Professor Brian Cox, a theoretical physicist from the United Kingdom is an interesting combination of Scientist and Entertainer. The BBC broadcasted an engaging show in which Cox explains quantum theory to an audience of celebrities during a “Night with the Stars.”
He makes a very strong case for physics in this about one-hour-long demonstration…
This very convincing presentation just leaves out the question of the ‘Why’ and I will explore this now a bit more.
Let me introduce first a very basic law in physics that you might have heard about, and that you have certainly experienced, and that is the law of the warm beer.
OK, it might not be officially called by that name, but this is how we experience it. If you are not a beer drinker you might refer to this law as the “law of the melting ice cream.” If we try to be more official we would call it the law of increasing entropy.
If you look up entropy in the dictionary you will find several definitions but for our purpose, it is enough to say that entropy is a measurement of randomness. If something is very orderly and highly structured its entropy is low but if we have a chaos of totally randomly distributed particles and ‘things’ we call this high entropy.
This physical law calling for an ever-increasing entropy now means that entropy in a closed system never decreases but always increases, meaning that things are getting more and more random or chaotic.
Looking for confirmation for this law, by observing beer and ice cream, we notice the law in action: we have a room temperature of maybe 90 degrees and ice cream or beer of much lower temperature when they are first brought into the room. There is order and there is structure – warm here – cold there. Now we exit the room and leave beer and ice cream alone. When we come back after a while we find that now beer, ice cream, and room have the same temperature. Order and structure were dissolved and thus entropy increased.
We can observe this for different subjects in very different time frames. While with our ice cream and beer example, we have to wait a few hours to notice the increase in entropy, we have to deal with much longer time frames when looking at examples like the pyramids. They started out as perfect structures but over the last few millennia, they started to decay taking on, more and more, the characteristic of the surrounding desert, thus reducing order and increasing entropy.
There is one very interesting conclusion we can draw, based on the fact that we are still around – the fact that the universe has not dissolved into total chaos, and randomity is considered to prove that the universe has existed for only a limited time. Had it existed for a very long time, like for example eternity, there would have been enough time for all matter to reach complete random distribution, evenly distributed matter throughout the universe with an equal temperature everywhere – no more structure, and thus no more you and me.
That is if there is only physics. But, remember, that there have been instances in the past where a new quality entered the picture that changed the whole view of the world – like the discovery of nuclear fusion fueling the sun instead of coal (see: Science is broken – somewhat).
Could it be that there might be something besides physics that would then also change the view of the world? First, we have to look to see if there is any indication that the idea of ever-increasing entropy might not describe the complete truth. Sure, the abandoned amusement park will decay and eventually disappear, given enough time. And this big old tree trunk in the forest, lying on the ground, will eventually turn into just another bit of the soil it was resting on after being struck by lightning. Increasing entropy is definitely at work.
But the questions looking for answers are, how did the amusement park get there in the first place and how is it possible for this big old tree to be there when it was struck by lightning?
And have you ever seen a baby being born and growing into an adult? That all seems to violate the basic laws of ever-increasing entropy. So, we have a few obvious observations which do not fit the currently accepted theory of the workings of the universe. Yes, deep in the guts of the leading edge of theoretical physics there exist ideas on how this could still work even looking at only physics. But these attempts remind me of another time when the established view of the universe was challenged by free minds that did not want to simply ignore observations that did not quite fit. That was the time just before Galileo Galilei. Before his heretic postulated that the sun and not the earth was the center of the universe, astronomers had observed and recorded the path of the heavenly bodies and tried to make sense of them. Some of the lights in the sky were following rather simple paths like circular arcs (we know now that those were other stars), but others follow rather strange paths which involve even sometimes reversed their direction (today we know those objects in the sky were other planets of our solar system).
The math to describe those paths turned out to be very complicated. When the model was corrected to the solar-centric (sun in the center) model we use today, the math became much simpler.
With the leading edge of today’s theoretical physics, we might be facing a similar dilemma. The math is very complicated, only understood by very few with many years of exposure to the most esoteric branches of science. Maybe we are in need of a new Galileo Galilei to bring some new ideas to make science understandable to many again.
Let us, for the moment, adopt the premise that the physical laws are not the only laws there are, that there is another quality governing the universe together with physics. We don’t have to look very far to find this idea manifested – it is the Eastern view of the two competing and complementing qualities of Yin and Yang.
When I first studied this idea, I was introduced to Yin and Yang as the Expanding and the Contracting. An apple, for example with its solid form, is much more yang than lettuce with its out-reaching and expanding features. Let us go back to the ever-increasing entropy of physics. Doesn’t this phenomenon have an expanding, yin, quality? Especially if compared with the phenomenon of a growing tree for which substances from all over have to be collected and compressed and combined into a solid structure like a trunk. If entropy is yin, then the constructing phenomenon of growing is certainly yang.
If the yin-yang principle has any validity – and from many observable phenomena it appears so – and if physics is the yin quality of the universe, then there must be this other quality – yang – around here somewhere.
I am very strongly tempted to choose ‘life force‘ as that yang-quality making up the universe. While the increasing entropy of physics postulated the heat-death of the universe, we observe everywhere the constructive quality of life.
Currently, this life force is not considered part of physics, instead, it is considered to be separate and opposite and called metaphysics; but just as the once separate particle and wave nature of phenomena was combined into the current quantum nature of the world, so can we assume that at one point, physics will embrace life-force and we will have a better picture of the world – one that describes it more completely.