Thought Leadership

The origin of the Universe

By Colin Walls

Sometimes I niggle about the small things of life. At other times, I think big thoughts and ponder the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. On yet other occasions, I find myself thinking about nothing in particular and a sudden thought, insight or understanding comes out of nowhere. Just such an event occurred this week …

I often give talks to camera clubs. As I have been a keen photographer for many years, I have a large collection of images and talk about how and why I took the pictures [and, often, how I might do better!]. I always encourage audience participation – questions and comments. It is interesting how often people can see something in an image, that I had never noticed. From time to time, I’ll show a somewhat abstract image and someone will pipe up with “Is it just me, or is there a face in that image?” Sure enough, with their guidance I [and others] can see the face and can then never “un-see” it. The human brain seems very keen to find order – some kind of pattern – in randomness.

Look up at the sky. What do you see? If it is nothing but blue-ness, you probably live in California, but the rest of us are likely to see clouds. Most people see recognizable shapes in cloud formations. Sometimes they are uncannily detailed. This is, again, the human brain being desperate to bring order to chaos. But there is another factor at work, as we shall see.

A well-known concept is science is entropy – the degree of disorder in a system. There are two important characteristics of a chaotic system:

  1. The entropy will never decrease – it will increase or stay the same over time [2nd Law of Thermodynamics].
  2. Islands of order temporarily occur in chaotic systems. This is just a statistical phenomenon. Shapes in clouds are a good example.

What has this got to do with the origin of the Universe? Good question. Not so much really, but it might explain why the Universe is the way it is right now. At the most abstract level, the Universe is just a whole load of particles and lots of energy, the two of which are essentially interchangeable. It would seem logical, given the entropy of the system [the Universe] will never decrease, that it should consist of a random, but essentially homogeneous, “soup”. However, if we look around us, over a range of a few billion light years, all we see is quite a lot of order – from the structure of atoms to the shapes of galaxies. How can that be?

It seems to me that factor #2 above is the key. In clouds, patterns appear and persist for perhaps a few minutes. Compared with the Universe as a whole, our atmosphere is a very, very small system, so the orderliness is very temporary. In a much bigger system – i.e. the whole Universe – an island of order might randomly occur and be quite large and persist for a long time. That, I propose, is what we see about us.

Can anyone tell me how this model is intrinsically wrong?

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at