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Sean Carroll

Big Picture Part Four: Complexity

11 May 2016, 16:01 UTC
Big Picture Part Four: Complexity
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

One of a series of quick posts on the six sections of my book The Big Picture — Cosmos, Understanding, Essence, Complexity, Thinking, Caring.
Chapters in Part Four, Complexity:

28. The Universe in a Cup of Coffee
29. Light and Life
30. Funneling Energy
31. Spontaneous Organization
32. The Origin and Purpose of Life
33. Evolution’s Bootstraps
34. Searching Through the Landscape
35. Emergent Purpose
36. Are We the Point?

One of the most annoying arguments a scientist can hear is that “evolution (or the origin of life) violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” The idea is basically that the Second Law says things become more disorganized over time, but the appearance of life represents increased organization, so what do you have to say about that, Dr. Smarty-Pants?
This is a very bad argument, since the Second Law only says that entropy increases in closed systems, not open ones. (Otherwise refrigerators would be impossible, since the entropy of a can of Diet Coke goes down when you cool it.) The Earth’s biosphere is obviously an open system — we get low-entropy photons from the Sun, and radiate high-entropy photons back to the universe — so there is manifestly no contradiction ...

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