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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Evolution: Pendulum Dance Between Laws of Thermodynamics

For years, I have pursued a purely thermodynamic definition of evolution.

My reasoning is informed by the observation that change is independent of domain, process, or the physical laws and behaviors upon which a system is based.  As the science of thermodynamics has itself matured (evolved), the boundaries of its applicable domain have expanded far beyond its original focus on heat.  It is generally accepted that the laws of thermodynamics apply to ANY system in which change occurs, that the laws of thermodynamics are agnostic to energy type or form.  Furthermore, scientists studying information/communication independently discovered laws that match almost perfectly, the laws of thermodynamics.  This mirroring of domains has thrilled logicians, physicists, mathematicians, and cosmologists who are no more and more convinced that information (configuration) and energy are symmetric with respect to change over time.

Even conservatively, the implications of this symmetry are nothing short of profound.  If true, it suggests that one can, for instance, calculate the amount of information it would take to get a certain mass to the moon and back, and it means that one can calculate how much energy it would take to compute the design a moon rocket.  It means that the much vaulted "E" in Einstein's Relativity equation can be exchanged with an "I" for information (with valid results).  It means, at some level, that information is relativistic and that gravity works as a metric of information.  Same goes for the rules and equations that govern quantum dynamics.

And this from an eyes-wide-open anti-post modernist!

At any event, the symmetric relationship between energy and information (at least with regard to change) provides a singular foundation for all of physics, and even perhaps for all of ANY possible physical system (equally applicable to other universes with other rules).

It would seem that thermodynamics would provide a more than solid base from which to define the process that allows for, limits, and possibly demands the (localized) accumulation of complexity – evolution!

The Zeroth and First Laws of Thermodynamics work to shape and parameterize action. Given the particular configuration immediately prior they insure that the next action is always and only the set of those possible actions that together will expend the most energy.  In colloquial terms, things fall down and things fall down as fast and as completely as is possible.  Falling down, is a euphemism for the process of seeking of equilibrium.  If the forces attracting two objects is greater than the forces keeping them apart, they will fall together.  If the forces keeping them apart is greater than the forces attracting them, they will fall apart.  Falling down reduces a system to a more stable state – a state in which less force is pushing because some force was released. Falling down catalyzes the maximum release of energy and results in a configuration of minimum tension.

The Second Law of thermodynamics dictates that all action results in a degradation of energy, or configurationally speaking, a reduction in density or organizational complexity.  Over time the universe becomes cooler, more spread out, and less ordered.

The falling down dictated by the the zeroth and first law result in particular types of chunking determined by a combination of the materials available and the energy reduced.  About a million years after the big bang, the energy and pressures of the big bang had dissipated such that the attractive forces effecting sub-atomic particles were finally stronger than the forces all around them.  The result was a precipitation of matter as hydrogen and helium atoms in plasma.  After a few hundred million years, the mass in these gasses exerted more attractive energy than the much cooler and less dense universe, and precipitated into clumps that became stars.  As the fusion cascade in these first stars radiated their energy out into an expanding and cooling universe, the attractive force of gravity within became greater than the repulsive forces of nuclear reaction and the starts imploded upon themselves with such force as to expel their electrons and precipitate again into all of the other elements.  These heavy elements were drawn by gravity again into a second generation of stars and planets of which earth is but one lonely example.

You will have noticed that each precipitatory event in our cosmological history resulted in a new aggregate class – energy, sub atomic particles, light atoms, stars, heavy atoms, stars and planets, life, sentience, language, culture, science, etc).  The first two laws of thermodynamics dictate the way previously created aggregate objects are combined to form new classes of aggregate objects.  The second law guarantees as a result of the most contemporary precipitation event, a coincidental lowering of energy/configurational density which allows still weaker forces to cause aggregates in the next precipitatory phase.

If you still aren't following me, it is probably because I have not been clear about the fact that the lower environmental energy density that is the result of each precipitatory cycle optimizes the resulting environmental conditions to the effects of the next weaker force or the next less stable configuration.

For instance, the very act of the strong force to create atomic nuclei, lowers the temperature and pressure to such an extent that the weak force and the electromagnetic force can now overcome environmental chaos and cause the formation of atoms in the next precipitatory event.

This ratcheted dance between the laws of thermodynamics is the why of evolution, and results in the layered grammars that sometimes or at least potentially describe ever greater stacked complexities that led to life and us and what might come as a result of our self same actions as the dance continues.

Stepping back to the basic foundation of causality, it is important to be re-reminded that a configuration of any kind always represents the maximum allowable complexity.  In recent years, much has been made of the black hole cosmologies that define the event horizon as the minimum allowable area on which all of the information within the black hole can be written as a one bit thick surface membrane of a sphere.  The actual physical mechanical reason that this black hole event horizon membrane can be described as a lossless "holographic" recording or description or compression of the full contents of the black hole is complex and binds quantum and relativistic physics.  Quantum because the energies are so great structure is reduced to the structural granularity of basic quantum bits.  Relativistic because at this maximally allowable density everything passing the event horizon has reached the speed of light,  freezing time itself… the event horizon effectively holds an informational record of everything that has passed.

The interesting and I think salient aspect of an event horizon is that is always exactly as big as it needs to be to hold all of the bits that have passed through it.  As the black whole attracts and eats up any mass unlucky enough to be within its considerable influence, the event horizon grows by exactly the bits necessary to describe it at the quantum level.

The cosmological community (including Sir Steven Hawking), was at first shocked by the sublime elegance of this theory and then by the audacious and unavoidable implication that black holes, like everything else, are beholding to the laws of thermodynamics.  The theory predicts black hole evaporation!  Seems black holes, like everything else, are entropically bound.  There is no free lunch. The collapse of matter into a black hole results in a degradation of energy and informational configuration, the self same entropy that demands that heat leak from a steam engine, demands that black holes will evaporate and that eventually, when this rate of evaporation exceeds the rate of stuff falling into it, a black whole will get smaller and ultimately, poof, be gone.

This is heady stuff.  The biggest and baddest things in the universe are limited!  But to me, the most profound aspect of this knowledge is not that event horizons can be describes as maximal causal configurations, but that we are shocked by this!  All systems are, at each moment, the maximal allowable configuration by which those forces and those materials can be arranged.  If they could be arranged any tighter, they would have already collapsed into that configuration.

To say this is to understand that time is not separable from configuration.  As Einstein showed, time is physically dependent upon and bounded by the interaction of mass, distance, energy, and change.  Cosmologists use limits to understand the universe.  The maximal warpage of space-time caused by a black hole's density effectively flattens the allowable granular complexity of the configurational grammar  to binary bits held in the minimally allowable physical embodiment.  But, lower energy configurations, configurations like dogs, planets, and the mechanism by which I am attempting to explain this concept, are bounded and limited by the exact same causal rules.

The difference between a black hole horizon and an idea?  Well it has to do with the stacking of grammatical systems (quarks, sub atomic particles, atoms, molecules, proteans, cells, organs, bodies, culture, language, etc.) that allows for complexities greater than the binary bits, the only stuff allowed to pass through an event horizon.  But these stacked grammars that allow us to be us are every bit as restricted to the same maximally allowable configuration rule that minimizes the size of a black hole's event horizon.  In a system configured by a stacked grammar, the minimum complexity rule is enforced at the transition boundary between each two grammatical layers.

Things fall, but only as fast as the stacked grammars that govern causal reality will allow.  This isn't a metaphor, the speed of diffusion, of degradation, of falling down, is always and in all situations, maxed-out.  The exact same physical topology that bounds the size of the a black hole event horizon contributes to the causal binding effecting the rate at which any system can change.  This is because at the deepest causal layer, all systems are bound by relativity and quantum dynamics.  The grammatical layers built successively on top of this lower binding only serve to further influence entropy's relentless race towards heat death.

[to be continued]

Randall Reetz

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