Entropy: why life seems so hard and complicated

No matter how hard we try to get our lives together, things seem to get more complicated.

Problems emerge in our relationships and family life, finances, work, health and so on, that seem impossible to solve. We’re overwhelmed with the never-ending bombardment of life problems, and often feel like life is falling apart.

Why do we often feel trapped in life? Why does life sometimes seem so hard and complicated?

The answer to these questions can be found in an important concept in physics and chemistry.

It’s called entropy.

What Is Entropy and Why Is It Important?

Here’s a simple analogy that explains entropy in simple terms.

Picture yourself building a sandcastle on a beach.

After several hours, your hard work has paid off. You’ve managed to scoop up millions of scattered grains of sand and mold them into a beautiful structure.

You stand up, dust yourself off and walk away from the well-built sandcastle. You make plans to see your sandcastle again the next day.

Now picture this: overnight there’s a violent thunderstorm, and the rain, wind and waves wash over the sand on the beach.

The next day you walk back to the beach to marvel at your sandcastle, but you’re shocked to see that half of your once beautiful sandcastle has been destroyed.

This is an analogous experience of entropy.

The sandcastle represents order and structure in your life, and the thunderstorm represents external natural forces that create disorder, which destroys the sandcastle.

In more scientific terms, according to The Second Law of Thermodynamics—one of the most fundamental laws of nature—entropy (a measure of disorder) in the universe is steadily increasing. In layman’s terms, things in our life will naturally lose order overtime, if left to their own devices. [1]

The crucial importance of entropy was captured in 1915 by the physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, who wrote:

“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.” [2]

Entropy In Everyday Life

“Disorder, or entropy, always increases with time. In other words, it is a form of Murphy’s law: things always tend to go wrong!”

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

On a daily basis we experience entropy without thinking about it: boiling water, hot objects cooling down, ice melting, salt or sugar dissolving.

But entropy can also explain disorder and complication in everyday life. Here are a few examples:

Entropy in Health and fitness. Naturally, as we get older, our bodies tend to deteriorate and decay until we die. But the rate of decline of our health depends on the level of entropy.

For example, let’s say you set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get in shape. Over two months you stick to a regular exercise and healthy eating routine, shed excess fat and feel healthier.

But during the third month, you travel on a holiday and fall off your healthy routine. Overtime you regain weight, lose muscle and experience more illnesses that speed up the decay of your body.

Entropy in Marriage. Shortly before and after the Wedding day, couples typically experience exhilarating feelings of love and happiness. This is what is referred to as “The Honeymoon Phase.”

But over time as the couple settles into a daily mundane routine, other things take priority over the marriage: child-rearing, finances, work, illness and so on.

After several years, passion and romantic feelings tend to die off until the marriage feels loveless.

Entropy in Business. In the pursuit of more sales and greater profits, organizations tend to lose strategic focus and clarity.

Confusion arises amongst employees and customers, on the mission, competitive advantage, target audience, and direction of the organization.

Eventually, the organization loses its customer base to a disruptive competitor with a clear strategy, profits decline and the business goes bankrupt.

In short, entropy is the hidden force that complicates life. And much like the law of gravity, it’s always in action to create disorder in everyday life.

Things Fall Apart Without Effort

“The ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.”

—Steven Pinker

We often blame ourselves, others and circumstances for the complications in our lives, but what we fail to realize is that the forces of nature are actively working against our best interests.

Entropy doesn’t care about your goals and aspirations. It cares about structure and order in the world.

Whenever we set goals and strive to improve our lives, we’re actually pushing back against entropy. This is why it’s hard to stick to good habits over the long run and bounce back after a setback.

Continuous improvement is a commitment to consistently expend energy and fight back against the tide of entropy. Without effort, entropy increases, life becomes more complicated and things fall apart.

Or as the late renowned playwright, Anton Chekhov said: “Only entropy comes easy.”

This article originally appeared in Mayo Oshin.

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