Everyday entropy: echoes of energetics

echochamber-e1422304975185There are echoes of energetic in the it from bit movement, string theory and the holographic universe hypothesis. The temptation to see matter and space in terms of information and pure energy may be profoundly tempting to the mind as an information system, but it forgets the significance of renormalisation, bootstrapping and above all the contribution of Boltzmann’s statistical mechanics to the birth of quantum mechanics (both Planck and Einstein depended on it). These techniques are necessary precisely because matter isn’t made out of information and is not located in any fixed frame of reference. Pure information comforts the mind because it is prepackaged in orthogonal harmonics.  Unlike raw, natural experience, the mind doesn’t have to do the work of smoothing over the uncertainties and infinities when presented with purified information.  But real physics is full of pockets of uncertainty and infinity, and they highlight the complementary differences between entropy and information. There is no privileged position from which to draw an informational picture of the universe. Where something is can’t be determined by information, only approximated from past and and future interactions.  Einstein’s field equations let us map one point of view to another, but they don’t tell us who is correct.

Energetics was Boltzmann’s great nemesis, so it is slightly disconcerting to see it sneaking into quantum mechanics through information theory.  It is almost impossible to pursue physics if you don’t see the world in terms of pure, numerical information, but this is a psychological tick.  We need physics to get back to work on human scale problems of space and momentum because monetised engineering is on the brink of killing the planet, science and civilisation with it. We don’t need physics to make faster cars or quantum computers; we need physics to make better space so that we don’t need cars and better ideas so that we don’t need computers. While our human scale physics degenerates, the science seems to have slipped into an echo chamber of informatics that looks a lot like the pre-atomic notion of energetics.  Renormalisation of quantum infinities and conformal bootstrapping of the 3d Ising model show us that physics has the tools to cope with (not solve) complex organisations of momentum in space.  The question is, can we pick up and use these tools before we are overwhelmed by political isolation and runaway entropy?

New Delhi traffic

Note: The Ising model critical points seem to show that there is something very special about three dimensional space, or just “space” for the uninitiated.


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