Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Is the universe winding down, as the 2nd law of thermodynamics of classical Newtonian physics has it?

Or is it "winding up", as one might conclude by looking at the record of the gradual diversification and complexification over time of the evolutionary record?

Or are both processes somehow always at work simultaneously?

From an interview with chemist Ilya Prigogine:

OMNI

Aren't there aspects of your theory that defy the laws of thermodynamics?

Prigogine

No. On the contrary, they show only that the meaning of the laws near equilibrium and far from equilibrium are different. Near equilibrium you always go to the most banal, the most uniform state. The general idea of classical physics is, we progress toward the running down of the universe. This may be true to some extent for the universe as a whole. But at the moment it's a very difficult question because we don't know the relation between entropy and gravitation.

What we see here on Earth is just the opposite of entropy. Instead of going to heat death, we see successive diversification. And so, in spite of the fact that the second law is probably satisfied, we are not going toward equilibrium, because this stream of energy comes to us finally from the stars, the galaxy, and so on. It ultimately originated in the big bang or whatever -- the original presence in the universe.

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