How does entropy explain consciousness and the forward direction of time? I was told that entropy is the increasing of disorderliness and that consciousness cannot exist as memory increases when conscious and thus increasing entropy and this also explains the forward direction of time, but I don't really understand the logic still. What makes it so that entropy explains them both?

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    Not sure I understand the memory argument here, but if it is that memories building up constitutes an increase in order that contradicts the law of entropy it is flawed. The law of entropy does not forbid local decrease of entropy, only global. very roughly speaking, it means that as long as more disorder is created outside our brain than inside, there is no problem with the law of entropy.
    – armand
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 3:26
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    Entropy doesn't "explain" the forward direction of time, but entropy is unusual as a physical law in that it has a direction in time. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 12:32
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    Is there a philosophical dimension to this question? It seems purely like a scientific question: entropy is a physics-based concept and consciousness arose through the biological means (and the forward direction seems like something that just is, and doesn't need an explanation).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 13:14
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    For some scientific analysis of the relation between physical memory-recording and the entropic arrow of time, see "Relation between the psychological and thermodynamic arrows of time" by Mlodinow and Brun (available as a preprint here, and the final version published in Physical Review E can be read on the paywall-bypassing site sci-hub here).
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 13:46
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    @Hypnosifl, I'm familiar with the speculation; I was just pointing out that it doesn't make sense. There is no foundation. If time has no direction, then the Big Bang didn't happen before anything else, so the lower-entropy state is not earlier than higher-entropy states. Time has to have a direction first. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 13:57

5 Answers 5


I mean, time isn't explained, or we woikd have a quantum-gravity theory. What you are talking about is the thermodynamic Arrow of Time, and in a very real sense it hasn't been fully reconciled with the Relativistic picture of time as a dimension.

Laying down memories being an entropic process, it involves the spreading out not concentrating of information - so the 'movement' backwards in time would be literally impossible to remember. The time-reversal of antiparticles bolsters this perspective.

The idea of a Shannon Channel is helpful, where you consider a message being sent down something like a wire, and the impact of signal loss - this is provably equivalent to the impact of thermodynamic entropy. Entropy is relative, it is always about comparing one system and another, and in total for a closed system the entropy will never decrease, in the same way a message sent down a wire can only add noise to it, you will never get more message out than you put in.

Thinking about entropy and memory, is confounded by the fact life creates local patches of decreased entropy, at the cost of increasing entropy outside the organism - respiration and eating, for instance. The Gibbs Free Energy is a useful way to understand how living systems don't just 'roll down the hill' of entropy, but find jumps of harvestable energy that can be used. See this Mindscape episode: Kate Jeffery on Entropy Complexity & Evolution.

Another thing that tends to confound our intuition, is that while on the scale of a few atoms we expect thermodynamic rules to occasionally be violated, on macroscopic scales we don't expect this to be likely even once during the current age of the universe (see How improbable does an event have to be before we can say it didn't happen by chance?).

  • Laying down memory can be done in a zero-entropy process. Among many other references you could see amazon.com/Feynman-Lectures-Computation-Frontiers-Physics/dp/…
    – BillOnne
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 2:47
  • @BillOnne: My understanding is the solution of Maxwell's Demon, shows that when the system as a whole over a closed loop is considered, memory does necessarily involve entropy increase en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… See also information engines pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2023356118 Can you give something better than gesturing at an entire book? At least a page number, or topic title, or better a direct reference than can be viewed online without charges.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 13:20
  • @BillOnne: Looking at 7.2: Energy Use and Heat Loss in Computers, I wonder if you meant that holding information doesn't need to be dissipative?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 19:38

If you accept the laws of thermodynamics, in any isolated system, time cannot go 'backwards' since that would mean the entropy of the system decreased.

I do not believe that 'consciousness cannot exist as memory increases when conscious and thus increasing entropy' is correct. In fact it doesn't seem to make sense.

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    "If you accept the laws of thermodynamics"... Lol
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:36
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    @CriglCragl It's just another way of saying 'based on the laws of thermodynamics'. It wasn't intended to suggest they were in any way optional.
    – PRL75
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:40
  • All science laws are regularities, not logic necessities. All science laws are broken. pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.93.25.14256 So a "lol" about accepting the "laws of thermodynamics" is not really valid.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:37

There is more than one type of entropy. Thermodynamic entropy gives time it's direction. Shannon Entropy is the entropy of information and is the entropy applicable to consciousness.

Consciousness appears to arise naturally as a result of a brain maximizing its information content. The principle of Shannon entropy (statistical) can be applied to this process by mapping syncrhronized neural network states.



Entropy does not "explain" anything. Entropy is a thermodynamic quantity, equivalent to a geometric distance, which don't explain anything by itself.

Entropy is the level of internal dissipation of an EXISTING SYSTEM (uppercase because this is important, we'll come back to it later), which in spatial terms can be interpreted as the level of internal disorder. For example, if particles with high kinetic energy are located at the bottom of the container, then, thermodynamic entropy is low (while other forms of entropy might be high at the same time). Once the particles disperse homogeneously inside the container, there is no more hot/cold order, and entropy is higher.

Now, what would explain the forward direction of time is the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2LT), which states that entropy tends to grow, so, allegedly, if you are looking at the film reel of life, and you don't know in which direction it goes, just check the entropy. When entropy grows, time is flowing forwards.

However, this argument has a big flaw: it implies that entropy grows, and grows, and never goes back, given that the 2LT says it so. So, scientists have supposed that even the universe will reach a maximum entropy value one day, this supposition is called the heat death of the universe.

The flaw is this: the 2LT ONLY applies to EXISTING SYSTEMS. But systems raise and dissappear constantly. So, while entropy increases inside already EXISTING SYSTEMS until they are destroyed, until they completely dissipate, NEW SYSTEMS arise constantly, concentrating order. Or, in other terms, decreasing the entropy of the environment. This fact does not contradict the 2LT, because it does not apply to open systems, the 2LT applies only to closed systems.

But we don't have an equivalent to the 2LT for open EXISTING SYSTEMS. Worst even, we are quite far from having an equivalent of the 2LT for SYSTEMS THAT COME INTO EXISTENCE.

So, while the 2LT is OK for T (thermodynamic systems), it might be radically wrong for all other systems. And so, the heat death of the universe would also be an error. And, ergo, the relationship between entropy and the row of time would also be a fallacy.

Following the Occam's razor, it is more possible that the global entropy of the universe remains constant, while it decreases and increases just locally. How can the direction of time be associated with a flat irregular waveform?

In layman terms, the 2LT says that the only possible natural evolution for existing systems is to cease to exist, which is obvious. What is does not say is that new systems with internal order arise constantly, like new atoms, new thermodynamic systems with low entropy for students to learn from, new dogs, new stars in the sky, etc.

There are more issues with the idea of relating time to entropy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time-thermo/#TherTimeAsymBrieGuid

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    Thank you. Time is not "explained", and is in fact not actually understood yet. We have three models of time: presentism/logic-state-change, block time, and growing time, and while all are useful, all have refuting test cases. The effort to "explain" time and consciousness with entropy is a scientism and reductionism presupposition. There is no other feature of physics that has a time direction, so assuming physics reductionism, both MUST be based on entropy -- somehow. Note even most physicists today reject both scientism and reductionism as global principles, in favor of pluralism.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:24
  • Additionally, as you note, entropy is only observed within a specified closed system environment -- and the possible logic states of the universe can violate those conditions. Specifically, the postulated spawning of baby universes does, as part of the multiverse model. We don't know if our universe is closed, and have reason to think it is not, based on cosmology speculations.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 16:09

Entropy doesn't explain either of these. Entropy is the decrease of order, while explanations require the increase of order.

The evolution of the universe required the decrease of entropy. Physics says this isn't the tendency of the universe, so what explains it?

Consciousness is the only explanation. Consciousness co-evolved with our universe. That means space and time co-evolved with consciousness. This is why there are "branes" or membranes to the Calabi-Yau manifold and why our consciousness is so suitable to our universe.

Some call this consciousness "GOD", but it has a better name.

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