|Abstract||One of the outstanding achievements of recent cosmology has been to offer some prospect of a unified explanation of temporal asymmetry. The explanation is in two main parts, and runs something like this. First, the various asymmetries we observe are all thermodynamic in origin – all products of the fact that we live in an epoch in which the universe is far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Second, this thermodynamic disequilibrium is associated with the condition of the universe very soon after the Big Bang – the essential point being that in the rapidly expanding universe of the time, gravity is able to create organisation much faster than other processes can destroy it. The stars, galaxies and other forms of organisation we find in the present universe are all products of this early period. Such concentrated energy sources themselves make possible the kinds of asymmetric phenomena with which we are most familiar, such as life itself. If this explanation proves to be right it will surely rank as one of the most impressive achievements in the whole of natural philosophy. Where else do we find this breathtaking scale, this extraordinary conjunction of fundamental physics, the first moments of Creation, the possibility of life and the basic character of human experience? And it is very much a contemporary achievement: even if its roots go back on one side to the investigation of time asymmetry in nineteenth century statistical mechanics, and on the other to Hubble's discovery in the 1920's of the expansion of the universe, the body of the picture has only begun to be filled in in the last twenty or thirty years. This fascinating story has recently been given some well-deserved publicity in Stephen Hawking's bestseller, A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988) – well-deserved, not least, because Hawking himself is responsible for a considerable part of the story as it presently stands|
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