Could intention reverse the second law of thermodynamics?

This may be a crazy idea, but it has occurred to me that human intention might have the power to reverse the second law of thermodynamics.

The second law of thermodynamics states, roughly speaking, that entropy (often thought of as the amount of disorder in a system) always tends to increase. It is one of the most fundamental laws in physics, and is generally considered to be inviolable.

But there are various reasons to think it might be less fundamental than is generally supposed. Entropy only increases over time because the Big Bang corresponds to a low-entropy state. Essentially this means that there are far less configurations of the universe that correspond to “Big Bang” conditions than to the conditions we find today. But this is only true to the extent that we have found a more precise way to describe “Big Bang” conditions than present-day conditions. By defining future states that we consider desirable, we are effectively defining a low-entropy state. If entropy increases only because we are moving away from the Big Bang, and because the Big Bang is the low-entropy state we have so far defined, then by deciding to aim for alternative, desirable, low-entropy future states, we may indeed be able to reverse the second law.

I have no idea whether this line of argument is either original or can be developed in a remotely robust way, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway…

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About Peter Wicks

International consultant. I bring clarity to complex and confusing situations and identify the most promising solutions.
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3 Responses to Could intention reverse the second law of thermodynamics?

  1. Burt says:

    Peter,

    YES – I totally agree with your premise.

    Peace,

    Burt

    • Peter Wicks says:

      Mark,

      Many thanks for your comment. I’ve checked out your blog and very much like and agree with the following from your “about” page: “Technology should serve human ends, not become the end of humanity.”

      Regarding my post about the second law, it’s certainly the case that my thinking has evolved since I wrote it. According to my current thinking, the second law is essentially an expression of the fact that the universe is continuously evolving away from its initial “Big Bang” state, along with the fact that there are many more ways to be close to that state than to be far from it (just as, conversely, there are many more ways for a system to be close to thermodynamic equilibrium than to be far from it).

      Obviously, returning to Big Bang conditions is not what we want, even if it were achievable. But the same logic that leads to the second law also underlies why it can be so difficult to achieve significant goals: namely that there are so many more ways to fail than to succeed. Looked at from this perspective, intentional activity seems to be essentially an attempt to “beat the odds” by steering the relevant system(s) to the (relatively unlikely) “success state” rather than one of the failure states.

      Again according to my current thinking, the reason why the second law appears so immutable is human intelligence is currently way too weak to avoid (even if we wanted to) allowing the universe to evolve away from Big Bang conditions. For the moment we haven’t even managed to exploit a sufficient fraction of the entropy gap between incoming sunlight and outgoing radiation to avoid increasing overall entropy on earth, as we convert fossil fuels to carbon dioxide and water, in the process disrupting the climatic stability that allowed human civilisation to develop in the first place. But we are getting there, albeit perhaps too slowly to save ourselves from disaster.

      However, if we do manage to survive this 21st century bottleneck, expanding human (including non-biological) intelligence seems likely to disrupt not only the climate (which hopefully we will have brought under control) but also our notions of entropy, and thus the second law.

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