[asa] Musing on entropy, chaos, and omniscience

From: Merv Bitikofer <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Fri May 22 2009 - 21:07:48 EDT

If any of you have time for some light mental meandering, read this and
tell me if I'm off my rocker. (Bernie, if you don't count this intro,
three paragraphs will get you almost all of the way through this!
---long paragraphs are the key strategy for you!)

Many of us will be familiar with the same types of stories and examples
that teachers used to describe the concept of entropy: the shattered
vase ---that can only appear to fly back together again if you play a
movie backwards; or the messy bedroom that only gets elevated to a
neater (or lower entropy) state by the input of work. And we’re told
that this is one of those one-way temporal arrows of physics that,
unlike momentum and collision scenarios ---this one won’t go backwards.

Yet it is fun to attempt this little thought ‘experiment’ to see where
it might lead. Take an ordinary collection of molecules --- say, the
water in your drinking glass. And now in your mind, run the clock
backward --not just moments, but hours and days. And we ‘see’ these
molecules rushing back up the same pipe up into the same city water
tower, and from there we witness what must look like ordinary diffusion.
Various molecules bump into others, becoming more and more widely
dispersed as they move farther back away from their joint trip down the
pipe to join their buddies in your water glass. And as we follow their
history back further down along the aquifers from which they were
pumped, we might observe some that had been trapped underground for
years, and others were relatively recent comers from a global whirlwind
tour before they were rained into some river and seeped down to their
appointment with your city well. We may wonder if some found one or two
of their present buddies early on and managed to stay together all the
way to your glass, but chaos theory makes this seem a virtual
impossibility (short of temporary micro-crystallization) – but we’ll
assume a chaotic liquid state here. So our historical molecules are
bumping elbows with current companions that they will never see again
–in your future drink or otherwise. I don’t imagine we would have to go
too far back before your present glass of water is completely ‘atomized’
into individual molecules and quite widely, even globally dispersed.

Now –with the omniscience of God Himself, we look in on all these
molecules in their historical locations and we KNOW that they will ALL
be keeping a future appointment in your drinking glass in the evening of
May 22, 2009. This time, though, let’s watch the clock go forward. And
as it plays we see something like the un-shattering vase flying together
–and in ordinary forward time, no less! To the less omniscient
inhabitants of our drama, it is totally unremarkable, indeed invisible.
But to us, it looks like diffusion in perfect reverse. These
not-so-omniscient, but otherwise savvy inhabitants would be quite amazed
if we identified the disjoint pieces for them ahead of time and then let
them observe as they came together, because they know the infinitesimal
probability of such a thing happening. But for us, the probability of
occurrence is 1 since we’ve seen its future state. (Of course our mere
act of informing them & any interactions at all will have to have been
part of the original history of your present thirst episode since the
slightest modification throws everything off with chaotic
amplification.) It must look all quite amazing from a “God’s eye”
perspective. And contrary to our unidirectional arrow –there would seem
to be a striking symmetry about these events; i.e. any temporary
collection of molecules whether in a cloud, a drinking glass, or the
molecule collective called ‘you.’ For after your ingestion of it, our
drinking glass bunch all eventually go their separate ways again, never
to be re-united. As they came, so they went. So the ‘asymmetry’ of such
events may be in part only an asymmetry based on ignorance or due to a
lack of prior specification.

Tangentially, (speaking of the butterfly effect) it is rather sobering &
simultaneously useless for us to ponder whether or not to suppress that
next sneeze or just let’er rip – the outcome of this choice will, by
next year, make a difference on the level of where a hurricane hits the
U.S. coast, or whether it even forms at all.

And now; who still wonders where the potential points of Divine
influence can enter the causal chains in our reality? A more apt
question might be: where aren’t they?

--Merv Bitikofer

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Received on Fri May 22 21:08:30 2009

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