Sunday, March 20, 2011

A book, A week # 3 " Entropy , A new world view - Jeremy Rifkin"


                     One of the books from dad's early collections, That sets the bar.!! Me reading a book on thermodynamics is like dinosaurs coming back to life, yet i did, and am quite obsessed with the tome, which speaks of things happening today,but three decades ago.I find it a bit hilarious that people around the world, physicists, scientists today, refuse to acknowledge the relevance and importance of the concepts introduced in this book - it was far far ahead of it's time and yet almost no one recognizes the elegance and simplicity of the arguments it puts forth.I've really enjoyed reading this book 30 years after it was written, especially curious to see where the author hit and missed the marks on his projections. I was pleasantly surprised to see a small warning on global warming, obviously very relavent these days. The historical placement of the writing of the book has interesting parallels, he wrote it during the energy crisis of the seventies, during the cold war, pre-Chernobyl, pre-IBM PC, etc., and here we are with increasing fuel rates, government bailouts and talks of further government control, ie, all kinds of cracks in the energy flow line.:P
                    Entropy as the term is used in Rifkin's book, refers to irreversibility at primarily a macroscopic level in the universe, or more tersely, 'time's arrow'. In a nutshell, over time, all systems in the universe (other than a few weird quantum behaviors) move generally from a state of order to one of disorder. Order in a local system can only be maintained thru temporarily increased use of energy, which of course eventually moves the system even further down the road to disorder - the ultimate end of which is the heat death of the universe.
                     In my opinion, this is an extremely useful and elegant way to look at life and the universe around us. Look at your life in particular - pick out a small aspect of it -like buying a car for example. Before you came into being, all of the material used in the manufacture of the car you would someday buy was concentrated in deposits of minerals and resources all over the world - iron ore , coal , oil , plastic etc etc etc. Now you come along and order a car and the car company obliges you by digging all these elements out of the ground, and using massive quantities of energy - coal, oil, electricity etc. to ORGANIZE all these materials into what will become your personal mode of transporation. And what happens as soon as the car is completed ? - even before you drive it off the lot - rust has begun to invade the underside of the body panels, the plastic coating on the wiring begins to decay, the paint gets a tiny bit faded and begins to peel and chip. Ten or twenty years later, there are microsopic particles from your car scattered all over the countryside - bits of rubber on the road to chennai, rust chips in your driveway and all over the deccan plateau, bits of rubber from your windshield wipers in your grandma's garage.
                              This process of continual decay is IRREVERSIBLE  - i.e. you can't put that car back together from it's constituent materials because the system consisting of your auto has gone from a state of near perfect order (brand new off the lot) to one of almost complete disorder (scattered all over the planet in tiny microscopic pieces). Of course if you had enough 'free' energy, you could theoretically, reconstruct your car by tracking down every individual particle and reconstituting it - BUT ... and here is the beauty of Rifkin's idea ... just by USING that energy, you are FURTHER increasing the entropy of the world around you - because in order to ORGANIZE that energy into a useful form, requires that furher massive amounts of raw materials be dug out of the ground. In the end all those nice piles of oil and iron ore and coal are scattered hither and yon, never to be useful again - at least by humans as we now stand. EVERYTHING we do increases the entropy of the systems around us. It's a rigged game and the only way to win is not to play - to use as little energy as is practically possible.
                          Again - THE most important book/principle you will ever grasp (or not) in your entire life. If you don't understand the Entropy Principle as it is used in this tome, then you will forever be doomed to mediocre, flawed solutions to the most basic problems in everyday life. It's why the solutions to our problems just create even more problems down the road. If you 'get' Entropy, you will never look at the world around you in the same way again.

CONCLUSION: Personally, I don't care if Rifkin has violated the sensitivities of some narrow-minded academic somewhere, his use of the term entropy to describe the fundamental processes of everyday life is a true breakthrough in thought and planning. Though the given meaning of ENTROPY in the dictionary is nothing close to the meaning given by the author, i am going to take it as "different' and not "wrong",.. :P The book gets you thinking, just like "Paradigms lost" or "Paradigms regained" does. Oh i remember , i might be having a thing for quantum physics and John L.Casti  :P 
stars:   ****(4)
genre: science

No comments: