Heat Death of the Universe

I was catching up and re-learning some very basic thermodynamics a while back. I came across this very excellent page describing entropy (a key thermodynamics term), which I never *really* understood in school. (http://entropysite.oxy.edu/entropy_is_simple/) In college, they always likened an increase in entropy as an increase in chaos or as an increase in the disorder of a system. This analogy actually often leads to an opposite understanding of what increasing entropy truly means. Newer textbooks attempt to describe this abstraction of physical reality as an increase in energy dispersal, something my visual non-math mind understood immediately. I bring this up because the Second Law of Thermodynamics happens to state that, “In a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy (or energy dispersal) of the universe.” (from Wikipedia, my parentheses). Let’s not miss the simplicity of that statement. It says “a process that occurs.” That’s all. Not a specific process, but any process, period. In other words, any process that one can conceive of is basically moving energy from high concentration and individual uniqueness to greater homogeneity and distribution. In addition, this is an irreversible process. The frightening thing about this law is that it will ultimately lead to complete and absolute homogeneity of the entire universe. This is termed the heat death of the universe.

The heat death of the universe might be described by a simple analogy. Imagine if the entire universe were only comprised of a cup of cold milk sitting next to a pot of hot coffee. After pouring the cold milk into the hot pot of coffee the heat energy is completely dispersed. In other words, both the milk and the coffee are the same temperature and completely mixed. There is no way to “unmix” the differing temperatures. Nor can we “unmix” the once separate entities of cold milk and hot coffee. They have become completely and utterly none-unique, neither the formerly hot, black coffee nor the cold, white milk exist anymore. It has become a maximized energy dispersal of the two, a warm, tan latte. If the coffee and milk were sentient beings this might be experienced as death to them.  In our terms, the loss of uniqueness of the hot black coffee and the individuality of the cold white milk was the heat death of their individuality…

As these ideas and thoughts passed through my mind-machine the follow up thought was one of hope, since this process is constantly occurring, and is utterly inevitable. Anything that is done, thought, existed, thing-ed, or self-ed simply moves this process forward. It’s impossible to move the universe to a state of less entropy, also known as the arrow of time. I wondered if it’s therefore impossible to prevent ourselves from our own “heat death” of individuality. Certainly the universe seems to comply with this law. However, heat death will only happen very slowly if things are energetically insulated from each other. In our analogy it might be akin to surrounding an insulated styrofoam cup of cold milk with hot coffee. Eventually the two would reach the same temperature or “mix” energetically so to speak. (To truly increase the entropy to its absolute maximum the molecules would have to mix, too, and then evaporate, ionize, break down into their subatomic constituents, then their strings, or whatever, and be distributed homogeneously). Naturally, in order to drink the coffee the same day we ditch the pot or the cup and mix them both into one container.

If we dare to apply this analogy to ourselves we’d have to admit that we are currently “insulated” from the heat death of individuality. Can we see what our insulation is made of? Are we willing to wait and gamble for the process to possibly occur naturally, irreversibly, with the stark inevitability of a 100% probability? Or do we take action to remove our insulations, if we can? Can we remove our insulation ourselves or must we ask for God’s grace to remove it for us?

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Freedom and Void

Since last year I’ve been preoccupied with my unusually prolonged coming of age. One night as I was chatting with a close friend, an insight came to me that I’d been focusing on the wrong problem, the wrong direction. It seemed that the thought came out of nowhere since we were talking about something unrelated.  At that short moment my belief (that career matters) was truly challenged by the simple question: “what if it does not matter?”

That moment I felt a sense of relief from the burden of my beliefs (of what it means to be a responsible adult). It was subtle, there was no heavenly choir singing gloriously, but it was a relief, a breaking of a chain. I fear giving it too much emphasis or importance because very soon after that, the freedom leaves a space … for nothing. A void. Freedom to do what? What do I do with/in this free space then? I still feel an immense lack of something. “Loving others and getting love from others,” I thought at the time, inspired by the fact that the insight came as I was talking to a good friend. The insight that job and career (and, as it turned out, much more) may not matter was not freeing. A bigger, more threatening void loomed. It brought fear, intractable dissatisfaction, and the worry-thought that I should care about some adult thing, and if I don’t I’m leading myself towards death. Only people, friends and family, matter, I thought. But don’t I have to do something a little more important-looking than just exchanging love?