Energy, entropy and time

(Published in Grail World Special Issue 5/2000)

The question of the fate of the universe is linked to the term “energy”. According to our current physical worldview, the end of space is inevitable: Either it “dies” the so-called “entropic heat death” or it begins to contract again at some point, whereby the “arrow of time” is also reversed, so time could run backwards.[i] 

How did the current ideological ideas come about and is our universe really a "closed system"? Religious revelations and also the news of the “Grail” suggest that energies that cannot be physically grasped have an essential part in world events. 

Ever since people have been thinking about themselves and the world, they have also been concerned with the concept of time.

In ancient times one observed the course of the stars, the change of day and night and the cycle of the seasons. This gave rise to the idea of the constant recurrence of the same. The person whose life seems very short was placed in this perpetual change.

This loophole was closed by the doctrine of reincarnation, which had not only existed since at least 500 BC. In India, but also from Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) was represented in Greece. This could reconcile man with his temporally limited earthly life by postulating further existences on earth and in the hereafter.

The Bible gave a different approach. In Genesis (the first book of Moses) everything begins with an act of creation, so it has a beginning. And where there is a beginning, according to all human experience, an end can also be expected. This is a topic of concern to Old Testament prophets, occupies a large space in the Gospels and finds its clear expression in the last book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse of John.

From the end of time

The considerations about the "end of time" remained assumptions, resulted in religious doctrines or philosophical speculations. The constant change remained an observable fact:

"As long as the earth stands, sowing and harvesting, frost and heat, summer and winter, day and night should not cease." (Genesis 8:22).

Even the science of the modern age did not at first know how to contribute to the riddle of the time, which can only be derived from the Diversity of the successive moments and can be determined from them.

Isaac Newton (1643-1727) worked with an abstract concept of time that physicists could use well into the 20th century:

"Absolute, true, and mathematical time flows in itself and, by virtue of its nature, is uniform and unrelated to any external object."

But why time only runs in one direction, why the past cannot be restored with any means, could also be the great Newton not say.

Thermodynamics and "Conservation of Energy"

In the age of romanticism, from 1865, a completely new contribution to the understanding of time came from an unexpected source: the new came from thermodynamics, which deals with heat as a form of energy and which initially appears to have little to do with the philosophical understanding of time.

There are two basic statements in this thermodynamics, which are called the first and second “law of thermodynamics”.

The "first law of thermodynamics" reads: “Heat is a form of energy. It can be generated from mechanical work and converted into mechanical work. "

From this it follows that the thermal energy can neither arise directly from “nothing”, nor disappear into “nothing”, but was recognized as energy. For example, part of the solar matter is converted into energy when the sun radiates its unimaginable energies into space during its nuclear fusion.

On the other hand, generating energy from nothing - usually called perpetual motion machine - seems impossible. At most, the discovery of previously unknown sources of energy would be conceivable. -

The "Second Law of Thermodynamics" reads: "Heat can only pass from a body at a higher temperature to a body at a lower temperature, but not the other way around."

With this second law we get a ranking of the energies. You can see from it that a quantity of heat at a higher temperature has a greater value than the same quantity of heat at a lower temperature. Likewise, different types of energy have different values, since the “higher” form of energy can be converted into a lower form of energy without loss, but the reverse path is blocked.

Mechanical energy is transformed into heat through friction. However, this frictional heat can no longer be converted back into mechanical energy without loss, because the "orderly movement" of the mechanical energy has become heat, a "disordered molecular wobble" that cannot simply be rearranged. Every car provides a practical example: When braking, the mechanical energy of the movement is converted into heat (the brakes get hot!). This heat cannot then be used again to accelerate the vehicle.

The two main principles of thermodynamics, by the way, are empirical statements that only apply to "closed systems" and cannot be proven. Therefore, there are always doubts about its universal validity, and inventions are still being presented today that violate these main principles and are therefore not considered patentable.

Since scientists do not concern themselves with such ideas, they are usually not examined in more detail, which can occasionally drive inventors to despair.

Entropy and "heat death"

In order to find a name and a measure for these losses that occur with every energy conversion - for this "disorder" which, according to the physical understanding, must continuously increase - the term "entropy" was introduced. It is a quantity that can only be described mathematically, which cannot be measured directly and which is also not immediately accessible to understanding.

A humorous explanation for this term will be Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), who is said to have said that one can recognize the essence of entropy from the fact that disorder always arises “by itself” on his desk.

With entropy, a difference between the past and the future can be physically defined: yesterday the entropy was lower than today, and tomorrow it will be greater than today. The past - the previous state - cannot be restored by any means of physics.

If one applies the idea of inexorably increasing disorder, the measure of which is entropy, to the universe, the following thought arises: energies - for example in the form of heat - are unevenly distributed in space. Just think of the hot sun and the freezing cold between the stars.

All organic life is based on physical, chemical, biological processes, which are all the same in one respect: They need energy, which they can only obtain by flowing energy from a higher level to a lower one ("Second Law"). Whether a roof tile falls to the ground, whether the sunlight warms the globe or whether a river drives a waterwheel, energy always changes from “higher level” to energy “lower level”.

All of these energy conversions are only possible because there are level differences that tend to even out each other. Water only flows down the mountain, heat only flows from the hot stove to the colder surroundings, and no body heats up by drawing heat from its cooler surroundings.

However, where there are no longer any differences in the energy level, every flow of energy ceases and with it all organic life!

Since there is now a tendency everywhere that differences in the energy level want to balance each other out, it can only be a matter of time before all energy has been evenly distributed throughout the universe.

The suns will then be burned out, each celestial body can only radiate heat until it has reached the same temperature as its surroundings, until everything is "equally warm", ie has reached the same energy level. Then all life comes to an end, all chemical reactions cease.

What remains are only mechanical movements of the planets around their cold suns, until finally - slowed down by frictional resistance that is not completely absent even in space - the last planets crash onto their central star.

The “heat death” - the uniform distribution of all energy in space - would therefore be the inevitable, preprogrammed end of the universe towards which it rushes.

Whatever we do, whether we work or sleep, we increase the "disorder", i.e. the entropy of the universe, and every event, from the breathing of a person to the crash of a celestial body or the explosion of a sun, increases the entropy strives towards its maximum, the "heat death" of the universe.

Are living things "anentropic"?

Living beings consist of highly complicated, so in the sense of thermodynamics highly "improbable" structures that seem to contradict the entropy principle. For example, the smallest bacterium that may only live for minutes is more complicated than any work of human technology.

But the second law in no way contradicts the structure of highly developed living beings, no matter how improbable they may be from a thermodynamic point of view. This principle only says that in one completed System, the entropy must always increase.

Our earth, for example, is not a closed system at all. she is a open System, integrated into the energy flow sun - earth - space, which makes life on our planet possible. The entropy may also decrease locally due to the development of plants and animals on earth, at the same time the entropy of the sun increases. The existence of organic life that creates higher structures from simple ones does not contradict the entropy principle as a whole.

From the passage of time

Our human consciousness is shaped by the “thermodynamic arrow of time”: Yesterday was earlier than today, and we know nothing about tomorrow. The requirement of the entropy law that time only runs in one direction seems natural, because no one has ever been able to observe “time going backwards”.

This self-evident fact cannot be scientifically proven, and modern physics cannot rule out the possibility that the arrow of time could also turn around.

The physicist Stephen W. Hawking (1942-2018) found a way out of this dilemma by associating the arrow of time with the expansion of space. Our universe is expanding, and during this expansion the arrow of time must move in the known direction.

Should this expansion come to a standstill one day, and then space collapse slowly at first, then faster and faster, then the arrow of time could be reversed and time would run backwards. Under these conditions, however, plant, animal, human life would no longer be possible for a long time. There is no need to speculate what physics might look like in retrospect, because no one will experience this epoch.

The end of the universe and thus all physical life seems inevitable, regardless of whether it occurs through entropic heat death or through the reversal of the arrow of time in the contraction phase of space.

Recently one assumes that the expansion of the universe accelerates continuously due to a mysterious "dark energy". The heat death would be sure to him then!

Is our world a closed system?

In past millennia, "interventions from above" were considered a fact. Gods of the ancient Greeks actively intervened in wars, prophets warned of the "punishment of God", and even in our time the "action of God in history" is sought. (Recently I heard from a professor of theology that the reunification of Germany was possible only as a result of divine intervention).

In historical research it has been at the latest since David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) published his then highly controversial work “The Life of Jesus” (1835), excluding the idea of direct divine interventions.

But the human mind resists the assertion that our world must inevitably end in chaos and heat death. One unconsciously refuses to accept the universe as a “closed system” which, left to the physical laws of nature, cannot hope for any help.

No religion can come to terms with this "world forsaken by God"; every religious person seeks contact upwards, begs for further insights that the world view of physics cannot offer him.

Hope is promised by an old tradition: the legendary tale of the Grail.

The miraculous power of this vessel is reported in many forms. This is considered a "power mediator" between the Creator and his creation. God has not abandoned his creatures. He has not only established perfect laws in His work, but also supplies it with sustaining power. This sacred power sustains and promotes all worlds, and no one need feel abandoned by God. -

Anyone who wants to can draw further conclusions from this. The force (a physicist would speak of “energy”) from the Holy Grail then also acts “anentropically”, it reduces the “disorder” in creation. Accordingly, our world is not a “closed system” at all, because spiritual energy constantly flows to it from outside, which ultimately also becomes effective on earth. With this, “the world” does not have to inevitably, at the mercy of the entropy principle, rush towards chaos.

The Creator himself, who can continuously give off power, stands far above the principles formulated by thermodynamics. It is hardly a coincidence that the two main principles were found through observation on earth, but never proven: Presumably they only apply in earthly space and in earthly time and lose their influence in higher, in spiritual or even in divine levels.

Man, as an immortal spirit being, can also hope to develop out of the cycle of earthly things, out of growth and decay, out of birth and rebirth, to the form of existence promised by all religions on lighter heights, where other concepts of time prevail - and consequently also the entropy principle does not have to apply.