Entropy

en·tro·py

/ˈentrəpē/

noun: entropy; plural noun: entropies; symbol: S

1. PHYSICS: a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

2. lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme”

3. (in information theory) a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.

Well, clearly I’m confused. I’m not sure of the “boundaries” of the first definition, and only the middle part of the second definition matches something that I understand. I kinda get the third definition, but only if it relates to the message eventually becoming unintelligible.

For me the simplest definition is a spinning top. It was one of my favorite toys as a kid. It was magical, it stood straight up on the tiny steel tip, and it spun forever. Well, not forever…eventually it spun slower, then it fell over. This was one of the first lessons in life. Keep moving, or you will fall over.

And the best top was the one that spun the longest. Many factors were involved: the shape of the top, the careful wrapping of the string, the surface where the top spun…lots of details. But the final measure of a good top, a better top… was time! How long did it spin? It could be colorful, it could be electric, it could be plated in gold… but if it fell over in a few seconds it was crap.

At the time not one of us kids considered the possibility of a forever top. Wind it up, toss it, and it would spin all weekend, all month, all year. A good top just had to beat your best friend’s top. Entropy would finally take over. You were the lucky one if your top spun the longest. You were the lucky one if you kept moving the longest before you fell over.

So, I ponder. The natural created state is one where the top eventually falls over. You stop moving. The Sun burns itself out. The universe collapses. The only difference is time.

Buy a new car, and it breaks down, Bad car! Buy a new car and it works fifty years. Good car!

More pondering, if all things are on a path of entropy, how long should it go in order to “be good”.

Change is natural and good. But I don’t want to experience too much change too quickly. Some change in my lifetime is excellent. Some change I think should take generations. In all cases, I’m not particularly happy about the breakdown in order, the rotting of growth, the stink of decay… although I’m told that this is natural.

Some of this thinking relates to my physical health. I’m slower. I fell on my head recently. I had a heart attack last year. Entropy on a personal level. And modern science has tried to help. My heart had surgery but it didn’t change the direction of entropy, it just slowed the rate.

But every now and then something happens that is truly miraculous. Entropy can be reset, but not reversed. I recently had cataract surgery. I went from seeing fuzzy, to seeing sharp. Amazing! I still may stop moving someday, but I will be able to see that clearly.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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2 Responses to Entropy

  1. Anonymous says:

    My friend is back!

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