Entrophy

Spring_ShadowsYesterday was a glorious early spring day, filled with sunshine and warmth, and people filled the parks and streets, wearing mid-summer shorts and tank tops. This was, perhaps, overdoing it a bit, given the temperature was in the upper 60’s F. This morning is just a bit cooler.

I’ve been thinking about the way things wear down. My body is showing my age, as is my car. This winding down is known to physicists as Entropy, the tendency for energy and matter to disperse over time. Eventually, according to our current scientific story, the universe will be dark and silent, and matter and energy will be so evenly dispersed across it that nothing will interact; the universe will essentially be “dead”. Some scientists have suggested that the purpose of life is to hasten this process!

In general parlance, we humans simply say, “Things fall apart”. People tend to join one of two camps regarding this. One one side are those who favor using as much of the world’s energy and resources as possible.  They hungrily eye asteroids, moons, and other planets as potential sources of materials and energy, or hope that our destruction of the world will hasten the return of the Creator. (Could this approach simply be a Freudian defense against the inevitability that we will run down and die?) Other folks speak of conservation and sustainability, and seek some form of equilibrium with the world.

I imagine we each must come to some sort of peace with Entropy, must find a relationship to that inevitable decline and collapse. Our lives are finite, as is the period of time in which life, at least as we understand it, may exist in the universe. Too much energy makes the formation of complex molecules, and therefore, life, impossible. Too little energy (too much Entropy) does the same. Life exists in a very narrow border between these two, apparently dominant, states.

As I contemplate this, I find myself giving a great deal of thought to balance, that state between too much and too little. It seems to me the nature of Life, the universe, and everything, is a continual falling out of balance, and returning to equilibrium. We swerve, wobble, and fall from of the middle way. As we do so, we encounter adventure, romance, and excitement; we also meet adversity, illness, and, eventually, death.

I’m curious about all this. Why have a universe that may have something approaching an infinite lifespan, but only produces complexity, and Life, for a brief time? What a mystery! I find this fascinating, if a bit terrifying, to contemplate. How do you approach it?

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13 thoughts on “Entrophy

  1. I tend to think that a limited lifespan makes us appreciate life more (or is meant to, at least) so that although once I might have wanted to live forever, now I most definitely don’t. Perhaps this is also true with the universe – and that there are hundreds of universes going through the same cycle, just like us, though of course its life is comparatively much longer! Or perhaps the lesson is for us not to use so much energy….

    • Andrea, I tend to agree, use less. And, there is something wonderful about the enormity of there being so many entities living out heir lifespans with us, including those many universes!

  2. Hi Michael, you bring up some deep observations. Many much too complex for my addled brain. But on your last question of how to approach such a universe. Instead of insignificance, I feel peace when I contemplate the size and distance of the incredible universe we live in. I spend a lot of nights in the mountains looking at the stars. If I wasn’t able to do it I’m not sure what I would do. I know this is not the same as the questions you are asking. But to me it’s where I find the answers. Take care. Enjoy the spring sunshine on your face. Bob

    • Bob, I too look up. Maybe just being able to watch the universe unfold is a huge gift. Seems so to me. Living in a small city, we only see the brighter stars, and seldom see the milky way. Yet, we look up, back towards the galactic center, and are moved.You are blessed to live in low ligh!

  3. Our bodies are like machines that eventually begin to break down through wear and tear, no matter how many services we have! My approach to this is that it is a necessary and unavoidable aspect of life-the effect that time has on us. But I also think that there is a spiritual aspect to life that operates, somehow, outside of these physical laws. That is how I approach life.

  4. I think of Life as in a constant state of change and continuation. The first law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in a closed system cannot be created nor destroyed (though it can be changed from one form to another). Even if all that we know were to disappear, something new would be formed from the energy of Life. (I guess that’s if the Universe were a closed system – not sure about that.) I appreciate the decomposers (mushrooms, millipedes, bacteria) that are constantly helping change along – making new soil for new forms of Life. Death is not a bad thing at all. It is simply a point on the continuum.

    • Yup. There is a marvelous story in which Coyote steals death in order to relieve suffering. Yet, it seems many of us are challenged by the not knowing that is part of death. Death is necessary, and there remains mystery and unknowing associated with it.

  5. Very interesting Michael. I see this in a way, where we need to learn a lot, why we are here at all. I think, yhat we can find mostly of the answers, as we search for inside ourselves, if we are patient enough.
    I love to stay in the nature and watch all is going on.

  6. One aspect of our cross-country journey that has really stuck with me is the enormity, beauty, and long history of rocks – particularly in the southwestern United States. It is practically impossible to comprehend the timeline of great formations such as the Grand Canyon from our limited experience of years on this earth. Yet when you gaze out to the same area for a long time, you can almost imagine the rocks being thrust up from the earth and then tumbling down to the valleys below as if in a magnificent time-lapse; almost as a wave is thrust up from the surface of the ocean, only to come crashing down to the sandy surface below it.
    Bipeds are clearly destined for faster motion than rocks, but maybe if we allow ourselves to slow down, we can come closer to the beauty and magnificence they personify.

    • What a wonderful comment! I love to imagine geological time, even as my brain speeds it up. There is something magical about seeing the world through that slow frame, something liberating and humbling.

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