Friday, May 1, 2015

Entropy! The constant march towards Decay, Disorder and Death

There is no going back. There is nothing that can stop the slow but inevitable decay and destruction of all things, no matter how far it is delayed. The eventual deconstruction, disorder
and dismantling of all things into forms which simply can't be reformed or renewed or restored into the way and form that they used to exist. You can keep and use old ideas, you can learn and adapt and change, and you can live longer and build things stronger and teach future generations to do the same, but you can't turn back the clock and the natural inclination of all things is always bent towards entropy and decline and disorder.
     These are hard and difficult concepts to consider: To think that everything that you are, everything you do or invent, build or perfect will eventually fall into nothingness or become so dismantled and destroyed that it would be as though it was never there in the first place. This is the simple reality of life that we, as human beings must accept. And yet, rather than express ourselves and reaffirm our knowledge of this one truth of our lives, we spend far more time writing songs of a false hope of everlasting life, or invent movies and stories of time travel and turning back the clock, restoring the empire and saving the corrupt and decaying civilization to return to some idyllic time of the past that either never truly existed or is more legend than literal in its glory.
   
Humpty Dumpty & The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
   While politicians, pundits, commercial products and the general media and movie industry tend to avoid the morose idea of entropy, the artists and scientist have not. It may be a depressing thought to think that everything is decaying all around you, but you don't have to look very far to see it in action. It's in your roads, neighbourhoods and communities. It's the decline and corruption of political systems and order of law and rules of society. It's all around you, usually happening slowly but inevitably there is no way to stop it and no way to truly put things back together.
   The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics suggests that any mechanical thing, any system of things, operates in some way that releases energy that isn't applied internally to the operation at hand.

This energy released then is dissipated energy that causes entropy to the system itself. This released 'entropy' (usually mathematically represented by an S) energy goes in only one direction; from the concentrated, organized and energy-dense towards the dispersed, diffuse and disorganized.
    A simple example is putting a cold spoon in a bowl of hot soup. The spoon gets hotter and the soup gets colder. This never happens the other way around. Entropy works in one direction only. You can build a wall, but if you just leave it alone, it will eventually fall down.
   In more complex systems, entropy could be represented as the natural wear and tear of moving objects in a combustion engine or all the various systems of an automobile that eventually wear out and break down, no matter how efficiently they are able to function. You can make these systems more durable, more efficient and less wasteful of energy, but there is no cure for entropy. All these systems dissipate energy and that energy will eventually break the system down to inoperability. In other words, all the universe is constantly evolving downward towards a state of greater and greater disorder and decay. No one has to do anything to make this happen. More specifically, our neglect is only a  catalyst for entropy, not the cause.

    The poem and song 'Humpty Dumpty' is probably one of the first attempts to describe the idea of entropy in its most basic form. Humpty Dumpty is taught to kids as a nursery rhyme, and Humpty himself is usually depicted as an egg; fragile and impossible to rebuild once the shell is broken. Many have argued over the reference to which it speaks. Humpty Dumpty has been supposed to represent Richard the 3rd, who was a hunchback. Humpty Dumpty was also claimed by the locals of Colchester, Essex, England to be the name of an armament: a big fat cannon that sat atop a wall during the English Civil War. These origins cannot be proven. One thing is certain, however, Humpty Dumpty, first published in 1790, also strangely co-incides with the end of reign of feudalism in most of the western world. All the King's horses and all the King's men could not save feudalism and could not stop the entropy which eventually ended it.
     It's quite possible that the person who wrote Humpty Dumpty was trying to teach or tell other people of the idea of entropy. The simple idea that there were some things, once done, could not be undone, could not be reversed or made whole again.

Time Marches On
   In Science Fiction movies and pseudo-scientific depictions of the future, human beings or other sentient life are able to gain control of 'time' and travel 'through' it in the same way that they drive a car to the grocery store or get on a train to take them downtown. They climb into a machine and flip some switches and are sent hurtling through the ages like a traveller going on vacation. The scientific explanation given is usually something to do with quantum theory, multiple dimensions beyond the ability of our senses to detect, or some kind of 'folding' of time and space so that time travel is possible. All we have to do is find the mathematical formula, or crack the code, discover the entry point, and just like that, we'll have access to everything that the 'fourth' dimension has to offer.
   Unfortunately all this is fiction.
   There is only one way to travel in time, and that's forward. Time is non-navigable. You cannot travel through it like a tunnel to the next station. It is not an ocean waiting to be plotted and mapped and it is not a highway that can be used in two directions, so long as the oncoming traffic stays in its lane. You can't rewind time like an audio recording, and you can't play it backwards and hear secret messages to Satan. Time cannot be reversed or stopped and even massive amounts of gravity will only cause it to slow down, and that would only be relative to the rest of the universe. Time cannot be inverted like an hourglass, nor played on the flipside like a vinyl album. Time goes only one direction and we are going with it whether we like it or not.


Entropy is not Absolution for Human Mistakes
   While it's true that all things come to an end and order leads to disorder, everyone must remember that this is a very simplistic view of entropy and an easy excuse used when human beings screw up. You would never know a politician understood the idea of entropy until the day that he or she sees the collapse of the system under their watch. Once they screw up, either once or through a series of bungles, the collapse has happened, suddenly entropy is all around and it explains everything that has gone on since the beginning.
   Of course, this is not entropy, this is human stupidity and corruption. The U.S. Federal government bailed out Wall Street, while deciding that Detroit should be insolvent. As a result, Wall St is richer than ever, while Detroit decays and the population has tumbled from nearly 2 million to just under 700,000. This happened due to a human choice of what to preserve and what to neglect, not a direct result of entropy. Entropy isn't a matter of laws or codes of conduct that need to come to an end, it's the people, places and systems that the regulations apply to which are the ultimate victims of entropy. Neither is entropy a problem like your old operating system or smart-phone contract that has to end, but the inevitable decline of the systems that are constantly producing new phones for people to buy and redesigning software unnecessarily to force compliance and consumption. Entropy does not mean that old things have to be discarded, neither does it mean new things are anything more than new contributions to the junk heap. All things are headed to the same state of disorder as each other no matter how long it takes to get there and entropy is not an excuse for wastefulness and consumerism.
   Entropy and living things in general seem to be juxtaposed to one another. But entropy is not an entity that favours one person over another. And entropy doesn't prevent living things from their own inherent chaotic tendencies and disorderly ways. Rather than entropy explaining the results stemming from the actions and experiments of living beings, entropy is more indiscriminate and seems to oppose all things living. Entropy is, in some ways, the inevitable march towards death. Life seems to exist despite entropy, not because of it. So, therefore, you should be very skeptical if someone seeks to explain or excuse their own views or ideas as a natural result of entropy. Perhaps they are just making excuses for their own sloppiness or mistakes or even poor choices in life. Entropy is also convenient justification for greedy and evil individuals who would like to see something come to an end sooner rather than later.


Nothing Lasts Forever...so what?
There is nothing wrong or evil about entropy. Sure, there are many things that we would think that we would like to preserve and keep alive and well for as long as we can, but entropy, like evolution is a double-edged sword. It can remove and decay material objects we love and cherish like man made monuments and even societies. But it can also get rid of all those things we don't need. Things we don't have to pass on to the next generation, the next iteration of society, the next stage of existence.
The truth is that there are many things, both material possessions and so-called 'wealth' that we simply do not need in this world and we can't take it with us when we die, and Entropy forces us to face that reality. Life survives despite disorder, not because of it. There are many things beyond our control, and to some extent, that is not such a bad thing.