Time and Entropy


Time, You Old Gypsy Man
 Will you not stay, 
 Put up your caravan 
 Just for one day? 
 All things I’ll give you 
 Will you be my guest, 
 Bells for your jennet 
 Of silver the best….       (Ralph Hodgson)

         No matter how beautifully we plead, Time will not stop for the same reason that even after  lots of dusting and arranging books on the shelf, things get messy again;  that a few shuffles mix up a well-ordered deck of cards; that the sugar cube dumped in the hot coffee can’t be retrieved as a cube any more.

        All these happen for the same reason: The Second Law of Thermodynamics (SLT): Natural processes tend to cause more chaos, not reduce it. Nature’s spontaneous behavior invariably diminishes organization and increases chaos.

     Physicists measure disorder in terms of entropy. Natural occurrences add to the total entropy of a system. The word total is crucial: in one portion of a system there may be decrease in entropy, provided that in another part there is significant increase to compensate.

     The term entropy was introduced hundred and fifty years ago (1865) by Rudolf Clausius (born: January 2, 1822) in the context of studying the efficiency of engines.

        Producing order out of disorder is a human trait, not Nature’s except in organic processes.  Life calls decrease in entropy: It is huge leap in organization when simpler molecules combine into complex biochemical units. But this has to involve  substantial entropy-increase in the environment that sustains life.

        Clausius argued, to the consternation of many, that because the entropy of the whole universe is increasing, there will come a time when all the dance and drama in the universe will be degraded into chaos of the highest order. He described this final state with the ominous German word Warmetod: heat-death.

      This was the first scientific declaration of finality for the physical world: Not as Judgment Day, Resurrection, or Final Flood (Pralaya); no horror of heat in Hell, or happiness with houris in Heaven. Just cosmic conflagration as climax of  history.

        This is the premonition or prediction of physics: deeply depressing to mortal hearts who shudder at the thought that some day there will be no trace of the Great Wall of China, the beautiful Taj Mahal, the majestic Pyramids, or the magnificent Eiffel Tower.

        Entropy increase is related to the irreversibility of Time. An instant passed is gone forever, the arrow of time is never a boomerang.

        Generally, scientists are skeptical of religious tenets. The religiously inclined can also be skeptical of science’s assertions on the Ultimate. Who is to say that Clausius et al.  haven’t missed some as yet unknown feature of the phenomenal world? Maybe, at some distant moment, the SLT will be switched off: Not tomorrow or after the next elections, but in the far, far distant future.  

In the meanwhile we can still try to decelerate the rush towards terrestrial Warmetod by reducing our spill of CO2 in our atmosphere.

January 2, 2016


Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

Categories UncategorizedLeave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s