Monday, May 7, 2012

Entropy Ensues (Notes from TWATEOTU #2)

When mention is made of what is often referred to as "the Law Of Entropy", more correctly known as the Second Law Of Thermodynamics, people tend to gloss over the important first part and simply reduce it to "Entropy tends to always increase".  Now it might well be that such a statement holds true, but the law itself clearly explains that "The entropy in any isolated system not in thermal equilibrium almost always increases."  So we're talking about closed systems, something around which one can put some sort of boundary, and of course it is an eternally open philosophical question whether such a system might ever be said to exist, or conversely whether it might be that the entirety of Everything is indeed a closed system.  Then there's the fudge: " ... almost always increases." Why not always?  Surely a Law must be universally applicable to be held up as a Law?  Well yes, but this is a special case as we're talking about the forces of chaos, that dynamism from which order spontaneously seems to arise and into which order seems almost always destined to decay.  Anything can happen with chaos, and entropy.

You may recall my application of the scientific method to form an hypothesis explaining why I always get delivered either exactly 15ml or exactly 17ml of my PRN pain medication.  It was dependent not just on the (to date consistent) personal preference of each nurse, but a factor of the pairing of nurses who brought me the dose.  Remember that nurses themselves had shown they were consistently either '15' or '17' deliverers by personal nature: That if I got two '17' nurses, I'd get a 17ml dose, if I got one of each type, I'd get a 17ml dose, and only if I got two '15' nurses would I get a 15ml dose.  Never over, under, or in between.

Chaos, or perhaps entropy, has reared up and spoiled the neatness.  You might have read about the 'observer effect' in quantum and particle physics where the actions of the observer inexplicably affect the outcome of the experiment - maybe such a thing has happened here, for in the last 36 hours or so things have shifted.  Twice I got a 15ml dose when delivered by a '15' and a '17' nurse.  Different '17' nurse each time, but same '15' nurse.  I have counted, and it seems there are on rotation some five '15' nurses.  Looks like what we have here is a rogue 'Alpha 15', one whom the other nurses defer to in this matter at least.  Her place in the social hierarchy, and in the professional hierarchy too, would seem to add weight to this notion.  One of the older hands here, and universally loved and respected by staff and patients alike, so it seems.

Then this morning ... unmistakably, 18!

As a kid, I was not especially tidy, at least according to my mother. But I have always tried to cultivate tidy habits of mind, and enjoy my own internal games of applying tesselation and rhythm to the minutiae of the everyday.  Somewhere along the way I became a physically tidy person too, you know the sort about whom one's work colleagues actually make comment on the state of one's desk.  The sort that maddens his wife through a sometime inability to simply walk past a messy and (to my mind) potentially hazardous array of dirty dishes and kitchen rubbish, having compulsively to tidy it to a certain standard.  Just a little CDO (that's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder arranged alphabetically, the way it *should* be lol) you might say.  That's why noticing such patterns in life as the 15/17 things tickles my fancy, it connects with a deeply-carved pattern with which I engage in the world; that of seeking patterns consciously.  Increasingly though, it's the breakdown that interests me.

Because every single judgement call I make on it is, ultimately, exactly right and exactly wrong.  Every pattern that pops up proves, when seen from a different viewpoint in space or time, to be also a signal of the dissolution of some other pattern.  Chaos and order simultaneously.

I realise that these two forces are not even really things; they are entirely relativistic.  Nor do they really turn me on.  What I'm seeking is the heart of entropy, which is tempting to view as akin to order emerging from chaos (temperature tending ever more towards sameness) but then when we step back, we know that difference cyclically emerges from sameness.

Somewhere in there, in between the tendency to order, and the tendency to disorder, through a mechanism that is half entropy and half - well, way back when I started this blog I thought I could do no better than describe it as 'light' - is the line that divides life and death, I think.  From the perspective of someone alive, anyway.

They say you are supposed to go towards the light.  For me to get there it seems like the path leads through the darkling lands of entropy, ripe with humus and the squelching substrate of metamorphosis underfoot.  Recall the light in a deep forest,late in the day.  How sharp those swords of sunlight slanting beneath the branches, sparking in your eyes and giving shape to the gentle air with its freight of dusts and creatures of the bteeze, all ultimately giving in to the inexorable logic of gravity and their own place in things.

Sometimes in the morning as I lay not yet fully awake I like to imagine I am in a bed made up of the forest floor.  I imagine my blankets as a soft, warm layer of earth and turf, my bedhead a mighty tree, my head resting on a buttressing root.  There is a gentle light, and butterflies.  Maybe a browsing kangaroo. Quite often I also see half-buried an old skeleton of some small animal, the bones so starkly designed compared to the random clutter of the leafy forest floor. It feels so welcoming and safe and ... grounded.

There, deo volente, and happily, go I.



  1. I was doing a research for a theatre play I'm writing called "entropy" and came accross this text. I absolutely loved it and could see many of my thoughts in someonelse's words. Entropy fasccinates me since the first time i heard of it and as I'm a performer I'm writing about it. I was wondering if I could borrow, and translate to portuguese once I'm in Brazil, borrow some of your text? also would love to share some ideas with you. my email is

  2. Hi, I got triggered by the spiraling image when searching for entropy on Google images. I too recognizes my thoughts in your words. This small path between chaos and order you call light, I see it too. A great example for me was the small habitable zone around the sun where water can be fluid. A bit closer to the sun and there is just gas (chaos), a bit further a way and there is ice (order).
    Right between chaos and order there is this place where life can sustain.