Edwin Hubble discovered that no matter where he looked, every distant galaxy appeared to be receding from our Earth. In time, we learned that the simplest explanation suggests empty space itself is actively growing. The larger the distance that separates you from another object, then the more empty space there is between you, and so the faster the growth of that emptiness will separate you further.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics can be phrased in many different ways, but it’s never quite a law. The branch of physics called “thermodynamics” was first developed when people were trying to build better steam-powered machines — yes, the same era that brought us the pocket-watch-toting, zeppelin-piloting, goggle-adorned raccoons of Steampunk art is also responsible for the 2nd Law — and the Second Law imposes a cap on how good any machine can be.
“Not all heat energy can be converted to work in a cyclic process.”
“Cold objects can’t transfer their heat to hot objects.”
“The randomness of the universe is always increasing.”
Of course, it is possible for heat to be transferred out of a cold object. It is possible for the air to do work on its own. Molecules are jiggling about in all sorts of directions, and we would get some work out of them for free if they chanced to all jiggle in the same direction at the same time. This is very unlikely, but still possible. When physicists invoke the Second Law, they’re like parents trying to quell a small child who’s asking, after you told her that she has to buckle her seatbelt every time she rides in the car, “But what if there was a poisonous snake on the seatbelt buckle, and I didn’t have any gloves, and the snake didn’t want to get out of the car because she laid some eggs there, and …”
Sometimes, we accept that things are so unlikely that we’re not going to think about them.
Of course, life itself is unlikely. Living creatures are intricately ordered structures. For us to exist, we create chaos elsewhere. Which we can see if we consider the Earth as a whole: our planet lies in the path of an orderly set of high energy photons radiating out from the sun. What we do — all the plants and animals and oceans of our little world — is to gobble up those orderly photons, then radiate a larger number of lower-energy photons in all directions.
We eat order and excrete chaos. We’ll continue until we can’t; the lifespan of our universe is bounded by the need to consume order whenever we make interesting things happen. (This idea is beautifully depicted in Ted Chiang’s short story “Exhalation.“)
Considering the gastric capacity of Jesus: real-world objects have non-zero bulk & breadth, but it felt interesting to consider the curls & loops that might fit an infinite path within the finite volume of a savior’s abdomen. I found myself thinking about the Mandlebrot set, a surface with endlessly-repeating forms. As one looks ever closer, there are always more twists and turns, and although these are progressively smaller, the sum of these path distances seems to be unbounded.
And, as much as I liked watching kids with quarters play Mortal Kombat at the arcade, I have to admit that Nidhogg 2 has the best ending of any fighting game.