15 April 2005

Evolution and chaos

My view of life on Earth is that it is an accumulation of order made possible by the tremendous influx of energy from the sun. What do I mean by order? I'll get to that in a minute.

Poormattie's view is that life is a random development in the rampant chaos that is the universe: an eddy in a river, or bubbles on a stormy sea.

As always it seems to me that poormattie's opinion is more correct. But the two views aren't as opposing as they seem. In part, the distinction has to do with how one defines chaos and order.

In statistical thermodynamics, entropy is a function of the amount of variation that could happen on a microscopic level without really affecting the macroscopic properties of things. To my mind, entropy is chaos; lack of entropy is order. For example, consider steam and ice. Steam is made up of water molecules careening through space at high speeds and colliding into each other. An individual water molecule in steam could basically go off in any direction it wanted, and the difference would be unnoticeable from a macroscopic perspective. But the individual water molecules in ice are locked into position within a crystal. No variation is possible. Steam has greater entropy than ice.

For a very different and probably completely inappropriate example, Utopian fashion is extremely regular. There can be no deviation from the standard on an individual level without changing that society-wide uniformity. So Utopia has low fashion entropy. It is a highly ordered society.

This definition ignores higher-level order. Entropy is only concerned with the variation allowed individuals at the smallest observeable level. So although life certainly appears chaotic from the perspective of poormattie just looking around at the state of the world, it's hard to say whether the presence of life indicates a state of higher or lower entropy.

1 comment:

Mattie said...

You've got my mind whirling again. I'd love to sit and discuss this post with you!

There's almost no way I can make a constructive response in a blog comment, though, so I'll give up.

This is quite interesting to ponder.