Thermodynamics gives evolution/OOL direction!
In this post I’m going to assume that the academic establishment’s understanding of evolution/OOL holds up; that is, I’m assuming that by a series of trial and error incremental changes one organic structure changes into another with a slightly different configuration and that this incremental process explains the transformation of matter from its elementary state to highly complex self-perpetuating configurations. This, as we have seen in the previous part, requires the mathematical existence of a class of self-perpetuating configurations that are arranged in configuration space to form a fully connected set, stretching from the “low reaches” of elementary matter to complex multicellular organisms. This connectedness allows self-perpetuating structures to effectively “migrate” across configuration space by diffusion.
The caveat here, as I mentioned in the last part of this series, is that it is by no means clear that this connectedness is the case: In particular, self-perpetuating structures are very likely to constitute such an extremely small fraction of the class of all possible configurations that it feels intuitively unlikely there is enough of them to populate configuration space with a connected set sufficiently dense to facilitate evolution/OOL (although I have no proof of this and I don’t think anyone else has; that’s why I continue worry the subject!). However, for the purpose of this post I am taking on board the establishment’s assumption that incremental evolution/OOL has happened in this way and seeing where it takes us.
Well, one place where it takes us is the conclusion that evolution/OOL, fairly obviously, does have an asymmetrical directionality, just as do other thermodynamic processes: That is, given certain initial conditions these processes have an asymmetrical curve of change over time. For example, if we take an elementary thermodynamic change like gas diffusion, then down at the low level each particle knows no direction – all degrees of freedom are equally preferred. However at the higher macroscopic level, depending on initial conditions, the system asymmetrically moves toward thermodynamic equilibrium as its particles populate the available states. Lijkewise, evolution/OOL works as a kind of morphological disequilibrium: If we start from a state of elementary matter (solids, liquids, gases) the result is diffusion across configuration space toward organic structures. This diffusion motion across configuration space is described in part 2 of this series*
It is ironic that evolution/OOL is an outcome of the second law of thermodynamics. The apparent intuitive contradiction between the second law and evolution/OOL is not actually the case because the second law only quantifies the overall entropy changes in a (closed) system as it moves toward a higher statistical weight. Because the second law places a constraint only on the overall system then increases in order in subsystems do not violate the second law. (See for example: http://scientopia.org/blogs/goodmath/2011/12/12/second-law-silliness-from-sewell/)
Evolution/OOL, as the academic establishment conceives it, has, then, directionality in the thermodynamic sense. Actually this result is fairly intuitively obvious from computational considerations: If evolution/OOL has happened then starting from matter in its elementary states (i.e, solids, liquids and gases) then it is obvious that to reach the so-called “higher organisms” matter must pass through stages of organised forms that can only occur in a particular sequence in time. E.g. organic molecular precursors precede cells, cells precede multicellular organisms; that is, it is logically impossible for multicellular organisms to proceed the organic components of which they are made. Of course it is quite possible, given the diffusional nature of evolution/OOL, that individual cases can go “backwards or forwards” on this sequence, but the sequence itself cannot be disrupted, thus imposing a direction on the diffusion driven morphological changes in matter. There is, therefore, a general drift (if not individual drift) from an initial condition of being in an elementary state (i.e, solids, liquids and gases) toward more morphologically differentiated structures.
The above point is also fairly obvious from more general computational considerations: Not all problems are equally computationally complex. All other computational resources being equal, such as speed, memory, processor count etc, then clearly some outcomes will take longer to compute than others. Computational complexity itself imposes complexity sequencing or at least complexity banding on sets of outcomes. In summary, morphological disequilibrium entails that given an initial elementary state of matter evolution/OOL has a “preferred” direction; for the Earth, a few billions of years ago, the only morphological way was “up”!
But getting some people to see this relatively elementary lesson is difficult because it cuts across the intellectual interests of the polarised parties in the North American debate. If you look at this old post by Larry Moran you will see what I mean. He is very unwilling to admit that from a starting point of elementary matter evolution/OOL has anything that smacks of “progress”; in fact the whole idea that there may be some kind of computational complexity banding amongst configurations gives him the jitters. He has been so influenced by the implicit overriding nihilism of his atheism that a cosmos showing a progressive development in complexity just looks too spooky to him; the notion that some organisms are more “complex” than others probably unnerves him because it could be the thin end of the theist wedge about life having purpose. Also, see the discussion I had with one of Larry Moran’s atheist commenters in the comments section of the same blog post. This atheist showed that he was very unwilling to accept an elementary thermodynamic lesson. I have actually recreated this discussion in the comments section of this post (coming soon).
There is nothing intellectually untoward with this concept of evolutionary/OOL direction; it is simply a thermodynamic outcome of the academic establishment’s requirements. But as I have already suggested, the above considerations actually cut across the expectations of both sides of the polarised North American debate between atheists and theists. Nihilistically inclined atheists are confounded by the directionality of our universe and many in the creationist/IDist lobby still cling onto the idea that the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution. Moreover, both sides are inclined to parody evolution as a directionless, unguided, “chance” , something-for-nothing process; at least that is something they can both agree on! But then that is something they are both wrong about!
An idyllic initial creation according to the Jehovah's Witnesses! This picture trades on the thermodynamic naivety that as far as morphology is concerned the only way is down. Interesting to note that there are no dinosaurs in this picture; I have never seen dinosaurs appearing in JW depictions of the pre-fall world!
Clearly there aren't enough organisms to approximate a real gas-like diffusion. However, the diffusion we are thinking of here can be thought of as the abstract flow of mathematical probability.