Everyone knows what time is. We can practically feel it ticking away, marching on in the same direction with horrifying regularity. Time has enslaved the Western world and become our most precious commodity. Turn it over to the physicists however, and it begins to morph, twist and even crumble away. So what is time exactly?

What would you think if the nice café latte in your cup suddenly separated itself out into one half containing just milk and the other containing just coffee? Probably that you, or the world, have just gone crazy. There is, perhaps, a theoretical chance that after stirring the coffee all the swirling atoms in your cup just happen to find themselves in the right place for this to occur, but this chance is astronomically small.

Why does time have a direction?

To create energy from information you would need to break the second law of thermodynamics — that's impossible in the real world, but could theories that do break it shed light on why nature is the way it is?

In the latest online poll of our Information about information project you told us that you'd like an answer to this question. We asked Seth Lloyd, an expert on information at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and here is an answer. We also bring you two related articles from FQXi who are our partners on this project. Happy reading!

Fields medallist Cédric Villani talks to us about our solar system, chaos, and what it's like being a mathematical superstar.

The ability to see order in chaos has won the mathematician Yakov G. Sinai the 2014 Abel Prize.

There's no doubt that information is power, but could it be converted into physical energy you could heat a room with or run a machine on? In the 19th century James Clerk Maxwell invented a hypothetical being — a "demon" — that seemed to be able to do just that. The problem was that the little devil blatantly contravened the laws of physics. What is Maxwell's demon and how was it resolved?

This podcast comes to you from a conference on the nature of time. We talk to philosophers of physics Jeremy Butterfield and David Wallace, as well as the eminent Roger Penrose about the puzzle time poses to physicists and what it has to do with the Big Bang and the second law of thermodynamics.

Syndicate content