The Emergence of Order from Disorder

We found something that has potential to really upset the creationists. They’re forever babbling about the second law of thermodynamics, and how everything is trending toward disorder, and how nothing complicated can arise naturally — that is, without supernatural assistance.

Look what just got posted at PhysOrg: It’s The emergence of complex behaviors through causal entropic forces. It’s very far from our comfort zone, but we’ll present it to you anyway, confident that we’ll get some good comments, and further confident that when the creationists attack this — if they do — it’s going to be very amusing. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

An ambitious new paper published in Physical Review Letters seeks to describe intelligence as a fundamentally thermodynamic process. The authors made an appeal to entropy to inspire a new formalism that has shown remarkable predictive power. To illustrate their principles they developed software called Entropica, which when applied to a broad class of rudimentary examples, efficiently leads to unexpectedly complex behaviors.

This is the paper they’re talking about: Causal Entropic Forces, but you can’t read it without a subscription. Here’s the abstract:

Recent advances in fields ranging from cosmology to computer science have hinted at a possible deep connection between intelligence and entropy maximization, but no formal physical relationship between them has yet been established. Here, we explicitly propose a first step toward such a relationship in the form of a causal generalization of entropic forces that we find can cause two defining behaviors of the human “cognitive niche” — tool use and social cooperation — to spontaneously emerge in simple physical systems. Our results suggest a potentially general thermodynamic model of adaptive behavior as a nonequilibrium process in open systems.

We’ll only excerpt the parts of the PhysOrg article that seem applicable to evolution. Here we go:

The familiar concept of entropy which states that systems are biased to evolve towards greater disorder, gives little indication about exactly how they evolve. Recently, physicists have begun to explore the idea that proceeding in a direction of maximum instantaneous entropy production is only one among many ways to go. More generally, the authors now suggest that systems which show intelligence, uniformly maximize the total entropy produced over their entire path through configuration space between the present time and some future time.

So contrary to the primitive understanding and perpetual claims of creationists, a straight line toward a system’s total entropic breakdown isn’t the only direction things can go. Let’s read on:

The first author on the paper, Alex Wissner-Gross, describes intelligent behavior as a way to maximize the capture of possible future histories of a particular system. Starting from a formalism known as the ‘canonical ensemble’ (which is basically a probability distribution of states) the authors ultimately derive a measure they call causal entropic forcing. When following a causal path, entropy is based not on the internal arrangements accessible to a system at any particular time, but rather on the number of arrangements it could pass through on the way to possible future states.

Are you following this? Neither are the creationists, but you can be certain they don’t like it. We continue:

In a practical simulation of a particle in a box, for example, the effect of causal entropic forcing is to keep the particle in a relatively central location. This effect can be understood as the system maximizing the diversity of causal paths that would be accessible by Brownian motion within the box. The authors also simulated different sized disks diffusing in a 2D geometry. With application of the causal forcing function, the system rapidly produced behaviors were [sic] [where?] larger disks “used” smaller disks to release other disks from trapped locations. In different scenarios of this general paradigm, disks cooperated together to achieve seemingly improbable results.

Rather amazing. Here’s more:

Many of these kinds of behaviors might also be compared to activities we now know exist in the normal biochemical operations of cells. For example, enzymes use complex changes in conformation, and various small cofactors, to manipulate proteins and other molecules. The nucleus extrudes mRNAs through pores against entropic forces which tend to hold the polymer coiled up in the the interior. The speed and efficiency at which machines like ribosomes and polymeraces operate, suggests that effects other than just pure Brownian motion are responsible for delivery of their substrates and subsequently binding them with the selectivity that is observed.

[Creationism mode:] But … but … it could be caused by an invisible magic imp. [End creationism mode.] Here’s the final paragraph:

The spontaneous emergence of complex behaviors now has a new tool which can be used to probe its possible origins. New methods of solving traditional challenges in artificial intelligence may also be investigated. Programming machines to play games like GO, where humans still appear to have the edge might also be make use of these methods. The Entropica simulation software is available in demo form from the authors website, as are other materials related to their new paper.

Here’s the website of Alexander D. Wissner-Gross, and here’s where you can get the Entropica demo.

We’re not sure what to make of this, but there’s one thing we do know — the creationists won’t like it at all. It doesn’t leave much room for Oogity Boogity.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “The Emergence of Order from Disorder

  1. Sounds like an extension of Prigogine’s work from several decades ago.

  2. Are you kidding?!?! The IDiots aren’t going to see this and have a snit; they’re going to see this as manna from heaven! This has Klingy all over it. I’m going to take a stab at what he’s going to say:

    In a new paper just published, all the fears of Darwinists everywhere have been realized! The paper is described at Phys.org, “An ambitious new paper published in Physical Review Letters seeks to describe intelligence as a fundamentally thermodynamic process.”
    Do you see that, Darwinists! Intelligence is a fundamental process! Not only that, it’s a fundamental thermodynamic process. Take that, Darwinists! This is it! This is truly the beginning of the end for the materialism that is Darwinism, and all of the bad baggage that goes with it (Hitler, Mao, stale pudding cups).
    Yes, ID is about to blaze a trail the likes of which materialistic science never has!

    Mark my words. Perhaps its because I gave up Mt Dew and my mind is now way off kilter, but I’m thinking they can spin this their way with very little effort.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    @longshadow and @Gary: Prigogine’s concept of thermodynamics farther from equilibrium than usually considered has also been applied to studies of the meandering of rivers. The idea is that the movement of river channels over the valley floor is an example of a self-organized system which oscillates between chaos and order, counter to the idea of entropy proceeding only in one direction.

    The problem for the ID bunch is this: Starting from their presupposition of Adam’s fall as a result of sin, humanity is in a permanently degraded state. The only pathway the clerics offer for salvation is via their theology.

    But if science provides evidence for a materialistic process which makes possible restoration of order to a formerly chaotic system, then the ID folks will have to go back to peddling religious tracts on street corners.

    (Gary: Please don’t try any using tricks of thermodynamics to get that Mt Dew spray back into the bottle. That pathway is totally non reversible.)

  4. Where their confusion lies is, of course, in basic understanding. While the general path of the universe leads to greater disorder, there is no limit on the amount of local order that might be created. It just must be paid for with greater disorder elsewhere. We humnas “pay” for our high level of organization in our bodies by eating food. We take complex food molecules and break them down into many more smaller molecules (water, carbon dioxide, etc.) and then spread them out all over the place. We must do this (eat and metabolize food) on a daily basis or we suffer and die. So, complexity is no big thing. If you saw the Discovery Channel’s presentations on the Giant Crystal Caves in Mexico, those crystals (highly complex) assembled themselves from dissolved chemicals in groundwater, no oogity-boogity, no magic, no creator.

    Sun Tsu had a precept of “know your enemy;” apparently the Discoveroids have no one on staff with the equivalent of a college-level science education or anyone capable of comprehending such science at that level, let alone the level of the article referred to.

  5. Stop it Gary, you are scaring me!

    Actually, I’m pretty sure this is nothing new. These physicists have simply rediscovered the principles of Bayesian inference.

  6. Fascinating. This should annoy quite a few flat earthers.

  7. If true, I think it could be a “problem” for darwinism, but not in the way IDers would claim, it would give an alternative (but a natural/materialistic one) to natural selection for some adaptations.