An omelette turning back into an egg; cold water in a glass being separated into ice cubes and warm water; chopped up wood coming back together to form the trunk of the tree from which it was cut. As common sense dictates, it is impossible for these processes to occur. That is, you cannot convert a disordered state of things into ordered ones. The magic word here is entropy, or the state of things. There is even a law for it – the second law of Thermodynamics. According to it, the entropy of any irreversible process can never decrease. It always either stays constant, or increases.
What does entropy mean exactly? In layman’s terms, entropy is a state of disorder and unpredictability. When a perfume is sprayed in one corner of a room, it gradually spreads across it. The perfume hence goes from an ordered state, to an unordered one. That is, there is an increase in entropy. In fact, entropy is what governs all the natural processes that occur in the Universe. It is said that the entropy of the Universe is increasing. But then again, increase in entropy means increase in chaos. This gives rise to the question – is the universe ruled by chaos then?
The Early Universe
Physicist Stephen Hawking, along with most others, believes that the Universe formed out of absolutely nothing. It is believed that a quantum fluctuation led to its formation. Although ‘Nothing’ is a concept that is probably quite difficult to wrap your head around, it seems to be like the most organized state of things that is possible! In fact there is a theory which says that the entropy of the Universe was quite low at the time of occurrence of the great Big Bang. Seems contradictory though; with the “soup” of electrons, photons, quarks, matter and antimatter floating around at energies that were billion times higher than the Large Hadron Collider can obtain today. According to Forbes, there were probably around 10^90 of them, crammed into a soccer-ball sized space! It is hard to believe that the entropy wasn’t high at that time. But then, what made it so? You can give credit to the Thermodynamic arrow of time, and, black holes. If it wasn’t for them, the entropy of the Universe would have stayed the same for the past 13.8 billion years.
The Chain Reaction of Actions
Intuitively, chaos brings forth images of havoc and confusion to mind. One would tend to think, and rightly so, that every action and every process creates the future. Every human thought and action, every leaf that falls on the ground, every particle of water in the ocean that flows endlessly, contributes to chaos. In other words, small causes can have large effects. There is a famous theory for this- called the Butterfly effect. According to Fractal Foundation, a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can hypothetically cause a hurricane in China! Although it may take an outrageously large amount of time, it is a plausible scenario.
On a much, much larger scale, the Universe follows the same principle. According to Motter and Ketrin Gelfert, chaos initially started dictating the Universe at a point of 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. It lasted for about 10-36 seconds. The Universe has been expanding ever since. But come to think of it, changing even one minor contraction or pattern would have drastically affected how the Universe would turn out to be, billions of years later.
Will entropy ever stop increasing?
Although the entropy of the Universe has been increasing perpetually, a potential stopping point has been predicted. Deemed as Heat Death, it is the ultimate fate of the Universe in which it will have no thermodynamic free energy. It will not be able to sustain any more processes to increase entropy. Can we avoid it? Theoretically, yes, if we can find a way to regenerate hydrogen atoms from radiation, dark matter or other sources. When will it happen? Well, the decay time for a super massive black hole is about 10 raised to the power 100 years. So don’t pack your bags just yet.
A Philosophical Take on Chaos
According to informationphilosopher, the Greek philosopher Chrysippus once said that a single uncaused cause could destroy the universe (cosmos), which would fall into chaos. He said-
Everything that happens is followed by something else which depends on it by causal necessity. Likewise, everything that happens is preceded by something with which it is causally connected. For nothing exists or has come into being in the cosmos without a cause. The universe will be disrupted and disintegrate into pieces and cease to be a unity functioning as a single system, if any uncaused movement is introduced into it.