Friday, November 13, 2015

Fight entropy!

I love the bumper stickers that I see in Berkeley and Oakland - one of my favorites reads "Entropy isn't what it used to be!”.  Before I knew about entropy I thought that the word had a nice sound - it must be good.  But in fact entropy is the idea that left alone any natural system, any human endeavor, everything... tends to go from a state of high organization to lower organization.  The only way to fight entropy is to spend energy opposing it.  Every once in a while I clear my desk, my work shop, my car, my garden... and then, over time, don't pay much attention and it dissipates back to piles of paper, tools, old coffee cups, weeds and fallen leaves.  Left alone, any system tends toward disorganization

Bodie CA - rusting car
Consider a tree - it takes in CO2 from the air, water from the roots, a few minerals from the soil, and a steady supply of sunlight energy... it produces sugars, which are changed into cellulose, which is used to make cell walls.  As long as the tree takes in a steady supply of raw materials and sunlight energy it can continue to 'fight' disorder.  

Happy fungus - digesting our Jack O Lantern
If the tree dies the forces of decay take over - in time it is broken down by termites, beetles, fungus, bacteria back to CO2 and water...  The only winners in that decay are the critters who gain energy to fight their own battle with entropy.  If I cut the tree into firewood the sunlight energy stored in the cellulose is quickly released in the forms of heat and light, also CO2 and water are returned back to the world.
Stored solar energy - just waiting for me
I am constantly undergoing entropy - going from highly organized matter to lesser organization.  I fight this by taking in energy into my body.  I can not capture sunlight energy directly so I have to usurp the energy captured by photosynthetic organisms.  If I decide to eat a baked potato for dinner - that potato came from a plant that required months of sunlight collection to create the stored starch that I eat in one meal (along with other things).  I may have chicken with the potato - and while the chicken is not photosynthetic it gets its energy from plant products or by eating bugs who eat plants.

Fungus returning carbon and oxygen to the ecosystem
When my new young teachers start the school year, 30 some students come into their classrooms - there is a very low sense of order - the class culture has not yet been created - to lower the level of disorder the teacher must spend a great deal of energy to create class expectations with regard to work habits, behavior expectations, a sense of student responsibility.  If the teacher focus and energy are allowed to coast the students will move in the direction of increased entropy - increased disorder. Once effective class culture is created, the energy required to maintain it must be constant - Just like the tree - A great oak tree needs daily energy to maintain - but not nearly as much as that needed to create the tree in the first place.

The sun warms the soil - warm air rises - rising has a cooling effect - Air cools to its dew point - clouds form
We all know how true entropy is with regard to our roads and infrastructure - An uncared for road deteriorates into pot holes... A constant input of energy is required to counteract the decay.  Bridges rust, plumbing systems fall into disrepair, painting  is necessary... it is the nature of things.  
Every second our sun is losing energy - entropy is building - don't worry - the process is very slow
It is easier to be uneducated.  Education requires energy - its hard work.  It is the way of entropy to follow the path of least resistance -  hang out with friends instead of taking classes or developing knowledge.  Some people gain knowledge outside of the formal schools and universities - the key thing is not to remain in ignorance ... Ignorant people  (people without knowledge) are easily swayed and they add to the general disorder of society.
Social entropy - the earth possessions of a homeless person piled into a cart
Social and political systems are the same - A marriage or family requires a steady input of positive energy to stay healthy.  A union or political party will decay if there are not creative people working to deal with disruption and selfish interests.   Some of our congress people need to pay attention - are they doing the work of the people or are they enjoying the benefits of public office and out seeking money to be reelected...?  We need to be alert...

Capital Building - Washington DC
Definitely not true for all - but those for whom it applies should be voted out.  Being a responsible leader requires having a vision of the common good and they providing the energy to make that happen.  Being a responsible voter means taking the time to know the issues, to know the record, and to not fall victim to high powered political advertising designed to influence us.  Selfishness and greed are agents of entropy.

 "Left alone systems tend toward disorganization and lower energy".  Fight entropy!  The alternative is decay...
Niles fence - gone years without care
Every storm carried sand and gravel from the hills to the flat lands - the organized hills are being reduced to flat planes