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Entropy isn't what it used to be



The title of this puzzle was a bumper sticker's humorous way, a while back, of expressing the famous 2nd law of thermodynamics. Entropy is a measure of disorder, and the Law states that it always increases, when properly accounted for. Examples are shuffling a deck of cards, shaking salt and pepper in the same shaker after carefully placing all the salt on top, and the ongoing need to straighten up the house.

Even if I used tweezers to replace each grain of salt, or restored the cards to suit order, or cleaned the house, the Law still holds. The system would then have to include me. And, sad but certain to say, my entropy would have increased more than the decrease in entropy I would have produced in the cards, salt or house. The gloomy fact is that the Universe is running down. In the struggle between order and disorder, disorder wins out.

In my early years that seemed unfair to me. I thought it should at least be a draw. You should only have to clean the house once. Unless there are small children about ... But it's not so.

So here is the puzzle. Does the Second Law give evidence to a universal evil force that wanders about, looking for ordered states to destroy? Or is there a view that permits neutrality in that regard, while still asserting the Second Law? Well of course there must be a view like that, because that's how things actually are.

The puzzle is, how would you simply and intuitively state such a view? How would you explain to my younger self, or to your child or grandchild, that fairness [neutrality] and the Second Law can and do coexist?

Coveted bonanova Gold Star goes to the most concise answer.

Enjoy this one!

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disorder is in of it self a form of order. lets take the example of the ordered vs the unordered deck of cards.

any particular order of cards are all equally likely. it's just that there's only 1 arrangement where they go from 1-52, and therefore comparing this to any other order means that even a slight inconsistency is still considered unordered, and therefore more likely.

imagine you wanted to order a deck of cards, by shuffling them. obviously you won't do so before the heat death of the universe, but given enough time, it would be possible. applying this to the universe itself, as the universe cools down, and approaches the most disordered state, it is also in a round about sort of way the most uniform state, and thus the most ordered, and will begin to form matter again, because that's a more disordered state.

Edited by phil1882
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This is my first post here. Hope i understand the question correctly .

To your younger self id say :

The two concepts of fairness ( neutrality ) and the 2nd Law ( decay ) are two completeley diffrent things.

The universe cares not for our perception of fairness.

One is an external force..the other an internal state. They need not meet or be grasped at the same time . It is just very satisfactory to a human brain when they do.

ok..took a crack ..let the cards fall where they may :)

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I don't have a Ph.D in this, but I have spent some time thinking about the second law.

Think of the second law as saying:

The number of possible states of the universe is increasing.

To connect this back to the concept of order vs. disorder, first recognize there are two themes here: complexity and usability.

Complex systems have more possible states and tend to be more disordered (chaotic) than simple systems, which are ordered (predictable).

Entropy is also often spoken of in terms of usability: e.g. energy may exist in usable forms which can be controlled or applied to directly perform work, such as gravitational potential energy, or it may exist in a form that is unusable (difficult to control), such as heat. Ordered, predictable systems are more usable.

Now, as the number of possible states in the universe increases, the more complex the system becomes as a whole, and the energy in the system becomes harder to control and apply towards things which we as humans find useful.

What is useful to us, depends on us, i.e. how we have evolved and adapted, and not some evil force in the universe.

Any negative implications put forth by bonanova are due to incompatibilities between what is useful to us as a species and the natural progression of the universe.

This is not to say, we are the only species that has this problem. It seems that it would be a problem to any intelligent life anywhere. The problem arises from the nature of intelligent life itself, its needs, and how these needs may not be met one day (at the current level of complexity we are capable of dealing with) due to the universe doing it's own thing.

Edited by mmiguel
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First off I would say:



Any 'laws' we have determined about nature are merely theories. We consider it a law until it can be disproved.

I don't know a lot about Entropy of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

The reason we put 'randomness' into a law is merely to explain what we don't know. I'm sure that in ancient times the weather was random, the tides were random, the brain was random, human genetics was random, etc. Random is merely a way to explain the unknown.

If you believe that by making something less 'ordered' that you are making something else more 'disordered' then that is your choice.

However, if you believe that nature/science/physics has a system of order and disorder, then how can you explain that?

A deck of cards are the invention of man yet we are to believe that there is some innate order associated with this invention?

Why is a deck of cards that goes A-to-K in hearts then diamonds, then clubs, then spades any more ordered than a deck that goes with all four Aces, to all fours Twos, etc. all the way to Kings? Now how are either of those two different than a deck we consider random? If the deck came from the factory in a certain pattern, would that now be called ordered?

Even what two people consider ordered are completely different. Perhaps we think there is an increase in disorder because there are many more options that we consider disordered than we consider ordered.

Look at the deck example. If we only consider one example to be ordered then any shift from that is a loss of order, however if something is already what we consider disordered, then any shift from that is not as vital. In a deck of cards there are 8.0658175e+67 possible ways to sort that deck. With our limited view of order, there is an extremely high chance for something to loss 'order' but it is virtually impossible to gain 'order'.

Conclusion: There is no such thing (in terms of the natural world) as order, disorder, chaos, etc.

There is only the known and unknown, unfortunately we associate disorder and chaos with the unknown.

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...that evolution is not "good". Semantics, the vague definitions of human language, and misapplying a scientific concept.

I.e. it's a common misconception that evolution/survival of the fittest->progress and progress->good, hence evolution is good, but that's not the case. The two 'progress''s used as links are not equivalent. Evolution means the traits that helped the species/sub-species/group survive during that period are passed on. These traits are good for survival under those particular circumstances, but that doesn't make them "good" in a moral sense or good for changing circumstances, etc.

As for entropy, entropy->disorder, disorder->bad has the same problem. The 'disorder's are not strictly the same. The disorder of entropy is, as Prof. T pointed out, a disorder of uniformity rather than a disorder of chaos. I.e. think of a dam holding back water. The state is ordered by a section of higher water content and a section of lower water content. Entropy breaks the dam and creates a uniform body of water (okay, breaking the dam is probably not a good thing, but the point is the result is not complete chaos.)

In fact, I would argue that entropy is often a good thing. It allows us a degree of security in our existence. I.e. it's the reason I don't have to be afraid that all the heat energy in the room won't all of a sudden move to one side and I end up spontaneously freezing/burning to death (okay, some people might think that's not necessarily a good thing :P).

Oh, and on the topic of words being vague and misused, I want to bring up a pet peeve of mine: Descartes's assertion, translated as "I think, therefore I am.". The 'am' is the exist 'am', not the being a particular state 'am'; he's proving his existence as a thinking being, not saying you can be whatever you want to be. [/rant]

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