Entropy and the universe
I spend most of my day thinking about the precise configuration of votes in the Senate. Seems complicated. Then I read physicist Sean Carroll talking about the very nature of the universe and, well ... my day seems less complicated.
If you didn't know any better, if you asked what the universe should be like, what configuration it should be in, you would say it should be in a high entropy configuration. ... There are a lot more ways to be disorderly and chaotic than there are to be orderly and uniform and well arranged. However, the real world is quite orderly. The entropy is much, much lower than it could be. The reason for this is that the early universe, near the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago, had incredibly low entropy compared to what is could have been. This is an absolute mystery in cosmology. This is something that modern cosmologists do not know the answer to, why our observable universe started out in a state of such pristine regularity and order — such low entropy. We know that if it does, it makes sense. We can tell a story that starts in the low entropy early universe, trace it through the present day and into the future. It's not going to go back to being low entropy. ... Our best model of the universe right now is one that began 14 billion years ago in a state of low entropy but will go on forever into the future in a state of high entropy.
Why do we find ourselves so close to the aftermath of this very strange event, this Big Bang, that has such low entropy? The answer is, we just don't know. The anthropic principle is just not enough to explain this. We really need to think deeply about what could have happened both at the Big Bang and even before the Big Bang. My favorite guess at the answer is that the reason why the universe started out at such a low entropy is the same reason that an egg starts out at low entropy. The classic example of entropy is that you can take an egg and make an omelette. You cannot take an omelette and turn it into an egg. That is because the entropy increases when you mix up the egg to make it into an omelette. Why did the egg start with such a low entropy in the first place? The answer is that it is not alone in the universe. The universe consists of more than just an egg. The egg came from a chicken. It was created by something that had a very low entropy that was part of a bigger system. The point is that our universe is part of a bigger system. Then you can start to try to understand why it had such a low entropy to begin with. I actually think that the fact that we can observe the early universe having such a low entropy is the best evidence we currently have that we live in a multiverse, that the universe we observe is not all that there is, that we are actually embedded in some much larger structure.
Incidentally, the Senate exhibits much lower entropy than one might think, given that the 60-vote Senate means that literally anyone's vote could be the decisive vote, with all the fame and pork and access that that entails.
November 18, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
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