Entropy of Life 5/18/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

People often think of entropy as chaos. It’s not a bad way to understand it. The higher the entropy, the greater the chaos. When your house is disordered, it’s higher entropy. But, it’s actually better (because of quantum mechanics) to think of entropy as related to knowledge. The higher the entropy, the less knowledge you have about the system. Think about that messy house. If you’re looking for that one coupon, it’s easier to find if everything is where it belongs and well-ordered, but in a messy house you’re less likely to know where it is.

As a child, entropy is low. You know that when you’re hungry, you’ll be fed. Entropy is very low. But the older you get, the higher the entropy of your life becomes. The variety of food begins increasing, and you don’t know what the next meal will be (or if you will like it). As you start gathering toys, your room becomes messier and it gets harder to find that toy you want to bring to Show and Tell.

As an adult, it feel as if the entropy is out of control. Things are probably worse today than usual because of the pandemic and all of the fallout resulting from it. Relationships are breaking up faster than normal as more couples find themselves cooped up with their partners more than normal, employment issues, finding money for bills including rent and so forth. Adults know very little about the future. Even the most secure jobs are subject to termination, and we’re just never sure of the next crisis coming our way. In a child’s eyes, an adult life seems secure and perfect, just because we can stay up as late as we want and have all of the ice cream we desire.

Yes, yes we can.

But we know there’s much more to it than that. Those questions, that chaos that we seem to face routinely is entropy. We just never know what to expect, and we always have to deal with it. But thermodynamics has a happy lesson for us as well.

Although many people mistakenly believe that entropy can never decrease, in fact, it can for a system, like a life or a family. Entropy of a system can be decreased by doing work on the system. For example, going back to that messy room example, the mess can be cleaned up. It takes effort and work to get it straightened up, but it can be done. The same goes for our lives.

I am the master of having things fall to entropy. A good job, retirement, health, and marriage all went down the drain in less than a year for me. Fortunately for me I recently I had an inheritance to rely on, but even before then I turned around my unemployment with a great job as a forensic lab director, my health was destroyed by a heart attack with the surgeon corrected, and my marriage did fall apart. But, I found peace with that.

Kind of.

These things didn’t happen naturally. All of them took work. It’s not easy rebuilding a life, but I did it. My new life, frankly, was very different from where I started. This might be thought of as “residual entropy”, the concept that things never go back to exactly the way they were before, but that doesn’t make my life worse. In fact, in many way, my life improved dramatically.

Today even those advances I’ve made (at least professionally) are also gone. But today I wrote a song. Well, part of a song anyway, something I never would have thought to do even a year ago, but there it is. I have time to work on my own personal research, hobbies (like music), and home projects. This all takes work, and that work is turning the entropy of my life into opportunities and a new life order.

You might be facing troubles that you never expected in your life. It’s not a question of avoiding entropy. Entropy simply cannot be avoided, but with work, you can reduce that entropy. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself, your capabilities, your support network and you can put in the work to turn it around. If you do give up, like a messy room, that entropy will just increase and get worse. You deserve better than that. Heck, you are better than that. Get the help if it’s needed, like I had the help of a surgical staff. I never could have fixed my broken heart (a.k.a. heart attack) on my own, but I sought the help, and now I’m working to keep my heart strong. You got this. We both know that.

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