I recall, vaguely, hearing that everyone is supposed to know the Second Law of Thermodynamics. So, in an attempt to fill the few remaining holes in my education, I looked it up in google. The result was a flashback to Freshman Physics – not anything I learned in the course, but rather the feeling of bewilderment that I experienced. For example, “the entropy of isolated systems left to spontaneous evolution cannot decrease.” Buzzzzz.
But I found the word “entropy” in the phog of physics, and I felt that “entropy” was something I could get hold of because I suspect that I experience it in everyday life. From the dictionary: “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity.” This was followed by the cheerful words of James R. Newman: “Entropy is the general trend of the universe toward death and disorder.” Great! And it’s a Law.
I actually prefer the definition given by one of my Amherst professors: “You can’t kick shit up a cow’s ass and expect it to spit hay.” (I doubt it was a physics professor – probably English.)
Whatever the definition, people my age (80-ish) know first hand what entropy means, both on a personal level and a global level – as Yeats summarized, “Things fall apart . . ..” My son’s car is experiencing entropy. I even read about the deterioration of copy editing and proof-reading as a sign of “cultural entropy.” (Thanks again, Gene.) Or, just look in the mirror. And global entropy is too obvious for discussion.
As I was muddling through these thoughts, an answer arrived in a text. Our dear friend, Randy, learned that he was going to receive a kidney from a living donor. Take that, entropy! And as I am hunched over my laptop, Kim is out working to clean up a messy part of the woods that is part of our landscape. She is putting into practice the closing lines of Voltaire’s Candide: “We must cultivate our garden.” Fight entropy. Spit hay.
Kim will be attempting this on a personal level in two weeks when she begins physical therapy from a colleague who Genne’ recommended, hopefully reversing the painful decline in her knees and legs. Two weeks seems a long time when you are in pain, but when we contacted the hospital pain clinic, the first available appointment is in October, which reminded me of the joke: “Suicide Prevention Hotline – would you hold, please?”
And we can fight entropy globally by countering global warming, by planting trees, recycling, and by appreciating the common humanity we share with those with whom we disagree, while still working hard to defeat the Bad Guys.
At a certain point, however, we have to accept entropy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is, after all, a law. The question then becomes, how can we accept it with grace? And what does that grace look like?
I asked our friend Jerry how to deal with entropy. His answer: “friends.”