May 9, 2020
For decades I have been reading popularized books on quantum physics, relativity (special and general), and cosmology by young men brilliant enough to get doctoral degrees in mathematical physics or theoretical physics or theoretical mathematical physics or whatever, and also to write accessible books that sell in numbers I drool over.
However, as the years roll by (or whatever their physics teaches that time does), its finally dawning on these wunderkinds what the philosophical premises of their science mean for them, their families, their lifes work. After all, according to these premises, the universe that they have so deeply studied is (depending on the math in their equations) either going to tear apart, collapse in on itself, or just flat out burn out.
Enough to make even these demigods wonder, Whats it all about? Or if its about anything at all? Or is it all just as meaningless as their premises imply?
Take, for example, Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and renowned for groundbreaking discoveries in string theory. Greene has also authored such bestsellers as The Elegant Universe (1999) The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004), The Hidden Reality (2011), and his latest, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (2020).
A plug for Until the End of Time says that through a series of nested stories that explain distinct but interwoven layers of realityfrom quantum mechanics to consciousness to black holesGreene provides us with a clearer sense of how we came to be, a finer picture of where we are now, and a firmer understanding of where we are headed.
Sure, Brian Greene has his conjectures, his speculations, some no doubt greatly influenced by his unchallenged expertise in mathematical physics. But thats all that they are, speculations and conjectures, which are also (Im afraid) exceedingly limited by his unproven philosophical claim that without intent or design, without forethought or judgment, without planning or deliberation, the cosmos yields meticulously ordered configurations of particles from atoms to stars to life.
How this happened, of course, is the big question; what it all means, the bigger one. Nevertheless, he claims that entropy and gravity together are at the heart of how a universe heading toward ever-greater disorder can nevertheless yield and support ordered structures like stars, planets, and people. He writes that by the grace of random chance, funneled through natures laws, that is, through gravity and entropythe universe, life, human consciousness all came into existence. (Gracethats the word he used!)
Everyones familiar with gravity, and with entropy, too, though it needs a bit of explaining. Entropy is a statistical principle that describes why cars rust, why our bodies fall apart, and why all things, if left alone, move toward disorder. (Dont put thought or energy into keeping up your abode, and see what happens to it.) Entropy (also known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics) is the measure of that disorder: low entropy, order; high entropy, disorder, and our universe is moving, inexorably, toward higher entropy, higher disorder.
To use an image that Greene uses, imagine 100 pennies all heads up on a table. By comparison he writes, if we consider even a slightly different outcome, say in which we have a single tail (and the other 99 pennies are still all heads), there are a hundred different ways this can happen: the lone tail could be the first coin, or it could be the second coin, or the third, and so on up to the hundredth coin. Getting 99 heads is thus a hundred times easiera hundred times more likelythan getting all heads.
If you keep going, the ways of getting more tails amid heads keep rising. There are 4,950 ways to get two tails; 161,700 ways to three tails; 4,000,004 ways for four tails, and so forth until the numbers peak at 50 heads and 50 tails. Green writes that at this point, there are about a hundred billion billion billion possible combinations (well, 100, 891, 344, 545, 564, 193, 334, 812, 497, 256 combinations).
Now, lets move from coins to atoms, the stuff of existence (at least as stuff appears to us when we look at it). A bunch of random atoms are much more likely to remain a bunch of random atoms than to form, say, a cat or a copy of The Iliad, just as 100 random coins on a table are more likely to be in disarray than to be all heads (or tails) up, or even to get real close to either configuration. Things go from order to disorder simply because there are a whole lot more ways to be disordered than ordered.
Fine, but how does this law-like tendency for all things toward disorder, toward higher entropy, lead to all the ordered and organized structures that exist, everything from stars to human consciousness? Greene answers: its gravity. When theres enough gravityenough sufficiently concentrated stuffordered structures can form, he claims, then he spends a hunk of his book explaining how it happened.
How successfully Greene make his case, readers of Until the End of Time can decide for themselves. I want, instead, to look at something he wrote about entropy that, I humbly suggest, presents a major flaw in his thinking. Its whats known as The Past Hypothesis.
Lets go back to the 100 coins on the table, but now in a high entropy state, a state of high disorder. Suppose, as you were studying why the coins were like that, you developed a theory which required that at first these coins were in a low entropy state, all heads up, say. Fine. But this leaves open the simple question: How did they get that way? The answers obvious: some intelligence deliberately arranged the coins into that low-entropy state. How else?
But suppose that an unproven philosophical premise behind the science investigating the coins is that their existence, however it began, did so without intent or design, without forethought or judgment, without planning or deliberation. You, therefore, would need another explanation for this hypothetical low-entropy, highly ordered state of 100 heads up coins as an initial condition. (In fact, you probably would have never theorized an intelligence behind it because your philosophical presupposition, from the start, forbade it.)
Lets again move from coins to atoms, the atoms in our universe, which are in a high entropy state, and getting higher. The problem comes from The Past Hypothesis, which teaches that the universe started out in a state of low entropy.
A hundred pennies with all heads, writes Greene, has low entropy and yet admits an immediate explanationinstead of dumping the coins on the table, someone carefully arranged them. But what or who arranged the special low-entropy configuration of the early universe? Without a complete theory of cosmic origins, science cant provide an answer.
Who (perhaps a Freudian slip of the computer keys?) or what arranged the special low-entropy configuration of the universe? If 100 coins heads up, a fairly simple configuration no matter how unlikely, needed someone to arrange them, then what about the early conditions of our universe, which must have been much more complex than a mere 100 heads up coins? To paraphrase Greene, Who or what arranged it that way?
In a line from his book (the line that prompted this column), Greene just shrugged his shoulders at this question and said: For now, we will simply assume that one way or another, the early universe transitioned into this low-entropy, highly ordered configuration, sparking the bang and allowing us to declare that the rest is history.
One way or another the early universe just happened to be highly ordered? If, in seeking to understand the origins and nature of the 100 coins on the table, you just shrugged off their low-entropy beginnings with, Well, lets just assume that, somehow, the 100 coins all got heads up, youd be sneered at. Yet Greene does that with something astronomically more complicated than 100 heads up coins, the low-entropy state of the early universe.
Too bad Greene, echoing Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton, cant say something like: Look, I am a scientist. I study only natural phenomena, which means that even though, obviously, some intelligence must have created the low-entropy state of the early universe, I dont deal with that but only with what comes after, or the like. Of course, even if inclined to say that, he would be derided, ridiculed, and tarred-and-feathered as the intellectual equivalent of a flat-earther or Holocaust-denier.
Theres a tragic irony, however, in not acknowledging the obvious. Until the End of Time reflects Greenes attempt to come to terms with the fact that, according to his science, every memory of him and of everything that he accomplished, along with the memory of everyone else and of everything that they accomplished, are all going to vanish into eternal oblivion as if never existing or happening to begin with. Yet he wrote about how, in a Starbucks, it hit him that when you realize the universe will be bereft of stars and planets and things that think, your regard for our era can appreciate toward reverence.
It can? For most people, every conscious moment in our era is overshadowed by the certainty thatbecause they unfold in a universe that one day will be bereft of stars and planets and things that thinkthese moments ultimately mean nothing. So how much reverence does nothing deserve? The Hebrew Scripture says that God has put olam (eternity) in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), and as long as we can envision an olam that steamrolls every memory of us into the dirt as it moves on without us, we are left to flail about in a search for meaning amid a universe that, according to Greenes unproven presuppositions, offers none.
Its painful, because the low entropy state of the early cosmos points to the only logical past hypothesisa Creator. This Creator and His gracenot the grace of random chance, funneled through natures laws, which, after supposedly creating us, destroy us (some grace)His grace promises, for those who accept it, eternal life (John 17:3) in the same olam that the Creator has, yes, put in our hearts.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.
Continue reading here:
- How Quantum Mechanics will Change the Tech Industry - Unite.AI - July 21st, 2020
- Money & Markets: After the virus, make sure you've read the inflationary playbook - E&T Magazine - July 21st, 2020
- Bruce Lee: Inside the mind of the martial arts icon - CNN - July 21st, 2020
- Read Before Pontificating on Quantum Technology - War on the Rocks - July 13th, 2020
- The universe's clock might have bigger ticks than we imagine - Livescience.com - July 13th, 2020
- Testing Einstein's theory of relativity | OUPblog - OUPblog - July 13th, 2020
- Scientists Say This Is the Smallest Unit of Time That Could Exist - lintelligencer - July 13th, 2020
- Study: The Period of the Universe's Clock - lintelligencer - July 13th, 2020
- Book review: From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- Book review: Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- WATCH: Follow along as this drag queen connects the dots between quantum physics and queer identity - Queerty - July 8th, 2020
- Raytheon Technologies to release second quarter results on July 28, 2020 - PRNewswire - July 8th, 2020
- A Brighter Tomorrow > News > USC Dornsife - USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences - July 8th, 2020
- The logic of the impossible: Moses our rabbi - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- Professor tackles one more mystery about quantum mechanics and times flow - GeekWire - July 5th, 2020
- Quantum fluctuations can jiggle objects on the human scale - MIT News - July 5th, 2020
- Want to Know the Speed of a Complex Nuclear Reaction? - Popular Mechanics - July 5th, 2020
- Try to consciously change the world it might just work - Sentinel & Enterprise - July 5th, 2020
- The Death of Fashion Shows? Not So Fast. | Tim's Take | BoF - The Business of Fashion - July 5th, 2020
- U of T and Hebrew University of Jerusalem launch research and innovation partnership - News@UofT - July 5th, 2020
- Max Planck Created Quantum Theory and Laid a New Foundation for Physics - Interesting Engineering - June 21st, 2020
- Do we need a 'Quantum Generation'? | TheHill - The Hill - June 21st, 2020
- 'Everything was centered around Sara, he was lost': Abhishek Kapoor on Sushant Singh Rajput after 'Kedarnath' - DNA India - June 21st, 2020
- RHOBH: What's with Denise Richards Husband Aaron Phypers? - Screen Rant - June 21st, 2020
- Restructuring cybersecurity with the power of quantum - TechRadar - June 21st, 2020
- In the atmosphere of Mars, a green glow offers scientists hints for future visits - NBCNews.com - June 21st, 2020
- Nano-motor of just 16 atoms runs at the boundary of quantum physics - New Atlas - June 20th, 2020
- Physics - The Period of the Universe's Clock - Physics - June 20th, 2020
- Why Gravity Is Not Like the Other Forces - Quanta Magazine - June 20th, 2020
- Toronto-based Association Quantum appoints Northern Hive PR - Business Up North - June 20th, 2020
- Physicists have proposed a new theory for Bose-Einstein condensates - Tech Explorist - June 20th, 2020
- Intricate Beauty, Quasiperiodic Structures, and the Cascade to Criticality - SciTechDaily - June 20th, 2020
- AI And The Parallel Universe - AI Daily - June 20th, 2020
- The stories a muon could tell - Symmetry magazine - June 20th, 2020
- Physicists Have Reversed Time on The Smallest Scale Using a Quantum Computer - ScienceAlert - June 13th, 2020
- Duckworth on Education: The Feynman Technique - EMSWorld - June 13th, 2020
- Sussex Uni physicist creates the fifth state of matter whilst working from home - The Tab - June 13th, 2020
- Beware of 'Theories of Everything' - Scientific American - June 13th, 2020
- Francesca Vidotto: The Quantum Properties of Space-Time - JSTOR Daily - June 1st, 2020
- What Is the Many-Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics? - The Wire - June 1st, 2020
- MIT Student Probing Reality Through Physics, Philosophy and Writing - SciTechDaily - June 1st, 2020
- An Indian Origin Physicist Created the Fifth State of Matter from Her Living Room - News18 - June 1st, 2020
- Science and the humanities in the time of pandemic: better together - The Irish Times - June 1st, 2020
- Quantum Physicist Invents Code to Achieve the Impossible - Interesting Engineering - May 24th, 2020
- What does the Tenet title mean? Quantum mechanics and Einsteins theory - Explica - May 24th, 2020
- Covid 19 Pandemic: Quantum Computing Technologies Market 2020, Share, Growth, Trends And Forecast To 2025 - 3rd Watch News - May 24th, 2020
- Scientists Create a Cluster of 15 Trillion Entangled Atoms for the First Time Ever - Dual Dove - May 24th, 2020
- Teaching the next generation of quantum scientists | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - Harvard School of... - May 23rd, 2020
- Nasa discovers parallel universe where time runs backwards? Know the truth - Business Standard - May 23rd, 2020
- Company Hopes to Have Carbon Nanotube COVID-19 Detector Available in June - SciTechDaily - May 23rd, 2020
- The world is not as real as we think. - Patheos - May 23rd, 2020
- Physicists Just Built The First Working Prototype Of A 'Quantum Radar' - ScienceAlert - May 19th, 2020
- Quantum Brakes to Learn About the Forces Within Molecules - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- Armin Strom Discusses Resonance With PhD Of Quantum Physics And Watch Collector In An Easy-To-Understand Way (Video) - Quill & Pad - May 19th, 2020
- Embedded in the community: Outstanding physics student is a third-generation ASU student - ASU Now - May 19th, 2020
- 50 Years of Physical Review B: Solid Hits in Condensed Matter Research - Physics - May 19th, 2020
- Exploring the quantum field, from the sun's core to the Big Bang - MIT News - May 14th, 2020
- Registration Open for Inaugural IEEE International Conference on Quantum Computing and Engineering (QCE20) - thepress.net - May 14th, 2020
- 3 Simple Reasons Why Wolfram's New 'Fundamental Theory' Is Not Yet Science - Forbes - May 14th, 2020
- The Era of Anomalies - Physics - May 14th, 2020
- Exploring new tools in string theory - Space.com - May 14th, 2020
- Probing reality through physics, philosophy, and writing - MIT News - May 14th, 2020
- Recent Research Answers the Future of Quantum Machine Learning on COVID-19 - Analytics Insight - May 11th, 2020
- OK, WTF Are Virtual Particles and Do They Actually Exist? - VICE - May 11th, 2020
- Is string theory worth it? - Space.com - May 11th, 2020
- Finding the right quantum materials - MIT News - May 11th, 2020
- Researchers Have Found a New Way to Convert Waste Heat Into Electricity to Power Small Devices - SciTechDaily - May 11th, 2020
- quantum mechanics | Definition, Development, & Equations ... - May 9th, 2020
- Physicists Criticize Stephen Wolfram's 'Theory of Everything' - Scientific American - May 9th, 2020
- Quantum Computing Market New Technology Innovations, Advancements and Global Development Analysis 2020 to 2025 - Cole of Duty - May 9th, 2020
- Physicist Brian Greene on learning to focus on the here and now - KCRW - May 9th, 2020
- Unified Field Theory: Einstein Failed, but What's the Future? - The Great Courses Daily News - May 9th, 2020
- A Discovery That Long Eluded Physicists: Superconductivity to the Edge - SciTechDaily - May 9th, 2020
- Why Self-Awareness and Communication Are Key for Self-Taught Players and Luthiers - Premier Guitar - May 9th, 2020
- Devs: Here's the real science behind the quantum computing TV show - New Scientist News - May 4th, 2020
- Raytheon Technologies CEO and CFO to present at the BofA Securities 2020 Transportation and Industrials Conference - PRNewswire - May 4th, 2020
- When quantum computing and AI collide - Raconteur - May 4th, 2020
- Wolfram Physics Project Seeks Theory Of Everything; Is It Revelation Or Overstatement? - Hackaday - May 4th, 2020
- The Cool Parts Show Reveals 3D Printing Reality and Potential - Modern Machine Shop - May 4th, 2020
- Caves elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences - UNM Newsroom - May 4th, 2020