Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Arrow of Time

What fun! That nice Mr. Amazon sent me a cool new book called "From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time." (I'm not sure what that does to the 1953 movie of the inverted name - put Deborah Kerr on top of Burt Lancaster in that beach scene?)

Anyway, I was eager to get into the book, written by Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, but first I paced around the house a little, thinking about stuff. Like entropy, which of course would have to be a big part of the story. I started pondering how best to explain it to someone - what do you do with a term that not only freaked out 19th Century scientists with the idea of the "heat death" of the universe but also is all-too-well understood by poker players demanding a thorough card shuffle?

I came up with an idea that has to work, at least for oldsters: Think of yourself: low entropy as a baby, quickly growing entropy as you get older and older. (And, of course, when you die, the entropy of your corpse really takes off!)

Imagine my satisfaction when I began reading the prologue and found Carroll explaining entropy not only in terms of the egg-omelet and the cream in the coffee ideas, but also "people are born, grow older, and die."

The author mentioned that as part of his research he would ask people randomly to define "time." He got answers like: "Time is what moves us through life," "Time is what separates the past from the future," etc. Had he asked me, I'd have said that "time is what is necessary to make the other three dimensions work."

OK, so I'll never be a physicist. Hey, I still think it's probably turtles all the way down! You can dispense with a lot of equations that way.

1 comment:

  1. Who told you about the turtles! We must have a leak somewhere. ;)

    My favorite time quote is by John Wheeler:
    "Time is what prevents everything from happening at once".

    Which he followed by:

    "Space is what prevents everything from happening to me!"

    I'm not as impressed with the later, you know what I think about locality. ;)