Home » Columns »Sustainable Planet »Uncategorized » Currently Reading:

Entropy

August 24, 2010 by Blue Ridge Leader filed under Columns, Sustainable Planet, Uncategorized 1 Comment

“What an organism feeds on is negative entropy.” Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life (1956)

“The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” — Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

“The American people are sending a strong message here: We don’t like the implications of this law, and we will not rest until it has been reversed in the courts.” Christian Coalition president Ralph Reed, as reported in the Onion, America’s Finest New’s Source [1].

What is entropy? Why does life so utterly depend on the ability to extract negative entropy from its environment? What does that mean? What is the secret of really good satire?

To comprehend just a bit why the Entropy Law is so absolutely supreme among the laws of physics consider this. All other physical laws are invariant with respect to time. Newtonian or Classical Mechanics, Einstein’s special theory of relativity, his general theory of relativity, Maxwell’s equations, quantum Mechanics, quantum electro-dynamics, Superstring theory all are equally comfortable with the flow of time in either direction. Only the Entropy Law defines time’s arrow. If we drop a wine glass on a concrete patio it shatters. Time never runs the other way. Shards of glass never come back together and reconstruct the wine glass. The simplest explanation, one of many interpretations of entropy, is a probabilistic one. There is only one organization of the glass shards which forms the glass but an infinite number of random configurations of shards which do not form the glass and all of which are functionally indistinguishable. The glass is ordered and far from thermodynamic equilibrium and has very low entropy. The scattered shards are disordered and have high entropy. Wine glasses shatter in forward time and could only spontaneously reconstruct in negative time. We’ve never observed a glass spontaneously reconstruct. The Entropy Law, the second law of thermodynamics, tells us that we can proceed in one direction from order to disorder in time but we cannot go the other way.

A gallon of gasoline is in a state of low entropy. The concentrated carbon-carbon and hydrogen-carbon bonds store enormous free chemical energy and are far from thermodynamic equilibrium. We can burn these molecules and release the energy and create carbon dioxide and water vapor and heat. What we are doing really is transforming the low entropy of the gasoline into high entropy of scattered carbon dioxide, water vapor and heat. We are using the transformation of the quality of the free energy to move our car.

The energy and matter in the system before and after the transformation is the same and has to be by the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This is the conservation law. We started with a highly ordered collection of gasoline molecules far from thermodynamic equilibrium and ended up with dispersed molecules and heat scattered throughout the environment. And if we’ve burned a gallon we’ve moved our car 20 or so miles up the road. We’ve done work. Cars like organisms, like society require low entropy.

Even standing still requires low entropy. Bananas rot, cars rust, organisms including people age. Much of the low entropy cost of operating society is simply required for maintenance not growth. GDP got a boost in the wake of Katrina but New Orleans still is not recovered fully. We haven’t fully replaced the wealth we once had. Out bloated military spending, defending as it is, our oil supply, requires vast amounts of low entropy which could otherwise have been spent on growth or simply maintenance of existing wealth. Growth is therefore limited by available low entropy after the requirements of maintenance have been met. If our society is so complex as to require more low entropy than is available growth is impossible.

The arguments which economists raise against prescient books such as Limits to Growth [2] include: price, technology and substitution. We see that by the Entropy Law, there is no substitute for low entropy. We can replace one source with another but that game is very limited. We can replace wood burning with coal burning and indeed coal has a higher energy density but available coal is limited and not renewable. We have supported less than a billion people burning wood whereas we are supporting seven billion people burning coal and other fossil fuels. We cannot therefore simply go back to wood.

The substitution argument tells us that when oil prices get intolerably high, we will simply substitute some alternate source of low entropy for the low entropy we have been capturing from oil. One problem with this argument is that we’ve invested incredible amounts of low entropy in the development of fossil fuel infrastructure. We did this when oil, from an energy cost perspective, was cheap. Any substitute will require the build out of equivalent infrastructure which right now does not exist [3]. We will have to do this when energy costs are high and low entropy is scarce. And we know there is no substitution for other sources of low entropy. There is no substitution for fresh water, good top soils and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer, for example.

Technology may increase our rate of burn of available low entropy and it can improve the efficiency with which we transform available low entropy into useful work but it cannot create available low entropy any more than the wine glass shards can magically reconstruct the wine glass. We see that technology can actually exacerbate limits to growth. Technology cannot violate the second law. And even the most partisan judges cannot repeal it.

Price signals lose their effectiveness when resource limits are reached [4, 5 and 6]. Neo-classical economic hypothesis violate the second law because they assume resources and waste sinks are infinite. At least we know therefore that there is no hope for them.

The point of lowest entropy in the universe was 13.7 billion years ago at the big bang. Black holes represent the highest entropy we are aware of today [7]. Whatever stuff is inside a black hole, and maybe only Steven Hawkins knows, can be rearranged billions upon billions of ways and one still has a black hole. That is thermodynamic equilibrium. You by contrast are a collection of precisely constructed atoms and molecules. Even a very minor deviation, such as the miscoding of a single nucleic acid may portend a cancerous death. You and I are far from thermodynamic equilibrium. We should not take life for granted.

Good satire is almost plausible. :+)

Tony Noerpel

[1] The Onion, http://www.theonion.com/articles/christian-right-lobbies-to-overturn-second-law-of,281/

[2] Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows, William Behrens, Limits to Growth, 1972 and Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update, 2004.

[3] Vaclav Smil, Energy Transformations, 2010.

[4] Frederick Soddy, Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt, 1926.

[5] Herman Daly, Beyond Growth, 1996.

[6] Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, 1971.

[7] Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004.

1 comment

  1. […] Tony Noerpel, Entropy, http://brleader.com/?p=2025 var addthis_pub = ”; var addthis_language = ‘en';var addthis_options = ’email, favorites, digg, […]

Comment on this article


By commenting, you agree to abide by our Terms of Service.


 

 

 

 

Columns

Pie in the Face (with remarks from Ron Paul)

noerpel_new

“In any field, the establishment is seldom in pursuit of the truth because it is composed of those who sincerely believe that they are already in possession of it.” E. T. Jaynes. Everybody prefaces Bernie Sanders name with “pie in …

Asterisk No More

moore-sobelnewmug

By Samuel Moore-Sobel “Moods come and go, but greatness endures.” These prescient words were uttered by President George H.W. Bush, a man who knows firsthand the truth of his own saying. In 1992, President Bush garnered only 37 percent of …

Second Bull Run

Bull Run Creek

It may not have been a battle, but – seeing as how it was my second attempt at getting a good look at Bull Run Creek – coupled with the fact that I’m a native Northerner – I felt a …

Snowmageddon III?  Seven Survival Tips for Parents

Michael_Pic

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. “snOMG,” “snowmageddon,” “snowpocalypse,” and “kaisersnoze” are a few terms to describe what just happened in Northern Virginia. The storm was reported to be the second worst storm on record. And while many children and teens gladly …

What Is a Sport?

Lunde new

By Mary Rose Lunde On January 10, hundreds of talented dancers from across the East Coast competed at the Universal Dance Academy Regional Championship at West Springfield High School. Tensions were high and the stakes couldn’t have been greater. What …

Six Things to Know to Weather a Market Downturn

Smith0035

It’s natural to be nervous when the markets head for negative territory. Keep a positive perspective with these six investing reminders. It can be very unsettling for investors when their portfolios and the markets start heading for the red and …

Editorial

Grief and Greed

blueridge2

By Matthew Parse What would drive a single individual to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden on hundreds, if not, thousands of families? What would drive the Town …

Op-ed

Oh No, It’s the Christians!

blueridge2

By Nicholas Reid In the hours and days following every massacre perpetrated by radical Muslims, there is one unifying theme across most news coverage of the massacre, wherever it may …

Dear Editor

Job Well Done!

town of purcellville sign

Kudos to Town Manager Rob Lohr and his awesome hard working staff. You did a fantastic job of snow removal throughout the Town of Purcellville this past week. Mr. Lohr …

View From the Ridge

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Purcellville

blueridge2

Mark Your Calendar, They’ve Asked for Our Input So Let’s Give It To Them By Steady and Nobull The Purcellville Planning Commission has tentatively scheduled a series of public input …

Student News

Four Scouts Achieve Eagle Scout Rank

3 Feb 2016

eaglescout

Joel Gicker, Kyle Siecker, Sam Soltis and David Watson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor conducted at Blue Ridge Bible Church in Purcellville on January 9. The four Eagles are members of Troop 711 of …

(Be the first to comment)

8th Grade Writers Honored At Blue Ridge Middle School

2 Jul 2015

blueridgemiddleschool

Sixty-seven Blue Ridge Middle School eighth graders have been honored for their writing during the 2014-2015 school year. Many students had their writing selected for publication by Creative Communication, a program for student writers, while others won county-wide writing contests. …

(Be the first to comment)

Ben Kellogg Achieves Eagle Scout

1 Jul 2015

benkellog

Benjamin Robert Kellogg achieved the rank of Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor conducted at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Purcellville on March 29. Friends, family and troop leaders attended the celebration, including his parents, Robert and Deirdre Kellogg. …

(Be the first to comment)

Calendar

February 2016
M T W T F S S
1 2 3

Loudoun Valley Boys Basketball Spirit Night at Coach's Corner

4

Music Together Classes - Winter Session

5

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

6

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

7

5K Race to Benefit Riverside High School Athletic Department

8 9 10 11

Music Together Classes - Winter Session

12

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

13

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Chocolate & Cabernet

Sweetheart's Soirée at Breaux Vineyards

Loudoun Centre Theater: HAIRSPRAY

14

Notaviva Vineyards presents 5th annual "My Funny Valentine" comedy show feat. Jason Weems!

Celebrate Valentine's Day at North Gate Vineyard

Gallery Coffeehouse: READERS THEATRE "LOVE LETTERS" BY A. R. GURNEY

15 16 17

Mad Cap Puppets: UNDER THE BONSAI TREE

18 19

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

20

CHINESE NEW YEAR EVENT: Year Of The Monkey

21

Loudoun Symphony presents A LITTLE CHAMBER MUSIC

Gallery Coffeehouse: THE COMEDY CULT IMPROV

Gallery Coffeehouse: THE COMEDY CULT IMPROV

22 23 24 25 26

Breaux Vineyards February Fourth Friday

27

THE EDGE: Malone Benefit Concert

28

Loudoun School of Ballet Winter Showcase

Our Love is Here to Stay

29 1 2 3 4

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

5

Merlot Vertical Tasting

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

North Gate Vineyard Wine Dinner with Chef Sebastian Oveysi

6

VSA of Loudoun Spring Musical: SPECTRUM’S JOURNEY

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theatre, 100 Lunches" by Jack Sharkey & Leo Sears

Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

  • Will Skowronski on Second Bull Run: I always enjoy Tim Jon's columns about the back roads of Loudoun County. Mr Jon's writing evokes the fun...
  • Pamela Baldwin on An Interview with Ron Meyer, Broad Run Supervisor: And what happens, exactly, when the Greenway goes bankrupt as a result of this new alternative road? And what...
  • Tony Noerpel on The Trump Effect: Hi Rosalinda What? :+) Tony
  • Tony Noerpel on The Trump Effect: Hi Paul Don't disagree. I'd be pleased to buy you a beer sometime. I don't like Clinton as I've...
  • MJ Justus on Police Investigating Student Death: I am so sorry. May this young person find peace, and may all those affected be comforted from above.

Lifestyle

Creation and Evolution in Native American Spirituality

9 Feb 2016

turtle_swartz

In celebration of Evolution Weekend, an annual event led by clergy to encourage serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science, St. James United Church of Christ in Lovettsville has invited Roger and Deborah “Turtle” Swartz to guide a discussion of traditional Native American Spirituality and its wisdom in celebrating human relationship to the earth. In a …

(Be the first to comment)

Run and Walk To Your Nearest 5K Pregame Event Happening on Super Bowl Day In Leesburg

3 Feb 2016

runandwalk

There is a new Running Company, the Pace Makers Running Company, in town and they are on a mission to help the local population with their health goals while raising money for selected charities. The race at The National Conference Center in Leesburg on February 7, is to help benefit the Riverside High School Athletic Department. The upcoming race on …

(Be the first to comment)

Lovin’ Leesburg for All Its Beauty

3 Feb 2016

lovinleesburgrealestate1

By Hannah Hager We may be in the thick of winter, but this home on Cherry Spring Lane will melt your heart. Come spring you’ll fully be able to enjoy this simple, yet elegant brick home and its surrounding green pastures enclosed by miles of black wooden fences. Beyond your immediate yard are sweeping views of the mountains and valleys …

(Be the first to comment)

Around Virginia

Education Savings Accounts Make Big Move in House

Dave_larock

The Virginia House of Delegates gave a strong push to House Bill 389, Delegate Dave LaRock’s (R-33rd District) innovative Education Savings Account legislation, as the House Education Committee voted 13-9 in favor of advancing the bill forward. “This is definitely an exciting development for parents and students in the Commonwealth,” …

(Be the first to comment)

Kaine to Hold Hearing on Opioid Abuse

Kaine

On Monday, February 1, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, will hold a field hearing in Loudoun County to examine the ongoing fight against opioid misuse and abuse among older Americans. Kaine has met with families, law enforcement and business leaders across Virginia …

(Be the first to comment)

Youth Can Apply for 2015 Livestock Exhibitor Scholarships

Virginia_seal

Youth who exhibited beef cattle, sheep, meat goats or swine in the 2015 State Fair of Virginia 4-H and FFA youth livestock program are eligible to apply for 12 new scholarships being offered by the State Fair of Virginia. Scholarships will be offered in three age groups: Juniors (9-12), Intermediate …

(Be the first to comment)

Sports

Western Loudon Volleyball Club “Hitmen” Team Finishes Second

3 Feb 2016

westernloudounvolleyballclub

The Western Loudon Volleyball Club U14 boys team, called the “Hitmen,” finished second in a tournament held January 17. This is the first ever boys team for the WLVBC (and only the second boys club in the area). Coach Allan Kotmel led the seven-member team. WLVBC started eight years ago, …

(Be the first to comment)

ODFC West Travel Soccer Program Shines

2 Dec 2015

ODFCsoccerpics

The Old Dominion Football Club West boys and girls middle school travel soccer program scored big the weekend of November 21 and 22.  The girls Quest Premier 22 team took home the championship in the U12 Girls Premier Division of the Hunt Country Classic located in Fauquier County. The boys …

(Be the first to comment)

Archives

  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009