Disorder (uhh…Entropy)


Entropy is the measure of energy in a closed system.  When something has more energy, there is more disorder.  Think of the molecules in a an ice cube versus that in water vapor.  The molecules in the ice cube have less energy and they are all arranged nicely in a solid.  Water vapor’s molecules, on the other hand, are warmer and are all over the place…disordered.  So, scientifically (and in engineering, of course), the concept of entropy is used to measure the amount of disorder and energy in a system.  In a closed system, entropy NEVER decreases.  This is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics:  “entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy [disorder].” (Thanks Wikipedia)


This is a scientific law, but it necessarily has had philosophical implications.  Many, regardless of whether or not they have a scientific background, have referred to entropy to explain why things are the way they are.  Everything naturally flows towards more disorder; if left alone, things will become disorderly.  So accordingly, something must tidy it up.  At the worldly level, it must be man.  At the cosmic level, it must be the divine.  For some, it proves the existence of God.

But I am straying from my original intent.  I do think that the Second Law of Thermodynamics can have philosophical implications.  That is, it can give us some perspective on life in general.  At this point however, I would like to turn my thoughts away from what determines order or disorder, and limit the discussion to the fact that there simply is disorder in our system.  In other words, since the tendency in a system is toward disorder, then there will definitely be disorder in your life.

This flows nicely into the Stoic triad of control, fate, and impermanence.  If my life is orderly and just so right now, then I better enjoy it while it lasts.  Something will upset this order, because it is the natural way of things.  I cannot control most of it; it will happen as it is fate; and things that are so now, will not be so later…they are impermanent.

If your life is in disarray now, if it is messy, then maybe you should consider yourself lucky:  it is the natural way of things and you are in harmony with nature.  I know, that may be a sick joke, but in humor there is truth, no?  Seriously though, you can take heart in the fact that this is just the way things are.  Hopefully, you have already prepared for this state with your reflections on reality.

Which brings me to our place in a world of disorder.  If there is much I cannot control, this means that there ARE things I can.  I need to concentrate on those things I can control: my mental outlook, reactions to the insults, tragedies and attacks that come my way, not to mention my ability to reduce the chaos as much as possible for those around me.  I can reduce the entropy in my world.  I would definitely concentrate on the “world” inside my head, then limit my efforts to anything around me within a stone’s throw (or soccer ball’s kick, if you will), but that’s just me.

Remember, that entropy/disorder increases in a completely closed system.  Since our own “system” is nothing even close to being closed, and we are surrounded by “systems” that are not closed, we can add order to each in our own way.

Just be mindful that the march toward disorder will continue, no matter what you do.

OK now, how about a quote from a Stoic giant.  I think this one applies from Epictetus.  Think of the onion and shellfish as the order in your life, and the ship as the reality of disorder:  “Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored; if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board; you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.”


"Never go far from the ship..."

“Never go far from the ship…”

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