13 November 2011

Entropic Discord

To diverse gods do mortals bow;
Holy Cow, and Wholly Chao.
I got to see my family this weekend! Unfortunately they already left. Littlest Brother was in rare form, acting his absolute cutest. We were driving to do some sight seeing with my aunt and uncle, and we passed a bright blue motorcycle. Littlest Brother (15, autistic, and adorable) said, “Look! It’s a blue mocha-cycle!” Gods, I love his accent. He also calls caterpillars “color-pitters.” That little boy is amazing.

Anyway, while my family was here, we watched a couple movies and some random science shows. One of the shows we watched—NOVA, I believe it was called—dealt with the law of entropy, or in non-sciencey terms, the tendency of the universe to move from order to disorder. Now, thermodynamics was never my strongest point back in my physics classes, and we only briefly touched on it in my nuclear engineering courses, so I’ll let some quotes do my talking for me. Everything about my academic history makes me hesitant to ever use Wikipedia as a source; however, for basic definitions and layman’s understanding of key terms/concepts, it’s not so bad. I’ll never quote it in a formal paper, but here it is. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about entropy:

Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when converting energy to work. During this work, entropy accumulates in the system, which then dissipates in the form of waste heat. 
In classical thermodynamics, the concept of entropy is defined phenomenologically by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases or remains constant. Thus, entropy is also a measure of the tendency of a process, such as a chemical reaction, to be entropically favored, or to proceed in a particular direction. It determines that thermal energy always flows spontaneously from regions of higher temperature to regions of lower temperature, in the form of heat. These processes reduce the state of order of the initial systems, and therefore entropy is an expression of disorder or randomness. This picture is the basis of the modern microscopic interpretation of entropy in statistical mechanics, where entropy is defined as the amount of additional information needed to specify the exact physical state of a system, given its thermodynamic specification. The second law is then a consequence of this definition and the fundamental postulate of statistical mechanics.

And all of that just makes me think of Discordianism.

As I've discussed before, I don’t consider myself a follower of any one Pagan tradition, nor do I confine myself to one specific pantheon of deities (I myself am a hodge-podge of ethnic and cultural backgrounds; why should my spirituality reflect anything else?). Thus, I’ve always had a soft spot for the ideas behind Discordianism, namely that both order and disorder are constructs of the human mind. Neither is a statement of reality, and yet both are equally true and untrue. Anything is possible, and everyone is right. And everyone is wrong. It’s the ultimate interpretation of do what you will. I think it’s both poetic and hilarious, and also very, very (un)true. Apparently I’m also not the first person to read about entropy and then think about Eris, goddess of discord. Check it out:

The Principia Discordia contains the Law of Eristic Escalation. This law states that "Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos". It elaborates on this point by saying that the more order is imposed the longer it takes for the chaos to arise and the greater the chaos that arises. The idea is not new; it is mentioned in the Tao Te Ching: "the more laws and orders are written, the more thieves there are". 
This can be read as an argument against zero tolerance and hard security, or just a statement about the world and human nature. It can also be seen as a parallel to the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy (the number of states a given system can occupy) never decreases over time. It is also reminiscent of Newton's Third Law, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

So, there you have it. I have once again come to the circuitous conclusion that I am not nearly as original of a thinker as I would like to think. Nonetheless, interesting parallels between the law of entropy (proven, time and again) and Discordianism, yea? Makes me proud to be Pagan.

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