David Layzer: The Origin of Information

David Layzer is a Harvard cosmologist who in the 1960’s made it clear that in an expanding universe entropy would increase, as required by the second law of thermodynamics, but that the maximum possible entropy of the universe might increase faster than the actual entropy increase, making room for the growth of order or information at the same time entropy is increasing.

He pointed out that if the equilibration rate of the matter was slower than the rate of expansion, then the “negative entropy” (defined as the difference between the maximum possible entropy and the actual entropy) would increase. Claude Shannon identified this negative entropy with information, though visible structural information in the universe may be less than this “potential” information.

In a 1975 article for Scientific American called The Arrow of Time, Layzer wrote on what is the fundamental question of information philosophy , what was the origin of information?

“the complexity of the astronomical universe seems puzzling.
Isolated systems inevitably evolve toward the featureless state of thermodynamic equilibrium. Since the universe is in some sense an isolated system, why has it not settled into equilibrium? One answer, favored by many cosmologists, is that the cosmological trend is in fact toward equilibrium but that too little time has elapsed for the process to have reached completion. Fred Hoyle and J. V. Narlikar have written: “In the ‘big bang’ cosmology the universe must start with a marked degree of thermodynamic disequilibrium [information] and must eventually run down.” I shall argue that this view is fundamentally incorrect. The universe is not running down, and it need not have started with a marked degree of disequilibrium; the initial state may indeed have been wholly lacking in macroscopic as well as microscopic information.”

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