New Criticals

And that brings me around to the real point: the heat death gets a totally undeserved bad rap. Yes, it’s true: The universe is going to end. Of course, anyone who tells you they know exactly how is lying but all observations thus far are consistent with eternal expansion leading to a very cold, uniform, and dull state in the far future. Super depressing, right?

Except not at all, and we poor mortals our always blaspheming against our universal mother, death. You see, like I was just trying to tell you, what makes the heat death final isn’t the fact that it's cold, but rather the fact that it's uniform. But in order to reach this uniformity, the disequilibrium between potential and kinetic energy has to be rectified, and the way to do this is to build structures. The stability or strength of a chemical bond, and hence the measure of its permanence, is defined precisely by the amount of potential dissipated in the formation of the bond. Thus the free energy of formation of a compound measures a given structure’s contribution toward healing the wound that makes nature a dynamic entity.

So there’s the first point, without the spontaneous drive provided by cosmic expansion and framed by the second law, there would be no structure in the universe. But its not only static structures that result from the dissipation of potential energy. Static structures are, in a sense, fossils of dissipative pathways that have run to completion. Crystals, for example, form because they represent the most stable configuration of the component atoms, but once formed they make no further contribution to universal dissipation. On the other hand, certain static structures have the capacity to enter into higher-order processes possessing a dynamic structure which is maintained in time through ongoing dissipation. We call these non-equilibrium or dissipative structures. Stars and living things like humans are examples.