“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not Even Entropy Is the Top Object

How much information could you cram onto a single sheet of letter paper?

Imagine you have a nanoscale pen. Imagine writing tiny tiny nanoscale letters with this pen, on a nanoscale piece of paper. If you do the job as thoroughly as possible, you will make a black hole singularity. (Raphael Bousso of Lawrence Berkeley, take it away.)

(Don't you think Keats would've killed for a pen like that?)

That's what a black hole is, from the viewpoint of Shannon entropy. Shannon entropy measures the amount of information in a system.

For instance, the English language has a Shannon entropy of between 0.6 and 1.5 bits per letter. That means that when you read this, you are slightly less likely than predicting a coin toss to figure out the letters that come next.

From a black hole's point of view, global warming on Earth is a pathetic speck of dust. From entropy's point of view, the point of view of all the massless particles at the end of the Universe, the black hole is also a pathetic speck of dust.

Entropy, in this sense, is always entropy-for. An entropic system requires something outside of itself to read off the information state.

From this we can conclude that even if there is only one universe (which now seems quite unlikely), and one arc of time in which it comes into and goes out of being—even if that is the case, entropy is not the telos or top object or final vantage point from which to judge everything. Because entropy requires a measuring device, if only a virtual one. Nihilism is based on a belief that there is a top object. It is, in other words, a disguised form of theism.

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