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No. 36: Nov-Dec 1984

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Order from disorder?

The apparent creation of order in a universe that is supposed to be running down is the subject of a thoughtful report by Wallace and Karen Tucker. They give additional examples of order arising from disorder in astronomy (spiral galaxies, superclusters), from chemistry (Belousav-Zhabotinsky reactions), and biology (embryonic development). Again and again, they ask why order persists on increasing when the Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to demand more disorder.

Throughout the article, the Tuckers employ the card-shuffling analogy. If nature is shuffling the cards of the universe, why are so many royal flushes being dealt? They introduce the works of Ilya Prigogine and others which focus on chemical situations (the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions), where reaction by-products actually make the reaction more likely and in which large, stable spiral and ring-shaped structures appear spontaneously. At the macroscopic level, shock waves from supernovas can (at least in computer models) stimulate the formation of spiral arms in galaxies.

The article concludes with a quote from astronomer David Layzer:

"The universe is unfolding in time but not unraveling; on the contrary, it is becoming constantly more complex and richer in formation."

(Tucker, Wallace, and Tucker, Karen; "Against All Odds: Matter and Evolution in the Universe," Astronomy, September 1984.)

Comment. Now Layzer's statement seems a clear denial of the Second Law. It says, rather, that there is something intrinsic in the universe that creates order (spiral galaxies, amino acids, humans). We don't explain this tendency (assuming it really exists) just by identifying Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions and saying, "That's the way things are." We can go one step further and say that the fundamental particles of physics have just the right properties so that they fall together into atoms, molecules, galaxies, and life forms. Can science go any further?

From Science Frontiers #36, NOV-DEC 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss