The Adventures of Boltzmann Brain (part III)

I still have a letter she sent me.

"You ask about second law of thermodynamics," she writes: "and I am not surprised. It have been all around the news lately. But what is there to say? 'Entropy always increases,' as PR people like to put it. But in fact it states that law and order are constantly seeping away. It's a matter of interest to Police, really."

The fact that any assembly of particles heads towards thermal equilibrium doesn't come as a surprise. But once your life spans billions of years it becomes less of a theoretical principle and more a matter of practical interest. We thought that we defeated death only to find out that our lives in the future will be steered by the rhythm of dissipating energy.

Hold your breath for a second and you can even hear it. It's like tiny insects running on the floor when you wake up at night. Like a light drizzle on roof tiles.

It determines where you can and cannot go. And in the end you just cling to places where space is not completely flat yet and avoid travel altogether. These days I am happy if I find enough energy to buy a six-pack in the shop at the corner.

It forces you to decide which memories to keep and which to shed. Storing information comes at a cost. And when you choose to forget, you'd better forget what you have forgotten.

So what have I done all those eons in Sculptor Wall? I, for one, don't know.

But thermodynamics is an elusive mistress. The more you try to understand what's going on the less you know.

Is entropy a fact about the universe? Or is it a fact about our understanding of the universe?

You find some old dusty particles in a box and all you see is chaos. But later you look again and realise that there is a system in how they are organised.

Wow! The entropy of the system have just decreased! You clearly remember that it was higher yesterday. You have defeated the second law of thermodynamics! Congratulations!

But wait! 1984-effect have kicked in in the meantime and you realise that the entropy have always been lower. We have always been at war with Eurasia. So the law holds after all.

It's tricky. Can we rule out the possibility that there are sophonts out there who fare perfectly well under high entropy conditions, who, in fact, don't consider it to be high entropy at all? Who knows. There's no way to tell.

I did once knew a sophont from Macau who played double bass in a bebop band.

"When the thermal death of the universe comes," he used to say, "you can subscribe to the frequentist creed and believe that the universe is waning away. Or you can, as I do, hang out with bayesians and believe that it's your sanity that's falling apart."

Then he ordered a round of absinthe for all of us.

I met him few years later when he ran a fish restaurant under government franchise. He also bought a motorcycle. When I asked him about thermal death of universe he first mumbled something about haven't thought about the topic for years. Then he asserted that he had never heard of it. Finally he said that he has an urgent errand to run and disappeared in the crowd.

Welcome to the age of eschatological cults!


Martin Sústrik, April 23rd, 2016

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