The Theory of Cosmic Evolution

Faculty Insight

Eric J. Chaisson

Astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Chaisson, a cosmologist and author of many books, including Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature, discusses the theory of cosmic evolution with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast.

Chaisson discusses the theory of cosmic evolution with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast.

As the chief advocate for the theory of cosmic evolution—the study of change in the universe, radiation, matter, and life—Chaisson shines a lens on the universe's complexity, tracing its rise to the flow of energy through systems. This appeals to the second law of thermodynamics, which is also known as the entropy law. It explains how, as the universe expands, entropy is increasing.

The dilemma of reconciling this law is that, seemingly, systems are growing more complex and are circumventing the law. But the systems are actually in accord with the law because systems are only complex for a limited amount of time. For example, galaxies are around for billions of years and humans are alive for 70 years on average in the West.

Most of the universe is characterized by increased entropy and dark matter we cannot specify. Chaisson is interested in the systems embedded in this universe and how, despite the universe expanding, the systems maintain their viability. Chaisson argues that the theory of cosmic evolution will never be complete, and he is now working on a thermodynamic model of the flow of energy through a whole spectrum of systems.

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