How Entropy is Like a Drunk Guy Singing Guns N’ Roses

One of my favorite parts of taking a science class is that it makes me think about almost everything I do in the context of scientific processes. Driving, exercise, eating, using the toil…uh, well you know what I mean.

Let’s take an example to make it clear for everyone who is a little slow on the uptake. I submit, for your pleasure, a delicious demonstration: getting my bake on with some chocolate chip cookies. I think everybody can get down with that, right? Does anyone not like chocolate chip cookies?

HA! What am I saying? Such a person could not possibly exist.

Anyways, at this point you might say, “What the heck does baking have to do with science, Scott?”

Well, dude, I would say that baking has LOADS to do with science. Think about it, broski. You take a bunch of ingredients, mix them together into a big bowl, pop them in the oven at 350°, and viola! You just made cookies in your kitchen using the same principles that chemists use in the laboratory and you didn’t even know it. You took ingredients, combined them in definite proportions with one another, and then applied energy to the mixture. Ingredients + Heat = spontaneously delicious reaction!

Science happening in the kitchen, yo. That’s real talk.

Now that we’ve got all that cookie business taken care of let’s consider something a little more interesting: entropy, or the measure of disorder of a system. Disorder of a system? What the hey-hey does that even mean?

I like to think about entropy in terms of a party that has escalated from a casual get-together to an oh-my-god-the-cops-are-here sort of rager. Early in the evening the shindig is going smoothly. People are having a good time, maybe drinking a little bit but not getting too wild. As the night goes on folks start boozing it up a little more and before you know it a lamp gets knocked over and there’s some dude standing on the kitchen table belting out a slurred rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”

The universe is a lot like this party, minus the Axl Rose wannabe. If you look at any organized system — or, pretty much anything human beings have built — it has a tendency to break down into its constituent parts over time. We can say this process involves an increase in the amount of disorder, or an increase in entropy. Without an input of energy — like regular maintenance in the case of human-built structures –the system tends toward a more disordered state.

In a general way we could even apply the same concept to writing. An input of energy is required for creativity to take place. We could track the energy from the sun, to plants generating glucose by photosynthesis, to us consuming the plants, to that glucose being consumed by our bodies to help us generate ideas. That same energy goes toward our efforts to bring order to the mess of words floating around in our minds in such a way that makes sense on the page.

Pretty sweet, right?

But then this poses yet another question: if things tend toward a more disordered state over time then how is it that life spontaneously came into existence? Hopefully I can toss out a decent explanation for that next week.