5.30.2017

Recent advances in entropies

The pace of advance in physics the past few decades has been staggering, and is often difficult to convey. This article in the Journal of Applied Physics by Bejan and Errera (ungated version here) does an excellent job of bridging the divide, and is a remarkable translation of concepts from "nonlinear" and information physics into prose:
During the 20th century, statistical thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, information theory, and computer science have changed the scientific discourse on everything, from science itself to what life is. Instead of terms and images that did not require an advanced education, today it seems that legitimacy on this topic comes from speaking a language of disorder, uncertainty, scale, emergence, chaos, entropies of many types, and, above all, “information.” The fact that few seem to understand this kind of talk is going unnoticed, obviously, because the world does not speak jargon. 
This does not have to continue this way. In this article, we go against this movement and draw attention to a simple truth: words have meaning. We review the key words of the  discourse and start with the observation that information is not knowledge. 
“Every professor…one day discovers to his great surprise that the elements of his teaching which stay with his students are not the things which were “in the program” but those other things he has communicated unknowingly to his best students.
(Jean) Jaure`s said it well: One does not teach what one knows, but what one is. The computer knows many things, it can even know everything; but it is not. It is incapable of forming minds since it has no ends to offer them. But it is quite capable of reducing minds to an official conformity.” 
The computer “is not” because it is nothing more than an extension of the human who uses it to move (to live) more easily. It is one artifact among very many. On the other hand, you “are,” with or without that artifact. With what you are, you make decisions (purposeful choices and changes), and as a consequence you and your group move (live) more easily and with longer lasting power. 
Those whose mother language is not English have to learn English, and along the way they acquire the habit of checking the dictionary. We did this ourselves, as students and now while writing this article. 

I think it is worth ruminating on that last point. 

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