Entropy and the Pursuit of Happiness
1230pm. March 18, 2019
Under the clouds it looks like 830pm. Gray. Storm’s rollin’ in. Behind the wheel again. Feels good. Haven’t driven since before the stent went in. Just a short trip. Just down the road. It’s nice to be on the move again.
I can’t recall precisely when the word entropy entered my brain, but being back in the hospital had me thinking about it more. I am feeling extremely mortal, worn. I have been thinking about its meaning for several days now.
Entropy is a scientific term. There are a few ways to use the word in a scientific context, but one way to define entropy in layman’s terms is this: It is the tendency for energy to spread out. It is the idea that everything in the universe decays as energy is used or transferred. We are part of that process. We enter this world and grow into adults and then old age; all part of a process that offers less and less ordered energy until we die and become dust. All the while, entropy increasing until all in the universe is nothing. Oh yeah, so one of the scientific laws of energy, of entropy is that it is irreversible. Meaning, entropy is ever increasing.
For example, an egg is boiled. That energy is converted and gone through heat. But we can’t unboil the egg. The theory is that everything in the universe eventually transfers its energy to the great collective until there is no difference in energy anywhere and therefore nothing. For the record, that’s a long way off. So don’t worry about the planet disintegrating while you are on the morning commute.
The term was invented by a German physicist named Rudolf Clausius in 1850 to describe the amount of heat that must be put into a closed system (an engine) to bring it to a given state. This was during the industrial age. Our internal engines aren’t any different. Over a period of time, they decay, become less efficient. I don’t want to die. But I know I am mortal. And so far as I can tell, no one has figured out how to stop it.
We waste so much of our limited time as ordered energy (human beings) thinking about the past or the future. We waste so much time lamenting the insignificant. From the moment we arrive we are slowly using up our life energy and slowly unravelling. Disease may take us down. Like Clausius and his engine, we occasionally get a replacement part or we just add some hardware, like a stent, or dentures. These modifications may improve our ability to function, but entropy never stops. We continue to transfer our life energy back to the collective, bit by bit, until we are dust.
But this mortality becomes precious. If we were immortal, would we find joy? Knowing we have a limited time makes each moment count. Or at least it should.
Because we believe in more than just scientific theory. Because life is beautiful. Because our essence is to live. This time, this tiny portion of infinite time is important. We, our bodies, our engines, begin to decline from the moment we are born.
This year brings us a number of reminders that nothing on this earth lasts forever. We watched in sorrow as an iconic and beautiful cathedral fell, consumed by fire. But, if you bothered to notice, no one has expressed a loss of faith in God. Entropy, decay, death are all things we can’t escape. Neither can a beautiful structure, even if made with loving hands of a faithful people.
As we get older and closer to that moment when our life energy is scattered back into the collective universe, we often begin to feel less useful, without purpose. We often ask why, when we see a friend or colleague reduced to confusion and unable to care for himself because that well-ordered energy is scattering and the commands of the mind no longer hold sway over the action of the body. Entropy. I can tell you from personal experience that health issues which come earlier than one would expect in life do cause some anguish, anxiety, and depression.
On the other hand, much of what I feel I have to offer in service of God and humanity comes from the struggle, not the easy parts of life. When we teach our children, do we not use all of our personal experiences, both good and bad as a guide to help them grow and live to find hope, peace, love, and joy?
Scientifically, we understand entropy in a measurable dynamic. Philosophically, this becomes more intangible. I am a firm believer that science and God are not exclusive or contradictory to one another. But this slow unraveling, this entropy, is absolutely designed by God. It gives us time. Not eternity, but time. It allows us to struggle so that we may know the beauty of life. Entropy, thus gives us consequential action and thought, free will.
“Another interesting aspect of entropy is that it makes the process of becoming, gradual and rather controlled. If entropy had different nature, the universe might be too unbalanced or violent to sustain life: without the energy transmutating gradually into heat, life and death would become abruptly polar events.”
Now this last little part is a quote from an anonymous nihilist who is also quoted above, mixed with my own core belief in God. So I am not using quotation marks. But a portion of it is not my own. I just swapped out a few words here and there for my personal cosmos cooking.
This life may be burdened with death and suffering in struggle, but without it there wouldn’t be anything to live or dream for. As Nietzsche put it, “it is only up to us to overcome this, what we call the tragedy of mortal life, and re-write our roles in the cosmic play. While the invisible strings of statistics will always be pulling our actions in the large scale, it can never put the lines in our mouths. That we must do ourselves.”
God doesn’t take away people we love. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. And, I might add, there are always people worse off than us. God gives us free will and a limited amount of time to use that will. Let us not waste that time. Let us instead, since we are all in this life together, use our will, our strengths, and even our weaknesses for the betterment of humanity. That is the way to life everlasting. That is God’s will. And, that is the only true antithesis to entropy.
See? Science and religion fusion. Boom.
“Life is the noble process which turns suffering into excellence.”
We cannot forsake grief. Instead we must embrace it and allow it to remind us we are alive.
“You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy. And here with you there’s always something to look forward to. Our angry heart beats relatively easy.” Jason Isbell