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I was part of a discussion a while back with my brother, which was memorable and life-tweaking, as any other discussion I can recall. My brother -- university-educated and a fan of science, math, and history, like me -- is quite capable of having a high-octane debate on a palette as big as the sky.  

We were initially, as per usual, bemoaning the chaotic state of the world. About how having hope, while good in theory, seemed to too-often fail in actual practice. In short, what hope did humanity have in the long run, my brother posed to me as a final concluding thought, to his long laundry list of societal woes ...

Well, I said, have you ever heard of "entropy"?  You know, that second law of thermal dynamics, that universal principle that tends to cause all physical systems to eventually move to a state of "disorder" -- Entropy gives me hope.

My brother, once he recovered from the initial shock of the idea, simply asked, How does the principle of Entropy give you hope?  If anything, it makes me say, what's the use ... the Universe seems rigged against us ...

Well let's start with the definition of this natural law that characterizes physical systems of our planet, and indeed it would appear, the Universe too;  Entropy, it's right up there with Newton's principle of 'equal and opposite reactions':


1: a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system's disorder, that is a property of the system's state, and that varies directly with any reversible change in heat in the system and inversely with the temperature of the system; broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system

[Or more simply put: ]

2 b: a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder

For example, take a your typical sandcastle built with care, down by the shore.

What happens to it in the long run.  Entropy happens.

Or, take a your typical house, left to fend for itself in the elements.

What happens to it in the long run. Entropy extracts its toll. The House will eventually crumble if no one does any maintenance ... to counteract it.

My brother at this point goes, How does this give you hope? Seems pretty depressing to me.

Well, I ask, what is the only force we know about in the Universe, that is able to counteract Entropy?  That is able to swim upstream against the forces of disorder?

Life.  Life is the organizing principle that supersedes, and is even more powerful, than the principle of Entropy. Life survives by creating order, from the chaos.

My brother, now intrigued but puzzled, asserts,  But Living things eventually die. How's that creating order?  Entropy still eventually "wins."

Right, all individuals eventually go the way of all living things -- we all eventually die.  BUT the structures we've built, the knowledge we've gathered, the lives we've influenced -- THAT all continues.  Life's systems continue on.  The state of order and stability we create, that leaves the blueprint for rebuilding, whenever the storms of chaos wash our ordered-state away.  

[Ant Hill monuments]

Life is the antidote to Entropy. Life is why we see any order at all. And that gives me hope.

Life is stronger than Chaos, in the long run.  It's why we are here.

It just takes lots of hard work, to prove it.  Time and time again.

--------  --------  --------  

PS.  My brother has since gone on to build a homestead, with his own two hands, and tons of sweat equity.

I've gone on to build natural resources databases and applications, that help our Government know better decide, which resources to protect, and which resources, to let harvesters stake their claims to.

Entropy, takes work, to keep at bay.  But it's always there, prodding us on ...

If we want a "better world" -- we just might damn-well have to build it.  With our own two hands. And with the sweat-equity of our neighbors too.  Life will find a way.  It's why were here.

To one day stop entropy from winning ... Intellects willing, and well-ordered and working cooperatively, of course.  We can solve it.

The question is, as always, will we.  Or will we simply throw our individual hands up in despair?

And bemoan, What's the use? ... The work we must do, is TOO hard.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, kind of (6+ / 0-)

    Life walks up the entropy hill by shifting the entropy outside itself.  I radiate heat (entropy) every day of my life, which is ultimately energy produced by the sun and processed by plants (and the animals that eat those plants).

    All things considered, life and intelligence increase the entropy of the region far faster than it would if Earth were sterile.

    Every thought, every action, costs more in terms of wasted energy than it can ever reclaim.  Every creation of human or animal order requires massive energy expenditure--increasing entropy--and is ultimately destined to fall to dust, or falling into entropy.

    Since we live in the skirts of a huge entropy engine, our Sun, that doesn't really matter.  And given a hundred trillion years or so of stellar fusion in the Universe, there's plenty of energy to go around for quite a while.

    All that having been said, you can lower your entropy by doing things that need doing without being prompted by somebody else (which costs energy).  That includes paying bills on time, getting work done early or on time, and so on.

    Efficiency really does have a universal application, small though it may be.

    (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

    by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:22:28 AM PST

    •  well yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lonely Liberal in PA, Pluto

      without the immense "free" Energy Engine of the sun,

      Life's uphill battle against disorder,

      would be basically moot.

      Unless, we want to consider the black-smoker communities of the deep ocean,

      the height of Life's possibilities.

      Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
      -- Here's how.

      by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:27:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Even those (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jamess, Pluto

        Gravitational contraction of the proto-solar disk resulted in a great deal of gravitational heating of Earth's core (and lit the sun initially).

        Plus decay of radioactive elements, itself an increase in entropy.  The elements of which were created in a supernova blast, a massive increase in entropy for that star.

        Those supply the energy for Earth's core heat, which is slowly running out.  It'll be a long time before that dies as well, figure ten to twenty billion years.  Our expanding Sun will strip Earth's oceans long before that.

        The point is rather that it's not an uphill battle against disorder, it's a blip of decreased entropy purchased by a steeper hill around it.  If you sum-total the entropy against the decrease from life, entropy is greater than if life didn't exist.

        While this is potentially depressing, again, we have those huge engines of energy out there.  

        It's more depressing thinking that none of them are used and the Universe, machine-like, merely ticks toward its own power down moment without ever thinking about or noticing anything.

        (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

        by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 10:59:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  in galactic time scales (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          northsylvania, Pluto, RWood

          who knows what will eventually happen.

          We may one day develop the Warp-Drive systems used on Star-Trek.

          On Earth scale, human time-rulers, we have some very real Entropy Hills to first climb, if we are ever to reach the stars, as a species.

          THE Desertec CONCEPT and Desertec-UK

          Clean power from deserts

          The Desertec concept


          For a summary, click Desertec in brief.

          Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts worldwide, this is several hundred times as much energy as the world uses in a year.

          larger image

          The larger red square on the left shows an area of 114,090 km2 of desert (about 338 km × 338 km [210 miles  × 210 miles] ) that, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, would provide as much electricity as the world is now using. (Of course, the world's CSP plants would never be put all together in one square like that). The 'EU' square (19,200 km2 or about 139 × 139 km  [86.3 miles2] ) shows a corresponding area for the European Union (when it included 25 countries). And the 'MENA' square (3,600 km2 or 60 km × 60 km  [37.2 miles2] ) shows the corresponding area for the Middle East and North Africa.

          Trading those Carbon Footprints for Renewable Footprints
          by jamess -- Nov 18, 2012

          The potential to conquer our Local Entropy "bump" exists,

          just not yet the societal-will to do so.

          Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
          -- Here's how.

          by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:09:46 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Or taking (0+ / 0-)

            the more pragmatic tact first.  

            The funding aspect, which would "fuel" the kinetic tasks necessary, to fully tap the sun.

            The current Carbon Boom is the best time to Install a Carbon Tax
            by jamess -- Dec 08, 2012

            Useful systems take work, tons of it.

            Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
            -- Here's how.

            by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:16:07 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Increasing the entropy yet again... (0+ / 0-)

            Those nice little deserts were absorbing energy and radiating it, so we come along, absorb the energy, move it around, and radiate it in every direction into space after use (again, increasing entropy).

            We do get the work out of "useless" solar energy striking our planet, at the cost of increasing heat dispersion.  That doesn't concern me or anybody else, it's just a fact.   I'd rather use solar/wind.  You increase entropy any time you use an energy source, no matter what it is.

            There's really no way around that.'s not just a good idea.  It's the LAW.

            Mostly.  Most of the time.  There are exceptions to it--but not in the human realm, and nothing we can take advantage of to our benefit (by definition).

            (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

            by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:49:54 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  well I'm actually more interested (0+ / 0-)

              in the organizing principle, of tapping "free" excess energy,

              than the final heat "balance sheet" at the end of the universe.  (which will be around 0.00000000000001 degrees Kelvin.)

              For now anyways, the Sun will be not running out of heat, anytime soon.  

              At least, on the time-scales that matter to the current challenges, facing us humans.

              I would grant that I may be "stretching" the technical definition of Entropy.

              But there are more "common sense" definitions of the term,
              as I referenced in my post:

              2 b: a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder

              That is the concept, upon which the discussion with my brother, was posed.

              Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
              -- Here's how.

              by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 02:17:23 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  A Trend To Disorder (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Really kind of encompasses the thermodynamic definition as well.

                You can't extract energy from a disordered system as, ultimately, disorder resembles the ultimate order.  Everything's pretty much the same, and there's no differential to exploit.

                Similarly, the Sun's entropy--disorder--is increasing far more rapidly than it would have if the proto-solar cloud had never contracted.  Those nice photons the Sun shoots out are further away every second, and there are more of them.  It's really a very disorderly system at the end of it, with part of the Solar mass spread through the Universe as photons and the rest in a homogenous lump of carbon cooling down.

                Give it enough time and, one way or another (theories differ but all end up at the same place), even that final mass dissolves into a thin soup of photons and the rare particle/antiparticle pair.

                It doesn't get much more disorderly than that.

                (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

                by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:48:00 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  the question for me is always--where is it going? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        because if Einstein is right you can't destroy energy. Isn't that correct?
        and there is no "outside" to this system, seeing as how the "system" in question is the universe. So the energy that is lost one place must be taken up in another place, yes?

        There are some things that are unforgivable. Your willingness to play political games while people suffer and die is one of them--Onomastic

        by SouthernLiberalinMD on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:13:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Einstein asserted (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          turdraker, Pluto

          Mass = Energy.  

          By a factor of the speed of light (squared).

          Matter and Energy are two sides of the same coin.

          But the "order" imposed on either system, that's what I'm getting at.

          Why isn't the Universe some grand non-descript electron fog,
          for as far as the mind can see.

          Why are there pockets of stability, favorable to Life,
          as short-lived as it may be?

          And thirdly, why don't we make the most of those opportunities (ie chaotic interludes)

          while the energy-trapping is good?

          Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
          -- Here's how.

          by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:24:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  And ultimately, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jamess, Pluto

            the universe will expand to the point that light/energy from the sun cannot reach the planets in sufficient quantities for life to continue.  There is an inevitable end to the process.  Whether the expanded universe will eventually contract back in on itself and restart the process is anyone's guess, but it's too many trillion years in the future for me to spend time worrying about it.  ; )

            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

            by Neuroptimalian on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 11:39:54 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Electron fog... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            That would be incredibly unstable and charge-imbalanced.  We kind of did end up with a fog of hydrogen and helium atoms, though (and a few other elements in minor proportion).

            The initial expansion and Big Bang of the Universe wasn't entirely homogenous because of quantum effects in the small space that expanded into our Universe.  Tiny energy differentials got writ very large in the resulting Universe.

            Sound waves also seem to have played some role here, compressing parts and expanding others.  The medium was dense enough at that point to work with them--today, not so much.

            Those areas of higher density are visible today as the patterns and areas where galaxies developed.  Material in the other areas is either too dispersed or fell into the higher density areas via gravitational attraction.

            The densest areas could become the first stars, which themselves tended to blow up rather spectacularly, sending shock waves through their regions and condensing other stars from the mix.

            Gravity's still at work today--the Andromeda Galaxy and ours will collide, touching off an era of extreme star formation as dust clouds interact and press into each other.  It won't be a healthy period to live in either galaxy, but the end result will be billions of stars with potentially habitable planets in a very large elliptical galaxy formed from the remnants of both galaxies combined.

            (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

            by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:59:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Negentropy (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Pluto, jamess

          Order created in one place is accounted for by disorder in another. It's a mathematical concept, but seems to me to have a philosophical component as well: the less disorder you create in the surrounding environment, the longer your order will survive, which is why solar and wind energy are superior to fossil fuels.
          But that's just my take.

          "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

          by northsylvania on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:35:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Negative-entropy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Nice take, northsylvania.

            I'm making the leap to the "philosophical component" entropy too.

            Of course, I've always thought there was a bit more to Life,

            than a haphazard cacophony of random events.

            Knowledge can live on, even when the individual thinking machine,
            cashes in its chips.

            Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
            -- Here's how.

            by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:55:50 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  It spreads out (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Getting more even, like a drop of water-soluble dye in a glass of water.  Eventually the entire glass is an even tint with only small variations.

          There's lots of energy in the heat of a room's air, but it's dispersed evenly.  You can't get any work out of it internal to the system, meaning that it's at high entropy.

          If you run a line outside to the cold December air and run something that uses the room's heat and the outside cold to produce energy, you'd take the heat from the room and transfer it outside (you have to do this to get work out of it).

          The room gets a lot colder.  The outside warms a tiny bit (tiny because it's huge).  Eventually, you disperse the heat of the room and can't do any more work with it.

          The Universe, as a whole, does the same thing.  The Sun's heat disperses through space.  Space itself expands.  Eventually, the Sun runs out of fuel and the last of its heat leaves in dribs and drabs over time.  The remnants cool toward the background temperature, and you can't get any more work out of it.

          Once all the energy sources are gone and the heat disperses too thinly to use, that's it--end of game.  There'll always be minor differentials, more and more minor as time goes on, requiring more and more efficient systems to get even tiny drabs of energy from them.

          Earth's life, as it is now, wouldn't survive well without its star (hydrothermal vents being an exception to that rule).  We're not built for micro-Kelvin differential exploitation, but that doesn't mean that someday something might not be.

          (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

          by Lonely Liberal in PA on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 01:34:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Don't forget Ozymandias. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Pluto

    I would go for highly-distributed, low-energy-requiring "structures" of order...

    The Class, Terror and Climate Wars are indivisible and the short-term outcome will affect the planet for centuries. -WiA "When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill..." - PhilJD

    by Words In Action on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:22:40 PM PST

  •  I got my degree (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At the The Institute of Accelerated Entropy. I like to think of entropy as dealing with heat alone, rather than the more general energy.

    "Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth." — Chris Hedges

    by Crider on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:42:16 PM PST

    •  so in your view (0+ / 0-)

      what "steers the currents" of other energy systems?

      Or does everything simply start out as "sand castles" of potential energy,

      waiting for the oceans of resistance, to grind them to sea level ...

      Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
      -- Here's how.

      by jamess on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 12:49:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have you by any chance (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Lonely Liberal in PA

    read the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane?

  •  Isaac Asimov has already addressed this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in one of the most famous of SF short stories:
    The Last Question

    Note to Boehner and McConnell: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." --Bob Dylan-- (-7.25, -6.21)

    by Tim DeLaney on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 04:50:36 PM PST

  •  Very uplifting thought. Still, I'm my money's on (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the cockroach for longest term survival.

  •  Entropy means different things to different people (0+ / 0-)

    To me it will always mean fighting robots in my underwear with a short sword.

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