sophisticated theories -- 5/29/24

Today's selection -- from Entropy by Arieh Ben-Naim. How to make any theory seem profound:

Figure 1. A three-hole pretzel. 

“Clapretz did some research and found that pretzels produced in 2000 had only two holes. From these data, he pronounced a new law: The Pretzel-Second Law, which states: 

“The number of holes of a pretzel always increases. 

“Based on this scanty data plus the Pretzel-Second Law, he made the prediction that the number of holes in each pretzel produced in the 1980s must have had only one hole. This prediction was based purely on the theoretical arguments, as he never saw a single-hole pretzel. After searching the literature and interviewing a few old people he found that, 

“Indeed, in the 1980s and even in the 1970s, all pretzels had a single hole, thus proving his theoretical prediction.

“Encouraged by this ‘prediction’ he concluded that the number of holes in pretzels always increases with time. He decided to ‘invent’ a new term: Entropretz, which means ‘to turn into’ or ‘to transform,’ in this case the pretzel's mass turns into or transforms into holes. As time increases, more and more mass transforms into holes. After some more intense study he stated the most general conclusion: 

“Petzel-Second Law: The Entropretz of the universe always increases. 

“This far reaching conclusion of the Second Law was further extended by different authors. No one questioned the validity of this Law, or the meaning of the ‘entropretz of the universe." 

Figure 2. The dependence of the number of holes in pretzels as a function of the time they were produced. 

“Plotting the number of holes in pretzels as a function of time, figure 2, he noticed that the three points fall on a straight line. 

“Being encouraged by this result, he went one step forward and with his deep and profound understanding of the Pretzel-Second Law, he made the following courageous prediction: He extrapolated the curve to year zero and obtain the value of about -100. See the graph in Figure 3. The negative value of the Entropretz seems to him unreasonable. He was sure that the number of holes in a pretzel must be a positive number. However, a few years later a famous scientist, Schrodpretz, made sense of the negative entropretz. He claimed that living systems avoid death by feeding on negative entropretz. Moreover, he added that the reason we eat food is not because of their energy, but because of their entropretz. Many scientists applauded him for his deep and profound insight into the processes of living systems; which takes the mass of the pretzels and convert it into entropretz. Thus, negative entropretz became accepted as a real physical phenomenon which explains the very existence of life. 

“Another development is due to a famous cosmologist; Eddingpretz, noticing the linear dependence of the entropretz with time, concluded that the law of increasing entropretz can be identified with the arrow of time. In order to know what time is, simply count the number of holes in the pretzels. 

Figure 3. Extrapolating the number of holes in pretzels in the year zero. 

“Following Eddingpretz, Alpretz made a sensational, if not a revolutionary extension of the Second Law. Since Entropretz always increases, it must have been very low in the past. He further extrapolated from the linear curve in Figure 2, and found that at, or near the Big Bang the Entropretz must have been extremely large and negative. He called this the Past Hypothesis. 

“Soon many cosmologists, extrapolated the curve in figure 2, back to 14 billion years ago, assuming only the linear dependence of the number of holes as a function of time. They predicted that the number of holes in the pretzels at, or near the Big-Bang must have between -2000 to -2500. They were very careful to note that these results might be only ‘approximate’, Perhaps, the linearity of the curve in Figure 2 was not maintained at the extreme conditions of the universe at that time. Nevertheless, they were confident that the order of magnitude of their results were correct. 

“Some questioned the validity of these calculations. Some felt that a negative Entropretz is meaningless, leave alone the value of Entropretz at the time when pretzel probably did not exist (I said, ‘probably did not exist’ simply because I am not sure about the state of the universe at the Big Bang). However, most scientists accepted the Past Hypothesis as being a pillar in the structure of physics. 

“Some authors wrote whole books on the Past Hypothesis, claiming that it explains many fundamental classical problems that scientists were struggling with for decades. 

“First, the past hypothesis explains why we remember the past and not the future. Second, why a cause precedes an effect ( e.g. itching always precedes scratching), and many other unsolved questions. 

“From these considerations they could easily infer the far-reaching conclusion that, the large and negative number of holes, at or near the Big-Bang gives us an enormous leverage in predicting the future of mankind. 

“Some look at the far future and predict that in several billion years from now, all the material in the universe will turn into entropletz. At that time there will be no life no civilization and the Arrow of Time will turn into one Hole of Time. 

“Some even went a step further and claimed that the Second Law is the driving force for every process that occur, including our thinking and our feelings and the creation of arts. In fact, someone wrote a whole book explaining that the entropretz drives the entire universe. What a deep and a courageous inference from the Second Law. Some scientists were debating the question: Does Time drives the entropretz, or the entropretz drives the Time? So far no one knows the answer to this deep question. But people wrote popular science books claiming that the Second Law explains all unexplainable phenomena. 

“These books became an instant best seller, and many reviewers applauded the books and the authors for their mind-boggling ideas. 

“Soon, the Pretzel-Second Law was also applied to black-holes. They found that if you throw a pretzel into a black-hole, the entropretz of the black-hole will always increase. Furthermore, the hole of the pretzel entering the black hole will be lost forever. This was real sensational finding. Many popular science books told and retold the story of the entropretz of black-holes. Some even claimed that black-holes are enormous tanks of entropretz. 

“Finally, I want to quote the most far-reaching conclusion published recently by an author who identifies the entropretz with the Arrow of time. Based on the Past Hypothesis ( on the large negative value of the Entropretz at the Big Bang), he made the following statement: 

“Since we know the Entropretz of the universe at present, and since the Entropretz of the universe must have been extremely large and negative at the Big Bang, one can conclude that his fact gives us an enormous leverage to predict the future of mankind."



Arieh Ben-Naim


Entropy: The Greatest Blunder in the History of science




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