ATON is a hopefully evolving classification theory. It aspires to unify knowledge around numbers and prefers naive methods. Some of the older posts are wrong but I'll keep them for the sake of continuity.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nature abhors gradients?

Lately I ran into this book Into The Cool by Schneider and Sagan. It's on the developing science Non Equilibrium Thermodynamics (NET). It's central theme is the 2nd law of thermodynamics, nicely formulated as "nature abhors gradients". Nature likes to even out differences. Concentrations of heat get dissipated in time. Nature likes disorder. The novelty of the book is that it includes life into the 2nd law. That life is an integral part of the machinery of dissipation of order. The paradox here is that life is a process of building order. While it builds order, it consumes gradients which are larger order.

I am still reading the book, but I could not help commenting on the paradox. It is pretty clear that, while nature abhors gradients, it also loves them. It first builds them, and then rides them. For example, the gradient between the heat of the sun and the cool of the earth is consumed by life. Life builds intermediate structures to even out the temperature gradient. But the sun does not come out of the blue. It rides the gradient of the black hole in the center of the galaxy. And the galaxies are, in turn, processes that ride another invisible gradient, probably a white hole.

Another example is the seperation of the sexes. The male-female gradient is built by gradual evolution, starting from hermaphrodites. And then nature uses this gradient to make offspring.

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