Peirce on Heat Death

From Helge Kragh, Entropic Creation: Religious Contexts of Thermodynamics and Cosmology, 2008

p. 187-188 “In 1891 he [Peirce] described his hypothesis as follows:

‘The state of things in the infinite past is chaos … the nothingness of which consists in the total absence of regularity. The state of things in the infinite future is death, the nothingness of which consists in the complete triumph of law and absence of all spontaneity. Between these, we have on our side a state of things in which there is some absolute spontaneity counter to all law, and some degree of conformity to law, …’

This picture, starting from chaos and ending in an ordered and symmetrical system, turns the ordinary interpretation of the second law on its head. Some years earlier, in a 1884 lecture on ‘Design and Chance’, he declared that the heat death – in which ‘there shall be no force but heat and the temperature everywhere the same’ – was unavoidable. Confusingly, the next year he rejected the global heat death scenario, retracting to a position similar to that of many other evolutionary progressivists of the Victorian era: ‘But, on the other hand, we may take it as certain that other intellectual races exist on other planets, – if not of our solar system, then of others; and also that innumerable new intellectual races have yet to be developed; so that on the whole, it may be regarded as most certain that intellectual life in the universe will never finally cease.’ Perhaps he thought, such as he said in his ‘Design and Chance’, that the living universe would be saved by what he called ‘chance’, an influence he considered to be opposite to dissipative forces, of what some later authors referred to as ‘entropy’.”


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