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derby378 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 10:40 AM
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Chaos, Order, and You
Since there is no Philosophy forum on DU, I figured this might be the best place for my musings:

Our universe, as far as we know, was born out of a state of chaos. Many theories about the end of the universe postulate that it is headed for chaos yet again. Quantum mechanics (or QED, if you want to get technical) puts forth the notion that our universe is fundamentally chaotic, and The Ghost in the Universe by Taner Edis lays out a convincing argument for the ultimate randomness of our universe and its ability to produce order in spite of itself.

And therein lies the rub. Our universe depends on some sort of order to maintain its very existence. We depend on this same order as well. The chemical elements, the atoms they are composed of, the hadrons and fermions in each atom, and the quarks inside each hardon all depend on some underlying order, if not actual structure, to maintain their integrity.

But there are times where our universe seems as if it is trying to maintain a neutral ground between order and chaos. You can see it in extremes of temperature. Absolute zero (−459.67 F, −273.15 C) is the coldest temperature possible, but a region of space can never actually be chilled to absolute zero without isolating that particular region from the rest of the universe due to zero-point energy and molecular motion itself. On the other end of the spectrum is the highest temperature possible, the Planck temperature - a number so large that I won't bother writing it here. At Planck temperature, particle energies may become so large that the gravitational forces between them become as strong as any other forces, meaning that the four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear) could be united into a single force at such a hellish extreme of heat, but in order to reach such a temperature, every subatomic particle in that region would have to travel at the speed of light, which means Planck temperature - absolute chaos - should be as impossible to reach as the ultimate order of absolute zero.

Is this just rambling, or am I onto something here, and does this bode anything for our own ideas of discipline vs. freedom within a social and intellectual context?
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Salviati Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 12:40 PM
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1. Just a sciencey nitpick here along with some other ideas
I think the term that you'd want to use is entropy, not chaos. Entropy refers to the amount of "disorder" in a system, or slightly less bad way to put it is that entropy measures the amount of information needed to describe a system. E.g. a perfectly orderly crystal has very low entropy, as once you specify where one atom is, and the orientation of the crystal, the locations of all the other atoms are determined. Compare this to a random pile of atoms, which has very high entropy, as you have to specify the location of every atom individually.

Chaos refers to how in some systems, the future progression of the system depends extremely sensitively on the current state of the system. So that two very slightly different starting conditions may end up producing vastly different outcomes. As a physics teacher I can't help but be a stickler for at least pointing out the technical definitions of science terms. :)

As far as more philosophical and metaphysics are concerned, to me what this speaks to is the fact that creation and destruction are inseparably linked. Life in general creates order from the disorder in the universe, but does so at the expense of creating greater disorder elsewhere. The total entropy must always go up, even though locally it may decrease. What this means is that we are ultimately linked to our surroundings, we cannot live apart from them. Any act of creation must inevitably be linked to an act of destruction. All the increase in order found in the living things on earth are feeding off of the massive increase in entropy as the sun burns away. It's kind of like when you realize that almost every living thing sustains itself by consuming things that were also once living, only on a more fundamental basis.
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Dogmudgeon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 12:42 PM
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2. How do we know that order isn't really just ...
... chaos that we like?

This gets into the same territory as the nature of qualia -- how do we know that the color Red has the attribute of Redness? And what is Redness, anyway?

There was a Dilbert cartoon that really hammers it home. Dogbert is sitting in an office marked "Department of Random Numbers". To everyone who comes in, he gives a 9.

The punch line? "How would you know if they weren't random?"

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ZombieHorde Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 12:47 PM
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3. Chaos and order are imaginary. They only exist in our minds.
Chaos and order are a personal judgment. They are dependent upon an observer capable of making judgments, just like beauty and ugly are dependent upon on observer capable of making judgments.
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rrneck Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 01:05 PM
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4. I think you're a little over my head there,
but that never stopped me from sticking in my two cents before.

High performance aircraft, as I understand it, are inherently unstable. That makes them very agile. A measure of instability is required of any system if it is to respond to changes in its environment. Liberal political systems in their desire for increased cultural change can respond very rapidly to changes, but to much liberality (Communism, anarchism) will cause a society to fling itself apart through the centrifugal force of its own change. Too much conservatism (Fascism) will stultify change and cause a culture to collapse under its own weight.

In the context of environmental change I read somewhere that if environmental conditions continue to increase in the rapidity of change organisms that have a longer lifespan will be less successful in an increasingly unstable environment while organisms with a shorter lifespan will flourish. Large, long lived mammals have flourished in the current epoch because of a stable climate. The future may be going the way of insects and bacteria.

Our current system of government is designed to manage the forces of change and stability. Liberals and Conservatives, in theory, are supposed to work together to decide what to keep and what to throw away in our culture. It is the same approach to life on a personal level expanded to very large groups of people. Humans are very good at remembering the past and using that information to prognosticate about the future. That, coupled with a theory of mind that allows us to prognosticate about the actions of others, allows us to manage our actions over time and respond to changes accordingly. We have become a successful species because of our knack for instability management.

The question in my mind is whether we will be able to manage the kind of cultural change that current environmental and economic instability will require of us? The longer we wait, the faster the changes we have to make to keep up and I am afraid we are already near the edge of "adaptave change" envelope.

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laconicsax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-16-09 04:02 PM
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5. Physics and philosophy are non-overlapping magesteria. nt.
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derby378 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-17-09 08:35 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. I do think it is possible to develop a philosophy FROM physics
I do not subscribe to any sort of "create your own reality" whimsy. Things happen. They just are. And it drives some of the smartest among us to explore, probe, and measure in order to determine why things are the way they are.

And, in so doing, I think physics can overlap philosophy and shape a person's outlook on the grand scheme of things. It's kind of like Thoreau arging in Walden that literature should not be used as a sole means of transcendence - you have to actually walk out the front door and experience the trees, the birds, the cows, the ringing of church bells, the rustling of human transporation, the feel of the breeze.
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