Is there a second arrow of time? New research says yes

You’re probably familiar with the “arrow of time,” but did you know there could be another arrow?

Dr. Robert Hazen, a staff scientist at Carnegie Science University’s Earth and Planetary Laboratory in Washington, D.C., believes that a single arrow of time may be too limiting. The second arrow, called the Law of Increased Functional Information, takes evolution into account. Specifically, Hazen shows that development seems to involve not only time but also function and purpose.

Think of a coffee cup: It works best when holding your coffee, but it can also work as a paperweight, and won’t work well at all as a screwdriver. Hazen explains that the universe appears to use a similar method of evolution not only in biology, but in other complex systems throughout the universe.

This idea suggests that as the universe ages and expands, it becomes more organized and efficient, which is almost at odds with theories surrounding increasing cosmic disorder. Hazen suggests that these two “arrows”—one of entropy and the other of structured information—could run parallel to each other. If this theory is correct, it could be groundbreaking in the way we perceive time, evolution, and the very fabric of reality.

Robert Hazen: I have to make a confession here. I have to be honest. We could be wrong. We could be stunningly wrong. But it is also possible that science is missing a profound truth about the universe. We have the ten or so laws of nature, and only one of them currently has an arrow of time. This is the second law of thermodynamics, increasing entropy – it is disorder; It’s decay.

We are all growing up. all of us will die. But the second law does not explain why things evolve; Why does life arise from non-life? You look around and see flowers blooming, trees blooming, and birds singing. All of these things seem to contradict the idea of ​​chaos. In fact, it is a kind of arrangement of nature.

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Let me tell you what we think: We think there’s a missing law, a second arrow of time that describes this increase in order, and we think it’s about information increase. So there are two possibilities. We could be wrong. We could be terribly wrong, dramatically wrong. But I think, if we’re wrong, we’re wrong in a very interesting way. And I think, if we’re right, this is very important.

I’m Bob Hazen. I’m a scientist at Carnegie University’s Earth and Planetary Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and I study mineralogy and astrobiology. I love science. We believe that, for some reason, there was a second arrow missing for time. This arrow has to do with increasing information, increasing order, and increasing standardization which goes hand in hand with the arrow of increasing chaos, increasing chaos, and entropy.

The core of everything we’ve been thinking about, in terms of the Lost Law, is evolution. When I say the word “evolution,” you immediately think of Darwin, but this idea of ​​selection goes far beyond Darwin and life. This applies to the evolution of atoms. This applies to the development of minerals. This applies to the evolution of planets, atmospheres, and oceans. Evolution, which we see as an increase in the diversity, pattern, and complexity of systems over time.

So the question is, “Well, what is evolution?” Evolution is simply selection for function. This applies to every type of system. Now, in life, you have to choose organisms that can survive long enough to be able to reproduce and have offspring that pass on their characteristics. This is what Darwin said, and this is a very important example of job selection. But, in the world of minerals, you choose organizations, aggregates, and structures of atoms that persist, which can persist for billions of years even in new environments.

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They don’t collapse. Do not melt. They don’t shy away from the weather. It is very similar to biological evolution, but different in details. We believe there is a missing law, which is the law of evolution. If there is a law, it must be quantitative. It must have a scale. You have to be able to measure something. And what we focused on is a fascinating concept about information but not just information in general, what’s called “functional information.”

Let me see if I can explain this to you, because it took me a while to figure it out on my own. Imagine a system, a sophisticated system that has the ability to create huge numbers of different configurations. Let’s say it’s atoms to make up metals, and you have dozens of different elements that make up metals, and they can arrange themselves in all different ways. And 99.99999999 — I could go on — percent of these configurations won’t work. They will collapse. They will never form. Too small a fraction makes a stable metal, and you end up with few stable metals and a lot of rejection.

Now, all you have to do is think about this fraction. If one in a hundred trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion is a stable probability, then you can represent that fraction as information. And because it’s such a small piece, you need a lot of pieces of information to do that – that’s functional information. Evolution is simply an increase in functional information because as you choose for better and better results, you choose minerals that are more and more stable. I chose for organisms that can swim. They can fly. They can see.

You need more information, and each step on the evolutionary ladder leads you to more functional information. So, our law, our missing law, the second arrow of time is called the “Law of Functional Information Augmentation.” This is the parallel arrow of time that we believe exists and we want to understand. The idea of ​​increasing functional information has a really profound impact. Think of the functional information of a coffee cup; Maybe you’re carrying one now.

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You have a bunch of atoms, and those atoms can be trillions trillion trillions of different configurations, but only a small fraction of those configurations can fit a cup of coffee. Now, think of a coffee cup as a paperweight. I know you used a coffee cup as a paperweight. We all have it, and it’s pretty good at it, but you can make a better paperweight. And a coffee cup makes an awesome screwdriver. So think about this: We’re saying that a cup of coffee is as valuable as a cup of coffee. It has some value as a paperweight, but no value as a screwdriver – that’s contextual.

This is why the second arrow of time is difficult for science because it says that there is something in the natural world that is not absolute. It’s contextual. It depends on what your purpose is. It depends on what your job is. If this is true, then what we are saying is that there is something in the universe that increases order, increases complexity, and does not do so in a random way. It’s a choice for the job. And if so, if you’re choosing function, it means there seems to be almost – can I use the word “purpose?”

Do metals have a purpose? Does the atmosphere have a purpose? Does life have a purpose? For me, there is something real there, and the old way of thinking that envisions a single arrow of time is no longer true for me.

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