But then the reviewer went and said a dumb thing:
The explosive growth of information in our human society is a part of the slower growth of ordered structures in the evolution of life as a whole. Life has for billions of years been evolving with organisms and ecosystems embodying increasing amounts of information. The evolution of life is a part of the evolution of the universe, which also evolves with increasing amounts of information embodied in ordered structures, galaxies and stars and planetary systems. In the living and the nonliving world, we see a growth of order, starting from the featureless and uniform gas of the early universe and producing the magnificent diversity of weird objects that we see in the sky and in the rain forest. Everywhere around us, wherever we look, we see evidence of increasing order and increasing information. The technology arising from Shannon's discoveries is only a local acceleration of the natural growth of information.There are a few things wrong with this.
First, life doesn't always (or even reliably) increase information as it evolves - check out the C-value paradox if you want more on that. But hey, this guy's probably not a biologist, so whatever. Second, the way life evolves (changing gene frequency in populations over time) and the way the Universe evolves (changing shape but not substance) are vastly different senses of "evolve." But hey, maybe he's just being poetic? I've done that. Third, you'd be hard pressed to tell me that a star somehow has inherently more information in it than the nebula that birthed it, because for one thing, the nebula is more spread out and so requires a wider variety of positional data. In fact, greater variety of position makes the n-body problem wayyy the fuck more complicated. And as for whether "we see evidence of increasing order and increasing information" "everywhere around us, wherever we look," well... sure. As long as you don't look very far. I mean, the "ramping-up" of life only really occurs within a couple miles of the Earth's crust - that is, within a very thin veneer on one planet (that we know of) in one solar system (that we know of) in one galaxy (that we know of). While there might be life in a whole bunch of other places (OK, I'll admit, I'm leaning toward "probably" lately), the vast yawning darkness between the stars is what really dominates the Universe. But hey, maybe this guy just doesn't have a cosmic perspective on things. I mean, I don't know. I'm not a doctor.
As a final point, I want to talk about eddies. Eddies occur when you have a flow of some fluid, and you place an obstacle within the path of that flow: the boring old order is somewhat disrupted by a bit of disorder, and in its wake, a bit of higher order momentarily arises. It's an interesting and beautiful thing, so just keep it in mind for the next few sentences. The author claims that "The technology arising from Shannon's discoveries is only a local acceleration of the natural growth of information." OK, that's fine as far as it goes, which is more or less the surface of the Earth. But keep in mind that this rock we live on - that is, the entire scope within which that statement applies with any validity - is just forming a metaphorical cosmic eddy as it travels through the starlight flowing off of our sun. The local increase in order is only that - local - and is proportionally unremarkable when compared to the much vaster amounts of energy being lost (i.e. "all the starlight that doesn't hit Earth").
Well, OK, that only made me choke like twice. No biggie. I mean, I can't expect to get through any lengthy review without finding something to which I take exception. But three paragraphs down, amid a discussion of heat death, we get this gem:
The belief in a heat death was based on an idea that I call the cooking rule. The cooking rule says that a piece of steak gets warmer when we put it on a hot grill. More generally, the rule says that any object gets warmer when it gains energy, and gets cooler when it loses energy...
If the cooking rule is always true, then Lord Kelvin's argument for the heat death is correct.What. Oh, man. All right, who wrote this carp? Scroll up, scroll up... Freeman. Freakin'. Dyson.
We now know that the cooking rule is not true for objects of astronomical size, for which gravitation is the dominant form of energy. The sun is a familiar example. As the sun loses energy by radiation, it becomes hotter and not cooler. Since the sun is made of compressible gas squeezed by its own gravitation, loss of energy causes it to become smaller and denser, and the compression causes it to become hotter. For almost all astronomical objects, gravitation dominates, and they have the same unexpected behavior. Gravitation reverses the usual relation between energy and temperature. In the domain of astronomy, when heat flows from hotter to cooler objects, the hot objects get hotter and the cool objects get cooler. As a result, temperature differences in the astronomical universe tend to increase rather than decrease as time goes on. There is no final state of uniform temperature, and there is no heat death. Gravitation gives us a universe hospitable to life. Information and order can continue to grow for billions of years in the future, as they have evidently grown in the past.
Really? OK, OK, maybe I'm just - c'mon. Yes, stars get hotter over time - but that's because potential energy (energy of position) is converted to kinetic energy (energy of motion) as the gas compresses into a smaller space under the force of gravitation. And the average kinetic energy of a substance just is its temperature. While the temperature does indeed go up, overall energy is going down. But OK, maybe Freeman Dyson just wasn't paying attention that day in high school. Let's look at his Wikipedia page...
Triple-what. He's a freakin' physicist? ::facepalm:: GAH! You'd think the guy who invented the goddamned Dyson sphere would know these things! I mean, for cracker-lackin' corn chips, weren't we just talking about all the starlight that simply doesn't hit a planet? This is the one guy, among all humanity, who well and truly ought to know better!
Or maybe not? After all, a Dyson sphere would need to be larger than the star itself, and almost certainly more massive (note to self: crunch them numbers for another post!), making it a pretty unrealistic thing even though it sounds cool at first. I did some more digging, and I found out the kind of thought that Mister Dyson gives to very long timescales. He thinks that sapients could survive infinitely on a finite energy supply by alternating "brief periods of activity with ever longer periods of hibernation." Now, if you're like me, or like Lawrence Krauss, or an engineer, you're gonna look over each shoulder and then narrow your eyes as you ask very quietly, "How do you power the alarm clock?" Keep in mind the fact that this is Dyson's plan for surviving past the end of the Universe - like, when everything else has run down and there's no more energy to get, this is his plan. Even if we could get a free alarm clock, who the Hell cares? What is the point of hibernating if there's nowhere to go? Merely extending your lifespan is pointless if you're not buying more hours of consciousness in the process.
But then again, this is also the guy who thinks quarks and electrons make decisions. Look, just remember the laws of thermodynamics: you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game.
Editor's Note: I wrote this mostly on Thursday and finished it on Friday, but then I thought to myself, "Jeez, I sure do a lot of yelling at Freeman Dyson here... mayyyybe I ought to sleep on it." So I did. Then I left town for the weekend, and then I got back, and I forgot all about it until I woke up this morning. I, uhh, toned down a few things. It's still pretty yelling-at-a-guy, but whatever. I mean, he is wrong. And I do have a tradition of yelling at old men. Doesn't mean I can't be nicer... look, just pretend I'm laughing instead of yelling, and that that somehow magically makes it all better, OK?