Friday, 11 March 2011

Here Now: Brian Cox Religion

As indicated earlier, if I want to think religiously about the universe and my little place in it, I go to Brian Cox - who can easily use the word "beautiful" to describe what he sees and analyses.

What he said was time was demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics, that is the tendency for entropy to increase on anything - it goes from order to disorder. He also said that the universe and time will simply end when every last small star has stopped burning, every black hole evaporated, and all matter has gone, and all left in the expanded universe in trillions upon trillions of years will be photons near absolute zero temperature. It will be a maximum state of disorder, and that is it. There is no escape. So the descendents of humans might go and park near the smaller start that will burn for longest without exploding and collapsing, but that is it.

Now I am an amateur in every respect, but here is my comment. First, of course, the irregularity in the explosion of the big bang allowed stars and planets etc. to form, gravity to do its work. So entropy at formation was decreasing - or perhaps it already was decreased.

However, chemistry and biology are such that lower entropy, and this can surely be proved. In the programme in the desert Brian Cox had a mould of a castle and with some water made a sandcastle. In other words, some of that sand went from higher entropy of a sandhill to a lower entropy of a wet sandcastle thanks to the biology that made Brian Cox and thanks to others who made the mould and the plastic spade. The wind would take his castle back to a hill shape - higher entropy/ more disorder - but for a time biological processes had resulted in technologies that allowed some sand to achieve lower entropy and more order.

Then there is another problem. There is nothing to stop a reverse entropy event, except that it is very unlikely [See the comments - even though Cox said a reverse event could happen]. But then the universe will last trillions upon trillions of years. That is a lot of time for a very low probability event to happen. After all, it may have happened to kick off our big bang. So his scientific prediction of the end and when itself must be subject to the rare possibility - but plenty of time for it to happen - that upsets the linear motion of the universe to its end.

Plus he said nothing about dark energy, nor about astro-physics and the physics of the very small not exactly adding up these days, nor was there reference to any other dimension or potential universe. For example, what is the condition of a universe that is expanded, cold and lifeless? Is there anything that might puncture such a universe that is expanded and presumably also conked out of dark matter and dark energy? If there are other dimensions and other universes, one might puncture the other. Just a thought. Because, in the end, so much of this is a perspective that is just looking for a revision to another, better perspective on how the whole thing works.

Not that humans or their descendents will escape. But then we don't really know about consciousness. What I do know is that the billions of years before my time I did not notice, nor the billions will I notice. If the meness of me comes along again, in another experienced experience (and why on planet earth?), I that will be another I won't have noticed the I that is growing older by the day. When I conk out, that is the end already. This puts transience into a very short timescale. Each of us contributes to the new histories of those who we will never see.

By the way, this is why I have less concern than some about climate change. We have had dramatic climate change in the past, and will in the future. We are apparently making it accelerate, in one direction, and need to turn the thermostat down - but in my way of thinking, that we have a thermostat at all is remarkable, whether we can turn it up or down. But the planet will be consumed by that bright thing that rises and falls in the sky whatever we do now. And we will also be no more, whether by death or disaster or simply by environmental change, and occupants of earth may be many and often in its lifetime. We only rent the place.

So the first religious task, if not the only one, is to come to terms with transience, and to live your life sufficiently unattached that the pain of living can be reduced, and you get more from what is good, including just staring at the vastness of it all, and that any of it or us are here at all.


Carl T.F. Ross. said...

According to the Compact Oxford Dictionary, the definition of Entropy is "a quantity expressing how much of a system's thermal energy is unavailable for conversion to mechanical work"

Moreover, according to Wikipedia, "Entropy is a thermodynamic property that is a measure of the energy not available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines" Wikipedia adds, "The concept of entropy is defined by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of a closed system always increases or remains constant".

For example, if you have a tank full of fuel in your car, then the availability of that fuel to convert to mechanical work is high; or its unavailability to convert to mechanical work is low; thus, so too is its entropy. Moreover, when the tank becomes empty, its availability to convert to mechanical work is zero or its unavailability to convert to mechanical work is high and its entropy is also high, and a constant. Thus, the history of the motor fuel of your car, is for its entropy to increase with 'time'; until it reaches a maximum and then it remains a constant; until the closed loop is broken; it cannot decrease!

Carl T.F. Ross. 14-03-2011.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Right. Well that makes sense. So in your dead universe, all the energy is still there, it is just dispersed and useless - but oddly enough the universe must be as smooth as the one that started but where quick irregularity allowed it to form into useful things?

My own word verification (as I'm yet to sign in) is worksu.

Carl T.F. Ross. said...

According to Brian Cox, the stars in our Cosmos will eventually turn into black holes; which will vaporize into a sea of photons and the entropy will not rise for ever more; because the cosmos cannot get any more disordered. The temperature of the cosmos will descend to absolute zero and stay there for ever more. Now according to Wikipedia, a photon has no rest mass. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, "The energy and momentum of a photon depend only on its frequency (ν) or inversely, its wavelength (λ)". Thus, although, photons have energy, their entropy remains constant. So 'Pluralist' is correct, when he says, "all the energy is still there, it is just dispersed and useless".

Carl T.F. Ross. said...

Brian Cox's 'first' lecture was on the observable or normal part of our cosmos; but this only represents some 5% of our cosmos. What about dark energy and dark matter, in our cosmos; which are said to represent some 70% & 25% of our cosmos, respectively. What will be the fate of dark energy and dark matter; at the end of the lifespan of our cosmos? Stephen Hawking says, "that there are other universes". Presumably, our laws of physics will apply to them as well and they too will suffer the same fate as our universe?

Julius said...

I just saw last night the episode in which Brian Cox builds a sand castle to help explain the concept of Entropy.

I was looking around on the web for comments and such and I found this one, so I hope you don't mind posting this one comment here.

His assertion that the probability that nature would assemble a sand castle spontaneously is almost zero is contradicts one basic fact.

If you see Brian Cox as part of the universe and something that the cosmos created (that's right he, himself) and that thing (Brian) created that sand castle, it means that the sand castle wasn't that much of a freakishly event with such a little probability that it wouldn't ever happen in nature.

One thing is to argue if the wind would do it, but if you take the scientist's own view that everything was created out of the big bang (including himself) than that sand castle was indeed created by the cosmos.

And this ties to where did his intelligence come from and a bunch of other questions.

So all I'm saying here is that that episode exemplifies one of science's contradiction, unless Brian is not part of cosmos and he thinks he's god...

(Sorry for not being a Doctor in Astrophisics, I'm just a human being exercising my limited thought abilities...).