On Entropy, the Arrow of Time, and Anthropic bias

I am going to digress from my usual rambling to allow you a brief snapshot into what Better Half and I do while driving: we communicate. Talking is a lost art to many people. It is more than a method of conveying needs; it is the prime method whereupon we can convey thoughts, theory, and philosophical ideas. To dialog, to communicate what seems incommunicable, is divine.

This entire topic began when I purchased a cheap watch. I have owned many in my life, but seldom wear one. I tend to exist outside the ideals of the space-time continuum, as I ignore time as a dimension.


(In physics, spacetime is a mathematical model that combines three-dimensional space and one-dimensional time into a single construct called the space-time continuum, in which time plays the role of the 4th dimension. According to Euclidean space perception, our universe has three dimensions of space, and one dimension of time. By combining space and time into a single manifold, physicists have significantly simplified a good deal of physical theory, as well as described in a more uniform way the workings of the universe at both the supergalactic and subatomic levels.)
Time is a strange thing. We can have a perception of the passage of time, as things move along in a sequence - the sun rises, and the sun also sets. This is what most think of when they hear the word "time" itself - the Time of Day/Night (and you don't even need to know who Isaac Newton is!)

I hold closer to Immanuel Kant's view of time: time is part of the fundamental intellectual structure (together with space and number) within which we sequence events, quantify the duration of events and the intervals between them, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that "flows", that objects "move through", or that is a "container" for events.

I simply couldn't care less when I wake up, when I go to bed, or when I eat breakfast. I do not keep a schedule that is set, as I set my own schedule and never seem to do things exactly the same from day to day. I lose track of time, not because I fail to pay attention to its passing, but because I have no need to bother with tracking it at all. Clocks assault my vision in just about every room, but how often have I bothered to actually glance at one simply for the desire to know what time of day it is? Hardly ever, unless my existence must suddenly grind itself back to a more mundane path due to the pressing need to coordinate my personal time with the synchronicity of the rest of the world (or to keep an appointment in time with a doctor or group.) Thus I exist, and thus Isaac Newton rolls over in his grave. Kant, I am sure, would applaud that there is at least one being who does not need to rely upon Newton's theories in order to maintain sanity. I am quite happy to exist without a schedule or the knowledge of "what time it is" right now.

Hence, I shrug at time. I am chronologically challenged, meaning that the time arrow does affect me mentally (although I do age) yet I see all things as relevant. I balk at the evidence of time's passing, for it means nothing. I am not immortal, yet my mortality is not hinged upon moving forward in time or in time's stagnation (for if time stagnates, then nothing moves forward, and the only option is to find out why, or hold on as we surf the event horizon and the effects of reverse of time back to the black hole of Antioch. Never mind. You had to be there - 19 years ago - in the singularity of that moment, for that joke to hit home as humor.)


Alright. I'll try to explain (and will borrow, heavily, from other sources!)

Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that "picks" a particular direction for time, sometimes called an arrow of time. As we go "forward" in time, the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that the entropy of an isolated system can only increase or remain the same; it cannot decrease. Hence, from one perspective, entropy measurement is thought of as a kind of clock (think of Newton.)

In the natural sciences, time’s arrow, or arrow of time as it is also known, is a term used to distinguish a direction of time on a four-dimensional relativistic map of the world - which can be determined by a study of organizations of atoms, molecules, and bodies. \

The thermodynamic arrow of time is provided by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that in an isolated system entropy will only increase with time; it will not decrease with time. Entropy can be thought of as a measure of disorder; thus the Second Law implies that time is asymmetrical with respect to the amount of order in an isolated system: as time increases, a system will always become more disordered. This asymmetry can be used empirically to distinguish between future and past. (I won't delve into Chaos Theory here.)

The Second Law does not hold with strict universality: any system can fluctuate to a state of lower entropy (see the Poincaré recurrence theorem). However, the Second Law seems accurately to describe the overall trend in real systems toward higher entropy.

Certain subatomic interactions involving the weak nuclear force violate the conservation of parity, but only very rarely. According to the CPT Theorem, this means they should also be time irreversible, and so establish an arrow of time. Such processes should be responsible for matter creation in the early universe. To me, in my daily life, time follows that pathway perfectly. I can not undo what has been done. I can not reverse time to change things that would later become a pinnacle by which I gain the desire to change so that the pinnacle does not take place, therefore changing my own timeline infinitely as that pinnacle is reshaped and reformed with each attempt to rid myself of it (and should I remove it I remove the desire to return to that point in time, thereby it does happen... or does it? Parallel universes explode, and Mickey Mouse does the Mashed Potato on Elvis' grave.)

This arrow is not linked to any other arrow by any proposed mechanism, and if it would have pointed to the opposite time direction, the only difference would have been that our universe would be made of anti-matter rather than from matter. More accurately, the definitions of matter and anti-matter would just be reversed. Does it matter? Not to me, but that is because I am just weird. It effects me, as I can not escape the clutches of time itself.

That parity is broken so rarely means that this arrow only "barely" points in one direction, setting it apart from the other arrows whose direction is much more obvious.

Quantum evolution is governed by the Schrödinger equation, which is time-symmetric, and by wave function collapse, which is time irreversible. As the mechanism of wave function collapse is still obscure, it's not known how this arrow links to the others. While at the microscopic level, collapse seems to show no favor to increasing or decreasing entropy, some believe there is a bias which shows up on macroscopic scales as the thermodynamic arrow. According to the theory of quantum decoherence, and assuming that the wave function collapse is merely apparent, the quantum arrow of time is a consequence of the thermodynamic arrow of time. Geeks everywhere are wondering if I would touch up "the cat". I won't. I don't believe it exists, and I walk through it. I won't let anthropic bias hinder me.


"Anthropic bias" is a term coined by the philosopher Nick Bostrom, as an expression for the bias arising when "your evidence is biased by observation selection effects". This is, basically an extreme generalization of the confirmation bias and the cognitive bias, involving not only mind-set, memory and methodology, but the whole way in which one sees oneself as an entity investigating an environment. As the etymology of the term suggests (from the Greek word for "human being") Bostrom's main claim could be reduced to saying that being a human being itself constitutes a bias for, and consequently a hindrance to, objective observation. In my own pondering, I tend to take things from different perspectives, and I often forget that I am approaching things as a human being. I escape the bounds and limitations of time and space, disregard biological necessities, and "lose track" of time as a whole. I spend hours probing a forming hypothesis, testing it to see if it would withstand the beatings necessary to become theory. I cease to the be entity, and become that which I study, bit by bit, on a mental scale. I leave the realm of hard science and embrace philosophy, but science remains my grounding point as the laws of mathematics must always be applied.
Bostrom suggests a way out using what amounts to quasi-empirical methods, and I enjoy embracing his philosophy. In his book Anthropic Bias: observation selection effects in science and philosophy, Bostrom explores the implications of these for "polling, cosmology (how many universes are there?), evolution theory (how improbable was the evolution of intelligent life on our planet?), the problem of time's arrow (can it be given a thermodynamic explanation?), game theoretic problems with imperfect recall (how to model them?), traffic analysis (why is the "next lane" faster?)."

It has been suggested that the whole idea of an anthropic bias is irrefutable. How could a criticism, presumably made by a human being, against the theory of anthropic biases be conceived? If it is not possible to review it critically, the whole theory becomes a will-o'-the-wisp without any practical consequences for our human lives here on Earth. I can tell you that existing the way I do when I'm on a mental tangent is harmful, as the "real life" things that are critical are often ignored. To remove oneself, one must remove one's self. To remove one's self, one neglects others. Few people can so totally remove themselves and remain sane. Perhaps that is an indication that I am insane, yet do we base sanity upon how an individual reacts to his environment, or do we base it on that individuals ability to grasp reality? Even on a "tangent", I assure that I grasp reality for what it is. I simply choose to ignore that which is not immediately essential for me to complete by reasoning.

Another problem with the theory purporting the existence of a general anthropic bias, is that it sounds self-referentially inconsistent — If Nick Bostrom is a human being, and the anthropic principle is valid, then his observations will be biased; the anthropic principle is an observation made by Nick Bostrom; hence, either (α) Nick Bostrom is not a human being (or alternatively, knowledge of the anthropic principle was supernaturally revealed to him), or (β) the anthropic principle is itself anthropically biased, or (γ) at least one observation made by a human being (e.g. N.B.'s observation of the anthropic bias) is not biased (γ is a counterexample of the general anthropic principle, and all three alternatives (α, β, and γ) point to Bostrom's theory being poorly conceived.

Needless to say, this entire line of thinking stems from a conversation between Better Half and myself, whereupon we dialoged concerning what terminology would best apply to me as far as my attunement to time is concerned. Am I chronologically challenged, in regards to my complete ignorance of the actual time of day? Am I entropically hindered, as I throw the 4th dimension out the window on a daily basis? Perhaps we are socially challenged, Better Half and I. Perhaps other spouses discuss the kids, or groceries, or shoes? Perhaps they dwell upon stupid, mundane matters such as what to eat next Friday? Perhaps the only thing holding them together is the daily events that bind them, and their relationship goes stagnate as they attempt to keep cohesive as a pair by interjecting commentaries about how they think things should be when the sun rises? I don't know. Better Half and I have always had the ability to remove ourselves from the "mate" prospect, male and female, in order to explore the scientific and philosophical nature of things as a combined mind. That, dear readers, is why I married him. Time destroys, breaks down mountains and turns seas into deserts.

In time, relationships based solely upon sexual fulfillment fall by the wayside. When I chose Better Half, it was for his mind as well as his body. As we age, and as the arrow of time reminds us that we are indeed mortal, we will lose our bodies to the ravages of time, yet we have a bond that will keep cohesive for as long as our minds hold out. For those that are curious - I exist in a world that does not reply upon time, and my thread of connectivity to the real world is held by a being that is content to obey the laws of time: hence, I am grounded.

6 responded with...:

Book said...

I've always known you were "out there". Now we know why.

LMAO you are too funny.

AnnieElf said...

Oh, I totally got this time as dimension thing. I have lots of pretty watches that I wear for a while and then put away, usually when the battery dies (which on me is very soon - must be my electric personality). I like the idea of a watch and keeping track. Doing it? I think not. It's all about the jewelry. I'm thinking of taking all of the unused watches in my house and hanging them on a pretty background and turning them into ART.

sophie said...

that is why i miss my ex so much-
his beautiful beautiful mind:(

Joe Duran said...

Hi!!!! Such an awesome thought process. Your topic reminded me of last night's 3 hours conversation . I will be having a "first date" tonight, but the talking we did told me volumes. I think tonight will just be the icing on the cake so to speak. Thanks for writing and sending me a peice of synchronicity my way. Communication is key!

Belle said...


N'tran said...

N'tran here.

I tend to think of time as
dimension zero,
in the space-time continuum.

Dimension four would be the
distance between parallel

And yes, quantum physics,
and the Schroedinger equation,
could be solved yielding another

The Copenhagen interpretation
of Schroedinger equation
solutions is a probability.