I learnt something this week about how the physical universe works. And now I think about success differently.
I was thinking about entropy the other day.
Ah! Listen to me. Like I just sit around pondering the rules of thermodynamics, puffing on a pipe.
I don’t. I heard someone talking about it on the radio. I understood a fraction of what they were saying, but it was enough to send my mind off on some misguided folly, like some drunken rabbit barrelling into the woods.
But still, I think it ended up somewhere interesting. So take these reflections on human nature and the principles for success for what they are. But for my understanding of the physical universe, give it as much weight as you’d give the babbling of a baboon, puffing on a pipe.
Anyway, thinking about entropy, I really like what this person was saying about it.
I always understood entropy as the idea that things naturally tend to maximum disorder. Systems collapse, structures dissolves, heat dissipates, things slow down and stop.
We have order and structure in the universe now, but that is a temporary state of affairs. In time (in a really long, long time), all of that structure will break down and disappear.
Nothing lasts forever. Like, literally. There will be nothing, and it will last forever.
Anyway, I’m probably not expressing that right, but I think that is the basic idea.
But I never thought about ‘how’ entropy did that.
I found it really interesting to start thinking about why everything naturally breaks down.
Why can’t my iphone exist, for all eternity, in it’s current form?
(I should probably delete some photos…)
The way this guy described it, it was a question of probability.
So take the arrangement of atoms in a pen for example. There are billions of billions of atoms there, each one in exactly the right place to collectively make a shape we call pen.
That’s another way of saying that the pen is a one in a billion, billion configuration of atoms.
Statistically, it is incredibly unlikely.
It is, theoretically possible, that in the great soup of the cosmos, those atoms might spontaneously take the shape of a pen on their own accord, but it is incredibly unlikely.
Or watch what happens when you pour milk into tea. It mixes through completely. Always.
But that’s not the only possible result. It is possible the atoms of milk stay together and don’t mix through.
However, that’s just one arrangement of atoms. There are billions and billions and billions of other possible arrangements that all just present as mixed milk and tea.
So the reason why things tend to disorder is because disorder is just a far more probable state of affairs. For every arrangement that gives us something of structure and interest, there are a gazillion different arrangements that are totally unstructured and uninteresting.
So entropy is probability in action.
At this point you can probably tell I failed high-school science. But still I love this idea of entropy as probability in action.
Because I like how it makes me think of my creative work in a probabilistic sense.
To create stuff, to give our lives particular structures and to fill them with a particular order, is to bet against entropy.
And to do that we have to flip the rules of probability in our favour.
Our job, is to maximise the chances for our success.
That is, it is not to create success directly, but to maximise the chances of success.
So if we do the work, if we invest in ourselves, if we take action and keep on keeping on, then we increase the odds of success.
We can’t control the outcome. There’s too many factors at play. But we can increase our chances.
And the road to success is simply making victory more likely than not.
I like this. It makes me feel more relaxed about things. I can let go of the need to control everything. I’ve only got to influence the odds, not the result itself. And against entropy, the great destroyer of the universe, maybe that’s as much as we can do.