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The law of ever-increasing entropy

August 30, 2020

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." These are the famous words of Leo Tolstoy. But why is that the case? It all boils down to the law of ever-increasing entropy.

This is the second law of thermodynamics. It states that the entropy, or the amount of disorder, in a closed system, increases over time.

The harmony is one state, while the chaos comes in many forms. Murphy's law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Again, there are more states of chaos and disorder.

It's generally much easier and much faster to destroy than to build. Weapons are usually invented before protection from them. The prototype of the firearm was invented in the tenth century. At the same time, the bulletproof vest wasn't invented until the nineteenth century. Nuclear weapons were invented before developing nuclear power plants. In cyber-security, it's easier to attack than to defend. While defending, you have to cover all the holes, while as an attacker, you have to find one vulnerable spot.

The bullshit asymmetry principle tells a similar story, coined by Alberto Brandolini (although half the internet credits Paul Kedrosky as the author). It says that the energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. Bullshit comes in many forms, and there are many ways in which an argument can be invalid. That's why it's easier to produce it. Finding truth takes a lot of effort since you have to make sure everything is valid. You have to find evidence for your claims, or better yet counter-evidence.

Spreading bullshit takes almost no effort and requires no critical thinking. As soon as I can write or speak, I can share nonsense that doesn't make sense. Babies learning how to speak, usually talk nonsense. They don't share logically sound arguments.

Where can we find more examples of this law? Peter Kaufman advocates that we can learn the most fundamental knowledge from the three oldest and biggest systems:

  1. the universe, 13.7 billion years old
  2. organic universe, 3.5 billion years old
  3. human history, 20,000 years old

Let's see how the law of ever-increasing entropy applies to each of them.

Increase of entropy in the universe

It's the law of physics. So it applies to the largest and the oldest system that we know of — the universe, 13.7 billion years old. If we look at the entire universe as a closed system as time passes, there is more chaos. The most probable end game is the heat death of the universe — the point of maximum entropy.

Entropy in the organic universe

If we look in the second bucket — the organic universe, it also follows the law of increasing entropy. Aging is nothing other than a constant increase in entropy since cells accumulate damage over time until they stop dividing. Normal human cells die after 50 divisions, which is known as a Hayflick Limit. The result of this is death, which is a point of maximum entropy. Living beings fight against the increase of entropy in their bodies.

Entropy in human history

We can see examples of this law in relationships, too. Every relationship is nothing but a fight against the increase of entropy. If you don't take any action in a relationship, and let the time pass, it ceases to exist. The entropy of a relationship increases until it dies. But, every positive interaction decreases entropy. Successful relationships are successful because of the energy input that eliminated entropy. The entropy would kill a relationship without the energy input. So, if you care about sustaining a relationship, fight entropy.

My daily encounters with this law

As a software developer, I encounter an increase of entropy on a day-to-day basis. In this universe, entropy is known under a different name: technical debt. As time passes, the natural tendency of this debt is to increase. Software developers need to fight this effect. Otherwise, a project will go off the rails. Not spending energy against this tendency, the project's entropy will increase and lead to maximum entropy — death.

Generally, not spending energy leads to an increase in chaos. So whenever you are cleaning your desk or nurturing your relationships, you are fighting entropy.

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