The Curse of the Second Law of Thermondynamics

If you ever travel back in time, and someone asks where you came from and why you’re dressed that way, tell them you’re under a curse. And when they ask what curse that would be, tell them it’s the curse of the second law of thermodynamics. I guarantee you they’ll be overawed and impressed.

“But why should the universe be in a state of high order at one end of time, the end that we call the past? Why was it not in a state of complete disorder at all times? After all, this might seem more probable.”

– Stephen W. Hawking

The second law of thermodynamics directs that disorder must increase with time. Everyone should understand this law, despite it’s rather unwieldy title and the inevitably smart questions that arise from those who do not understand it. (“What’s the first law of thermodynamics?” is a common one.) Disorder must increase with time; this is a universal principle that not only governs the fabric of the universe, but can be observed on a day to day basis.

For example: if you don’t clean up your room it will go from being clean and tidy to being a disaster. If you continue to neglect it the disorder will only continue to increase. At no point will the disorder suddenly reverse it, and your bedroom begin to clean itself.

The great question of life, the universe, and everything can be summed up in the second law. How do you reverse the increase of entropy? If the increase of entropy is not halted, and eventually reversed, then the universe will undoubtedly come to an end. But the only way to create order out of disorder is through both energy and intelligence. Intelligence by itself will talk, but never work. Energy by itself just boils off into the atmosphere. Only by intelligently harnessing energy can order be created, and in this way we survive.

To get back to the example of the bedroom. The disorder in your bedroom will continue to increase until you set aside an afternoon and clean it. This does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because the universe isn’t doing it by itself. It requires an expenditure of energy.

This is the reason that time flows in only one direction. A teacup falls ont he floor and breaks. This is the progression of time from past to present. At no time do broken shards jump onto the table and form a teacup. Why? What causes this arrow of time?

You got it, the second law. For shards to jump on the table and form a teacup would be creating order out of disorder, and we all know that doesn’t happen. Disorder increases; it never decreases except that we apply ourselves to the task of reducing entropy.

Yet we can only slow the inevitable end. We can never stop it. There is not enough energy in the universe to change the laws of physics. But if we despair, if we stop trying for even a minute, all is lost.

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:14-15

And that is the curse of the second law of thermodynamics.

Think about it. We know that when Adam fell things changed. We know that there was no death in Eden, and therefore there were no carnivores. There were no predators, and no prey. There was no poisonous fruit. No thorns, and no thistles. No camouflage or defensive measures. Most of the animals in the world must have physically altered their opinion. Many of the plants in the world either changed or sprang into existence.  The economy of the world switched completely to one of life, to one ruled by death. But the most amazing thing of all is that the laws governing the very fabric of the universe changed.

Eden was a world where shards of porcelain jumped up onto a table and formed a teacup. Eden was a world where you cleaned your room and it stayed clean. Eden was a world where the Second Law of Thermodynamics did not exist – where there was no entropy, no increase in disorder.

Imagine that.


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