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Slip Sliding Away

August 31st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Elegant laws of faith and physics link the mysteries of the universe to the banality of human behavior.  For instance, they explain why I find it so hard to keep my desk neat, my body thin, and my business profitable. 

If I shake a jar containing green and red marbles arranged in alternating layers, they start moving around the jar until all signs of the original layered pattern have vanished.  No matter how long I continue shaking the jar, the marbles will not return to their original layers. 

Returning to a Buick that was left in a field for a century or two, all I’d find would be a heap of iron oxide, some powdered glass and some rubber residue.  No matter how long I waited, these ingredients would never reconstitute themselves back into a car.

We are so accustomed to this one-way direction of deterioration that we accept without question that rooms get cluttered automatically but never tidy themselves.

Entropy is our word for explaining this mysterious force that tends to pull everything down to the lowest state of order.

A car is an ordered arrangement of glass, iron, plastic and other things.  Like the marbles, once disarranged, those ingredient parts will never come together again by chance.  This is the key to understanding entropy.  It is hard to create order out of chaos.  It is just as hard to maintain order in the face of the gravity-like tug toward disorder.  It requires vast energy to create order, and maintaining it consumes vast energy.  A car, a body, a family, a nation, or a corporation all take energy to maintain.

God points us in the right direction as early as the second verse of the Torah. 

And the earth was chaotic and disordered…
(Genesis 1:2)


God’s first act of creation was to convert chaos into structure. 

And God said, “Let there be light,”  and there was light.
(Genesis 1:3)


Later in putting Adam to work in the garden, God shows the importance of our human role—bringing order into the world.

What is natural?  Natural is how things would be with no infusion of intelligent energy.  A stagnant swamp is natural, a harbor is ordered.  A wild forest is natural, a factory is ordered.  Obesity and lethargy are natural, a lean and lithe body is ordered.  Selfishness and destructiveness are natural while courtesy and civility are ordered.  A gang of marauders is natural, a profitable corporation is ordered.

In each case, converting the natural to the ordered and keeping it there takes considerable human energy.  Carving a harbor out of a swamp is hard to do.  Keeping a marriage thriving and raising upright children takes great exertion. Maintaining an honest and accountable government takes constant focus.  Forming and operating a profitable business is incredibly challenging.  And in each case, any time the humans involved cut back or cease their efforts, their project slides back toward natural chaos.

When that happens, don’t ask what has gone wrong.  When the Buick lies rotting in the field nothing is going wrong, it is actually all going right.  Nature is reclaiming the car because its owner stopped caring for it.  When the weeds grow through the long grass, when the paint peels, when budgets get bloated, and when your business loses customers, this is all natural.

We humans do better when we convert the natural to the ordered.  We feel better when the lawn is mowed, when our families are flourishing and when our business grows.  Constantly projecting energy produces order. Injecting even just a little light into darkness, tidying a corner of a cluttered room, or exercising civic responsibility makes us feel fulfilled, content, and upliftingly human.


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