For centuries people have been asking, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Science has not been able to give us an answer so far. We still have to live with the basic statement that “Everything that is is, and it is as long as it keeps its identity, that is, its onticity”, which we may call the “Strong Ontic Principle”. Nonetheless, science can answer another ontological question, namely “Why does something happen; why there are events in the universe?” The answer is the second law of thermodynamics, which we may call the “Weak Ontic Principle”. It was discovered by Rudolf Clausius in 1865, and it has been applied successfully in technological practice. However, at the conceptual level, the law has been subject to an amazing misinterpretation for almost a century. Its recent reformulation may become one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of science.
Energy is distributed unevenly in the universe, and it is those differences in energy densities—energy gradients—that drive all events. The universe has a “time arrow”: it is moving in one direction while a quantity called entropy always increases. Entropy has been interpreted incorrectly as being equal to disorder. However, the increase of entropy is in fact a measure of diminishing energy gradients, of energy dissipation and “homogenization”. Without energy gradients, the universe would be in thermodynamic equilibrium, and events would no longer be possible.
The original version of the second law by Clausius—that entropy always increases—therefore defines the direction of the movement of the universe. During the second half of the 20th century, several scientists pondered over the rate of the movement and their reasoning culminated in a principle now called the “Maximum Entropy Production Principle” (MEPP): entropy not only tends to increase, but it tends to increase at the fasted rate …
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