Entropic Exchange

“Nature never undertakes any change unless her interests are served by an increase in entropy.”

~Max Planck

“There is no concept in the whole field of physics which is more difficult to understand than is the concept of entropy, nor is there one which is more fundamental.”

~Francis Sears “Principles of Physics I: ”

“Entropy is a shadowy kind of concept, difficult to grasp … but again, we may point out that, the reader who would extend the notion of mechanism into life simply must grasp it.”

~James Johnstone “The Philosophy of Biology”

“Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy.”

~Vaclav Havel


Bernard, a friend, a German PhD physicist, and the only doctor on Tonsai, approached Carlos in the Pirate bar one evening and asked, ‘Do you want to smoke a sad cigarette?’

‘Yeah, sure.’

So they climbed the crude staircase to the upper level to find some solitude. Carlos was under the impression they were off to smoke a meager cigarette. Perhaps a soggy one. Or perhaps Bernard considered the Thai smokables below mediocre. Carlos thought the cigarette was sad, and it wasn’t until halfway through that he realized Bernard was sad. He had trusted him with a tender invite.

Carlos was flattered. And unlike many he was comfortable sitting amongst the sad. He knew very well its temperament. Sad is not an odious beast that poses threat. It needs not be combated, trapped, poached, or diverted. It needs not be moved against, tended to, swept away, or numbed. Nor can it be negated by proportional levity. Sad needs only silent understanding and sympathetic contemplation. It begs only due reflection, a toll of attention, that can be shared among several.

So Bernard and Carlos sat on floor, inhaled toxins, and settled into the surreal moment. The somber lull gave way to a heightened awareness. Their minds felt big, and they stretched out in space and time. They left themselves as specks on a stone drifting through space. They departed their lives as flashes in an endless night. Outwards flowed their thoughts until all life itself shrunk, until it was compact enough to play with.

This is the sublime advantage of intellectualism. It is a lesson hardly taught in the classroom, but with knowledge comes an ability to expand perspective indefinitely. It is a route to self-transcendence. It is a salve for the brief aches of emotion.

Erudition is a rare commodity on the road. So few who summit the peaks of education deign to wander aimlessly about. Its presence was an opportunity for Carlos to stretch his own intellectual wings. There was a rare chance to learn something few can teach. So Carlos asked Bernard about his published dissertation.

‘Entropy and information dissipation in complex systems,’ Bernard responded.

‘Can you be more specific?’ Carlos asked. So down the rabbit hole they ventured. Along the topic of entropy; that most charmingly intangible quantity, ever-increasing, so little understood, bafflingly abstract, and the harbinger of the universe’s ultimate demise.

Carlos was delighted. Bernard smiled as he spoked, gestured with his hands. His every enthusiasm spoke to what a shame it is that those ideas are too often trapped in his mind for want of an understanding ear.

On perhaps the tallest intellectual peak of Carlos’ mind sits a concept, a personal belief built on an esoteric physical law, that found recognition that tropic night in discourse with Bernard. Here it is to you, dear readers, for your due consideration.

Life as we know it, the ordered states we find in the double helix of DNA, and thus in structures of every organism that lives now and has ever lived, is the result of an entropic drive.

It is known that matter inclines toward chaos and diffusion, always. But impelled by physical properties, and powered by sufficient energy, it will order itself. Entropy is a demon debtor of chaos. He’ll grant order, but for a price: greater overall disorder. Imagine a demon genie who will grant you your wish to be happy, but others around you will be sadder. He’ll bestow on you riches, but others around you will be poorer. He’ll even conjur adoring love for you, but others will suffer isolation just a little more because of it. In terms of Order and Chaos, that’s how entropy works.

And that is how Hydrogen can bond with Oxygen to form water. It is how Sodium can bond with Chlorine to form salt. And in ever more complex reactions, along a impossibly intricate chain of causation, larger and larger molecules can be formed. Each is more ordered, and yet each pays its due entropic toll to become that way. Eventualy this complexity gives rise to DNA and ‘life’ as we know it.

Cue evolution. And billions of years later, here we are. Through all those eons of its operation, life has remained exactly in accordance with the law of entropy. The devil has always, always collected his due. From fish farts to jet exhaust, life has steadily ordered itself with greater entropic consequence.

This is Carlos’ genesis story. Should any ever accuse him of being religious, this is his story of creation. It is a story constructed from the hard-fought knowledge of centuries of scientific inquiry, and accumulated by years of arduous study. But it fits. It fits elegantly. It is an unromantic, yet supremely plausible account of how life came to be. It frustrates sentiment, but stimulates the intellect wonderfully.

Life is an ice cube in a boiling cauldron. Salvation wrought, doom imminent. We are a beautiful, implausible aberration. ‘How poetically unsentimental.’ Bernard spoke the words to whisping smoke.

Thank you for reading.


Leave a Reply