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Does Evolution Contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

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garrick92
54.  Mon Sep 29, 2003 7:11 pm Reply with quote

Basically (sorry for the cliche), the only process that contravenes the 2nd law of thermodynamics is evolution.

The 2nd law of thermodynamics is often said to refer only to temperature exchanges. But seeing as all energy exchanges are tending towards maximum entropy, isn't evolution "impossible"?

A system that gets more organised as time passes? Shome mishtake, shurely?

 
Flash
56.  Tue Sep 30, 2003 3:50 am Reply with quote

Quote:
It is surprising that mixing entropy and biology still fosters confusion. The relevant concepts from physics pertaining to the second law of thermodynamics are at least 100 years old. The confusion can be eradicated if we distinguish thermodynamic from logical entropy, and admit that Earth's biological system is open to organizing input from outside.


Try [url]www.panspermia.org/seconlaw.htm [/url]for a somewhat excitable canter through the arguments, with enough sources quoted to keep even John happy.

 
garrick92
60.  Tue Sep 30, 2003 4:19 pm Reply with quote

Oh.

This made me chuckle, anyway:

Quote:
One of the most profound and original treatments of entropy is that by the Nobel prize-winning chemist Ilya Prigogine. He begins by noticing that some strictly chemical processes create surprising patterns such as snowflakes, or exhibit surprising behavior such as oscillation between different states. In From Being To Becoming he says, in effect, that things sometimes do, under certain circumstances, organize themselves. He reasons that these processes may have produced life*:

"It seems that most biological mechanisms of action show that life involves far-from-equilibrium conditions beyond the stability of the threshold of the thermodynamic branch. It is therefore very tempting to suggest that the origin of life may be related to successive instabilities somewhat analogous to the successive bifurcations that have lead to a state of matter of increasing coherence."
Some find such passages obscure and tentative. One critic complains that work along the lines advocated by Prigogine fifteen years ago has borne little fruit subsequently. " 'I don't know of a single phenomenon he has explained,' says Pierre C. Hohenberg of Yale University"


Well, never mind. Console yourself with the Scientific Fact that it's profound and original, even though it explains nothing.

* Surely this has to win a special "Stating the Bleeding Obvious" award?

 
Flash
61.  Tue Sep 30, 2003 4:45 pm Reply with quote

All the best science lacks practical value, doesn't it? All the QI stuff, anyway.

I'm not qualified to comment on the content of the link I posted, and I guess that we at QI should be above soundbites, but nevertheless the soundbite summary seems to be:

1) the analogy between thermodynamics and biological processes isn't valid (ie the 2nd law is a statement specifically about thermodynamics, not a general observation about an inevitable tendency for things to acquire more mixed-upness), and

2) even if the 2nd law could be read in such a way, it wouldn't have consequence you propose because the earth's biology is not a closed system (the article mentions the input of solar energy, but you might also wonder about other possible inputs).

Of course, if the 2nd law of thermodynamics did have the consequence postulated that would just mean that it was wrong, because the outcome it predicts (nothing can ever get more complicated) is manifestly untrue. So we'd have to whip out Ockham's Razor and refine the law to the point where it was true - and it seems that that has already been done.

There's a resonance here with the way that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which makes a very specific point about quantum mechanics, is sometimes (mis)taken by intelligent people to be a general observation to the effect that the act of observation always and axiomatically distorts the outcome of an experiment. Which it isn't.


Last edited by Flash on Tue Sep 30, 2003 4:57 pm; edited 1 time in total

 
Flash
62.  Tue Sep 30, 2003 4:54 pm Reply with quote

PS - Garrick, I've also tried sending you a private message as a test - let us know if it works. It's lamentable that we need empirical evidence to besmirch the purity of our theoretical capbilities, but that's the 21st Century for you.

 
garrick92
63.  Tue Sep 30, 2003 8:27 pm Reply with quote

Flash wrote:

Of course, if the 2nd law of thermodynamics did have the consequence postulated that would just mean that it was wrong, because the outcome it predicts (nothing can ever get more complicated) is manifestly untrue. So we'd have to whip out Ockham's Razor and refine the law to the point where it was true - and it seems that that has already been done.


I've never quite trusted Ockham's Razor, and http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/18.30.html#subj6 went some way towards assuring me that it is, in at least some instances, actually Ockham's Wooden Spoon.

Quote:
Dr Webb's research has found that when put into practice Occam's razor doesn't work. "The results are clear cut: Occam's razor is worse than blunt, it is truly disposable," he said.


Survival of the fittest. What do we mean by fittest? It survives. Survivors survive. What do we mean by "filling an evolutionary niche"? Well, something does something that something else doesn't. You can only see filled niches, because a niche that isn't filled isn't a niche. The whole "evolution" argument paints itself into a corner and then stops talking.

You get trapped inside the system and can't find any way out, because everything ends up as truisms. Like the way "They" fixed the speed of light in 1972, after a period in which it seemed to be declining(!), by establishing "c" in terms of metric distance and then defining the metre in terms of the speed of light. The speed of light could be going up and down like a whore's drawers and we'd never know.

And I do seem to see a distinct similarity to the 2nd law in the Darwinian rule that information cannot flow into the phenotype. That is very obviously not true, but I think mainstream evolutionary thought has yet to admit it. He said, sticking his neck out.

But that's not to say that evolution breaks 2LT (as I shall refer to it from hereon). Rather, it seems to thwart it. The chemical processes that keep us alive "obey" 2LT, and the ones that kill us "obey" 2LT. The same processes allow us to "bud off" into "mini-me"s. By using 2LT (taking energy from spontaenous "downhill" reactions and transferring it to force a non-spontaneous process to go "uphill").

But there still seems to be a cut-off point above which 2LT doesn't work. It applies to atomic interactions, yes. It applies to chemical reactions, yes. It applies to living creatures, yes. It applies to evolution ... stop right there!

Then again, perhaps the whole thing is cobblers, and people who say "evolution breaks 2LT"* been misled by those dopey "order-into-disorder" explanations of entropy. If it only applies to energy dispersing, then it really doesn't affect evolution at all. But of course, it still applies at the chemical level. And the processes of evolution are chemical. But (chemical) information can't flow into the phenotype, can it? No, it jolly well can't -- that would mean that certain chemical processes aren't (in terms of energy) tending to disperse. Rather they're getting together, staying put, and then reproducing themselves. Which they don't. Or rather do. Oh, I give up. Look at the time, I'm probably hallucinating all this anyway.

Interestingly enough, you mention the Uncertainty Principle: in the Physical Review (April, 1931), letters from Einstein, R.C. Tolman, and Boris Podolsky appeared, that indicated that this "micro-macro" distinction can not be maintained. Einstein applied the UP not only to atomic affairs, but to occurrences like the opening and shutting of a shutter on a camera.

I have no idea what to make of all this, but it is ... well, I think you know what I was going to say, so I shan't. And so to bed. Look forwards to your thoughts (salutation, not direction).

* I should perhaps make clear that as a fortean I neither believe nor disbelieve, but have acceptances of varying degree and ignorance that is immeasurable.

 
Flash
64.  Wed Oct 01, 2003 3:39 am Reply with quote

I can't quite make out what Dr Webb's objection to Bill Ockham's tonsorial equipment is, exept that he seems to say that it's too rigorous for his purposes and he'd rather draw some conclusions which are wrong than risk missing some which are only possibly right. We could e-mail him to check, though the post is 8 years old and he was probably sacked from the School of Computing and Mathematics at Deakin long ago for challenging orthodoxy. And serve him right.

I don't know that I can add much in respect of the rest of Garrick's post other than to say that I suppose any Principle can be applied by analogy to anything at all - the problems arise when the analogy proves flawed and this leads people to conclude that the Principle must be wrong - though I don't suppose that this is what Einstein was doing.

 
garrick92
65.  Wed Oct 01, 2003 6:09 pm Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
I can't quite make out what Dr Webb's objection to Bill Ockham's tonsorial equipment is, exept that he seems to say that it's too rigorous for his purposes and he'd rather draw some conclusions which are wrong than risk missing some which are only possibly right. We could e-mail him to check, though the post is 8 years old and he was probably sacked from the School of Computing and Mathematics at Deakin long ago for challenging orthodoxy. And serve him right.


Oooh, you rotter! ;) Try him: webb@deakin.edu.au

(He was still there in 1999, and seemingly no worse for his heresy: see http://www3.cm.deakin.edu.au/pricai/frames/conference-committee.html)

Quote:
I don't know that I can add much in respect of the rest of Garrick's post other than to say that I suppose any Principle can be applied by analogy to anything at all - the problems arise when the analogy proves flawed and this leads people to conclude that the Principle must be wrong - though I don't suppose that this is what Einstein was doing.


Harrumph. "By analogy", indeed!

 
Flash
67.  Thu Oct 02, 2003 3:22 am Reply with quote

Since we have already acknowledged the authority of Stanley Holloway over on the history thread we should maybe consider the words of Flanders & Swnn on this one:

Quote:
The Second Law of Thermodymamics:

Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body

Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
You can try it if you like but you far better notter
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler
'Cos the hotter body's heat will pass to the cooler

Oh, you can't pass heat from the cooler to the hotter
You can try it if you like but you'll only look a fooler
'Cos the cold in the cooler will get hotter as a ruler
That's a physical Law!

Heat is work and work's a curse
And all the heat in the Universe
Is gonna cooool down 'cos it can't increase
Then there'll be no more work and there'll be perfect peace

That's entropy, man!

 
Jenny
68.  Thu Oct 02, 2003 8:38 am Reply with quote

I was going to complain about the fact that Flash beat me to the one and only thing I know that I know about thermodynamics (the works of Flanders and Swann, which gives you a clue about the depth of my scientific education). However, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-misconceptions.html#thermo assures me that Flanders and Swann didn't quite tell the whole story.

Quote:


"Evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics."

This shows more a misconception about thermodynamics than about evolution. The second law of thermodynamics says, "No process is possible in which the sole result is the transfer of energy from a cooler to a hotter body." [Atkins, 1984, The Second Law, pg. 25] Now you may be scratching your head wondering what this has to do with evolution. The confusion arises when the 2nd law is phrased in another equivalent way, "The entropy of a closed system cannot decrease." Entropy is an indication of unusable energy and often (but not always!) corresponds to intuitive notions of disorder or randomness. Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder.

However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can't have more usable energy still? Creationists sometimes try to get around this by claiming that the information carried by living things lets them create order. However, not only is life irrelevant to the 2nd law, but order from disorder is common in nonliving systems, too. Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order. In any nontrivial system with lots of energy flowing through it, you are almost certain to find order arising somewhere in the system. If order from disorder is supposed to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, why is it ubiquitous in nature?

The thermodynamics argument against evolution displays a misconception about evolution as well as about thermodynamics, since a clear understanding of how evolution works should reveal major flaws in the argument. Evolution says that organisms reproduce with only small changes between generations (after their own kind, so to speak). For example, animals might have appendages which are longer or shorter, thicker or flatter, lighter or darker than their parents. Occasionally, a change might be on the order of having four or six fingers instead of five. Once the differences appear, the theory of evolution calls for differential reproductive success. For example, maybe the animals with longer appendages survive to have more offspring than short-appendaged ones. All of these processes can be observed today. They obviously don't violate any physical laws.


So the upshot seems to be not that heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter (you can try it if you like but you far better notter...) but that if it does it will be part of some other process. I think.

Another part of the TalkOrigins website (an excellent resource) says:

Quote:

Creationism would replace mathematics with metaphors. Metaphors may or may not serve to illustrate a fact, but they are not the fact itself. One thing is certain: metaphors are completely useless when it comes to the thermodynamics of calculating the efficiency of a heat engine, or the entropy change of free expansion of a gas, or the power required to operate a compressor. This can only be done with mathematics, not metaphors. Creationists have created a "voodoo" thermodynamics based solely on metaphors. This in order to convince those not familiar with real thermodynamics that their sectarian religious views have scientific validity.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/thermo/creationism.html

If you want a mathematical approach, try this link, and Good Luck To You, because I boggle when it starts getting into formulae.

 
kieran
74.  Thu Oct 02, 2003 11:51 am Reply with quote

If you've always wanted to have a go at being Maxwell's demon, now you can, at the following URL.
http://ajs.net/maxwell.htm
Those of you who struggle to see how it would lead to a build up of entropy in the demon should try this for a little while, and see if you can still claim that your entropy is unchanged.

 
Flash
77.  Thu Oct 02, 2003 6:42 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Creationism would replace mathematics with metaphors. Metaphors may or may not serve to illustrate a fact, but they are not the fact itself.

Metphor = Analogy. QED

 
JumpingJack
979.  Fri Oct 31, 2003 2:36 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
Scientists have long been baffled by the existence of spontaneous order in the universe. The laws of thermodynamics seem to dictate the opposite, that nature should inexorably degenerate toward a state of greater disorder, greater entropy. Yet all around us we see magnificent structures galaxies, cells, ecosystems, human beings that have somehow managed to assemble themselves. This enigma bedevils all of science today.
STEVEN STROGATZ Sync (Allen Lane, 2003)

 
Jenny
980.  Fri Oct 31, 2003 2:44 pm Reply with quote

I'll refer Mr Strogatz to my post 68

 
JumpingJack
982.  Fri Oct 31, 2003 2:52 pm Reply with quote

Fair enough. Maybe he's wrong, I know nothing about the guy (he's a 'leading researcher in chaos-and-complexity theory' the book blurb says).

To me, though, the idea of persistent order in the universe (dynamic stasis, I call it) is one of the oddest of all odd things. Randomness (pi, primes and so on) is a very rare thing in the universe. I liked the way he encapsulated this.

 

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