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Picturing entropy as chaos is a misconception. The right concept is: entropy is the unavailability of free energy to perform work. And the reason we should pay attention to that even not being physicists ourselves is that a lot of our creation-mythos revolve around this little misconception.

The idea of entropy was created to solve a little paradox in the beginning of thermodynamics. Energy was discovered to not be created or destroyed. If you burn fuel you just transfer energy from chemistry to heat, and so on. And that was an important characteristic of systems. On the other hand, we simply do not have an infinite amount of energy to use. The tank empties. We simply do run out of it.

From there, emerges a twofold idea of energy: immanent-energy (that is constant and that exists in everything) and free-energy (that runs out). Maybe if those first scientists had ditched the /energy/ word altogether it would be clearer.

Now entropy is not the contrary of order, but of free-energy. It just so happens that in systems with high free-energy levels patterns are usually easy to recognize. Nevertheless, the highest possible entropy level is also a state where everything is median, which corresponds to an perfect gray extending in all directions, which would also be perceived as a very orderly system.

Entropy is when you run out of fuel.

So, it is a fairly simplistic (and maybe misguided) cosmology to assert that the universe tends to disorder and that our world is out of necessity a transient illusion. To apply thermodynamics to cosmology would be a much, much more complex ado.

2 Comments

  1. You may find interesting what this guy have to say about thermodynamics and ecology. This specific page have to do with what you say here:
    http://www.holon.se/folke/kurs/Distans/Ekofys/fysbas/LOT/LOT.shtml

  2. Just found out, there is a term to clarify this issue. EXERGY means free energy. The problem is that, for all practical purposes, normal people think of exergy as energy. Confusion ensues. So, maybe we can speak of endorgy for energy and get rid of the unclear word?


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