Tag Archives: Second Law

The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates – Bloom

2012, Prometheus Books, 708 pages

Back Blurb

How does the cosmos do something it has long been thought only gods could achieve? How does an inanimate universe generate stunning new forms and unbelievable new powers without a creator? How does the cosmos create? That’s the central question of The God Problem.

In The God Problem, you’ll take a scientific expedition into the secret heart of a cosmos you’ve never seen. Not just any cosmos. An electrifyingly inventive cosmos. An obsessive-compulsive cosmos. A driven, ambitious cosmos. A cosmos of colossal shocks. A cosmos of screaming, stunning surprise. A cosmos that breaks five of science’s most sacred laws. Yes, five.

And you’ll be rewarded with author Howard Bloom’s provocative new theory of the beginning, middle, and end of the universe–the Bloom toroidal model, also known as the big bagel theory–which explains two of the biggest mysteries in physics: dark energy and why, if antimatter and matter are created in equal amounts, there is so little antimatter in this universe.

Author Blurb

Howard Bloom has been called “the Darwin, Newton, Einstein, and Freud of the twenty-first century” and “the next Stephen Hawking.” He is the author of The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of CapitalismGlobal Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century; and The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History.

Tragedy and Decay, Comedy and Creativity

I’m very interested in how nature creates order from chaos. For instance, it’s not immediately obvious why, when carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen come together, they’ll link themselves into amino acids. These amino acids in turn will become proteins, the building blocks of life. Then life itself–from plant to reptile to mammal–evolves towards ever higher levels of consciousness. My dog for example, lacks the consciousness to understand the reflection is an image of herself. Sometimes she tries to play with her reflection. Other times, she goes after her reflection as though it were a rival dog. But I have the consciousness to understand a reflection is a reflection. And I’m higher up evolution than my dog. To be sure, Darwin’s process of natural selection explains why evolution happens. But, as Darwin himself was aware, natural selection cannot explain why mutations should happen in the first place that drives life higher, towards more complexity. Darwin could not explain it, nor could anyone else, for that matter. Bloom has a great quote from the physicist Paul Davies, who sums up the problem in these words:

The central issue … is whether the surprising–one might even say unreasonable–propensity for matter and energy to self-organize “against the odds” can be explained using the known laws of physics, or whether completely new fundamental principles are required. In practice, attempts to explain complexity and self-organization using the basic laws of physics have met with little success.

The enigma of order from chaos goes beyond life. It’s everywhere. Look at a beautiful and complex structure such as the arms of the Milky Way galaxy. Gravity can explain the motions of each of its constituent stars. But it can’t explain why, in the vastness of space, galaxies–local pocket of order–should have arisen in the first place. According to the conventional rules of physics, things should be more spread out, more diffuse. And what is this conventional rule, you ask?–well, it’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Here’s the definition of the Second Law from the Libretexts site:

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the state of entropy of the entire universe, as an isolated system, will always increase over time. The second law also states that the changes in the entropy in the universe can never be negative. Why is it that when you leave an ice cube at room temperature, it begins to melt? Why do we get older and never younger? And, why is it whenever rooms are cleaned, they become messy again in the future? Certain things happen in one direction and not the other, this is called the “arrow of time” and it encompasses every area of science. The thermodynamic arrow of time (entropy) is the measurement of disorder within a system. Denoted as delta S, the change of entropy suggests that time is asymmetric with respect to order of an isolated system, meaning: a system will become more disordered, as time increases.

So, there appear to be two powers in everlasting opposition. First, there’s the Second Law. It’s the destroyer. Systems begin in highly ordered states. As high grade energy dissipates into heat, entropy increases until the point where nothing is possible anymore and the system suffers a heat death. It’s an ironclad law. Then, there’s this power that creates order from chaos. It’s nameless. We’re not sure how complexity spontaneously arises. But we can see it happening everywhere. And, worse of all, it seems to defy the Second Law. And this perceived contravention of the Second Law is really one of the great holes in twenty-first century science. Bloom’s book tries to fill in this gap.

The God Problem

Bloom begins by inviting the reader to be Bloom. He tells his story from childhood through the second person ‘you’. For example, when Bloom was a kid, he says he wasn’t very good at many things. But he was persistent. Since you are him (for the duration of the book), the book reads ‘you were persistent, and that’s how you discovered corollary generator theory’. What’s corollary generator theory? That’s one of his key terms for how the universe creates complexity: corollary generation is the process of unpacking implicit properties from axioms.

For Bloom, it all begins with the axiom. For example, it could be axiomatic that parallel lines never meet. Or it could be axiomatic that parallel lines meet in the far distance. After the axiom comes the process of unpacking the properties of the axiom, or corollary generator theory, as he calls it. If parallel lines never meet, the consequence is that space is flat. If parallel lines do meet, however, the consequence is that space is hyperbolic, curved like a saddle. So depending on the axiom, different ‘big pictures’ are possible. Yes, Bloom like coining terms.

So, what do axioms have to do with nature’s creativity? It turns out, that with a handful of simple axioms, complex structures are possible. Bloom’s search for how simple rules can produce complex structures leads him to the termite mound. Termite mounds can be built up to 13 metres and are amazingly complex structures. These structures come with a natural air conditioning mechanism that keeps the interior temperature constant. They are one of the wonders of the insect world. How are they built? They are built on a simple rule: when a termite runs across a termite dropping, it picks it up and puts it on top of the tallest pile of droppings in that area. So out of quite a simple rule, complexity is possible. The question Bloom wonders is: what if the universe is like that?–out of a handful of axioms, nature creates fascinating and complex structures.

‘The God problem’ to Bloom is a question of perspective: the natural world looks so complex, it must have been created by a higher power. But, if he is right, and complexity arises spontaneously through a handful of simple axioms, then God is no longer a necessary hypothesis. This serves Bloom well, who is a raging atheist. He points to John Conway’s Game of LIfe, Mandelbrot sets, and Wolfram’s computer simulations as proof that simple sets of rules can generate unpredictable and complex structures, and, with his proof, he asks whether the universe is like the Game of Life.

The God Problem reads like a history of science from Babylonian up to modern times. What Bloom does is he reinterprets scientific discoveries from ancient to modern times through the axiom (simple, basic assumption), corollary generator theory (unpacking the axiom), emergent property (the unexpected result of unpacking the axiom), and the new big picture (fundamental shift in understanding). For example, one axiom might be: what if the speed of light is a universal constant? Then you might use this assumption to ask how light and matter are intertwined. The emergent property would be E=mc squared, or energy equals mass * the speed of light. The new big picture would then be that matter and energy are related: you could make a nuclear bomb, for example. So while the nuclear bomb is quite complex, the idea behind it, the idea that light is a universal constant, is quite simple. So, the end result is that, even though the world appears to be quite complicated, this complexity might be based on simplicity. You just have to find the simplicity.

I enjoyed reading about the history of scientific discoveries through Bloom’s viewpoint. What I enjoyed less was his appeal to authority. Often he would say: this scientist won x, y, and z awards, so she’s very smart and therefore you should believe her. It smacked of someone saying: “Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize in literature so you should listen to his music.” No, you should listen to his music because he rules. There are some unusual editorial conventions. Whenever he mentions a trade name, the copyright symbol (the little c with a circle around it) appears. So if he mentions iPhone, the iPhone is followed by a copyright symbol. His use of quotation marks is interesting too. Consider this example:

“Discussed” is a very mild word for what these men did. They were , says Proclus “renowned” for their “studies.” So renowned that Plato mentioned them as his “rivals.”

Are all the quotation marks necessary?–maybe the ones around discussed. But surely not around studies and rivals. These are all minor points, of course, but its amazing how jarring such little details are on a reader. My own book is going to the press soon so these little types of details catch my eye.

My major criticism of The God Problem is how the book promises too much. The inside cover, for example, compares Bloom to Einstein, Hawking, Newton, and Freud. I purchased the book believing this. And the book also promises the reader that it contains a proof of how the Second Law of thermodynamics is plain wrong. While it contains lots of example of complexity arising from simplicity, I don’t think it achieves this. And, after reading the book, I conclude that there’s no way Bloom is even remotely close to Einstein, Hawking, Newton, and Freud. It would have been a more satisfying read if the book hadn’t of promised so much. Take Bloom’s “Big Bagel” theory of the universe. It’s right at the end and wraps up the book. The Big Bagel model argues that the universe started from a singularity and is donut shaped. In fourteen or so pages, he explains how it solves the problem of the missing antimatter, the problem of dark matter, and dark flow. He came up with this theory during a brainstorm in 1959. So it’s his theory. But has he published anything on it in a scientific journal? It doesn’t appear like he has. Can he explain why matter went on one side of the donut and antimatter on the other? No. Then he mentions scientists who have published on the donut model in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. The work of these scientists lend credence to his big bagel theory. Wow. Especially the part about the theory being ‘his’. I wonder if the scientists who published on the donut model in the 80s, 90s, and 00s give Bloom credit for this model of the universe. I could look, but I doubt it. An interesting and disappointing read.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

‘The Cosmic Blueprint’ by Paul Davies and the Second Law

On the one hand, there is the Second Law of thermodynamics. Conceived when the deterministic Newtonian cosmos entered the 18th century with its interest in steam engines, industrial revolutions, and other thermodynamic systems, the Second Law says simply that hot things cool down and this cooling process is the arrow of time which will lead to the heat death of the universe. In this final gasp, all the fuel has been used up. Game over. A lump of coal can be used to power a locomotive; once the lump of coal releases its energy as heat, it is a one way reaction; the heat cannot come back together to form a useful lump of coal. The implications of the Second Law?–order decreases, disorder increases, everything is slowly dying, and so on. On the other hand, however, more complex forms constantly arise: planetary systems, galaxies, and life. What is disturbing is that these things arise in seeming violation of the Second Law, which only presages doom and gloom, not the spontaneous triumph of nature to produce order from chaos, animate life from inorganic compounds, consciousness from inert clay, and so on.


That there is this dichotomy between creation and destruction is good news for physicist Paul Davies, who has turned the question into a book: The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe. He must have lots to say because that.s quite the long title! And whether he is talking about new discoveries depends on your frame of reference: the book came out in 1988 (the cover illustration is from the revised 2004 edition which I have not read). My parents bought it for me around that time. Only now have I got around to reading it. As an aside, I.ve been weeding down my book collection. The happy booksellers Russell.s Books on Fort Street has been taking most of my secondary sources (ie books like this that are commentaries). My collection of primary sources (ie Shakespeare, the Bible, Nietzsche, and the original works that other people like to talk about) has been growing as a result. Perhaps primary sources make up three-quarters of my four bookcases now. I hope to weed things down some more. There.s no need really for me to have so many books since most of them are available at the library (and, if I did not already have it, I would have read the new revised edition)! But primary sources are nice to have because I.m always referring to them. And they are all marked up with notes as well. So, after seventeen years, I.ve finally finished this one! I should reward myself with a beer to celebrate the occcasion, since I.ve been looking at this book thinking I should read it for all this time!

Okay, so back to the book. In this book, Davies pits the destructive side of the cosmos against the creative side. Now it turns out, the creative side doesn.t have a fancy ‘law’ like the ‘Second Law’ (in case you.re wondering, and you should be if you don.t know, the First Law is one of the conservation laws). It doesn.t even have any real physicist approved monikers! Would you believe that? What it does go by are terms frightening to scientists such as Aristotelian teleology (a respectable theory in the Middle Ages), vitalism (respectable to New Age folks), Gaia concept (don.t ask), and other such terms. Davies refers to it with the much more respectable name of the ‘cosmic blueprint’. And the book is filled with examples of higher levels of order arising (consciousness, life, and DNA are big arguments). Even inanimate structures, such as Saturn.s rings, are held together by some force which eludes us. If the physical structure of the rings is put into a computer simulator, the longest they can last is a hundred years. Tops. Then they break apart. But obviously there.s something holding them together. Maybe the hand of God? Perhaps. But it.s surprising they haven.t been able to put it into an equation. Davies’ own view seems to lean towards the opinion that somehow the universe has brought about the conditions necessary for life so that consciousness can evolve. He points out that the conscious observer–which is required to break down quantum states (ie Schrodinger.s Cat)–seems to be a necessary part of the process. So, built into the deep structure or blueprint of the universe is this will to complexity which scorns the Second Law. An interesting question: is consciousness the vanity of the cosmos?

But the Second Law itself is no slouch. Well, first of all, unlike the ‘vital force’, it has a proper name and is associated with cool things like the irreversibility of the arrow of time! On the Second Law, Davies quotes the great Eddington. Sir Arthur Eddington to you:

The law that entropy always increases–the Second Law of Thermodynamics–holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations–then so much worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation–well, the experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you not hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

And what does the Second Law imply for us mere mortals? Here.s what Bertrand Russell has to say:

all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Man’s achievements must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–al these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

Wow. No kidding! I wonder if there.s a way to capitalize on this fear? Any entrepreneurs out there? Maybe someone can come up with a ‘Universe Heat Death Survival Kit’!

Now, since I am always labouring away Doing Melpomene.s Work, it occurs to me that perhaps the quarrel between the cosmic blueprint and the Second Law is a scientific analogue to the ancient quarrel between tragedy and comedy. Do you see where I.m going? In tragedy, the best intentions always result in a ‘heat death’. Well, everyone dies in the end. In comedy, however, there is some creative force working in the background of its deep structure so that, no matter how idiotic the characters are, there.s a happy ending, usually a wedding. Comedy is therefore a place where more complex structures (weddings) can occur against all the odds. It.s like life emerging from the primordial soup.

So that.s my thought of the day for you, dear readers. Until next time, I will be Doing Melpomene.s Work.