Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0131, July 13, 2017


Desire vs. Entropy


Copyright 2017 by S.W. Paul Wyszkowski

     A short refresher: the Four Laws of Thermodynamics (the science of what is possible). "Is this necessary?" asks Prickles. Yes. Here they are:

     1. You can't win.

     2. You can't even break even.

     3. It's the only game in town and you must play or die.

     4. But you can cheat provided you don't get caught.

     That last Law, the famous Wyszkowski Law, is the one that makes sense of what otherwise would be an irredeemably dismal view of the universe and of existence in general. In fact, I believe the universe could not exist at all if it weren't for the Fourth Law. It's the Fourth Law that provides the flexibility the universe absolutely must have to be able to evolve. But that's another story.

     I now need to introduce the two main characters taking part in today's scenario: Consciousness and Entropy. Entropy is a consequence of the Second Law ("in the long term, you loose, guaranteed") and it manifests itself in the general tendency of everything to go to hell if ignored. The operative phrase here is: if ignored. Enter Consciousness.

     At its most primitive, Consciousness is no more than a sensation. It is a property of every distinct entity in the universe, however simple or complex. In complex organisms, Consciousness becomes an organ of understanding, endowed with a Desire to optimize the organism's experience of the world by discriminating and choosing between what seems right and what seems wrong. (Where the ability to thus discriminate comes from is another story). The point is, this puts Consciousness and Entropy inevitably at odds with one another.

     The good news is that in a direct confrontation with Entropy, it is possible for Consciousness to win, at least partially, by intentionally shifting the odds for how the future is likely to turn out. Some cheating is undoubtedly involved but, of course, nobody can prove anything. The resulting local decrease in Entropy is presumably compensated for by an increase in Entropy somewhere else in the universe, where, hopefully, it doesn't matter. Alternatively, it may be the Laws do not apply on the universal scale (it being undefinable) but that's another story.

     "But," notes Prickles, who is our resident thermodynamicist and a natural born hedgehog, "I gather Consciousness doesn't always win and never totally?" Yes, such are the vagaries of the world. Still, it does beat the statistical odds significantly, and where the Desire is strong and understanding profound virtual miracles are possible. With cheating, of course. "Of course," says Prickles.

Comments to
(The Ed will post and may respond to selected comments, if any)