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Author Topic: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?  (Read 2632 times)

Offline briligg

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We are all waiting to see if there is life on other planets, searching for it with increasing fervour as our ability to do so balloons. Piecemeal indications seem to show that the preconditions for life occur far more often than we suspected or dared hope even a decade ago. We are also learning that life can survive in circumstances far more hostile than we believed in the recent past. Many have reflected on the sea-change in human attitude that would follow the discovery of any life elsewhere in the universe, be it only lowly micro-organisms.

The public dialogue never seems to explore what this would imply about the universe itself. If we are not the only instance of life anywhere, ever, the idea of life being a stupendous fluke would be dealt a huge blow. So what is the alternative to that? Wouldn't that necessarily imply that the universe tends to spawn life where conditions permit? And does that not then also imply that the universe has a tendency towards organization, not just in isolated pockets, but as part of its very fabric? That however fundamental entropy is, all the forces and properties and particles of the universe add up to the creation of extraordinary organization as well, that could potentially be of similar power?

However speculative that is, the scope of its implications is so big i think it deserves a big place in our collective consciousness. Especially since it is increasingly plausible. Even more especially since we are the most elaborate example known of that process. Sure, lots of other organisms are just as complicated and specialized as we are, but we are the only one single-mindedly programmed to go out and create more organization, everywhere. We hate entropy. If we are not ourselves destroyed by chaos we can't control, we will attack chaos on every front possible. Currently we kind of hate ourselves for the destruction we have caused in our new capacity as rulers of the Earth. The chaos we have caused, the entropy we have increased. Once we make it through this phase, we'll do everything possible to put a stop to that nonsense. That may seem inconsequential, if we imagine ourselves in 100 years. But what if we imagine ourselves in 10,000 years? A million years?

Perhaps we will soon discover the first tentative signs of life elsewhere in our galaxy. If we don't, the case here is not disproved. What would disprove it is no life elsewhere, and our own destruction. I too am concerned that this is possible, but i think the window for such a possibility will close within a thousand years. If we aren't destroyed, and we don't find life elsewhere, we will set about creating it where ever possible, and giving it the power to spread as quickly as possible. Despite the astronomical barriers, i'd say an intelligent species - one that we have made, that is better adapted, if we ourselves are insufficient - will live on another planet thanks to human effort within 200 years. In another solar system. Soon after, many other solar systems will be in the same state. At that point, there is no known cataclysm, even on intergalactic scales, that could wipe us out. Then you have only to read Isaac Asimov's The Last Question, or hear David Deutsch talk about our place in the cosmos to get another perspective on what i'm talking about. We'd mount all out war on entropy. We might do a pretty good job of it.

Never mind which side would eventually win such a battle. Is not the implication still that the universe, due to its inherent properties, not only produces life, but produces intelligence? Nothing succeeds like intelligence, whether it be the ability to think abstractly, or the ability to accurately calculate in a fraction of a second the actions necessary to capture prey, or escape from a predator, or the observational tools to locate food. Separating the emergence of intelligence from the emergence of life, and separating the emergence of life from the fundamental operations of the universe, is a false division. In broad terms, it is why we argue about god. Mock the simplistic nature of god concepts if you will, but some concepts are not so simplistic, and anyhow, perhaps the point is that even in the childhood of our species, just now drawing to a close, we recognized and tried to express the fundamental truth that we are the culmination, in our astronomical neighbourhood, of the universe's act of creation. That our purpose is to propagate that creative force to the best of our ability. That this isn't random, it is intentional, for lack of a better word. Call it a god principle, if you will.



 

Offline briligg

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #1 on: 04/09/2012 00:10:13 »
It always confounds me when i find something fascinating and apparently nobody else does. Is it too controversial? Is it too broad? Do people shy away from anything that says 'god', even if the concept is being cited only to better visualise a self-organizing mechanism inherent to our universe?
What if we find life in a dozen different places in the next 50 years, something that no longer seems so unlikely? Imagine a different redrafting of fundamental physics if you will, but it still seems to be that it would have to start struggling with how it is that extremely, excruciatingly highly organized systems keep popping up, and then go about spreading as much as possible.

In an effort to make this more 'commentable', i'm going to start a new thread like that last paragraph. Hopefully taking that angle makes it a worthy conversation. Salud.
« Last Edit: 04/09/2012 00:12:58 by briligg »
 

Offline damocles

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #2 on: 04/09/2012 00:38:17 »
Quote
What if we find life in a dozen different places in the next 50 years, something that no longer seems so unlikely? Imagine a different redrafting of fundamental physics if you will, but it still seems to be that it would have to start struggling with how it is that extremely, excruciatingly highly organized systems keep popping up, and then go about spreading as much as possible.

There is a lot of wishful thinking in this "life elsewhere" idea, and almost no evidence either way. You ask "what if we find life ... ?". I would ask "what if we do not?"

In the former case, I would enter a debate like this. I would certainly find it fascinating. In the latter case, I would maintain a healthy scientific scepticism, and find such a debate rather pointless.
 

Offline damocles

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #3 on: 06/09/2012 23:10:46 »
I will make just this one more contribution to this thread before a confirmed discovery of life elsewhere in the universe:

Life on Earth does not contradict the second law of thermodynamics, and living things are net producers of extra entropy. Living things often reduce the disorder, and hence the entropy, in their immediate neighbourhood in order to make their life easier. But they can only do so by producing a larger amount of extra disorder/entropy in their more distant environment. We cannot tidy our houses without throwing out a whole lot of extra garbage (That is intended as a metaphor, not literally).

The scientist whose name is most connected with the study of systems (like life) that appear to create order and organization was Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine. He wrote several books that attempted to present some of his ground-breaking theoretical thermodynamics at a lay-accessible popular science level: most notably a 1984 book: "Order out of Chaos". I am not convinced that the work is very accessible, but it should make an interesting and very worthwhile read if you persevere.
 

Offline briligg

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #4 on: 06/10/2012 03:49:23 »
Damocles, i will most certainly look for that book. I may not get to it for a couple of years, as i have mentally tiring things on my plate, but it is a matter of sufficient passion for me to pursue.

But i'll still suggest that reducing net entropy may well be possible for an intelligence that manages to organize on a scale that is sufficiently fine. I naturally loved this phys.org post on an experiment seeming to validate the possibility of Maxwell's demon.
« Last Edit: 06/10/2012 03:51:08 by briligg »
 

Offline damocles

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #5 on: 06/10/2012 04:42:43 »
Damocles, i will most certainly look for that book. I may not get to it for a couple of years, as i have mentally tiring things on my plate, but it is a matter of sufficient passion for me to pursue.

But i'll still suggest that reducing net entropy may well be possible for an intelligence that manages to organize on a scale that is sufficiently fine. I naturally loved this phys.org post on an experiment seeming to validate the possibility of Maxwell's demon.

Briligg, the crucial thing in the link you produce is that obtaining the information costs the demon at least as much energy/entropy as the second law would require. This particular application is a Szilard demon rather than a Maxwell demon per se, and within the article it is noted that this work provides "validation of the generalized Jarzynski equality".

As usual the chemists are significantly ahead of the physicists on this one ;D, and I think you will find this link even more interesting and informative:
http://www.catenane.net/home/mdhowitworks.pdf
 

Offline butchmurray

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #6 on: 07/10/2012 03:18:23 »
On way to look at it is:
Once “intelligent” life destroys itself or is destroyed by other means, entropy will be back on course at that particular point in time and space where that life existed.
 

Offline briligg

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #7 on: 09/10/2012 17:10:11 »
damocles - oooooo. That clears some things up. It was brash of me to involve entropy in this.
I need to find a way to frame my philosophical inclinations in scientifically sound terms. I'll probably take another stab at some point.

butch, once intelligence expands beyond a certain point, nothing can destroy it, except possibly another intelligence. The likelihood of natural occurrences destroying an intelligence spread across several star systems or further approaches nil.
 

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Re: Life: Does it show that Entropy has a challenger?
« Reply #7 on: 09/10/2012 17:10:11 »

 

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