updating the entropy metaphor

(Claude Shannon, inventor of information entropy)

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that over time systems go from lower to higher entropy, from order to disorder. The Entropy Metaphor (EM) says that people do the same thing, going from order to disorder, from life to death.

...there is a lady
who lives down the hall
who dances
with her little dogs
like a toy top 
spinning alone
beneath the quarter moon
fingers held out 
dreaming of her dead husband
a recessional processional 
into entropy 

But maybe the EM is wrong, or at least incomplete.

What about information entropy (which I understand even less than thermodynamic entropy)?  Invented in 1948 by Claude Shannon, it keeps popping up. Information entropy seems to measure randomness, the non-structured content of messages, the part that you could not compress with an algorithm.  Getting a little metaphorical, it seems to measure surprise.

How does this jibe with the EM?

Certainly thermodynamic disorder is our ultimate fate. Our atoms will become scattered. Our order as living creatures will cease. And, in my case anyway, there seems to it seems a lot  of disorder right now - lost names, hesitant awkward conversations, etc.

However, in some ways aging people seem to become more ordered -  more rigid and structured - mentally and physically. In terms of information entropy our "messages" become predictable, tedious. We could be easily represented by an algorithm.

Accommodating ourselves to failing parts and accumulating experience we become complex (not simple - simple people are spontaneous, ready to go one way or the other).We bend, stoop, limp. We develop elaborate theories to explain ourselves, others.

("I am miserable  -  because I neglect myself to help other people and they don't appreciate me - because the people here are not as interesting/good as the people where I used to live - because the people here are obsessed with their families and ignore me - because my mother resented men and took it out on me and I got stuck, etc etc etc.)

We become set in our ways. We are less able to handle change, less able to surprise and be surprised.

Although I certainly don't know this for sure, maybe the fibrous plaques in an Alzheimer's brain provide too much structure, rendering the brain rigid and incapable of handling new data. Even cancer, which at first seems to be a product of disorder could be viewed as excessive order, cells stuck in the wrong way of doing things.

Maybe until the end we lose entropy, sucking in order until one morning we give it all up.

Maybe we slide into order and on that great getting up morning explode into entropy.

Maybe I am full of shit (it has been suggested).

Anyway, Merry Christmas.


OK - it is Christmas.

Some kids are very rigid, becoming less structured as they age (until at some point they become rigid again). Allie likes maybe four foods.

Some old people stay loose and flexible until the end.

In On Being (a discussion of science and religion) , Peter Atkins says that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is his favorite law.

In The Upside of Down, Thomas Homer-Dixon says that societies inevitably tend toward thermodynamic collapse, becoming more complex and rigid, less able to respond to change. There will be a Fall. But we can minimize the effects by developing "prospective minds", moving beyond consumption, embracing change.

In Collapse, Jared Diamond describes society after society that fails to change - ignoring the past, repeating the past -   falling apart. But some don't.  

Not counting some sociopathic, paranoid tendencies, I like krav maga because it is without rules. The goal is to be flexible - to respond to threats anytime, anywhere.  To anticipate everything and nothing.

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