Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Back in early 2011 (link) I wrote as follows in a post: “Long ago and far away it genuinely pleased me to encounter the word enantiodromia, a coinage by Carl Jung, derived from Heraclitus, meaning “counter-running” and used by Jung to indicate the tendency in nature, certainly in society, of things to morph into their opposites: growth becomes decline, decline eventually transforms into growth.”

Out shopping a few days ago and listening to the radio, it startled me to learn from Science Friday (1) that physicists in Germany had produced gases at temperatures lower than 0° Kelvin, thus absolute zero and (2) that anything at minus-Kelvin temperatures is actually hot.

The lead scientists are Dr. Ulrich Schneider and Dr. Immanuel Bloch. Both are active at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching (just north of Munich); Schneider is also at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. Their potentially dramatic discovery is discussed on a page of the Max-Planck Society (link). Another take is presented by Science Recorder (here). To quote from the last source:

The team in Munich cleverly leap-frogged this barrier by cooling about 100,000 atoms of quantum potassium gas inside a vacuum to a few nanokelvin above absolute zero, then reversing the magnetic field surrounding it.

Tweaking the field “suddenly shifts the atoms from their most stable, lowest-energy state to the highest possible energy state, before they can react,” said physicist Ulrich Schneider, one of the project leads. “It’s like walking through a valley, then instantly finding yourself on the mountain peak.”

At normal (positive) temperatures atoms tend to occupy low energy states, while at an infinite temperature they would be equally likely to occupy all energy states. At the newly achieved negative temperatures atoms are more likely to occupy high-energy states–potentially opening the doors for new types of matter.

As so often happens in the reporting of strange discoveries, my questions are not effectively answered. Was the result achieved a consequence of measurement only? Thus due to the nature of the scales used? Or could you, to the contrary, actually boil a kettle full of water using the extraordinarily hot gases existing at “a few billionths of a Kelvin” below absolute zero? In other words, is that “heat” physical, real?

Enantiodromia certainly comes to mind. If you get ever closer to absolute anything, sooner or later it will change into its absolute opposite. One implication of this recent discovery is that at negative Kelvin entropy is reversed and therefore, burning brightly at negative temperature, the universe becomes more orderly. We haven’t by any means heard the last of this. It has all sorts of radiations, to use a pun. Dark energy may be negative. And I’m reminded here, also, of Bohm’s enfolded order, over against the unfolded order which is our visible cosmos.

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