The Arrow of Time and Other Things… Thoughts From Nepal

Klee Irwin at 13th International Quasicrystal Conference in Nepal

My trip to the 13th International Conference on Quasicrystals in Nepal was one of those things in life where one thing leads to another and where you really could never have predicted it but you just trusted the intuition to flow with something. The two big benefits that I needed for this trip but which I did not know that I needed prior to embarking on it is that I connected with one of the only theoretical physicists in the world who understand particle physics, cosmology and quasicrystal mathematics. Lantham Boyle. And he’s going to come out to California from the Perimeter Institute, where he works and do a workshop for us. Hopefully, that will lead to some important collaboration, where his involvement may resolve crucial pieces of our puzzle.

The other fortuitous thing that happened as a result of this trip is that I began writing a paper that moves our theoretical framework forward by an important leap. It is the connection, in a formal manner, between language theory, quasicrystals, and the second law of thermodynamics — which turns out not to be a law at all, as Erwin Schrodinger realized when he invented the term negentropy.

The second law of thermodynamics incorrectly says that things always dissolve into disorganization. This old idea is based on the experiment that, for example, when you have hot air in the bedroom and behind a closed door, you have cold air in the bathroom, the hot air can be understood as being organized in one space apart from the cold air that is organized in the other space. Entropy is the opposite of organization. It is disorder and homogeneity. So when we open the door, all the heat between them will commingle and evenly distribute homogeneously. This lower organized state is more entropic than when the door was closed. This is called the entropic arrow of time, where the idea is that the universe is moving toward a state of greater and greater disorder. Lack of order is lack of meaning or lack of information. But is this true? Is the second law of thermodynamics actually a law? It turns out that it is not. The universe is evolving toward higher and higher states of self-organization. Negative entropy.  The arrow of time is going in the opposite direction from the direction most people are taught in high school physics classes. For example, most of the well established cosmological models, such as big bang theory, say that, a long time ago, the universe was in a higher entropy state as a homogenous quark plasma. After that, it self organized into a less homogenous hydrogen universe. And then it organized into solar systems and galaxies and galaxy clusters. The hydrogen atoms self-organized via solar processes into 81 stable elements. Those then self organized into millions of chemical compounds. Massively complex code-based molecules emerged, such as DNA. This then became the basis for biospheres, the most complex thing discovered in the universe so far. Biospheres evolve toward infinite self organization and complexity. So I am writing a paper, somehow prompted by this trip, on what emergence theory says should happen in our code theoretic framework with respect to entropy and negative entropy.

The Himalaya Mountains are stunning. I have never seen things reach so high into the sky. There are mountain ranges below the clouds which are themselves tall. And then, above the clouds, whitecapped peaks of the Himalayan mountain range sore even higher. Burnt orange monkeys with their babies are frolicking outside my balcony on the second story of a three-story hotel perched in the mountains overlooking the valley. The streets are chaotic and the poverty is remarkable. But the people have a calm gentleness and you feel safe. Like any city in a Third World country, people tend to press on their automobile horns a little too frequently for my western ears. But here in this land of melodic spoken language and Hindu and Buddhist influenced culture, all of the horns make a musical sound. And so from my room, I can hear the melodic roles of sequences of notes from the car horns in the city below. It is a beautiful place, and I may never have another opportunity to come here again. So I am glad that I did.

–Klee Irwin. Kathmandu, Nepal, September 22nd, 2016 (attending the 13th International Conference on Quasicrystals)

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