter molecules or cool the steam to the required temperature and vent the remaining vapors, our whiskey will be purer and have a higher alcohol content.
What this suggests is that the energy/entropy balance also known as temperature, is directly related to what type of order precipitates out of chaos, just as the level of evaporation determines the relative sizes of the puddles left behind in our water example.
There are two types of temperatures that are important, the local temperature, and the ambient temperature. The ambient temperature within the Universe, or shall we say across the Universe, is the zero-point energy level which consists of all the energy that has ever been created in the Universe divided by all the entropy that has ever been created in the Universe. This is complicated by the fact that because entropy is related to the spreading of energy across the Universe, the amount of entropy is related to the size of the universe which might not be a constant. The ambient temperature is therefore quite low, since the Universe is so large, and energy creation must be relatively subtle or our measurements would have detected it.
- Can Dark Energy Exist, Scientific American April 2009
- The Armageddon Inheritance, David Weber, Baen Publishing Enterprises,(1993) ISBN 0-671-72197-6
- Can Dark Energy Exist, Scientific American, April 2009
- Fundamentals of Physics, Halliday and Resnick 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, (1981) ISBN 0-471-08005-5