The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time


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A popular-level talk on cosmology and the arrow of time.

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The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time

  1. 1. The Originof the Universe and theArrow of Time Sean Carroll California Institute of Technology
  2. 2. What is Time?A label on points in theuniverse, just like space.Time helps us locate things. [Jason Torchinsky]
  3. 3. We measure time using clocks:repetitive, predictable motions. [Sara Petagna, Flickr]
  4. 4. Biological rhythms -- our pulse, breathing,nervous system -- are (somewhat) reliable clocks.They allow us to feel the passage of time. [Pattie Lee, Flickr]
  5. 5. A profound difference between time and space: time has a direction, space does not. [NASA]
  6. 6. The arrow of timepoints from thepast to the future.Things change, inconsistent ways, timethroughout the universe. time time
  7. 7. Just as organismschange and evolve,so do stars, and sodoes the universe. [Sky & Telescope]
  8. 8. 1 second: hot, smooth plasma.
  9. 9. 380,000 years: ripples in a smooth background
  10. 10. 1010 years: stars and galaxies.
  11. 11. 1015 years: black holes and rocks.
  12. 12. 10100 years: empty space (forever).
  13. 13. There is no arrow of time in the fundamental laws of nature. timeInteractions between The arrow of time onlysimple objects (atoms, emerges when therebilliard balls) are are many moving parts.perfectly reversible.
  14. 14. What really happens as time passes? The world gets messier -- more disorderly. [Charles Mallery] timeWe can clean things up, but that takes effort; it doesn’t happen by itself.Disorder in the universe increases with time.
  15. 15. Disorder is measured by Entropy. Messier, less-organized thingsEntropy have higher entropy. Time The Second Law of Thermodynamics: entropy increases with time (in closed systems).
  16. 16. Growth of entropy is responsible for all the aspects of the arrow of time. Life and death Biological evolution Memory Cause and effect[Roger Penrose] The “flow” of time Without the arrow of time, the universe would be in thermal equilibrium -- everything static, nothing ever changing.
  17. 17. Ludwig Boltzmann, 1870’s:Entropy counts the numberof ways we can re-arrangea system without changing [Martin Röll,its basic appearance. Wikimedia] low entropy: high entropy: delicately all mixed up ordered time
  18. 18. Boltzmann’s idea explains why entropy tends to go up: there are more ways to be high-entropy than to be low-entropy. all possible arrangements of some systemBut why did the entropystart out so low? low entropyA question aboutthe early universe! high entropy regions denote arrangements that look the same
  19. 19. This includes ideas likecausality and even free will.We can reconstruct thepast from the present onlyby appealing to a low-entropy boundary condition. possible possible pasts futures correct reconstructionlow-entropy past what we know about the present
  20. 20. The origin of the arrow of time is cosmological.Entropy was low near the Big Bang. Our initial conditionswere finely-tuned, “unnatural.” Nobody knows -- galaxy distribution future -- emtpy space(14 billion years): lumpy and sparse (100 billion years): dilute and coldmedium entropy high entropy early -- microwave background (380,000 years): smooth and dense low entropy
  21. 21. Why was the early universe so “unnatural”? Could the whole universe just be a random fluctuation?
  22. 22. Boltzmann, 1895:maybe there is a multiverse mostly inhigh-entropy equilibrium, and ourgalaxy is just a random fluctuation. Boltzmann’s multiverse The anthropic principle: in a big universe, we will only observe those parts that are hospitable to the existence of intelligent life.
  23. 23. Boltzmann wasn’t the first to suggest this scenario.“For surely the atoms did not holdcouncil, assigning order to each, flexingtheir keen minds with questions of placeand motion and who goes where.But shuffled and jumbled in many ways,in the course of endless time they arebuffeted, driven along, chancing uponall motions, combinations.At last they fall into such an arrangementas would create this universe…” -- Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, c. 50 BC.
  24. 24. In 1931, Sir Arthur Eddingtonexplained why we cannot bejust a random fluctuation.Fluctuations are rare, and largefluctuations are very rare. This scenario predicts that we should be the minimum possible fluctuations -- “Boltzmann Brains.” [New York Times]
  25. 25. Skepticalvoices areimportant.
  26. 26. Perhaps the answer is to be found before the Big Bang. General relativity predicts its own downfall at the moment of the Big Bang. Needs to be replaced by something better. There could be spacetime before the Big Bang, and many possibilities are currently being pursued. [Getty Images]
  27. 27. A high-entropy universe would look like empty space.That’s where ouruniverse is headed.But in the presence ofvacuum energy, evenempty space has anonzero temperature. Fields will constantly be background gently fluctuating, even space though space is “empty.”
  28. 28. Einstein says that space and time are dynamical; they will have their own fluctuations.We can even imagine forming a new bubble ofspacetime -- a baby universe.Baby universes start out small, with low entropy;then they expand and cool, creating an arrow of time.Just like the Big Bang.
  29. 29. Baby universes cost zero energy to produce.A bubble could form in this room and we’d never know.The universe is like aneternal bubble-makingmachine. It willnever turn off. Each new bubble increases the entropy of the larger multiverse. That’s the difference between this scenario and Boltzmann’s; entropy grows forever, rather than jiggling near a maximum.
  30. 30. This can happen in both directions in time.Evolving empty space to the past, we would also seebaby-universes created; their arrow of time would bereversed with respect to ours. The multiverse can beperfectly time-symmetric; we just don’t see all of it.
  31. 31. The multiverse businessis obviously speculative.What’s important is:You remember the past and not the future becausethe early universe had a very low entropy.Understanding why is a profound challengefor modern cosmology.