This is a repost from Tony Ferguson’s Blog Battling Entropy. See the full Battling Entropy blog site here.
What does our future hold? Are we looking at world peace and human progress (with inevitable but hopefully occasional setbacks) or are we about to descend into turmoil? Perhaps humanity will just muddle through, bouncing from crisis to crisis.
In the long run there is no doubt at all about where we are heading… The French mathematician Lazare Carnot proposed in his 1803 paper that in any machine the accelerations and shocks of the moving parts represent losses of moment of activity. That is to say, in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards chaos.
Entropy, expressed in mathematical terms above, is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time
In other words the second law of thermodynamics says that the universe is becoming more random. Heat death is the ultimate fate of the universe in which it has diminished to a state of no free energy and therefore can no longer sustain processes that increase entropy (including life).
Some of us are inspired by the concept of ‘battling entropy’ to delay the heat death of the universe. Others can’t seem to appreciate the satisfaction in working on a task whose objective is to delay a catastrophe which is at least a googol (ie 10,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000) years away, and I guess I can understand that. After all, some of us aren’t fully convinced that we need to take action to avoid the 2 degrees C “tipping point” resulting from CO2 driven climate change which scientists tell us is likely to be less than 30 years away.
So, this is a blog about things which I perceive may drive us closer to, or further away from, that ultimate chaos. While the long run outcome may be in no doubt, whether that occurs in a googol years, a million years, 30 years or six months is surely of interest.
So, what factors are most likely to influence that time frame?
- our human nature
- societal developments
- global politics
- preservation or destruction of our environment
- technological advances
In the last few decades, technology has developed to impact just about every area of our everyday lives. I believe that the mainstream media and most of the population are grossly underestimating the changes in the world that will be wrought by technology in the next few decades. I hope to provide enough examples in future Battling Entropy articles for you to form this conclusion yourself.
At the centre of this new technology is the internet. A recent Reddit post asked “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about today?” The best response…
I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in to arguments with strangers.
I guess the key points to be drawn from the viral popularity of that Reddit post are that technology is advancing at a rate unparalleled in human history but that human nature is evolving far more slowly, if at all. I am a real fan of science fiction for that reason. While some literary purists may detest science fiction for depicting situations which can’t exist, I love it for exploring the impact of those impossible situations on human behaviour. And, who is to say what may be “impossible”? Reading good science fiction limbers up our mind for coping with the near future.
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