Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Entropy

- When you stir in the oil floating at the top of a jar of peanut butter and you change direction of your stirring, from counter clockwise to clockwise or vice versa, you don't undo the mixing.
- Like running a film backwards.
- Have you ever wondered why not?
- Isn't it an example of entropy?
- If we were plowing a field, and after digging one furrow changed our mind, and went back the other way, no one would expect anything other than an even deeper furrow being dug, not the return of an un-plowed field. Why expect any different with the peanut butter?
- I don't know.
- The peanut butter is contained in the jar. The jar acts as a sort of memory device. We imagine that every part remains in contact with the others, that the regular effects of our regular action are preserved there to be undone. In the case of the open field we can see the piles of soil thrown out of the way to both sides of the channel are only added to by our reversed direction. We don't undo the mixing.
- Ok.
- With the first circular movements the peanut butter closest to the spoon is displaced and moves away, then the peanut butter now newly closest is moved, and it passes on the movement to the formerly closest, and then with the continuing motion of our spoon the newly closest is moved, etc.... But when we change the direction of the spoon we move only the closest of the peanut butter without undoing all the changes upon changes we have already done. We start at the beginning again of an new avalanche of changes, which in fact disrupts the order of the other direction's avalanche of change.
- Creating entropy.
- And order too. We like our peanut butter evenly mixed. Every time we change directions we create more entropy, more order.
- Why do we talk about entropy if we also are creating order?
- The order we create is uniformity, an increase in entropy from complexity. Our order is a simple reversal, done by "rule".
- All our science then creates disorder, our laws, our culture. Pollution, overpopulation, nuclear weapons. Is that what you mean?
- That too, but I was thinking of the disorder introduced into human nature itself.
- How?
- For example, buying and selling, the usual way we exchange things. I give you this, you give me back that. The two actions are supposed to be equivalent, and we make a lot of effort to make sure they are, otherwise we feel cheated. But making a direct return is like attempting to un-stir the peanut butter.
- You mean having to give when you don't want to?
- Yes.
- The rules force us to do what we don't want. That's the point.
- We have to subdue our evil nature?
- Yes.
- And if instead, far from being evil, we are stirring up the world by our attempts in the direction of sympathy, good will, creativity, and suddenly we are stopped dead by the rules of exchange? And all the good we have accomplished so far is not only not continued but, like happens in the jar of peanut butter, is dispersed in the simple order of the new direction?

Further Reading:
Cohorts (A Walk With Technology) 
Universal Principles