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Thermodynamics and Complex Systems - Life on Earth

PZ Myers has just posted on his blog about the old creationist argument that "Evolution contradicts the 2nd law of thermodynmaics", and has introduced a paper by Daniel Styer on the subject. Since this touches upon my recent studies, I want to present my thoughts on this matter. These are the two comments I posted on the respective thread on Pharyngula:

We can employ complexity theory and information theory in a framework of systems-thinking to once and for all present a fatal argument against that creotard nonsense. Life on earth is a self-organizing system without teleology. The entropy can decrease within the (interest-relative) boundaries of the system "earth", more specifically "life on earth", there can be a local increase in order/systematic complexity through self-organization, which we know occurs naturally (for more see Self-Organisation at Scholarpedia). There is always at least one system of which the system with local increase in order and complexity is a real subsystem, in which the entropy increases over time. And any system, even the most complex systems will "gravitate" in their behaviour towards certain attractors - these attractors can be very complex, and thus it is entirely explicable that such complex systems as life on earth or even human mental activity should exist - this does not conflict with thermodynamics because the systems gravitate to specific attractors in their energy-state and there is always at least one system that includes the initial one where the entropy increases. </p>

And since these systems are so complex as to be unpredictable without running a complete facsimile (like cellular automata, see Complex Systems at Scholarpedia and Cellular Automata on Wikipedia), we know with certainty that even deism or "god-guided evolution" is wrong because the only way god could have planned for any of what happens in life on earth today is if he already ran exactly this universe before he did ours... what a pathetic god that would be.

I mean, I can see how the creotard might impress someone who is generally hostile to evolution and might have heard about "thermodynamics" and "entropy" fleetingly. But surely it is impossible to be aware of the above facts about entropy and complex systems and still believe that evolution is thermodynamically impossible? Which leaves it to people like PZ, Daniel Styer and us to educate the people we meet - "immunize" them against creationist nonsense. I only wish more people took an interest in the world as understood by science...

Not only does science not show that evolution is incompatible with theormodynamics, all of science - especially systems theory, biology, complexity theory, information theory - show that Theism and even Deism are incompatible with the universe as we understand it scientifically and rationally.

...and by the way... which measure of entropy or complexity are these creationists talking about? Oh that's right... they haven't got a clue because they didn't think it through... they're just spouting pseudo-scientific bullshit.</p>

When we employ the concept of Kolmogorov-complexity, we can clearly see that even very complex systems like neural networks, individual neurons or even an individual in thermodynmaic exchange with its environment over the course of its history will "gravitate" towards energetically relatively more stable points, ie it will move - energetically - on a gradient towards some attractors of lower-energy states for the system. We can even describe the learning of a neural network (ie learning as it occurs in creatures with brains, like us), and the learning of an individual neuron in a network in terms of entropy - this model is called "Boltzmann Learning". - And the heat-dissipation of even such complex processes of learning within a biological brain in context with its environment - even things as complex and "improbable" as this always dissipate enough heat not to make it impossible for the universe as a whole to move towards increased entropy... not even the entropy in the solar-system as a whole is increased much by it... as the paper PZ introduces explains. The kolmogorov-complexity of the complex, biofunctional systems is lower than that of total chaos because it observes patterns in which it transduces entropy/information... we have biofunctionality - the bifurcation of the complex thermodynamic system of life on earth... this is all perfectly within the grasp of science.

I find it so utterly abominable when creationists use pseudo-scientific thinking to make an impression on those who perhaps could be educated about the actual state of affairs, and how little these idiots know of real science.


I need to check out the original paper, but I am not sure the PZ article emphasises something important. Evolution is not just easily allowed by thermodynamics - it is probably required by it.
My thoughts as well,

... self-organization seems to occurs quite naturally in sub-systems of stochastic systems such as our universe - and as such this very much within the grasp of science.

I argue that not only is evolution, but indeed mentality and technology, everything to do with information-transduction and processing in systems (humans interacting in a technological society with their environment) describable in such system-theoretic and information-theoretic terms. The systems develop towards various attractors differing from total chaos/disorder/randomness, energetically speaking - and this is what gives them order.

In a universe where stars form naturally, it is to be expected - or perhaps as you say required, that evolution will take place somewhere - if the system as a whole has enough time to develop.

Did I ever mention that I love science :)


Is it your opinion that the universe will experience heat death, asymptotically at least? How can this be explained in light of the complex attractors you describe? Eventually they will be "overcome", correct?

Interesting post, thanks.