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Information, Time, and Life

October 15, 2019 - 4:00pm
Jenann Ismael
Columbia University

The differences between past and future frame every aspect of our experience of the world. It is a remarkable fact that research that began in the mid-nineteenth century and was originally focused on trying to derive the phenomenological asymmetries embodied in the second law of thermodynamics from the time-symmetric laws of classical mechanics turned into a very general account of the sources of temporal asymmetry in our world. So a conversation that started by being about why (for example) gas will disperse to fill an open container, turned into a conversation about why we remember the past but not the future, why time seems to flow from past to future, and why we can affect the future but not the past.

There is much that remains to be understood, but we can assemble the pieces that we have into a picture that has intelligible contours and gives us deep insight not only into the nature of time, but the asymmetries that structure living processes, and our own place in the universe. I'll sketch the elements of this picture in broad strokes, highlighting the role of information.

1412 Toll Physics Building