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Cosmology and the Arrow of Time

D. LAYZER
Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
THE ar r ow of t i me mani fest s i t sel f i n t hr ee di st i nct ways: t hr ough t he appr oach t o equi-
l i bri um in closed syst ems cont ai ni ng a l arge number of i nt er act i ng part i cl es; t hr ough t he
phenomenon of memor y i n cer t ai n open syst ems; and t hr ough t he expansi on of t he observ-
able Uni verse. The appr oach t o equi l i bri um i n closed syst ems can occur t hr ough a wide
var i et y of physi cal processes, i ncl udi ng not onl y mol ecul ar t r ans por t processes like diffusion
and conduct i on but also macroscopi c processes like t ur bul ence whi ch conver t or der ed
fields and mot i ons i nt o less hi ghl y or der ed ones and ul t i mat el y i nt o heat . All such processes
gener at e ent r opy. By cont r ast , t he accumul at i on and pr eser vat i on of i nf or mat i on about
pr evi ous st at es of a syst em depend upon processes t h a t gener at e i nf or mat i on (negative
ent r opy) . As for t he ent r opy changes associ at ed wi t h cosmic evol ut i on, i t can be argued
t h a t t hese t oo mus t be negat i ve- - i n spi t e of t he f act t ha t t he Uni verse is, by definition, a
closed syst em, l~or, as will be expl ai ned below, t her e are reasons for believing t ha t t he struc-
t ur e of t he Uni ver se was si mpl er in t he past t ha n i t is now. Thus i t is cl ear t ha t t he second
l aw of t her modynami cs does not afford a sufficiently br oad f r amewor k f or an under st andi ng
of t he ar r ow of t i me i n all i t s aspects.
I t is equal l y clear, however, t h a t t hese aspect s must be r el at ed, for i rreversi bl e processes
i n closed syst ems, memor y in cer t ai n open syst ems, and t he evol ut i on of cosmic st r uct ur e
all define t he same arrow. And t her e are i ndi cat i ons t ha t t he t hr ee ki nds of process are
physi cal l y connect ed. For exampl e, i t is obvi ous t ha t we cannot hope t o under s t and why
di fferent syst ems show t he same arrow so long as we confine our at t ent i on t o i sol at ed sys-
t ems. I nt er act i ons wi t h t he envi r onment pl ay an essent i al pa r t i n det er mi ni ng t he initial
condi t i ons f or closed syst ems, and some aut hor s have suggest ed t h a t t he y cont i nue t o pl ay
an essential pa r t i n t he subsequent devel opment of what are r egar ded nomi nal l y as closed
syst ems.
The pr esent communi cat i on out l i nes a unified t he or y of t he arrow of t i me. Al t hough i t
requi res a r a t he r drast i c depar t ur e f r om cur r ent l y accept ed cosmological ideas, t hi s t heor y
is consi st ent wi t h t heor i es of t he ki nd t ha t have been devel oped by van Hove (:) and Pri -
gogine (2) t o descri be t he appr oach t o equi l i bri um i n closed syst ems. I n fact , i t clarifies cert ai n
assumpt i ons in t hese t heor i es t h a t have previ ousl y been r egar ded as ambi guous or obscure.
To fix ideas, l et us recal l how t he t r ansi t i on f r om a reversi bl e microscopic descri pt i on t o an
i rreversi bl e macroscopi c descri pt i on is accompl i shed in non-equi l i bri um st at i st i cal me-
chanics. I n t he first place, i t is necessar y t o suppose t h a t t he microscopic st at e of t he syst em
under consi derat i on is specified by a pr obabi l i t y di st r i but i on {10k} or, mor e general l y, by
a densi t y mat r i x ~. The i nf or mat i on associ at ed wi t h t hi s descri pt i on is defi ned by
I = S m. - S, (1)
10~* 2'/9
280 Cosmol ogy and t he Arrow of Ti me
where t he ent r opy ~ is defi ned by
S = - - ~ V ' p k In Pk or S --- - Tr{o In ~}.
( ~ )
Smax is t he maxi mum val ue of S consi st ent wi t h t he macroscopi c const r ai nt s on t he syst em.
Li ouvi l l e' s t heor em, whi ch is val i d whenever t her e exi st s a well-defined Hami l t oni an f or t he
syst em, i mpl i es t ha t S is a const ant of t he mot i on; t he dynami cal evol ut i on of a closed
syst em nei t her cr eat es nor dest r oys i nf or mat i on about i t s microscopic st at e. Thus i f t he
appr oach t o equi l i bri um is t o be char act er i zed by a loss of i nf or mat i on (gain of ent r opy) at
some l evel of descri pt i on, t her e mus t occur a correspondi ng i ncrease of i nf or mat i on at
ot her levels. I t is essential, t her ef or e, t o i nt r oduce a coarse-grai ned pr obabi l i t y di st r i but i on
{Pk} or densi t y mat r i x 0. The probabi l i t i es Pk ( = ~k~) r ef er t o aggregat es of microscopic
st at es or of ei genst at es of t he densi t y mat r i x. The y mus t be chosen in such a way t ha t t he
macroscopi c vari abl es t h a t figure in a t her modynami c descri pt i on of t he syst em (e.g. t he
ener gy) do not va r y appr eci abl y wi t hi n an aggregat e. I shal l give t he name macroscopi c
i nf or mat i on t o t he quant i t y i associ at ed wi t h {Pk} or ~, and t he name microscopic i nforma-
t i on t o t he resi dual i nf or mat i on Y = I - i . I t can be shown (a) t h a t is t he expect at i on
val ue wi t h r espect t o t he pr obabi l i t y di st r i but i on {Pk} of t he i nf or mat i on associ at ed wi t h
t he condi t i onal pr obabi l i t y di st r i but i on f or microscopic st at es i n a gi ven aggregat e.
The use of a st ochast i c descri pt i on and t he i nt r oduct i on of coarse-graining do not in
t hemsel ves di st ur b t he s y mme t r y bet ween past and f ut ur e t ha t is i nher ent m t he under -
l yi ng microscopic descri pt i on To pr ove t ha t t he macroscopi c mf or mat i on decreases wi t h
t i me, one mus t make an assumpt i on t ha t expl i ci t l y di st i ngui shes bet ween t he past and t he
f ut ur e Van Hove (1) has shown t h a t if t he t t ami l t oni an has cer t ai n general pr oper t i es
i t is sufficient t o post ul at e t ha t t he nondi agonal el ement s of t he coarse-grai ned densi t y
mat r i x vani sh i ni t i al l y; t he syst em t he n exhi bi t s i rreversi bl e behavi or at all l at er times.
Si mi l ar t heor ems have been est abl i shed i n di fferent f or mal cont ext s by a number of ot her
aut hor s. (2.4-6) All t hese t heor ems st at e t ha t t he macroscopi c i nf or mat i on will decrease
monot oni cal l y wi t h t i me if t he microscopic i nf or mat i on vani shes initially. The precise
defi ni t i ons of macroscopi c and mi croscopi c i nf or mat i on depend, of course, on t he f or mal
cont ext .
Ther mal eqml i br i um ma y be defi ned as t he st at e in whi ch no macroscopi c i nf or mat i on
at all is pr esent , i.e. t he s t at e f or whi ch t he coarse-grai ned ent r opy assumes i t s maxi -
mum val ue subj ect t o t he macroscopi c const rai nt s. The const rai nt s ( N~ = const, and
( E~ -- eonst, ar e appr opr i at e t o t he gr and canoni cal di st r i but i on of Gibbs ~) ( N and E are
r espect i vel y t he number of part i cl es and t he t ot al energy, and t he br acket s denot e averages
over t he coarse-grai ned pr obabi l i t y dmt ri but i on. )
Modern t heor i es of i rreversi bl e processes m many- body syst ems pr ovi de i nsi ght i nt o t he
det ai l ed mechani sms responsi bl e f or t he appr oach t o equi l i bri um, as well as powerful
met hods f or cal cul at i ng t r ans por t coefficients. Moreover, t hei r under l yi ng assumpt i ons are
physi cal l y ve r y plausible, especially as t h e y appl y t o syst ems pr epar ed in t he l abor at or y.
The i ni t i al absence of microscopic i nf or mat i on, f or exampl e, can usual l y be at t r Jbut ed t o
t he way i n whi ch t he syst em has been pr epar ed. When t he y are appl i ed t o nat ur al l y
occurri ng syst ems, however, t hese t heor i es encount er cer t ai n concept ual difficultms,
st emmi ng f r om t he l ack of a ny pr escr i pt i on f or distinguishing bet ween macroscopi c and
microscopic i nf or mat i on or f or i dent i f yi ng t he macroscopi c vari abl es t ha t ought t o figure i n a
macroscopi c descri pt i on. I ndeed t he di st i nct i on bet ween t he macroscopi c and microscopic
levels of descri pt i on has been hel d by ma ny wri t ers t o be pur el y subj ect i ve. I t is wi del y
accept ed t hat , al t hough i nf or mat i on about t he det ai l ed st at e of a compl ex physi cal syst em
D~ v ~ I~Yz~R 281
may be uni nt er est i ng or har d t o get , i n pri nci pl e i t can al ways be obt ai ned. But if t hi s vi ew
is correct , how can st at i st i cal consi derat i ons t each us anyt hi ng about t he ar r ow of t i me i n
nat ur al l y occurri ng systems~.
At t empt s t o resol ve t hi s di ffi cul t y have in t he past pr oceeded al ong t wo di fferent lines.
Gold and ot her s admi t t he possi bi l i t y of a compl et e mier6scopic descri pt i on of a ny finite
syst em and of t he Uni verse as a whole. The y seek t o r el at e t he ar r ow of t i me t o t he cosmic
expansi on, because of whi ch t he Uni verse act s as a sink f or radi at i on. ~s~ Consequent l y a
s y s t e mt h a t is open t o t he Uni verse cannot be i n a st at e of t her modynami c equilibrium, and
t hi s is a necessar y condi t i on f or i t t o show t he ar r ow of t i me. Gold argues Cs~ t ha t our sub-
i ect i ve cer t ai nt y t ha t t i me " r eal l y goes " i n one sense and not t he ot her resul t s f r om our
being abl e t o pr edi ct t he past wi t h much gr eat er cer t ai nt y t ha n t he f ut ur e, gi ven a know-
ledge of t he pr esent confi gurat i on. He i nt er pr et s t hi s a s ymme t r y as a st at i st i cal effect
r el at ed t o t he cosmic expansi on: t he worl d lines of t he part i cl es (including phot ons) t h a t
make up a compl ex syst em open t o t he Uni verse t e nd t o di verge in t he di r ect i on of t he
expansi on, chi efl y because phot ons are get t i ng out but not in.
The second line of ar gument , whi ch has been devel oped by Bl at t and ot hers, (9~ also at t r i -
but es macroscopi c i rreversi bi l i t y t o i nt er act i ons bet ween ost ensi bl y closed syst ems and
t hei r envi r onment , but deni es t he possi bi ht y of a compl et e microscopic descri pt i on of
any finite syst em. Bl at t ar gues t ha t i nt er act i ons bet ween a finite syst em and i t s envi ron-
ment , whi ch can never be el i mi nat ed ent i rel y, give rise t o a st ochast i c cont r i but i on t o t he
Hami l t oni an of t he syst em. The st ochast i c nat ur e of t he i nt er act i ons is i mpl i ci t i n t he
defi ni t i on of a finite syst em; t he onl y pur el y mechani cal syst em t h a t exists is t he whol e
Umver se. Once a st ochast i c cont r i but i on t o t he Hami l t oni an of a syst em is admi t t ed, t he
appr oach t o equi l i br mm can be demons t r at ed wi t hout recourse t o coarse-graining,
The pri nci pal obj ect i ons t ha t have been rai sed t o t he ar gument s of Bl at t and Gol d st em
f r om t he belief t h a t t he appr oach t o equi l i bri um does not depend upon a cont/nu/ng i nt er-
act i on bet ween a s ys t em and i t s envi r onment . I t is not ewor t hy t h a t Bl at t and Gold bot h
r egar d t he ar r ow of t i me as a pr oper t y pecul i ar t o pr oper subsyst ems of t he Uni verse.
Accordi ng t o bot h t hese v~ews t he Uni ver se as a whol e admi t s a compl et el y reversi bl e
microscopic descri pt i on. Accordi ng t o t he convent i onal view, on t he ot her hand, an i n~ni t e
Uni verse r epr esent s t he 1deal irreversible syst em, for t he Poincar~ recurrence t i me associated
wi t h i t is infinite, while t ha t associ at ed wi t h any f ~ t e syst em is finite. The t he or y out l i ned
bel ow accept s " c onve nt i ona l " versi ons of non-equi l i bri um st at i st i cal mechani cs, but seeks
t o resol ve t he ambi gui t i es i nher ent i n t hei r under l yi ng st at i st i cal assumpt i ons by establish-
i ng obj ect i ve cri t eri a f or t he di st i nct i on bet ween t he macroscopi c and microscopic levels of
descri pt i on. These cri t eri a are supplied by a pi ct ur e of t he Uni ver se and i t s t empor al
devel opment t ha t differs f r om t he one obt ai ned t hr ough ext r apol at i on of non-equi l i bri um
st at i st i cal mechani cs (1~ (t he Uni ver se as an ideal i sol at ed syst em t endi ng t owar d equili-
bri um) and f r om t he classical pi ct ur e of t he Uni verse as a per f ect reversi bl e machi ne
I ns t ead of t r yi ng t o devel op a pi ct ur e of cosmic evol ut i on by ext r apol at i ng macroscopi c
laws, we shal l follow t he opposi t e appr oach and begi n at t he cosmological level. Per haps
t he most f undament al difference bet ween cosmol ogy and macroscopi c physi cs is t ha t t he
l at t er must concer n i t sel f wi t h an infinite var i et y of physi cal syst ems and physi cal condi-
t i ons, while t he f or mer t r eat s a single syst em and i t s evol ut i on. Thus i n microscopic physi cs
i t is nat ur al , i ndeed unavoi dabl e, t o spl i t up t he mat hemat i cal descri pt i on i nt o a set of
laws, whi ch are t he same f or all syst ems under all condi t i ons, and a set of auxi l i ar y st at e-
ment s t h a t serve t o define par t i cul ar st at es of par t i cul ar physi cal syst ems. (n~ Because t he
laws do not make expl i ci t r ef er ence t o microscopic syst ems, t he y ma y be pr esumed t o be
val i d also at t he cosmological l evel t hough of course t he possi bi l i t y cannot be excl uded
282 Cosmology and the Arrow of Time
t h a t some modi fi cat i ons ma y pr ove t o be necessary. ( For exampl e, Newt on' s l aw of gr avi -
t a t i on does not a ppl y t o a n infinite di st r i but i on of ma t t e r of cons t ant me a n densi t y, but
Ei nst ei n' s does.) On t he ot her hand, t he auxi l i ar y condi t i ons t h a t ser ve t o define t he Uni -
ver se mus t be r egar ded as bei ng on an ent i r el y di fferent foot i ng f r om t hose t h a t serve t o
define macr oscopi c syst ems. Because t he Uni ver se is a uni que syst em, t he a uxi ha r y con-
di t i ons t h a t define i t mus t be accor ded t he s ame s t at us as t he physi cal l aws Eve n if t her e
exi st ed, m some sense, a numbe r of " pos s i bl e " model s of t he Uni ver se, t her e woul d be no
r eason t o suppose t h a t t he physi cal l aws t h a t pr evai l i n t he Uni ver se we i nhabi t woul d also
pr evai l in t he ot her s.
Ther e is a not he r r eason f or accordi ng t he cosmol ogi cal auxi l i ar y condi t i ons t he s t at us
of laws. The i nfi ni t e va r i e t y of auxi l i ar y condi t i ons t h a t can be appl i ed t o macr oscopi c
s ys t ems is a consequence of t he f act t h a t we ar e i nt er es t ed i n t he pr oper t i es of i ndi vi dual
syst ems. As soon as we shi f t our at t ent i on f r om i ndi vi dual s t o cl asses (for exampl e, f r om
i ndi vi dual st ar s t o t he whol e class of st ars), t he choice of sui t abl e condi t i ons becomes much
nar r ower . Thus if we consi der t he st ar s as a whol e, we mus t r egar d t he di st r i but i on of such
pa r a me t e r s as mass, age and chemi cal composi t i on, whi ch are f r eel y di sposabl e when we t r e a t
i ndi vi dual st ar s, as subj ect t o defi ni t e st at i st i cal l aws whi ch woul d be suppl i ed b y a t he or y
of s t ar f or mat i on. Tt us t he or y m t ur n woul d cont ai n some di sposabl e par amet er s , for
exampl e pa r a me t e r s speci fyi ng t he pr oper t i es of pr ot ogal axi es, whose st at i st i cal di st r i but i on
woul d be det er mi ned by a t he or y f or t he f or mat i on of gal axi es. Ul t i mat el y, st at i st i cal l aws
gover ni ng t he di st r i but i ons of and cor r ei at l ons a mong t he pa r a me t e r s t h a t speci fy all t he
macr oscopi c pr oper t i es of ast r onomi cal s ys t ems shoul d emer ge f r om a suffi ci ent l y compl et e
t he or y of cosmi c s t r uct ur e and evol ut i on. But t her e is no r eason why such a t he or y shoul d
i t sel f cont ai n di sposabl e par amet er s .
I f we r egar d t he auxi l i ar y condi t i ons t h a t defi ne t he Umve r s e as bei ng on a p a r wi t h t h e
or di nar y l aws of physi cs, we ma y empl oy t he usual empi r i cal cri t eri a of si mpl i ci t y and
e c onomy as gui des t o t hei r f or mul at i on.
The si mpl est as s umpt i on about t he Uni ver se t h a t is consi st ent wi t h cur r ent physi cal
t heor i es i s t he so-cal l ed cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e, whi ch s t at es t h a t t he spat i al s t r uct ur e of t he
Uni ver se is st at i st i cal l y homogeneous and i sot ropi c: no aver age pr ope r t y of t he spatial
di st r i but i on of ma t t e r and mot i on ser ves t o define a pr ef er r ed posi t i on or a pr ef er r ed direc-
t i on i n space. The cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e has t wo wel l -known consequences. I n t he fi rst pl ace,
i t l eads t o a uni que decomposi t i on of s pa c e - t i me i nt o space and t i me. ( l ~ Thus t he cosmologi-
cal pr i nci pl e r e- est abl i shes absol ut e si mul t anei t y. The r eason is t h a t t he pr oper t i es of homo.
genel t y and l s ot r opy (and t he met r i c t h a t expr esses t hese pr oper t i es) are not i nvar i ant under
Gahl ean t r ans f or mat i ons . I n t he second pl ace, t he cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e, t oget her wi t h
Ems t e i n' s t he or y of gr awt at i on, i mpl i es t h a t t he Uni ver se is expandi ng f r om or cont r act i ng
t owa r d a si ngul ar s t at e of (formal l y) i nfi ni t e densi t y. (18~ Thus t he cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e
i mpl i es t h a t t he t e mpor a l s t r uct ur e of t he Uni ver se is ani sot ropi c. Cosmi c t i me is bot h
absol ut e and di r ect ed.
I n t he pas t i t has been as s umed t ha t , even t hough t he spat i al s t r uct ur e of t he Umver s e
ma y be homogeneous and i sot r opl c i n a st at i st i cal sense, a compl et e descr i pt i on of t he con-
t ent s (or geomet r y) of space a t a gi ven i ns t ant of cosmi c t i me woul d di st i ngui sh bet ween
di fferent posi t i ons and di fferent di rect i ons, or a ng t o t he presence of local i rregul ari t i es. For a
di st r i but i on t h a t is ei t her finite or bounded, t hi s s t a t e me nt is bot h obwous and t ri vi al . For
a n i nfi ni t e and unbounded cl ~si cat (as opposed t o qua nt um mechani cal ) di st r i but i on, i t is
less obvi ous but still t r ue. For an i nfi ni t e and unbounded di st r i but i on t h a t can be char ac-
t er i zed by a count abl y i nfi ni t e set of occupat i on numbe r s i t need not , I suggest , be t r ue
a t all.
DAvm I~YzE~ 283
Consider, f or exampl e, a st at i st i cal l y homogeneous di st r i but i on of poi nt s al ong an infinite
s t r ai ght line t h a t has been di vi ded i nt o cells of equal l engt h. The di st r i but i on is specified
b y an infinite but count abl e sequence of occupat i on number s, whi ch are i nt egers. Because
t he di st r i but i on is infinite, we i nf er f r om t he ergodic t he or e m of Bi r khof f and Khi nchi n t h a t
a ny of i t s st at i st i cal pr oper t i es can be ascer t ai ned t o a ny desi red degree of accur acy
t hr ough suffi ci ent l y ext ensi ve meas ur ement s , pr ovi ded onl y t h a t t he cor r el at i on di st ance
is finite.C14) Suppose t h a t we are now gi ven a second st at i st i cal l y homogeneous chst ri but i on
of poi nt s al ong a line di vi ded in t he same way, and are asked t o deci de whet her or not t he
t wo di st r i but i ons are i dent i cal . Le t us assume t h a t we are al l owed t o car r y out a count abl y
infinite seri es of oper at i ons. Thi s will enabl e us t o deci de whet her t he t wo di st r i but i ons have
t he s ame st at i st i cal pr oper t i es, because a compl et e set of mome nt s and correl at i ons of t he
occupat i on number s is count ahl y infinite, and t he val ue of each such pr ope r t y can be f ound
t hr ough a count abl y infinite seri es of measur ement s. Suppose t h a t t he t wo di st r i but i ons
t ur n out t o have t he s ame st at i st i cal pr oper t i es. Can we di scover a ny non- st at i st i cal
di fferences bet ween theme.
Because t he hst ri but i ons ar e unbounded, t he y can be ma t c he d in a count abl y infinite
numbe r of ways. Now i t is cl ear t h a t a ny fi ni t e s t r et ch of t he fi rst di st r i but i on can be
ma t c he d i n t he second di st ri but i on, because ever y finite sequence of occupat i on number s
has a fi ni t e pr obabi l i t y of occurrence. Whe t he r t he t wo di st r i but i ons can al ways be ma t c he d
al ong t hei r ent i re l engt hs, I have not been abl e t o det er mi ne. I n t he pr esent cont ext ,
however , t hi s quest i on is not of cruci al i mpor t ance, f or in a n expandi ng Uni ver se of t he
Fr i e dma nn t ype t he visible Uni ver se is al ways finite. Thus i t appear s t o be possi bl e t o
const r uct i nfi ni t e and unbounded di st r i but i ons whose st at i st i cal descr i pt i on is also a
compl et e descri pt i on, i n t he sense t h a t i t cont ai ns all t he i nf or mat i on about t he di st r i but i on
t h a t can be gai ned t hr ough meas ur ement s wi t hi n a finite vol ume. Not all di st r i but i ons
sat i sf yi ng t he cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e have t hi s pr oper t y, however. For t he sake of defi-
ni t eness I shal l desi gnat e as t he strong cosmological pmnciple t he as s umpt i on t h a t t he
Uni ver se admi t s a complete st at mt i cal descr i pt i on t h a t does not di st i ngui sh bet ween di fferent
posi t i ons and di fferent di rect i ons in space.
The st r ong cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e seems at first si ght not t o be appl i cabl e t o a Fn e d ma n n
Uni ver se of fi mt e vol ume. Such a Uni ver se, however, is also finite i n t i me, i t expands t o
a s t at e of finite mi ni mum me a n densi t y and t he n cont r act s t owar d t he si ngul ar s t at e of
infinite densi t y. Model Uni ver ses of t hi s ki nd are usual l y pmt ur ed as goi ng t hr ough an
endl ess succession of expans i on- cont r act i on cycles, but t hi s pi ct ur e has t wo unphysi cal
f eat ur es. I n t he fi rst pl ace, t her e does not ye t exi st a ny convi nci ng wa y of connect i ng
sol ut i ons of t he gr avi t at i onal field equat i ons on t he t wo sides of a si ngul ari t y, nor does
t her e seem t o be a ny wa y of avoi di ng t he si ngul ar i t y t hr ough r easonabl e assumpt i ons
about t he f or m of t he ma t t e r - e ne r gy t ensor a t hi gh densi t i es. (is) I n t he second pl ace, i t
will be ar gued bel ow t h a t in t he i ni t i al phas es of t he expansi on t he Uni ver se is in a s t at e of
t he r modyna mi c equi l i bri um and t h a t t he i ni t i al and final st at es are i dent i cal . Thi s woul d
ma ke i t physi cal l y meani ngl ess t o ar r ange expans mn- cont r act i on cycl es in a ny sor t of
l i near sequence. Thus, i nst ead of a single cyclic Uni verse, we mus t envi sage somet hi ng hke a
Gl bbs ens embl e of Uni ver ses t h a t are finite i n bot h space and t i me, each one correspondi ng
t o a par t i cul ar r eal i zat mn of a st at i st i cal descri pt i on sat i sfyi ng t he st r ong cosmol ogi cal
pri nci pl e. The f act t h a t we can car r y out obser vat i ons t h a t per t ai n t o onl y one me mbe r of
t hi s ensembl e is anal ogous t o t he f act t h a t i n an infinite Fr i e dma nn Uni ver se we can onl y
ma ke obser vat i ons wi t hi n a finite region. These consi derat i ons suggest t h a t t he st r ong
cosmol ogi cal pri nci pl e does not excl ude t he possi bi l i t y of a finite Uni ver se; but t hi s quest i on
needs f ur t her at t ent i on.
284 Cosmology and the Arrow of Time
The st rong cosmological pri nci pl e i mphes t h a t a cer t ai n ki nd of i nf or mat i on, whi ch we
now i dent i f y wi t h mi croscopi c i nf or mat i on, is not pr es ent i n a compl et e descri pt i on of t he
Uni verse. Le t us now t r y t o obt ai n a mor e preci se i dea of what const i t ut es mi croscopi c
i nf or mat i on.
We fi rst not e t ha t t he t empor al devel opment of a syst em under known dynami cal laws
does not al t er t he quant i t y of i nf or mat i on associ at ed w~th it. Now consi der t he st at e of t he
Uni ver se at epochs ve r y near t he begi nni ng of t he expansi on when t he mean densi t y is
ve r y high. Because t he r el axat i on t i me vari es r ever sel y as t he squar e of t he densi t y, while
t he char act er i st i c t i me associ at ed v~t h t he cosmic densi t y vari es as ~-1/2 or ~-2/a, dependi ng
on whet her ma t t e r or r adi at i on domi nat es, (la) t her e must be a r ange of densi t i es f or whi ch
local t her modynami c equi l i bri um prevai l s t o a hi gh degr ee of appr oxi mat i on. Numer i cal
est i mat es pl ace t he l ower l i mi t of t he densi t y well below t h a t of nucl ear ma t t e r f or a wide
r ange of assumpt i ons about t he t emper at ur e and composi t i on. I n t hi s phase of t he ex-
pansi on, a compl et e st at i st i cal descr i pt i on of t he Umver se r equi r es a compar at i vel y small
numbe r of par amet er s , i ncl udi ng t he radi us of cur vat ur e, t he t emper at ur e at some epoch,
and t he l e pt on- ba r yon rat i o. Ot her r ef or mat i on about t he local physi cal st at e comes m t he
usual way f r om equi hbr i nm st at i st i cal mechamcs.
I n pri nci pl e i t is now possible, i f t he r el evant physi cal laws are known, t o cal cul at e a
t empor al sequence of cosmic st at es in t he di rect i on of decreasi ng mean densi t y. At suf-
fi ci ent l y low densi t i es t he condi t i ons necessar y f or t he mai nt enance of t her modynami c
equi l i bri um can no l onger be me t and t he di st r i but i on will t ake on a non- equi hbr i nm
char act er . Thus as t he Uni ver se expands i t becomes i ncreasi ngl y compl ex, mor e and mor e
par amet er s are needed t o descri be i t s cur r ent st at e, t hough t he i nf or mat i on associ at ed wi t h
t he descmpt l on st ays const ant . Calculations of nucleogencsis 17) i n t he ear l y stages of t he
expansi on afford an excel l ent i l l ust rat i on of th~s process. The appar ent fai l ure of t he second
l aw of t her modynami cs is a di r ect consequence of t he cosmic expansi on, whi ch also leads t o
ot her depar t ur es f r om physi cal laws r el evant t o macroscopi c syst ems, such as t he laws of
conser vat i on of ener gy and moment um.
Ther e does not as ye t exi st a det ai l ed t he or y f or t he f or mat mn of galaxies and ot her ast ro-
nomi cal syst ems t hr ough t he gr owt h of densi t y fl uct uat i ons. (is) However , t heor et i cal
ar gument s have been advanced t h a t t hi s process is possible under condi t i ons hke t hose
post ul at ed here. (19) Thus at t he pr esent t i me i t woul d appear t o be a t enabl e hypot hesi s t ha t
t he Uni ver se has evol ved f r om an ~mtial st at e of t her modynami c equi l i bri um and t ha t t he
compl ex s t r uct ur e we obser ve t oda y has devel oped gr adual l y t hr ough processes gover ned by
exi st i ng physi cal t heori es. Thi s hypot hesr s f ur mshes t he presempt i on we have been seeking
f or di st i ngui shi ng bet ween t he macroscopi c and microscopic levels of descri pt i on: t he vari -
ables t h a t figure in a compl et e st at i st i cal descri pt i on of t he Uni verse and i t s evol ut i on are
t o be r egar ded as macroscopi c Microscopic r ef or mat i on is accordi ngl y al ways absent , t he
specific e nt r opy of t he Uni verse at a ny gi ven i ns t ant has t he maxi mum val ue consi st ent
wi t h t he macroscopi c descri pt i on.
Thi s di st i nct i on bet ween t he macroscopi c and microscopic levels of descri pt i on does not
cor r espond t o a ny fi xed di st i nct i on bet ween levels of, say, t he BBGK hi er ar chy. I n some
cases t he line ma y be dr awn bet ween t he hydr odynami c and t he ki net i c l evel s; m ot hers, i t
ma y he deeper. For any gi ven physi cal syst em t he decision depends on t he r el at i ve r at es
of t he processes t ha t have figured m t he f or mat i on or pr epar at i on of t ha t syst em as com-
par ed wi t h t he r at es of r el axat i on associ at ed wi t h vari ous levels of t he hi er ar chy For
exampl e, i f Bogol i ubov' s conj ect ur e (e) is correct , t he macroscopi c level of descri pt i on for a
di l ut e gas shoul d nor mal l y cor r espond t o ei t her t he hydr odynami c or t he ki net i c level. But
t o set t l e t he quest i on f or a par t i cul ar syst em one woul d need t o know i t s pr ovenance and
DAvra LAyzz~ 285
history. Thus it is always possible, in principle, to prepare a system in such a way t hat t he
macroscopic level contains detailed information about microscopic properties of a system, as
in the well-known spin-echo experiment. (2)
The preceding considerations supplement the arguments given by Boltzmann and Gibbs
to explain the approach to equilibrium in isolated systems. They provide an objective basis
for such assumptions as the ~tosszahlan~atz and the assumption of equal a ~r/ori probabilities
in phase space. Moreover, they provide a formal prescription for determiniug the conditions
under which such assumptions are vahd. ~inally, they explain why irreversible processes in
different isolated systems define the same direction m time and why this direction coincides
with the direction of cosmic evolution. ~or in a given system the arrow of time, as defined
by irreversible processes taking place in the system, points away from the "initial" state.
The initial state of a system may be defined as the one t hat separates the history of the
system into a part during which it is effectively isolated from its environment and a part
during which it interacts strongly with its environment. Because cosmic evolution is a
branching process---a process of increasing local differentiation--the arrow of time as
defined by naturally occurring systems coincides with t hat defined by cosmic evolution.
Although the anisotropy of temporal processes in isolated systems is a consequence of the
amsotropy of cosmic evolution, the nature of the anisotropy is fundamentally different in
the two cases. Macroscopic systems tend toward a state of thermal equilibrium, which is
essentially a state of timelessness Cosmic evolution, on the other hand, is essentially a
historical process, fashioning the present configuration from materials supphed by the past.
It is a consequence of the strong cosmological principle t hat a given configuration of the
Universe contains precisely enough information to determine succeeding configurations. I t
does not, however, contain enough information to determine configurations through which
it has already passed, though it contains actual traces of such configurations. That a com-
plete description of the present configuration of theUniverse does not enable us,in principle,
to calculate past configurations is an immediate consequence of the statistical character of
the descraption. For example, from a knowledge of its present configuratmn, it is impossible
to reconstruct the history of a system t hat has undergone irreversible changes. Thus, at the
cosmological level, the future is uniquely characterized by its predictability and the past is
uniquely characterized by the fact t hat a partial record of it is contained in the present
configuration.
Bergson pointed out t hat no absolute significance can be attached to the passage of time
in the Newtonian world picture (~1) A reversible microscopm description of the Universe
does not in fact describe a temporal succession of spatial configurations, but rather a four-
dimensional world in which certain necessary relations obtain among distinct spatial (or
space-like) hypersurfaces. In the present world picture the passage of time does have an
absolute character. Cosmic evolution generates a uniquely defined temporal sequence of
eonfigurations of increasing complexity. There is no way of arriving at a complete descrip-
tmn of a given configuration except by traversing the sequence of preceding configurations.
The present configuration contains traces of the past but none of the future. Although the
future is determined by the present, it cannot be said to exist until it actually becomes the
present. For by virtue of the ever-increasing complexity of the cosmic distribution, more
reformation is needed to specify any given future state than is needed to specify the present
state. Thus it is impossible for future configurations to be m any sense prefigured in the
present configuration; the additional information is generated by the process of cosmic
evolution itself.
These aspects of cosmic evolution have obvious parallels in biological evolution and in
the experience of time in individual biological systems. These parallels suggest t hat the
286 Cosmology and the Arrow of Time
pr oper t i es of biological t i me ar e mos t di r ect l y r el at ed t o t he gr owt h of i nf or mat i on in some
p a r t of t he s ys t em r a t he r t h a n t o t he i rreversi bl e processes cont empl at ed i n st at i st i cal
mechani cs, t hough t hese, of course, mus t also be goi ng on i n t he syst em. Schr oedi nger has
suggest ed t h a t t hi s gr owt h of i nf or mat i on is t he essent i al f eat ur e of life. (~2) Of course, t he
t ot al e nt r opy of a biological s ys t e m need not be cons t ant l y decr easi ng, i t is onl y necessar y
t h a t i nf or mat i on shoul d be gener at ed in some p a r t of t he s ys t em. Essent i al l y t he s ame i dea
was expr essed by Bergson. (~1) " Wh e r e v e r s omet hi ng is ahve, t her e is open, somewher e, a
r egi st er i n whi ch t i me is bei ng i nscr i bed. "
Al t hough t he cont i nual gener at i on of new i nf or mat i on is char act er i st i c of bot h biological
and cosmi c processes, t he under l yi ng causes are compl et el y di fferent . Cosmic evol ut i on is a
consequence of t he cosmi c expansi on; biological evol ut i on and t he phenomenon of life
depend on i nt er act i ons bet ween bml ogi cal s ys t ems and t hei r e nvi r onme nt - - i n par t i cul ar , on
t he abi l i t y of biological s ys t e ms t o e xt r a c t r ef or mat i on f r om t hei r envi r onment . Tha t
i nf or mat i on is t her e, however , because i t has been gener at ed b y cosmm evol ut i on, Thus t he
t wo ki nds of process ar e in f act cl osel y l i nked.
I t h a n k Pr of essor O. Kl ei n f or st i mul at i ng conver s at mns dur i ng t he final st ages of t he
pr epar at i on of t hi s communi cat i on, whi ch was compl et ed a t St ockhol m Uni ver s i t y dur i ng
a s t a y sponsor ed by NORDI TA a nd b y t he l ~at i onal Science Foundat i on.
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~OTE
The reader may be interested to compare Professor Layzer's above treatment with that of Professor
Herman Zanstra in Vt ~as i n Astronomy, ed. A. Beer, 10, 23--43 (1968).