#31 Entropy


Entropy is a lot like evolution in the sense that people write about what it is and do their best to work it into their conversations to sound intellectual. Nassim Taleb calls them the "IYI", the "Intellectual Yet Idiot". They are easy to spot because they find creative ways to inject scientific-sounding words into their colloquial speech and equally creative ways to avoid any discussion practical application or secondary and tertiary consequences. They remember and repeat words and definitions but completely miss the concepts in real-time and fail to adapt their own behavior accordingly.

In other words, they say a lot of valid things that aren't terribly useful to anyone.

The cognitively lazy listener thinks "Wow, that sounded smart. I can repeat that to others and I'll sound smart."

IYI is contagious to the monkey mind.

This morning, I am going to write about entropy. And I am going to do my best to make it useful. It will likely not be easy to repeat, nor should it be repeated. Instead, it should be wrestled with, observed, implemented, and then reinvented to be even more useful to the listener should you choose to pass it on.

Cool? cool.

Let's start with the concept of evolution...

The concept of evolution can be poked, prodded, disagreed with, accepted, or responded to in any number of ways. It doesn't matter to me. The value is not being "right" about how we got to where we are now, the value is the lens from which we can use it to see the world; the lens of survival.

For example, it's likely that every time you try to diet you lose weight easily at first, and then the weight loss slows down even if you further reduce calories and increase exercise.

That can be frustrating and from our myopic, self-centered point of view, entirely unfair. This "unfairness" that can't be easily described, explained, or understood can quickly turn us into victims.

However, through the sobering lens of survival, it makes perfect sense. If the hypothalamus recognizes that we are operating a caloric deficit it will try and downregulate (lower your metabolic rate) as much as possible in order to keep us alive. It's good for survival, but not always good for your personal preference at the time.

A calorie deficit is likely to cause downregulation. A calorie surplus is unlikely to cause an upregulation. In other words, It's much easier to lower your metabolic rate than to increase it. It may seem unfair to you because you want to lose weight, but it makes perfect sense through the lens of survival. A faster metabolism is less likely to keep you alive longer than a slower one. Whether you believe in evolution, divine intervention, or something in between, the physical world will always prioritize survival. You want to lose weight, nature has hardwired you to stay alive.

The universe (and everything in it) does not have a responsibility to know what you want, care about what you want, or adjust itself to facilitate what you want. You are the one that wants it, therefore it is up to you to understand the nature of reality and behave in a way that will get you what you want within the natural laws.

And so we turn to entropy.

Not as a concept to repeat to others hoping to sound smart, but as another lens through which to see the world and bring sobriety to our situation(s).

Imagine you have built a sandcastle. It's a beautiful sand castle, built to your exact preferences. In your mind, based on your personal preferences, this perfect sand sculpture represents order.

The next day, you come back to the beach to admire your sand castle and it's disfigured. No longer does it look exactly the way you want it to look. It's not "right". This abomination, no longer representing your ideal, represents disorder.

This does not happen because the beach is against you, the tide is against you, the wind and the animals that have trampled your sandcastle are against you, or the universe is opposed to your happiness.

It happens because the sand, the wind, the tide, the animals, and the universe are all indifferent to what you want. The sand before you can take an infinite number of forms that conform to the laws of nature. If there are an infinite number of possibilities and you have decided only one form is acceptable (order) then every other possible form represents disorder.

Entropy is simply the gradual decline into disorder. The law states things that are un-tended to will move from a state of order to disorder.

The more dogmatic you are about what is considered "order" the more of those infinite options are considered disorder and the more you will feel the impact of entropy as negative. Said another way: the more dogmatic you are and the more things you are dogmatic about (having only one acceptable outcome) the higher the probability you have a negative outcome.

If you decide there is only one acceptable form or outcome it's entirely your responsibility to create that outcome and tend to it. The responsibility does not fall on the tide to be agreeable, the wind to stay minimal, the animals to steer clear, the kids playing at the beach, or anything other than you.

Why is that important?

Aside from a lesson in personal responsibility, it's a practice in resource allocation.

If you accept that things can take many forms, and if you care about the form of a thing it's your responsibility to tend to it, you also have to accept that you may have to spend all day, every day at the beach tending to your sand castle.

If you are at the beach all day tending to your sandcastle, necessarily, you are not somewhere else tending to something else.

And those other things are not immune to entropy.

The lens of entropy forces us to acknowledge tradeoffs.

Armed (burdened?) with this new lens, you are forced to acknowledge tradeoffs and prioritize where you're resources are being allocated. It highlights the value of being less dogmatic and controlling of everything so that we can focus our resources on only the things that matter most.

The universe has never done anything to you out of malice. If you feel that it's working actively against you, try to view it through the lens of entropy.

What you will see is that things will move from order to disorder.

Order is subjective, what is order to you may not be order to me. Therefore you must tend to your shit to maintain your order, and I must tend to my shit to maintain mine. To think, even for a second, that what is "order" to me should also be considered "order" by everyone and everything else in the universe is nonsensical.

The lens of entropy helps us see the nature of reality a little bit clearer. Most of our problems are a result of being far too dogmatic about far too many things and getting spun out when the rest of the world doesn't conform to our wants or desires.

More importantly, it reminds us that things will always go from order (how we want them) to disorder (every other shape they could take), and we must tend to the things that matter most, even if that means letting other things take shape other than what we want them to take.

By deciding you want it to look a certain way or take a certain shape, you are also taking on the responsibility to shape it and maintain it that way; whether you accept that responsibility or not.

This is not a post about taking more responsibility for more things. On the contrary, it's about being less dogmatic and demanding of the world around you, recapturing all that bandwidth wasted on fighting the universe and reallocating to the few things that matter most.

Perhaps being more accepting or even appreciating all of the other shapes the sand can take isn't such a horrible thing. If it allows you to focus on the thing that matters most, the sandcastle of randomness might be the most beautiful shape of all.