The Barefoot Corporate Warrior: Autumn 2024

Image source: IN Noosa Magazine

Paul Bird explores Entropy, the End of the Universe

Entropy – and how we come to terms with it – bothers me. It’s a bummer actually.

You know what I am talking about? The second law of thermodynamics, which scientific big brain string theorist Brian Greene has brought to my attention (as one of the founders of the World Science Festival he is a regular at this event in Brisbane).

Turns out for us non-science types that ‘entropy’ is an immutable law of the Universe. Its discovery related to the transfer of heat however it now underpins everything, along with a few other immutable laws. Entropy points to the discord inherent in everything, including us of course.

Entropy is a complex law however my simple understanding goes something like this: all things are in a perpetual state of decay and breakdown, including ourselves; all that we perceive, and everything we don’t or can’t perceive.

The kitchen bench interpretation? Everything is falling apart and there is no escape.

Yes, entropy is not only coming for us, it is us!

We intuitively know this don’t we? Since our species developed a basic self-awareness we have understood that all is fleeting. Combinations of atoms (and the stuff inside atoms) at this instant are different in the next instant. Entropy confirms that a constant within this change is a falling away to different orders.

Most of us don’t need to know the details – we don’t need a mathematical formula or physics degree. From a survival perspective I just need to understand – do I need to be in fear; to run; fight; eat or drink? What basic instincts does entropy trigger?

On the one hand entropy is pretty depressing. Coupled with a developing consensus around the likely end of the Universe, it gives little cause for hope.

However, it can also been seen as a spur for exploration of our inner landscape to come to a state of ‘being’.

The actual end of the Universe (by whichever of the three current theories proves to be accurate) is so far in the future that it is not worth bothering.

One of the favoured theories is that the Universe is not heading for another Big Bang, rather a Big Whimper – where all suns, planets, galaxies and matter continue to stream away from each other until the distances between all objects is so great that all light is extinguished, all matter breaks down into a soupy nothingness and thus – nothing.

All rather gloomy really and certainly not in keeping with the view of Noosa Main Beach on a gloriouos day with cool water beckoning and nature resplendent.

How do we deal with this as humans? The understanding that as we sit here leafing through IN Noosa and thinking about dinner, gigantic structures are in movement and play across the Universe – some which we will become aware of, some which might actually impact us – and that these activities couldn’t give two hoots about our new job or penchant for prawns over Moreton Bay Bugs?

Neutron stars are exploding, galaxies are colliding, black holes are swallowing planetary systems with not so much as a “how’s-your-father” in our direction?!

I suppose we do what we have always done – decide not to think about it and focus on the here and now.

Willing ourselves oblivious to where it is all heading seems workable and sensible.

Why are the leading brains of our time not all curled up in a corner sucking their thumbs and rocking back-in-forth in despair? Like all humans they are driven to know more, to understand more, to explore more. It is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

They also take shelter in our innate optimism bias which has allowed us to mostly escape the dictates of nature and mould the planet to our own design.

I do admit that the knowledge of our demise does tend to temper the passion which one feels about certain causes.

Entropy and the end of the Universe can add an edge to our life experience.

Yes, there is no escape from everything falling apart, but right now I am using my body to climb a hill to see a special bird rarely seen in the City.

Yes, “no-one gets out of here alive”, but I am preparing a salad for lunch, enjoying the dicing and slicing, the smells and the textures.

Yes, all energy is in motion, without cessation and this makes me feel out of control at times but I am undertaking a necessary task which, upon completion will leave me with a sense of satisfaction at a job well done.

I acknowledge and accept the big picture. I nod my head to it;a wink, if you like. But I move on, I keep moving, keep doing, keep contributing, keep watching, keep living.

The end provides me with an urgency in the here-and-now. My awareness of it, always lurking, skulking in the shadows, just out-of-sight and mostly out-of-mind makes this life simultaneously bitter and sweet.

I think what really happens with entropy is that we prefer to avoid the subject, and choose to ignore its implications because they all lead to changes from the present whether they be positive or negative.

Couple this with the fundamental driver of almost all our behaviour – fear of death – and you have a combination topic which is extreme in its interference value to living a happy life.

In the end, our questing nature propels us onwards.

While Buddhists urge us to the daily contemplation of our own inevitable demise as a useful technique in developing compassion and acceptance, for most of us it is not the subject of our dinner conversations. Maybe it should be. It could give us the edge to the type of living that we crave.

About the Author /

Paul is the Publisher and Director of IN Noosa Magazine. Enjoying a successful career spanning almost 40 years, working in media and corporate communications industries and more recently in the profit-for-purpose charity and business sector as an Independent Director and Corporate Advisor. A self-confessed Noosa tragic, he has been a regular visitor and "sometimes" resident over the past 25 years.

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