O Entropy… the ultimate fate of everything!

by | Apr 15, 2021

When tall, handsome and perspicacious, Prof. RC Paliwal taught me Thermodynamics at the College of Technology, GB Pant University in 1972, it was amongst the first courses that acted like a moat that must be crossed to enter into the citadel of engineering. I started learning how tangible things like steam and ice are “made” by moving heat energy in and out of water. It was in those days that I learnt a mysterious term called “Entropy.” 

 Prof. Paliwal called “Entropy” the ultimate reality of the engineering world, while teaching the second law of Thermodynamics. In an isolated system, that is not plugged into the environment, entropy keeps increasing as the system inexorably becomes less structured, less organized, less able to accomplish the outcome for which it was designed and eventually slides into an equilibrium that is gray, tepid, monotonous and eventually dead. Everything that comes together, falls apart.

Later, when I read, through translations of the words of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, 

“I died as a mineral and became a plant, 

I died as a plant and rose to an animal, 

… As a human, I will die once more, 

Reborn, I will with the angels soar…” 

another aspect of entropy became clear. Nothing is lost. . . everything is transformed. When clever people are trying to organize things, entropy is shaking its fist at their effort. English philosopher-scientist Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) cutely declared entropy as “time’s arrow.”

Our bodies grow and function following genetic material from our parents. The DNA & RNA inherited by us makes codons, which make amino acids, which make proteins. And from the proteins our body is built and draws energy from food, air and water. As time passes, the body ages and finally dies. So, is entropy the Maya? Not an effect but the original cause!

A 2003 paper proclaimed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is the First Law of Psychology. It was written by John Tooby, Leda Cosmides, and H. Clark Barrett at the University of California. They called evolution, a story of ceaseless repetition and endless reincarnation of consciousness trapped into physicality. Whenever one sees functional order, one is seeing the downstream contrivances of natural selection. If we make a human being a closed system – free from society – the second law of thermodynamics tells us that every individual would start out and end up a horrifying monstrosity.

It is a well-established fact now that gene activity can be turned off and on by environmental or extracellular factors such as sensory experience, social context, hormones, temperature, diet, and photoperiod. These factors make gene action dynamic, contingent, and bidirectional. Continuous exposure to light, especially blue light emitted by the black screens of TVs, computers and mobile phone screens is changing the present young generations and the future generations through them. The bad news is that an increasing number of young people are opting for living single lives.  

Chasing and fleeing are not just sequences of muscle contractions – they are goal directed. A life without a goal is indeed an organic waste. When you are surfing the Internet – is it goal directed? If it is not, some faceless program soon sucks you into the entropy of “wanting” unnecessary things, which are mass produced for profit. How stupid is “liking” or “disliking” someone whom you have never met and would never meet! 

Similarly, poverty of the masses is the entropy of wealth generation by the few. It is the default state of mankind and therefore, widespread. Generation of wealth is a goal directed organized activity. Matter does not arrange itself into “things”; we need “engineering” to make products. Products do not get sold on their own. We need “businesses” to make them reach the needy and “collect” from them the “price” to plough back into making more and better products. Of course, money wealth thus generated, at times turns into entropy of gold and diamonds hoarded by the rich. 

So, make no mistake about the truth that human survival depends on how it controls natural evolution to its own advantage. When the coronavirus pandemic started, we could control it by the discipline of lockdown. Even a vaccine has been made in less than a year’s time. But then, we allowed entropy to enter into reckless behavior and a second wave of pandemic hit those areas where people allowed their pleasures and conveniences override caution.

Our biggest armory as humans is our cognitive, emotional, and moral faculties. These are provided to us by education, the family system and religion. We see that these three systems are infested with bugs unleashed by global corporations with long-term agendas and politicians out to grab levers of power.

Consequently, education is now seen as a gateway to get a job, a family has turned into a zero-sum give and take system and religion has regressed into rituals and cults. But worse still, our minds are getting polarized around our egos. Most of our emotions revolve around the pleasures and domination of others. Most of the educated, highly placed, affluent people of today are indeed highly insecure bundles of doubts. 

There is a trend to think as a stereotype, and act by projecting our own wishes upon others. Our leaders are marshalling evidence that confirms their convictions while dismissing evidence that contradicts them. “The Nation wants to know,” is the new cliché. These are all engines of entropy. Unless these are checked, mankind is going to be buried under cognitive wreckage and the garbage of consumerism. 

Swiss psychologist and philosopher, Carl Jung, famously said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Entropy is our fate but not our destiny. Billionaires, Nobel laureates, sportspersons, professionals and artists do not emerge out of entropy. They are products of discipline, sacrifice, training and sustained efforts toward definite goals.  

When it is said that “the dust goes to dust,” it is not some random phenomenon. Cognitive evolution is the ultimate purpose of human life. So, live a conscious life. Know your place in the existential system. Control its processes, sense your internal milieu and interact with the outside environment, including people and institutions around you. Take only what is needed and dispose of what is not necessary. Even a little lowering of your guard, a little complacency, and you are “rushed and gushed” into the suction of the fiery mouth of consumerism, following the law of entropy.

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24 Comments

  1. Dear Arun, As someone has written about this article is a good cocktail of many facets of life. I thought I understood Entropy only lately as

    –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.

    –or

    –lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder (from Dictionary). I also used to say that it’s Maya that keeps growing. I never stretched my thoughts beyond that.

    You have an uncanny knack for stretching the concepts. You enunciate many ways Entropy manifests itself.There’s a lot of ideas packed together in this article. Great at that.

  2. When one reads blog of Young (Yes sir i consider you Young by witnessing energy ,curiosity & strong willingness to inoculate wisdom to readers etc..), Smiling & perspicacious Author , Which is impeccable cocktail of Science ,philosophy, Spirituality , Behavioural attributes which is immune to entropy’s flow , One realizes one’s journey from ignorance to understanding of subject .

    Like all students of science I too studied Entropy in Thermodynamics. Believe me it was tough to understand then. First law took most of my energy in deciding where energy is taken by or transferred to system or work done on or by the system .

    Random, unorganized, disordered & uncertain system confuses & make slave to both internal & external participants and observers .You articulately explained how environmental & extracellular factor affects on the activity of ours gene . This gene will be transferred to our offspring and surrounding with additional compounding effect of entropy Which May have drastic unwelcome impact .

    So to not disadvantaged one must always be wary about our reaction to all action towards us , To get it we must make our unconscious conscious. First step in doing should be to realize & accept our unconsciousness and to do it one need to read blog like this which will crystal clear your unconscious behaviour like unnecessary spending time on screen etc.

    Second step should be to make Goal to avoid being organic waste . Then there must be viable process to achieve set goal along with arrangement of rectification of error .

  3. Thank you Sir for once again sharing this powerful article. I was unaware of the concept of entropy and its significance in daily life.

    Very well explained concept and it seems even more intriguing now as we can see how it applies to the present chaotic scenario of our country.

    The lack of discipline, training and sacrifice has lead to what we are facing today.
    This article surely made me introspect our surroundings with an important take-home message.

  4. When I arrived at IIT, Mumbai for graduation, many seniors would tell us juniors – be careful guys, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Later I learned it was the famous Murphy’s Law referencing the annoying tendency of life to cause trouble and make things difficult for you. Why is that? Your blog so boldly delivered the answer: It is the one force – Entropy – that governs everybody’s life.

    In theory, it is possible for the wind and waves to move the sand around and create the shape of a sandcastle as children love to do. But in practice, it never happens. The odds are astronomically higher that sand will be scattered into a random clump. These simple examples capture the essence of entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder. And there are always far more disorderly variations than orderly ones.

    It is the natural tendency of things to lose order. Left to its own devices, life will always become less structured. I am very happy to read your lines, “Entropy is our fate but not our destiny.” It is very unlikely that life is going to present you with a situation that perfectly matches your strengths.

    The presence of a Gunatit Guru in your life – who transcended the game of entropy – is therefore most beneficial. Out of all the possible scenarios I could encounter, it’s far more likely that I shall encounter one that does not cater to my talent and hit me at my weakest point. But with a Guru overseeing you helps good opportunities reach you and disasters averted and if not averted, disasters are just able to create entropy outside you and not within you. Jay Swaminarayan.

  5. A powerful, even if a bit intriguing, writeup on the need to not lose sight of “discipline, sacrifice, training and sustained efforts towards definite goals”.

    Thank you for the same, Sir – it may be just what everyone needed to hear, in the current confusing and very random circumstances!

  6. Your philosophical piece reminded me of Karl Marx who wrote that the bourgeoisie exploited the proletariate for the surplus value. It’s true that poverty of the masses is the entropy of wealth generation by the few.

    Thank you for encouraging your audience to live consciously and shun consumerism. I really believe in giving away material things which are not required anymore to the poor and needy.

  7. Dear Arun ji… your correlating Entropy to the present status in your opening paragraph is like hitting a first ball six. Unknown pitch condition, probably the best bowler and whack! you hit a lofty six…possible only because of the courage, confidence and coolness of the batsman sure about his game.

    Prof Paliwal zoomed in and so did Thermodynamics…. confess didn’t understand easily that time… you made it so simple now. You’re remembering Rumi and releasing the Times Arrow to make us understand and realize entropy to be the original cause of life calls for cheers!!

    Living single, is opposing the evolution process. Life needs to be created, though if modified because of new scientific cellular parameters or like by the ever changing and improving genetic science should be acceptable. A healthy brain and physique will be powered to fight several atrocities known and several still unknown to us. The black box of things to come needs a well prepared body mind and soul to tackle. The smooth sailing boat of life on placid waters is suddenly rocked by turbulence. The monstrous pandemics and such like unknown salvos are fired at us. One has to remain guarded, and to be prepared to repulse all such arrows of destruction including the blue screen light faced by present generation needs proper armour. Using science to make gene action dynamic and a shield thus is the path to be tread upon.

    Wouldn’t agree less with you when you state A life without a goal is indeed an organic waste. Goal has to be there to live a fruitful life. One needs to per sue and achieve whatever one tries for, howsoever hard it may be and then be a philanthropist and distribute amongst the needy….. Easy said than done. The more the disparity between rich and poor gets eradicated the better and faster would be the quality of life lived. The point between accumulated wealth turning into entropy in shape of hoarding for mere mental satisfaction at the cost of depriving the needy in my opinion is a barbarian act. None carries along his/her wealth as he crosses over life’s milestone, so what’s the point. Let the entropy not enter the system, let the natural phenomenon of life cycle play its tune. The music would be very pleasing

    Education, family and religion of present times are bugs which have been unleashed on us, as mentioned are well taken. All this finally leads to one point agenda to get that pot of gold everyone is blindly heading for – the biggest and the deadliest bug in my opinion. One surely needs financial standing to live a respectful and satisfied life for self and dependents but nothing beyond. Can we be complacent even if we get that elusive pot of gold – Very unlikely? To be a billionaire, a legendary sportsman, artist, actor, scientist or a person standing out in a crowd calls for a life full of discipline, training, efforts and dedication, they as rightly pointed out do not emerge out of entropy. It needs courage, guts, will and a golden heart to renounce all beyond ones requirement. To have and drink this rarest but surely not a Utopian cup of tea would be like giving wings to ones soul – A passport to fly away happy and contended.

  8. It is a ‘KAL CHAKRA’ manifesting in different sizes and forms.
    Our dharma gives a detailed explanation of how to lead a good life. Let us all do that. It will not only help us as a individual, but as a society as whole.
    The earlier, (it does not seem to happen – let us not despair) it happens it will be good for the humanity….let atleast the next generation benefit.

  9. Dr. R.C.Paliwal was a very insightful and effective teacher of mechanical engineering subjects at Pantnagar University. Although I was a student of the agricultural engineering branch, he taught us “machine design” course. Later in his career, he migrated to the US and settled in New Jersey. A few weeks back, I learned from one of my friends (Dr. Gajendra Singh) that he has passed away due to heart attack.

    While mourning his death, I believe it is a great tribute to him that his students remember him so fondly. Your blog is a testimony to his lasting influence on students. In your blog, you have beautifully connected laws of thermodynamics to the continuous cycle of creation, disorder, decay, and renewal of life in all forms. Thank you so much for expanding my thought process.

  10. The examples of how the lives of humans by fate follow the laws of thermodynamics are most interesting, my generation must learn for their benefit.

    I can imagine the energy of individuals as enthalpy which is in a sense also indicative of their desire for liberty or freedom, which is entropy. Limiting or reducing someone’s liberty is analogous to reducing someone’s entropy. It produces anger which can be imagined as temperature.

    This is good for warm-blooded creatures like human beings because heat energy helps to maintain our body temperature. Strictly speaking, no energy transfer is completely efficient because some energy is lost in an unusable form.

  11. Great Sir! After Pantnagar, a detailed reintroduction of Entropy.
    Salute!

  12. Dear Sir, How wonderfully you have explained entropy giving examples from engineering to our daily lives!

    I loved Carl Jung’s quote “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” This is so true. We resign to so many things in our lives, which may very well be in our control, calling it our fate.

    Thank you for yet another article which makes me introspect and re-adjust my thoughts and observations about the world and my surroundings.

  13. Dear sir, What an explanation of the term entropy! and its linkage to the present day living. Only you can bring the connect and drive home point very convincingly.

    You rightly brought the reason for present state of affairs with respect to the pandemic. We have thrown every caution to the wind on CARONA appropriate behavior and the result is just unmanageable. It is also true that our belief in religious rituals is also very strong irrespective of the religion, like the Kumbha Snan, Namaz by thousands of people together on a particular festival, Holi celebrations and so on. They are the most potential places of HOTSPOTS and super spreaders. Though Covid negative certificate is insisted upon, the nature of the disease is such that it does not guarantee that disease does not get spread.

    Further the election rallies at different levels add further fuel to the spread. I donot know whom to blame. It is for the individual to decide. Here the group behavior over rides and the obvious choice is the pleasure , and this puts the whole society under trouble. The leaders have to take the blame apart from the individuals.

    As rightly brought out ” The NATION WANTS TO KNOW” is a regular trigger for the entropy to enter and show its effect. The only way out is that the individual gets REALLY educated to take his own decision and carries on his life within limits. Sir thank you once again for an educative blog.

  14. You are probably the only person in the whole universe who can look at ‘Entrypy’ like you have. When I studied it I never looked at it this way. Now you can say…Look I told you so…

    Internet, consumerism, et al are doing what is explained by entropy…and they we do it. Please do not think too hard to save the mankind…it’s part of entropy…

  15. Sir, I recall you discussing this topic in our class, in University of Hyderabad, back in 2008 entropy as decay and negative entropy as nourishment. You gave an example of the earth constantly receiving energy from the sun. No life form would survive another day without this energy supply.

    What I learnt from your blog today is that the general struggle for existence of all living beings is not a struggle for raw materials – air, water, sunlight all abundantly available to everyone – it is all about receiving them and keeping our bodies and minds open.

    Living in Ha’il, I can feel the energy supply from the open sky even in the night. The cool desert air, the vast open sky, and stars, they are all engines of negative entropy. I can understand now why when I spend an hour leisurely walking I always feel refilled with energy.

    Thank you for pointing out God’s constant nourishment for every creature.

  16. Sir, today after reading your blog I felt proud to be an engineer. For a long time I was feeling how society was degrading its engineers. First MBA’s replaced them from top positions and later after IT came, they were started seeing as glorified clerks – making drawings, supervising, maintaining systems but not actually part of the system.

    When I was in the US I could see how that nation drew its strength from its engineers. Great buildings, wonderful infrastructure, and seamless movement of people and materials across the huge continent like a machine. Well, it was long ago.

    When COVID-19 struck New York last year, the way that great system succumbed was so painful to see. Your words are so clear, “If we make a human being a closed system – free from society – the second law of thermodynamics tells us that every individual would start out and end up a horrifying monstrosity.”

    Your answer is also very clear, “Take only what is needed and dispose of what is not necessary. Even a little lowering of your guard, a little complacency, and you are “rushed and gushed” into the suction of the fiery mouth of consumerism.“ I wish the second wave of COVID-19 passed off making people a bit wiser while sparing their lives.

  17. Your blog, is an interesting depiction of genetics and epigenetics Sir.

    Genomics stated as”: our bodies grow and function following genetic material from our parents. The DNA & RNA inherited by us makes codons, which make amino acids, which make proteins” and epigenetics as: “It is a well-established fact now that gene activity can be turned off and on by environmental or extracellular factors such as sensory experience, social context, hormones, temperature, diet, and photoperiod. These factors make gene action dynamic, contingent, and bidirectional.”

    The blog represent your creativeness and vision by which you have interrelated several aspects of science and how easily you have linked it to the current prevailing situation.

  18. Sir, End of any system is an outcome of uncertainty or disorder which is evident as we examine any breakdown, chaos, disorganisation, or randomness around.

    A lot of work is involved in sustaining normality and is reverse entropy. Despite all chaos around my role is to do my bit. तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय!

  19. It’s always a pleasure to view life through your many lenses Prof. Tiwari! Amazingly, you’ve described in this blog so many elements of life and the world we live in and tied them to the fascinating thermodynamic principle of “Entropy”. Quite the task and well done.

    My take from this blog is the good reminder that “entropy is our fate but not our destiny”. As such, we are reminded to live life with discipline and be mindful of our brief time on earth, during which we should work to leave this planet better than when we arrived here – producing more and consuming less. Your collective blogs are a wonderful guide and reminder to good living practices.

    God Bless.

  20. Your article made my morning even better. It is the soul, the essence of the supreme lord, that dissipates and frees itself through entropy.

    But the Lords most loving son – Satan, or Kaal – is ordained to reassemble Matter, and energy – And keep the show going.

    Thermodynamics not only explains man’s engineering, but also the Supreme Lord’s. One needs insight and intuition to fathom this.

    One also needs craftsmanship with words. To describe it well!! Fond regards.

  21. Sir, Though I am a science graduate turned HR professional, I started reading your blog enchanted with the wonderful view of New York… perhaps Brooklyn from Long Beachside, a younger you (maybe by 15 or 20 years) and the pigeon happily sitting in the biggest concrete jungle on the earth, unintimated by human presence and poised… But as I progressed, I was struck with the alarming nature of your message.

    I live in Surat. It is a city that has many comparisons with New York, though there is a huge difference in scale. Both cities are cosmopolitan with people from different parts of the world landing there to do business. Both cities have been built not by governments but businesses there. And most obviously, both are on river-sea confluence.

    I am seeing all you have described in this blog actually happening right in front of my eyes. I only pray what COVID-19 did to New York does not happen in Surat. Only last week a crematorium was commissioned after 15 years of disuse.

    These are times of great uncertainty. I head the HR department in my company Shree Ramkrishna Exports Pvt. Ltd., where thousands of highly skilled people work. I don’t really know who will report for work the next day and who will not. “Unless engines of entropy are checked, mankind is going to be buried under cognitive wreckage and the garbage of consumerism.” Sir, thank you for this masterpiece!

  22. I have never come across such a lucid explanation of the term ‘entropy’. We studied it in the limited context of physics but when you see physics is just one way of looking at things and looking at reality from a different perspective, as you did in this blog, biology, or philosophy, or even sociology, different layers peels off.

    Your take on COVID-19 is an eye opener. India could spared itself from the pandemic, though not without damage to the livelihoods of millions of poor but then the hubris of “being world leader” and “our own vaccine” and our obsession with public display of religion through congregations, and some elections are always happening at some or the other place, we seem to have ““rushed and gushed” ourselves into entropy.

    My take from your this most brilliantly written blog is, “Cognitive evolution is the ultimate purpose of human life. So, live a conscious life. Know your place in the existential system. Control its processes, sense your internal milieu and interact with the outside environment, including people and institutions around you. Take only what is needed and dispose of what is not necessary.” Wonderful message Sir.

  23. Sir, I am not an engineer and do not really know the meaning ‘entropy’. But after reading this blog today I realize that it is this powerful force of disintegrating order guiding everyone’s fate. Your words, “When the coronavirus pandemic started, we could control it by the discipline of lockdown. Even a vaccine has been made in less than a year’s time. But then, we allowed entropy to enter into reckless behavior and a second wave of pandemic hit those areas where people allowed their pleasures and conveniences override caution,” are so true. It is really high time to organize our lives around dome simple laws.

  24. What an excellent and expansive introduction, spread and depth of the term entropy. Weaving Rumi, spirituality, nationalism, our behaviour and of course the unavoidable Corona virus around entropy could only be done by Prof Arun Tiwari. Salute you for making this such an interesting topic.

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