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Author Topic: Does nature always optimize?  (Read 3764 times)

Offline Lamprey5

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Does nature always optimize?
« on: 01/02/2011 18:38:04 »
In nature, all systems evolve according the fundamental laws of physics (such as thermodynamics). Do the conditions after a period of time optimize from the perspective of these laws?
For example, since according to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, entropy is forever increasing. Is an increase in the entropy of a system considered to be more 'optimal' or 'preferred' by nature? or is it a characteristic, rather than a motive?

Another example that might seem more applicable is the surface tension of water molecules of a droplet of water: this tension works to minimize the surface area of the droplet. Is this configuration more preferred than a cubic shape? or is it just a matter of the physical likelihood (within the effective environment) of the droplet forming one shape (a sphere) over another (all other possible shapes)?

To me, it seems like nature prefers disorder and high entropy, and to remain elusive (such as with beam-splitter experiments: photons deciding which path to take depending on how it's being measured or observed). But it also seems to prefer low entropy configurations such as the water droplet (above) and life on earth: we are a part of nature, and we sustain our low-entropy configuration (I realize that overall, entropy still increases as life continues to survive).



 

Offline CliffordK

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #1 on: 01/02/2011 23:38:05 »
You have both the Physical Earth and the Biologic Earth, both similar, and different ways at looking at nature.

In the Physical Earth, you will find things like water that will run downhill.  However, you have a cycle of evaporation, rising in the atmosphere, condensation in the upper atmosphere, and raining which takes it back up to the top of the hill.  Likewise, the oceans are extremely dynamic with waves, tides, and etc.  I suppose it is all moving towards an energy minimum, but with a constant gain of energy from the sun, and loss of energy through kinetic movement, physical state changes, chemical state changes, and EM radiation.

Methane shouldn't be able to exist anywhere that there is also the presence of oxygen.  Yet, it has been found on moons in our solar system, as well as been observed in other stellar systems.

In your biologic system, you will also have optimizations, but more of random changes which may be either beneficial, or detrimental, or possibly neither.  Perhaps there would be a cascade of mutations, some beneficial, some not, all leading to an end-point which fills a niche. 

For example, would a bird loosing the ability to fly be detrimental?  If flying wasn't necessary, then the bird could gain weight differently, and many flightless birds have found a successful niche.  In fact, a flying penguin might not survive in the arctic. 
 

Offline Lamprey5

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #2 on: 02/02/2011 01:08:37 »
It seems as if nature does whatever is necesary to attain not the most probable configuration, nor the least, but somewhere in between. E.g. If a bird can survive equally well without flying, nature would probably select whichever means (flying or not) requiring the least energy from the environment. However the most probable configuration is for the bird to die and to decompose, releasing it's low entropy as heat, correct?
The least probable configuration would be... I'm not sure what.
Nature seems to work its economy in between most and least probable arrangements, on earth anyway. Does thus sound correct?
 

Offline CliffordK

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #3 on: 02/02/2011 03:44:54 »
While a lot of people talk about eminent mass extensions, a lot of things indicate that the species diversity has been increasing over the last several million years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity


So much for the idea of the tendency to have species dying off...  and decreasing entropy.
 

Offline Lamprey5

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #4 on: 02/02/2011 15:47:59 »
Biodiversity certainly could have been increasing over the last several million years. Perhaps this is because once living systems evolve for such a long period by natural selection, the probability of any particular species or genus to die off and become extinct decreases. The species and genera are more 'experienced' on how to propagate themselves in the struggle for existence when nature tends towards high entropy. So in a sense, natural selection 'optimizes' the ability of favorable genes to pass on, making it more likely for the organisms with these favored genes to propagate and to resist extinction.
Take humans for example. We are the results of a long period of evolution by natural selection. Our genes are 'experienced' with how to survive, maintaining low entropy.
The successful genera would, over evolutionary time, form new species through geographical isolation, etc. This process would continue to increase overall biodiversity, and therefore decrease the entropy of life on earth (though it is increased by release of heat).
Does this sound accurate?
 

Offline grizelda

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #5 on: 05/02/2011 08:57:16 »
My 2 cents is that the pattern for life was established millions of years ago (probably in competition with other systems) and the current high biodiversity is simply evidence of the success of this system. Working backward with decreasing entropy shows that entropy must have (inexplicably) started at zero in the beginning.
 

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Does nature always optimize?
« Reply #5 on: 05/02/2011 08:57:16 »

 

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