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Entropy: A Rite of Passage


“Only entropy comes easy.”- Anton ChekhovEn-tro-py n. pl. en-tro-pies inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.- The American Heritage® DictionaryMy father, a retired Lutheran minister, once shared with me a basic axiom to end an adolescent argument I was trying to impose on him. I had learned recently about the theory of “entropy” in college, which explained so much of life to me and why organized religion truly was, as Marx wrote, “…the opiate of the people.” What’s the point of striving, I reasoned, if earnings were spent to create expense? Why buy new cars if they rusted? Why bind friends with hoops of steel if friendships faded and even family grew forgetful and distant over time? Why put energy into dreams when most, at best, were the self-absorbed ramblings of those looking to escape lives of tedium?Yep, I was the stereotypical 18-year-old preacher’s kid who looked at life from the outside in, bereft of any show of emotion and wondering, for the most part, how believers could believe the eternal hoax. It was a dry, dusty, stubborn position, but it was uniquely mine. I know, I’ve lived it for over 30 years.Recently, at the request of my sister, who suggested that I might not have many more opportunities to visit dad, I traveled the 750 miserable miles from Kansas to Michigan amidst the icy and snow blown highways to visit my 86-year-old father. I was warmed, though, when he greeted me by rising from his recliner and quickly wrapping his arms around me into a tight bear hug. A further surprise came when he kissed me square on the lips, which, believe me, isn’t characteristic of an old Swede. I tried my best not to cry, though the urge was overwhelming. And for the life of me, I can’t explain now why it was so important not to cry at the time. Old habits, as they say, die hard.I learned earlier from family that he was fast slipping into the onset of dementia and was often depressed at his feeble state, where injections of bone cement, physical therapy and a walker were recurring companions.I didn’t know how much longer I could bide the length of my visit with simple pleasantries, so after awhile I asked if he remembered our old argument – that of an 18-year-old first confronting the cherished beliefs of his father. Dad didn’t have the details perfect and I had to cue him in a bit, but his delivery was the same as 31 years earlier. He didn’t dwell on scriptures, nor did he deliver some bromide about salvation through sin. All he said was, “Son, here’s my take on entropy: we’re born to die and that’s life’s greatest paradox.”The first time he said it, I accepted it as a victory to the theory of entropy. We’re born to die. How more blatant could he be? So on with the life of a teenager who truly was more intelligent than his parents. Someday, of course, they would catch up and we would become more in tune with each other.But this time I understood more clearly. His face had aged, but the eyes maintained the same look of mischief about them. Yes, we’re born to die, he acknowledged, but that’s because we’re just passing through…to a better life.Ah! So maybe I got this entropy thing all wrong after all. Instead of waiting for my parents to catch up, it was my parents waiting for me. Okay, so I had it in reverse. Instead of a steady progression into ultimate deterioration and death, the longer we live the more alive we become.Talk about paradoxes.In the words of Mark Twain, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen."http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2009/Jan/28/Dad.JPG


Linda Hanney 7 years, 9 months ago

Dave, thank you for sharing this personal story.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 7 years, 9 months ago

"En-tro-py n. pl. en-tro-pies inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society."The devil, you say?En-tro-py n. the natural migration of an organized system to a freer, more random state. ( See entry at justbegintowrite. )

Alia Ahmed 7 years, 9 months ago

Dave,I am very touched by your story for a number of reasons, but primarily how brave you are to tell it so openly. We all have these stories to tell but often afraid to for fear of being judged by others. My father also suffered from dementia his last three years of his life (anyway, his loved ones suffered from it, he was more oblivious to it thankfully). It was amazing to me that when something was important or heartfelt, his recall was better. I'm also impressed that as a college freshman you discovered the word, entropy. You obviously majored in something other than partying 101. Thank you for the food for thought today.

Ronda Miller 7 years, 9 months ago

David, a delightful blend of so many aspects of our lives; our transition as we mature over time, that blessed, beautiful aging/learning process and the countless ways we touch and transform the lives of others (sometimes even our children) along the way. How wonderful that you have had this opportunity to experience your father in his decline - and he you in your summit. I watch with fascination those people who are lucky enough to at some point switch roles with their parents...they become the nurturing, maternal/paternal party and the parent becomes childlike. Even if the parent wasn't the best of parents, the child ideally has the opportunity to make peace, and parent the parent as they wish they had been parented. It seems obvious from this recounting of some awe inspiring aspects of your life, David, that you both done good.....

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

Linda, Alia, Ronda, Thank you all for your kind words. I'm not sure I entirely stayed away from partying 101, however, it's just that the concept of entropy stuck with me (just look at my gray whiskers).tange,I like your definition. I think we definitely move toward a freer, more random state as we age -- and that's a nice antidote to entropy.

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

Maybe ret's comment entered the "steady deterioration of a system" and failed to post. You guessed it: entropy!

Marlo Angell 7 years, 9 months ago

I have always liked the word entropy (used it for the title of one of my first short scripts in film school!) but don't think I have ever thought if it in such a beautiful context... thanks for sharing that!

devobrun 7 years, 9 months ago

Entropy is the inverse of organization, intelligence. A low entropy system is organized. A system generally moves to higher entropy.Entropy can be used to describe phase changes of matter, information theory, and many physical and informational contexts. A communications channel, packed with maximum information, looks like noise. Random crap. Energy is used to decrease entropy. The older we get, the less energy we have. The less inclined we are to organize.Young people use their boundless energy to insist on beliefs that propel them in an organized way. Older people have a more sanguine view that we probably don't really know much at all (with the notable exceptions of Al Gore and Fred Phelps). Forget the dogmas, live yer life.Instead of entropy, try Leonard Cohen's phrase:"There's a hole in everything, that's how the light gets in".

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

devo, Love the ending quote. Must be getting a few holes in my head...finally!

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 7 years, 9 months ago

David: "tange, I like your definition."Just another opportunity to shamelessly flirt with you-know-who.But, as you can see, she's ignoring it, as usual.The sentiment is true, though, regarding migration...http://i48.photobucket.com/albums/f205/jessmarie81/TheLittlePrinceEscape.jpg

Ronda Miller 7 years, 9 months ago

migration will not get you random, tange....keep trying....

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 7 years, 9 months ago

Tethered to a migrating flock and cast to the wind... destination uncertain....

Tom McCune 7 years, 9 months ago

Wasn't it Karl Marx who wrote, “…the opiate of the people”?Nietzsche would probably have agreed, but the quote is usually attributed to Marx.

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

You're correct, Newell. It's Marx (I made the correction). Nietzsche, who was the son of a Lutheran pastor, said the phrase "God is dead." Thanks for catching that; you were kind in pointing out the misquote.

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

Reti,Appreciate the silent kinship with you. I do understand. The 12 hour drive is only long when driving through a Winter storm warning, which was a big 'duh' on my part. I was too cheap to buy a plane ticket, but I won't make that mistake again. We'll worth the trip, though. I came back feeling again, and more accepting of the emotions those feelings evoked.

bondmen 7 years, 9 months ago

It is important to know why the world is going to disorder from order - a concept which, by the way, flies in the face of evolution which says in particular, living things are going from lower orders of complexity to higher orders of complexity. Death entered the world when man sinned in the Garden of Eden. God's perfect creation was changed forever because man did the one and only thing God forbade by eating from the only tree, of which there were many, that was off limits. Because we mismanaged our God given free will, the creation groans - even now."According to the Genesis account God created a perfect world (Gen. 1:31) and that when sin entered, not only was man affected, but "thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." Gen. 3:18. Uniformitarians and general evolutionists today claim our world is ever advancing and developing from simple to complex. The Two Laws of Thermodynamics argue for a world which is degenerating rather than building up. These laws are described in The Genesis Flood by Morris and Whitcomb, the Twilight of Evolution and in Studies In Science and Scripture by Henry Morris. Wildersmith in his book Herkuft und Zukunft des Menschen(25), says these laws apply also to the life cell.The first law is called conservation of energy and means that energy is never destroyed or added to, but simply goes into another form. The second law is entropy which means that when energy is converted from one form to another in a closed system, it becomes less useful. If energy is not destroyed or added to, it is an argument for creation. If the world is running down, this argues for a creation and a degeneration since creation." http://www.creationmoments.net/articles/article.php?a=96Also see The Direction Of Time:http://www.creationmoments.net/articles/article.php?a=170

Ronda Miller 7 years, 9 months ago

ret, bravo for making the decision to go visit your father. It becomes too late at some point for all of us....we wish you well on that journey and hope your connection with him is as fruitful as it can possibly be....hopefully you'll keep us informed. newell, talk about feeling like a flunkie for not noticing the Marx flub.....Dave, don't you just love that edit button??? :)

David Lignell 7 years, 9 months ago

Edit button? Made me think about one of those "what if" scenarios...as in, what if I had a personal edit button to undo any social blunder I may have committed in my life? Sounded good at first, but then I started thinking about the possible situations. For instance, what if I edited out something dumb I said in a business meeting and as a result, I was entrusted with even more work? Or what if I edited my conversations with my wife? (That would take up most of my day.) But I digress. Of course it’s great to have an edit button!

Brian Laird 7 years, 9 months ago

bondmen (Anonymous) says…"It is important to know why the world is going to disorder from order - a concept which, by the way, flies in the face of evolution which says in particular, living things are going from lower orders of complexity to higher orders of complexity."Ach, Was für ein Scheiß.The second law of thermodynamics does not contradict evolution. This myth has been debunked in many forums - just do a google search. At this point, there are only two reasons that people bring this up. 1) They are dishonest. or2) They do not understand the basic science involved and are just parroting creationist propaganda without any real knowledge of their meaning.Which one are you, bondmen?

Ronda Miller 7 years, 9 months ago

And where is that edit button, David...hehehe

bondmen 7 years, 8 months ago

Explore your world boltzmann and relish science's advances! "Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution in 1859. In the century and half since then our knowledge of the life sciences has increased dramatically. We now know orders of magnitude more than Darwin and his peers knew about biology. And we can compare what science has discovered with what Darwin’s theory expects."http://darwinspredictions.com/

Brian Laird 7 years, 8 months ago

bondmen,I do relish in science's advances - I just don't get my information from badly written, pseudoscientific creationist propaganda like you do.

David Lignell 7 years, 8 months ago

Multi, It's difficult enough to endure 1 new horrible life event, let alone 999 additional ones. Have mercy...still, I might accept a few hundred and perhaps a dozen or two boils to sneak a peek at your original body and youth when you made your first faux pas.

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