Daily Entropy 3: the chaos also dissipates

Maud Cotter-SoulMates

When Stephen Hawking wrote that physics “can predict just half what we could, according to the classical 19th century view“, it should have been earth shattering.  Determinism isn’t a minor point in science; it’s the foundation of the scientific method.  It’s tempting to say that just because we can’t predict it doesn’t mean that we can’t understand it, but while that may be intuitive agreeable, it’s not scientific: you can’t check the validity of your hypothesis if you can’t predict something with it, and if you can’t test your prediction, you can’t build a new hypothesis based on it or break it down into finer truths.  If science just went from 99% complete to 49% complete, it should made news beyond an academic, soft-science journal, but we may just be at a loss for a rational response.  Nobody who understands what just happened wants a return to emotive fascism, although the global rise of fascism probably isn’t a coincidence.  Science hasn’t stabilised the stock market, stopped climate change or eliminated militancy.  But there may be a rational response to the half of the universe that isn’t accessible to scientific investigation.

Entropy affects chaos in the same way and at the same rate that it dissipates resonance and harmonics.  So while chaotic processes can’t be predicted, you can predict that the chaotic elements will degenerate over time into orderly resonance.  Watch the ripples on a bowl of water when you drop something into it: the first wave is simple, then the interference builds chaotic movements, but then the interference patterns fade and the orderly base harmonic of the container is all that’s left.  We can also predict that the chaos will degenerate at a rate that follows a logarithmic curve, which is familiar to everyone because it’s the rate at which energy dissipates in general, whether it’s a musical note dying, ball bouncing to a standstill or food getting cold on a plate.  In the lab, this rate can be calculated and predicted pretty easily, but in the real world, or any open system, we don’t know the base of the logarithm so we can’t calculate it scientifically, but we can imagine it aesthetically.

Coincidentally, this also illustrates the relationship between information and thermodynamic entropy.  There was a lot of information in the movement of the surface when there were waves all over the place, coinciding with the free kinetic energy of the waves, but as the waves dissipated into the natural resonance of the whole bowl, the information also dissolved until in the end there was just the one bit of information in the single wave tilting back and forth.  (It should be noted that this is different from Shannon entropy, which is the measure of the carrying capacity of an information transmission system.)

The important thing is not to panic and revert to fascism.  If you try to kill the chaos, it will get stronger.  Imagine throwing more balls at the water to try to stop the waves from interfering with one another; that’s the essence of the fascist response to disorder.  The results are predictable.


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