In a universe that observes the second law of thermodynamics, how can we have the complexity that is life on this planet? The loosely translated second law of thermodynamics suggests that any system left unattended will naturally deteriorate. To illustrate this: if we were to build a brick wall, the best that wall will be when we finish building it. This is because from that moment on the wall will begin to deteriorate. It will sink to its bases, erode and begin to crack. So unless we take care of it, it will only get worse.
The question posed by David Christian in his Ted lecture is this: if the second law of thermodynamics is true, how can we exist? How do you build complexity when things will only get worse?
Some people may use this as an argument for a divine creator. David Christian suggests that it is a combination of Goldilocks conditions that allow threshold events. As Professor Timothy Bedding, Head of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Sydney puts it, “Given an infinite amount of time, space and possibilities, something like (life on earth) is sure to happen.” While this may sound frivolous, what Professor Bedding is saying is that with 13.75 billion years of time, the energy created by the Big Bang, and the opportunity to create infinite combinations of matter, you will likely at some point believe a very high level. degree of complexity.
According to Wikipedia, “The Goldilocks principle states that something must fall within certain ranges, rather than going to extremes. Usually it is an ideology, rather than a logical principle. When you look at the effects of the principle, it is known as the Goldilocks effect. “
The term is used in a variety of fields. In cognitive psychology it refers to a baby’s preference to pay attention to things that are not too easy or too complex for the baby’s stage of development. In economics, it refers to an economy that has an ideal amount of inflation, growth, free market forces, and government legislation. In astrobiology it refers to planets that have the right conditions for life. These are considered energy, chemicals, and liquids.
David Christian takes the principle of Goldilocks conditions and applies it to all of history from the beginning of the universe to the present. To paraphrase David’s explanation: The reason we are able to achieve complexity in a universe that conforms to the second law of thermodynamics is because goldilocks conditions exist in the pockets that are suitable for creating complexity. . As a result of these Goldilocks conditions and infinite time and infinite possibilities, slightly more complex things appear. When new things appear and work well in the environment, these are threshold events. As we pass each threshold, things get more difficult due to the added complexity. Complex things are more fragile and the Goldilocks conditions they need to survive become more stringent.
To further illustrate this, consider the development of a forest. Bare soil, sufficient water, sunlight, and a certain quality of soil provide the perfect place for grasses and ferns. This in turn will give way to shrubs, then a young forest, and then a mature forest. As this happens, plants and animals must exploit increasingly specialized niches to compete in an increasingly crowded space. The more specialized the plant or animal, the less flexible it is to cope with a sudden change in the environment. So when a fire hits, it destroys the vast majority of biodiversity in the forest, leaving only the most flexible plants and animals left. Greater complexity and greater specialization reduces flexibility and therefore increases our vulnerability to a change in the environment.
Perhaps some examples of “global fires” that have reduced the earth’s biodiversity could include the meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs; wild and persistent climate change in Africa between 140,000 and 70,000 years ago; the massive eruption of volcanoes and the advent of the Anthropecene.
Key Goldilocks Conditions and Threshold Events
David Christian’s talk builds a picture called ‘Big Story’ where he identifies some key Goldilocks conditions in the threshold events that followed. These include:
• After the Big Bang, (a threshold event in itself) the matter of the Big Bang began to conglomerate due to the fact that mass has gravity. When matter comes together, it creates heat. Enough matter and enough heat (a Goldilocks condition) (around 10,000,000 degrees) will create a star (a threshold event).
• A star is a balance between gravity that pulls matter in and fusion that pulls matter out. This fusion creates new elements and when the star dies in a supernova (a Goldilocks condition) we have the additional complexity of the periodic table (a threshold event).
• Elements fly into space and then recombine in infinite ways (a Goldilocks condition). Occasionally these infinite shapes form rocky planets with:
… (a threshold event).
• When you are lucky enough to have a rocky planet with energy, chemicals, and liquids (a Goldilocks condition), you may be lucky enough to find some exotic chemicals starting to form (a threshold event).
• Experiment with enough exotic chemicals over a long enough period of time (a Goldilocks condition) and you will eventually create DNA (a threshold event).
• Give DNA enough time and ask it to reproduce often enough during that time (a Goldilocks condition) and it will start to make mistakes in its reproduction. Some of these errors will prove beneficial (a threshold event).
• After another astonishing period of time with billions of mutations (Goldilocks conditions) and we began to see plants and animals appear (a threshold event).
• Let these plants and animals further explore the options created by mutation (Goldilocks conditions) and we begin to see a wide variety of complex life (a threshold event)
• Sometimes unexpected Goldilocks conditions occur that will change the course of history. In this case, maybe it was an asteroid that hit planet Earth and took out the dinosaurs and many other life forms. This created the Goldilocks conditions for mammalian evolution (a threshold event).
• With mammals filling the evolutionary niche left after dinosaurs in these Goldilocks conditions, some mammals were able to master the tools of evolution itself through collective learning (a threshold event).
• An unexpected Goldilocks event in the form of wild and persistent climate change in Africa created the conditions for Homo Sapiens to change their diet, culture and tools. This threshold event resulted in Homo Sapiens leaving Africa as the most flexible beast on the planet. They entered the Middle East and Homo Erectus disappears. Then they enter Europe and the Neanderthals disappear.
• In the fertile flood in Turkey and Iraq, there are Goldilocks conditions rich alluvial soil, abundant water and a warm temperate climate. These conditions were suitable for discovering agriculture … a threshold event.
• The first cities that were built on or near the faults created the Goldilocks conditions to discover the metals bronze and iron.
• The invention of the printing press and a wealthy nation-city with money to invest in the arts created Goldilocks conditions for the threshold of rebirth event.
• A surplus of labor, a liberation from the laws on land ownership and the flow of capital were the Goldilocks conditions for the threshold event of the industrial revolution.
The Vortex of Total Perspective
In a book called ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’, author Douglas Adams introduces us to a torture device called ‘The Total Perspective Vortex’ that shows how important you are compared to the entire universe.
“When they put you in the Vortex, you get a momentary glimpse of all the unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a little mark, a microscopic point upon a microscopic point, that says,” You are here. “
The effect of the Total Perspective Vortex is that it surprises people and they usually come out brainless.
When you look at the history of the universe in terms of a series of fortuitous Goldilocks conditions that led to threshold events, combined with massive amounts of time and the devilishly small probability that you ever existed … it is, perhaps, a glimpse into the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’. It is an incredibly humbling experience.