Where Does Complexity Come From? (Big Picture Ep. 3/5)

Where Does Complexity Come From? (Big Picture Ep. 3/5)

The universe as a whole evolves towards increasing
entropy, or disorder — a tendency physicists call the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This movement toward disorganization might
lead you to think that organized structures – like, say, living beings – would never
spontaneously come into existence. Of course entropy can go down in part of the
universe — you can trade a decrease in entropy in one place (like cooling water so it crystallizes
into ice) for an equal or larger increase in entropy somewhere else (like heating the
back of your fridge). Order increases here, but only at the cost
of decreasing order there. But we can still ask: why do intricate, complex
structures come into being in the universe, if the overall tendency is toward increasing
disorder? The secret is that order and complexity are
very different ideas. Entropy measures how many different ways you
can make an arrangement of small-scale particles that have the same large-scale properties:
like, 37 degrees celsius, brown hair, good at soccer, and so on. [There are lots of different ways!]. Complexity, on the other hand, is a measure
of how hard it is to describe a set of large-scale properties. Simple systems are easy to describe; complex
systems require a lot more information. For example, take a cup filled with half coffee
and half milk. It starts off in a state with relatively low
entropy – you could swap coffee molecules with each other, or milk molecules with each
other, without changing things substantially. But if you swapped coffee molecules with milk
molecules that would be a noticeable change. It’s also a simple setup — milk on top,
coffee on the bottom. Now, as the milk and coffee begin to mix,
entropy goes up – where they are mixed together, swapping some coffee molecules for milk molecules
no longer makes much of a difference. But the system also becomes more complex – to
describe what you see, you would have to specify exactly how all of those tendrils of milk
and coffee intricately swirl into each other. Continuing on, entropy keeps going up, until
the milk and coffee are completely mixed together and swapping any molecules of coffee and milk
with any others doesn’t really make any difference at all. That’s equilibrium, where there are a huge
number of arrangements of the molecules that look essentially the same. But this highly-mixed equilibrium is once
again simple: it’s just a homogenous mixture of coffee and milk; no more complicated fractal
swirly stuff. This general principle is borne out time and
time again: while entropy increases, complexity initially grows, then decays. Complexity can be a natural step along the
path to increasing entropy. The best example is the universe itself. The early universe was very smooth and very
dense: that’s low-entropy, and also extremely simple. The far future will be smooth again, but very
dilute: that’s high-entropy, and again extremely simple. It’s now, in the medium-entropy middle,
that things look complex. Stars and galaxies and veins of minerals in
rock and swirling clouds and amino acids and proteins and human beings and cats – we’re
at the exciting, beautiful stage of the coffee mixing! But just as with the coffee and milk, in the
far distant future complexity will decrease again, and complicated stuff like us will
at last be simplified out of existence. Hey, Henry here, thanks for watching. This is the third video in a series about
time and entropy made in collaboration with physicist Sean Carroll. The series is supported with funding from
Google’s Making and Science initiative, which seeks to encourage more young people
(and people of all ages) to learn about and fall in love with science and the world around
them, and the videos are based off of Sean’s book “The Big Picture: On the Origins of
Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself,” which you can find online or in bookstores
around the world.

100 thoughts on “Where Does Complexity Come From? (Big Picture Ep. 3/5)”

  1. lol.. comparing the infinite systematized complexity of the micro machines that make up life, to naturally occurring swirls in a coffee mug. Amazing how "science" deals with the obvious problem of living organisms from non living chemicals simply sweeping it under the rug, and pretending the solution is easy and hoping the plebs can't tell the difference. We don't want to get ridiculed by Neil Degrassi Tyson or Richard Dawkins after all… Sad.

  2. A good way to remember amino acids… I mean no acids? Maybe you could make a joke about that. In fact I challenge thee to make a joke using said portion of joke!

  3. This is why most people don't venture into cosmology. It's just too damn depressing. It seems like the answer is "why bother?"

  4. In your "coffeemilk" coffee-milk example, how does entropy explain the reverse process, separation over time into density gradients?

  5. Another comment: your example of decreasing local entropy at 0:19 seems to have a big hole in it. Yes, but doing so involves a deliberate investment of work/energy (not to mention a highly complex and deliberately engineered thermodynamic mechanism). This sort of entropy exchange could never happen in nature, right?

  6. Wow! I feel so lucky to be alive. If entropy is increasing then complexity is rare in the grand scheme of things. There is so much complexity to celebrate in this relatively short amount of time that we have it. Thanks for the video.

  7. Providing more useful energy does not enter our alleged closed system. And it all might be an illusion since entropy relies on the arrow of time.

  8. But the coffee and milk mixing process, even when viewed during the interesting middle of the process, does create any entities that reproduce themselves or self-perpetuate in an ongoing process with stable or increasing complexity. Part of the reason that does not occur is that the coffee/milk mixing process as discussed here is just a single batch, while living ecosystems on Earth depend on a continuous (on a global scale) influx of light energy.

    To my knowledge, the best we can say about an entropy-increasing region is that, once a continuous pipeline process is established and becomes (globally) steady-state, self-reproducing processes might come into existence. Those that do appear will by their very nature persist as patterns that repeat indefinitely.

  9. If all I had to work with was science as this video does ,this stuff would all be true, however since I know a thinking being{God} put me here on this earth and created all things around me including the earth I am on. I know the people on this video are wrong! If God does not exist we are products of chance. If God does exist then we are products of INTENTION and everything we see are products of an intentional creator. If as I believe that one does{A creator exist} then everything that they have told you in this video is 100% wrong! think about it!

  10. complexity = life? and imo the coffee stirring analogy is flawed in that the spoon (controlled by outside means) is adding energy to the system , the complexity or entropy required something to start it,

  11. actually complexity starts higher than it ends for example when the coffee and milk you have to explain that there is milk on the top and coffee on the bottom and in the end its just milkcoffee everywhere

  12. I can imagine a story of an immortal person who lived a quiet life from the beginning of the universe and slowly as complexity decreases become reduced to a blob.

  13. Great video, but it doesn't answer the question in the title. Maybe a better title would be, "how does complexity change with time in large scale systems"? Not as catchy though.

  14. Isn't it a little presumptuous to assume that we are right in the middle of entropy where everything is most complex? I mean it's a beautiful idea that we are unique, in the most exciting phase of the universe, but on what basis can we assert this? We know little about the complexities of life on other planets or systems.

    Perhaps we are still in an early simple stage where there is much more complexity to come, or perhaps we're in the opposite where we've missed all of the interesting aspects of the universe and life.

  15. but then if our main purpose is just help increase the state of disorder in the universe, then why make the universe exist in a simple "inequilibrial" state? why not make the universe instantly exist into an "equilibrial state? why must the universe make multiple small and complex objects, rather than just one supercomplex object? and if "equilibrial" state is achieved, what now? what happens after? what if equilibrium is just a concept we percieve to explain the unexplainable….

  16. But what about when gravity acts on the coffee milk over time to cause them to seperate due to variations in density? how is that not decreasing entropy?

  17. I'm no scientist, but why can the second law of thermodynamics be applied to the universe? As mentioned many times before, many perceptions we have (Like cause and effect) are quite different or don't have any pull at the microscopic level. If that isn't proof that rules and theories don't carry through between scientific environments, then I don't know what is. Relating to another comment, another situation where entropy decreases, such as oil and water, can just as easily be imagined.

  18. Interesting insight by Carroll. However, he still does not explain how complexity arises. The 3:34 min video is severely deficient and misrepresentative.

  19. Get used to this idea folks its the primary process in machine learning. Not that anyone doesn't understand a simple thing like heat always flows spontaneously from hotter to colder bodies, and never the reverse, unless obviously external work is performed on the system.

    {displaystyle dS={frac {delta Q}{T}}}

  20. Um… Living things are higher entropy things, NOT lower. Humans are more messy/complex/unpredictable/chaotic than inanimate stuff. Also, equilibrium only last for a brief moment! As soon as you stop stirring the milk and coffee, it starts separating again. Usually in a new way.

  21. look at stupid religious people down voting this video because it makes them feel bad. They're going to need an extra dose of church this week to wash out this truth bomb and re-enter the world of delusions and make belief.

  22. I'm a physics and math undergrad…I really want such videos to make clear how entropy of a closed system can decrease. It's just extremely "improbable". If you take an system ergodic with respect to a certain set in phase space, and wait long enough, the system will travel in the set and eventually become back (arbitrarily close)….Formally, long time average of entropy (t to inf) will stay at maximum, because it stay at maximum value most of the times (overwhelmingly)…however, it can fluctuate and decrease at sometime…..I really hope pop science video can make it clearer saying "entropy will increase with overwhelming propability"

  23. If Entropy increasing in one place causes a decrease in another place anywhere in the universe, on a big scale: if humans were to all increase entropy by mixing 2 cups of coffee each so app. 14 Billion coffees…. would we cause the universe to decrease somewhere else and essentially cause an event by that? and if yes, is this decrease/increase here/there a scientific rule or could one argue that destiny led humanity so someday think about this, try it out and so on at the exact same moment somewhere else the other happend? now getting philosophical: is there even something as free will if this would be true?

  24. I know some 37 degrees Celsius girls, and I know some 39 degrees Celsius girls. Those are the girls that will melt your socks off

  25. I would like to offer an alternative analogy to 'coffee & milk' …The Cosmos is like a slab of meat, that when left out in the desert, develops microorganisms over time (as it rots), before withering to dust. The Cosmos isn't simply winding down from the big bang… it's rotting, and Homo sapiens are the microorganisms

  26. Plot twist: complexity could cause simplicity, since a circle could be called a curved line, you could also say a circle has infinite sides.

  27. “And we will be simplified out of existence”
    “Wow this is hitting me really hard.” ponders deeply while I question everythi-

  28. Until 2:45, I thought this was going to be their one video where they actually manage not to mention cats at all.


  29. I'm not sure I follow the complexity argument — if complexity is defined as 'amount of information required to describe something', complexity would continue to rise with disorder I don't think it would ever drop. You can think of password complexity for example. A really long password with randomized characters cannot be compressed (described) in a simple way (this goes along with your coffee mixing analogy). But the longer and more random the password (the more you mix / disorder the coffee), the amount of information required to describe the exact state of all molecules in the coffee continues to go up. I don't see why the complexity would go down.

  30. So basically, the entire universe is one huge algebra problem.
    Starts simple, gets complex, everything's simplified out of existence.

  31. If there are multiple universes like m-theory states, couldn't we just suck excess energy out of another universe and dump our entropy in to it like the refrigerator example? Furthermore, if other universes can interact with ours, then it should be possible for them to have an unpredictable effect on our entropy at some point right? I mean is there proof that our physical universe is a completely closed and bound system?

  32. Ermergerd! This life is all I all have. I need to make the most of then. No more excuses. No more victimhood mentality.

  33. This explained nothing. And the Explanation of Entropy is missing the Information Exchange and the Impact of consciousness that we know from the Quantum mechanics. This Video is typical materialistic pseudo science that wants to see the world like 100 years ago. Pathetic…

  34. The mathematics of Relativity have turned out to be identical to those for thermodynamics, while Relativity contains the glaring Simultaneity Paradox, indicating entropy only has demonstrable meaning in specific contexts. You can call quanta entropic all you want, and nobody can ever prove you wrong, implying they are syntropic.

  35. This is not correct! It assumes the big bang and the universe expansion – those are scientists' imaginations when Einstein's formulas can't calculate everything (because we have not measured everything in space yet – there is lots of plasma and electricity in space – making premature assumptions is childish).

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