Monday, April 8, 2013


Entropy is really a bitch.

In case you're not familiar, entropy is a measure of how disordered something is.  More disorder is more entropy, and less disorder is less entropy.  It's easy to imagine a messy desk, or a deck of cards that's well-shuffled.  Lots of entropy.  It's also easy to imagine cleaning and organizing that desk, or returning that deck of cards to its unshuffled state.  Less entropy.  Simple enough, yeah?

But that's where things get tricky.  Unfortunately, returning one system to a state of lower entropy necessarily brings another system to a state of higher entropy.  What, you think you cleaned that desk without burning a few calories and shedding a few skin cells?  And you think you unshuffled that deck of cards without wearing some of the finish off of them?

So the catch-22 is that as far as the universe is concerned, entropy always increases.  If we draw an imaginary dotted line around the desk or the deck of cards, we can make entropy decrease there, but if we draw the imaginary dotted line around us too, entropy inside that box will increase.  Go ahead and eat something to replace those calories you burned and put your entropy a little lower, but then we're going to have to draw the imaginary box around the supermarket where you bought the food, the bike you rode there and back, the truck that delivered the food to the supermarket, and the farm where the food was grown. Now you see where this is going.

If we draw the dotted line around the known universe(s), there's nothing that can be done to slow the inexorable march of entropy towards higher and higher states.  Every time an asteroid smashes into an alien planet, and every time a star goes supernova, and every time the Higgs Field stretches and undulates?  More entropy.  Our supermarket's got nothing on supernovae, dawg.

To put it less delicately, we're fucked, and channeling Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, there's nothing we can do to unfuck ourselves.

So why, pray tell, am I boring you with this?  Here ya go:

That brand-spanking-new pair will carry this bag o' bones at Boston in a few days, and I must say that I've enjoyed the last few months of pretending to be a real runner.  That used up pair may not look totally shot, but my legs know the difference, and they are indeed DONE.  I don't explicitly track miles I run, much less miles in each pair of shoes, but my quasi-accounting puts that pair at about 350 miles.

This process of adding entropy to shoes and then purchasing new examples with less entropy has been happening at a frightening rate lately...roughly once a month.  By cosmic standards, shoes are easy to buy, although I never thought I'd be budgeting -quite- this much for 'em.  And as I'm well used to, food and rest work wonders for repairing the body, although I know these miles don't come without cost.  Just not yet sure what that cost is, and when I'll be paying it.

If you've made it this far, and you're still curious about entropy, I can give you a little reading list that'll make your head spin.  Click away: turns out that black holes shed entropy, entropy = information, and there's a good chance that the universe we experience is nothing more than a holographic projection suspended in a bubble whose surface is a looooong way away.  Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, hippies.


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Past Detritus