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Re: 2nd Law of Thermodynamics



I agree with you that it takes more energy to keep the books in a library on
shelves in a particular teleological order (eg. alphabetically by author or
title, or by subject) but in a physical sense, there is no difference between
a catalogued library and books randomly on shelves.  The amount of energy
available to do work is determined by the amount of energy available to do
work which in the case of books on shelves depends on the amount of mass on
each shelf and the height of the shelves.  

The problem with the creationist's view of the 2nd Law is the same as with
your view of the thermodynamics of libraries.  They see the maintenance of
informational order as the obverse of entropic disorder.  While it is true
that thermodynamics is ROUGHLY the inverse of information theory, more
detailed studies show that there is gap between the two based on the
distinction between physical and symbolic structures.  You can cram lots of
info into a mere "yes or no" answer depending on what the question is that
you are answering.  As such, the PHYSICAL thermodynamic properties do not
really provide a limit to the information that can be conveyed.  It only
limits the complexity of signal by which the answer can be communicated.  If
the information/entropy mismatch is bad enough you will not be able to answer
the question at all.  

If we keep making the mistake of making too strong an analogy between
information and entropy we play into the creationist's hand by justifying
their claim that there must be an "information processor" to communicate
genetic info from one generation to the next. (This is the equivalent to a
library staff to keep the shelves in order.)  Actually, all that living
systems need is a system by which to convert physio/chemical energy into
heat.  The system does not conserve information per se but filters the energy
through the organism in such a manner that certain structures are kept in a
relatitvely constant state. (In Vietnam, the US Armed Forces had inflatable
MUST hospitals which were like this.  As long as the air was forced through
the inflating chamber with the right amount of pressure and volume, the
structure of the wards, hallways, doors, windows, and other structures were
maintained.  It the flow stopped, you had a deflated Macy's Parade Float with
no structure.)If all of the right structures are so supported, the organism
survives and reproduces.  

The illusion of "information" in genes is caused by our anthropomorphic
projection of "meaning" into what is essentially a spontaneous,
serendipitous, and unconscious program.  Cells do not make enzymes because
they know what they are for.  They respond to a stimulus by a chemical
reaction which seemd to be of benefit to their forbears.  In some cases the
response elaborated by the stimulus may not be helpful but the organism does
it anyway because of its genetic heritage.  (I am a physician and a large
part of human disease falls into this category.)  Adaptation is never perfect
and as Steve Gould has shown in some of his essays (eg, The Panda's Thumb)
the evolutionary solutions may be makeshift, suboptimal, "Rube Goldberg" type
gimmicks which a human engineer might easily improve upon.  Then again, some
of the solutions are "ingenious" and one may marvel at the deep "saavy" of
natural laws they demonstrate.  Actually there is no "saavy", just the
reproductive reinforcement of an essentially useful physiological structure.

By the By, George, I was disappointed by your intitial comment several
postings ago about how "even god (sic) could not reverse the 2nd Law."  If
that is the case, then the universe as we see it (especially the parts that
point to the Big Bang) is thermodynamically impossible.  If the 2nd Law can
never be violated, how did the universe get here in the first place?  If the
universe were infinitely old and a closed system, it would have run down long
ago.  I think we must accept that there had to be a frank discontinuity at
some point (ie., a singularity) with regard to natural physical laws in which
2LT was reversed for at least a while.  Either that or some "outside source"
of energy must have "pumped up" the universe's free energy gradient.  Poor
old God may still have a place in the scheme of things as the arbiter of
entropy.

Art