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Excerpts from The Science of Disorder




From Chapter 1


There is no restriction as to the kind of body that the First Law applies to; everything is a thermodynamic system, from a Thermos jug, to a human body, to a house, to a chemical plant, to the entire universe. Because of this all-unifying power, the First Law of Thermodynamics has been called the greatest generalization of the natural sciences. (Page 13.)


The First Law gives us a framework for what we can do and what we cannot do. We can transform energy from one form to another, but we cannot create energy or destroy it. (Page 14.)


From Chapter 2


Every process in Nature, no matter how simple or how complicated, proceeds according to two Laws of Nature: the Law of Energy and the Law of Entropy. The first one says there exists in Nature a quantity called energy that remains constant. The second says there exists in Nature a quantity called entropy that always increases. (Page 29.)


The Second Law is not subject to the control of our technologies—no matter how advanced they become. While it is possible to counteract the effects of other laws of Nature—like gravity—through technology, it is impossible to reverse the direction of entropy increases by any means whatsoever. The Second Law is in absolute command. (Page 33.)


From Chapter 3


Whether we are dealing with chemical reactions that occur naturally or are produced by humans, the result is the same—an increase in entropy of the thermodynamic system. This means that the more chemicals we produce and use, the more we increase the disorder around us. Today’s environmental problems are indeed consequences of the Second Law. (Page 46.)


Our world is becoming ever more highly entropic as humans develop technologies that can move materials, goods, chemicals, weaponry, people, machines, and messages faster and faster. (Page 48.)


We invented computers with the hope that they would help us catch up with information processing. However, computers have generated such an overwhelming amount of entropy of their own that we cannot even keep up with that entropy. (Page 62.)



From Chapter 4


The concept of irreversibility of processes also applies to the knowledge we accumulate. As knowledge expands, its entropy increases irreversibly. . . . Consequently, every item of knowledge we acquire, especially about the inner workings of Nature, adds a certain responsibility as to its usage. . . . As time goes on, the applications of knowledge demand from us greater and greater wisdom. (Page 79.)


Basic science provides us with knowledge and principles of how Nature works. It generates relatively little entropy. Technology—the massive application of knowledge—produces a tremendous amount of entropy and breeds complexity in our thermodynamic system. (Page 82.)


From Chapter 5


American workers—including information technologists themselves—are being submerged in piles of data produced by information technology. . . . Thanks to relentless advances in applied physics, computers and communication devices are becoming increasingly faster and interconnected, allowing more of us to produce, send, and receive bits of information at increasingly faster rates and bigger chunks. Not surprisingly, the word “infoglut” has become part of our vocabulary. (Page 100.)


The high-entropic life is taking its toll on Americans. . . . In an environment of uncertainty and high-cost of living, more Americans are now working in order to survive. No one imagined that the middle class would be squeezed; . . . Thus it now takes two paychecks to support what many thought was a middle-class life. (Page 102.)


Children, too, are feeling the weight of this hectic, high-entropic family life. They understand that they are being cheated out of childhood. (Page 103.)


From Chapter 6


The runoff of chemical fertilizers into rivers, lakes, and subterranean waters has created some pernicious problems for humanity and other living organisms. (Page 115.)


The impact of pesticides on humans and the environment has reached a noticeable level. . . . Constant exposure to pesticides has been linked to such medical disorders as infertility, immune dysfunction, and various forms of cancer and birth defects. (Page 119.)


Humanity is beginning to feel the consequences of the Laws of Thermodynamics, which are asserting themselves with great authority. . . . In agriculture, as in all areas of human endeavor, it is crucial that we pay attention to the Laws of Thermodynamics, especially the Second Law. (Page 122.)


From Chapter 7


As more greenhouse gases are emitted, and more forests denuded, the planet’s thermodynamic clock keeps ticking away. . . . We have to remind ourselves that we cannot come back to today’s environment if we do not like the new one: the Second Law locks the door behind us. (Page 136.)


The Laws of Thermodynamics tell us that the more things we try to control the more entropy we generate, requiring the institution of even more controlling mechanisms. (Page 142.)


From Chapter 8


Today, we feel economic pressures from machines not only because they are more complex, but also because they have a much shorter lifetime than their predecessors. (Page 160.)


Economists’ externalities are Nature’s entropy. Since the middle of nineteenth century, we have known that all processes increase entropy. Yet only recently have economists begun talking about externalities—because only recently have humans become a high-entropic creature, generating massive amounts of entropy. (Page 163.)


The message from thermodynamics is clear: To reduce environmental externalities, we must reduce energy transformations and processes. Economists and policymakers have to recognize the fact that the production of externalities is not a technological issue but a scientific one emanating from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which cannot be repealed. (Page 171.)


From Chapter 9


Various names are given to entropy. As noted in earlier chapters, economists call it externalities, ecologists call it waste products, physicians call it side effects, physicists and chemists call it disorder, environmentalists call it pollution, sociologists call it the dark side of progress, while historians call entropy the unintended consequences of technology. (Page 184.)


The entropies produced by “free trade” and globalization of commerce gradually picked up momentum in the 1980s, especially after the demise of the Soviet Union, and became increasingly disturbing and apparent. Books and articles began to talk about the effects and “minuses” of growing global interdependence. (Page 199.)


From Chapter 10


Technological advances provide us with many new conveniences, but also create many opportunities for waste. As energy-efficiency advocate Amory Lovins points out, “the United States runs the equivalent of five nuclear reactors solely to power devices that are turned off, such as color televisions in standby mode.” (Page 209.)


We have reached a point in our thermodynamic evolution where we can no longer ignore the entropies generated by our intellectual activities and economic processes. The accumulated entropies have become too obvious—even to untrained observers. (Page 213.)


To reduce environmental disorders and waste, we need to reduce energy transformations and processes. (Page 223.)


From Chapter 11


The more power we exert on Nature and each other, the more friction and entropy we generate, thus creating a maelstrom of problems for humankind. Today’s environmental, social, political, and economic disorders are consequences of all the power we have exerted on Nature and on each other—one person on another, one political group on another, one economic system on another, one nation on another, and one ideological group on another. (Page 233.)


Today we have more degrees of freedom to exert power and generate entropy than ever before. With this freedom must come the responsibility and the wisdom to use power with utmost care. (Page 233.)