The Road to Entropy

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Knowledge is limiting. Knowledge is static. Understanding is limitless. Understanding is fluid. I lay no claim to knowledge. I do lay claim to understanding.

The primary weakness of the following is that it is written with words. Words lie in the realm of knowledge. They often try to shape the shapeless; define that which has no definition. Knowledge is described in words. Understanding goes beyond words. Yet the path to understanding often must be gained by playing with knowledge – thus the necessity for words. Is any of it correct? Is any of it true? It is my belief that truth is in the heart of the beholder.

“Huh?” you think. Not to worry. We are just starting the confusion.

Let’s talk about ecosystems. What exactly is an ecosystem? With out getting hemmed in by definitions let us vaguely describe a system as and orderly relationship between somethings. Add eco to it and what do we get? Well in the language I am using right now, eco derives from a word (in another language of course) that basically means home or household. What that word derives from is beyond my powers of guessing, and possibly irrelevant to whatever it is I am trying to relay anyways. But again we don’t want to get hemmed in by definitions. So let us say an ecosystem is an orderly relationship between somethings that has something to do with the environment around the somethings. Vague enough for you? All right, we’re on a roll.

Here is some more vagueness for you. I am going to say a consumable is something that something else can use. A consumer is the something that does the using. And one more: change is the process of something becoming something that is not quite the something it originally was. All of this vagueness clear so far? Hold on. The ride only gets better from here.

Based on these precise and definitive descriptions of some precise and definitive concepts, I lay out for you the most basic example of an ecosystem- a consumer and a consumable together creating change. More specifically: a consumer consumes a consumable, thus changing both the consumer and the consumable. For those of you now asking yourself “Why am I reading this, it is all a bunch of nonsense?” or more simply “Eh?” I will draw a picture of sorts:

Consumer Consumable




CONSUMER consumable

Where “…” = “change”. Much clearer now right? This is the basic unit of all ecosystems. Try a few word substitutions and see what we get: consumer = predator, consumable = prey; or maybe consumer = matter, consumable = energy; or how about consumer = country, consumable = resources. Fun isn’t it (of course that is only if you have a clue what I am blabbering on about, but if you don’t you probably have wandered on to more rewarding pastimes by now anyway).

Now that we have successfully stirred up some nice muddy water, let’s dive in. Our simple ecosystem unit as it stands is likely to have a limited lifetime. Based on the model described and some wonderful assumptions generated by the choice of words, the consumable will eventually be used up, resulting in the consumer sitting there wondering “Now what?” This of course would be no fun, and doesn’t lend itself too much to deep mystic babble. So we will get more “realistic” and assume that the consumable somehow renews itself. Unless we want to completely digress and jump into the realm of metaphysics, where something can be created out of nothing, the easiest way for our basic unit to renew itself would be for the consumer and consumable to exchange roles at some point. As long as this role exchange continues, our baby ecosystem, though still boring, will continue plying change, thus remaining an ecosystem.

Time to add some more vagueness. I’ll describe a closed system as a system whose somethings have absolutely nothing to do with any other somethings. If our baby ecosystem unit is a closed system, then as long as the role reversal continues (which it would because no other somethings can prevent it) the cycle will continue indefinitely. I’ll say that the system is “in balance”. I could say that it has “reached equilibrium”, but there are many more letters in “reached equilibrium” and I am not a very good typist. So I will stick with balance.

Now a healthy ecosystem is all about balance. If our little ecosystem was knocked out of balance (which of course could never happen, because it’s closed), it would make every effort to attain balance again. To add more “reality” to this creation of ours, and to add more stability to the search for balance (as well as eliminate the need to explain previously unexplained role reversals), we need to add another something. “Consumer or consumable?” you are no doubt not even thinking of asking yourself. And to stir up the mud some more, as well as give our ecosystem a chance to do what we are trying to make it do, the new something would have to be both. Consumer and consumable that is.

Are we back to “Eh?” again. I will reword the vagueness. A consumes B. B consumes C. C consumes A. Or in “picture” form:

baby ecosystem

So pretty isn’t it? A nice tidy little ecosystem. All somethings get the chance to play both consumer and consumable. And all somethings are happy because our closed ecosystem is nice and balanced. For now on we will call this our basic healthy ecosystem unit.

“This sort of makes sense” you may (or may not) be thinking right now. “What’s next?”

Since I must have started this whatever it is for a reason, I can’t (and won’t) stop now. That would just be mean. Or maybe a blessing. Oops. Digression is so easy. Let’s get back to our ecosystem unit. With a little imagination, it can be seen that this unit can become vastly more complicated. We can add more somethings, increasing the size of the cycle (A B C D A). Or maybe each something actually represents a group of somethings (C = D, E, F and/or G). The second imagining actually adds a few little twists. As consumers, are D, E, F and/or G working together or are they in competition? As consumables are they consumed individually or all together? Could these question perchance be a glimpse into whatever it is I am hopefully leading up to? Only time will tell (Time: a series of events in which change occurs. Seemed to fit in with the vagueness I’ve already thrown at you, so I figured “Why not?”).

If our closed and balanced ecosystem existed, we would have the proverbial perpetual motion machine. Unfortunately, closed systems do not really exist in nature (if they did, we would not really be aware of them unless we were in them which of course we’re not – am I correct, cat of Schrödinger?). In “reality”, though there are well-defined ecosystems, they will interact with other possible equally well-defined ecosystems. The interaction of these several ecosystems may (and probably will) create an altogether new ecosystem. Picture time!

Assuming anything I have said previously actually makes sense to anybody, we can see that our developing ecosystems can get pretty complicated. It is also pretty obvious (at least to me, but as I already said I know nothing) that everything is kind of dependent on everything else. In order for the greater ecosystem to be in balance, the individual baby ecosystems also must be in balance. It’s all about balance!

Now if you are as alert and creative as myself (or is warped a better description?) You might notice a few things. If the balance shifts with one baby ecosystem, then the balance will shift with all the baby ecosystems, not to mention the greater ecosystem. If one of the ecosystems follows the pattern of our original basic model- you know the two something system many confusing words ago, then the entire system is ultimately destined to collapse, because one by one our consumables will be wholly consumed. I will even throw in a new vagueness to label this concept. I will call it entropy. “Ah,” you say, “there is a reason for the title!”

By this time, some of you may be saying “Get to the point already!” Many more of you probably dropped off the ride words ago. But for the diehards among you it really gets fun now. For ecosystems are everywhere! Some are very simple. Others are extremely complicated. And all of them ultimately have some connection to all the others. Is there a beginning or an end to all of this? Another question for the metaphysicians.

If our ecosystems are microscopic in scale, we might call them chemical reactions. On a macrocosmic scale, we might call them astronomical events. Smaller macrocosms might be considered geological events. If the interactions are fundamentally involved with a substance known as carbon, we might call the ecosystems life. If said interactions are actually changeable; if there is choice involved with the interactions, then we might call the systems intelligent life. Can you guess what’s next? If the interactions involve control, we might call the ecosystems human!

Time to jump backwards, all the way to the beginning of the confusion. As I am sure you don’t remember, I said something like eco roughly equates to home. I have already manhandled it into the concept of ecosystem as created above. How else can it be used? Let’s see. Chemical/atomic interactions leading to astronomical events leading to geological events heading towards life. So far so good! Multiple simple ecosystems coming together into more and more complex ecosystems. Depending on your point of view, ultimately heading for entropy. Even the words form a sort of ecosystem. Oh wait. I stopped to soon! Next we had conscious life. Ah! At last! Another use for eco. For now we have ecology. Using the derivative method I abused earlier, ecology can roughly be described as “the study of the home”. Note that it takes consciousness for “study”. I then took some further liberties and equated “home” with “environment”. Did you happen to catch that?

So here we are. Life is a complex collection of ecosystems as well as being an ecosystem itself, watched over by a concept I call ecology. This/these systems all do their dance for balance. Remember balance! And though entropy makes perfect balance impossible, the time involved for the balance to be completely toppled is beyond our ken. So all in all, this environment that ecology is so kindly watching over is pretty good at maintaining balance. But I still stopped my progression early. I forgot about humans! How could I forget them? The human ecosystem, with its ability to control its interactions brings eco into a new concept. Let me introduce you to economy. Using my shameless manipulations, economy can be broken down to “management of the home”. More word play and we have “control of the environment”. Isn’t this a fun game we play. With a push here and a tug there I have managed to “prove” that the human ecosystem –let’s shorten that to humans for ease of typing- can control the environment.

Those of you who have stuck with me this long might be playing with doubts. “What a load of [insert favorite appropriate word here]!” The more erudite of you might think “Sophistry!” And I can’t say I disagree. Remember my disclaimer. I do not claim to have any knowledge, nor that I am imparting any knowledge. I am simply trying to use the powerfully weak tool that is words to give a gift of understanding. Some of you may already be so gifted. Others may not wish to accept the gift. Still others may not think it is my gift to offer. And even more likely, everyone bailed many words ago, and I am simply writing this for myself. Doesn’t matter. I’ll keep going and see where the abundance of words leave me. Even I am not sure where I will end up!

So back to economy! As humans become more and more complex, so does this economy. As humans are part of the environment that ecology watches so closely (more assumptions), they too must seek balance. Right? The economy concept is so ever changing itself that it has many different incarnations. Some forms of this economy work towards the maintenance of balance. Such forms only control when balance needs to be restored. These incarnations might be labeled by some as “primitive”. Some forms of economy try to skew the ecosystems towards consumables. This ultimately can not work because the consumers will just consume more to maintain the balance. Either that or the consumables become so strengthened that a role reversal takes place, causing the whole ecosystem to try and reverse direction. This of course messes with the balance of any affiliated ecosystems, causing a grand mess with greater ecosystems, requiring some serious shifting to restore the balance. It might even require entropy stepping in and hastening the demise of some of the ecosystems. An example of such an economy might be labeled “Communism”.

This collection of words grows more and more exotic. I hope there are others out there still along for the ride! Onward! I’ve described an economy that tries to maintain the balance. I have beaten upon an economy that prefers consumables. That only leaves us with one other basic type. An economy that tries to push the ecosystems towards consumers. One might call an example of such an economy “Capitalism”. This model also cannot ultimately work. Eventually certain consumers will grow too strong, causing consumables to disappear before they can restore themselves. Once again the balance is totally thrown of for all affiliated ecosystems. As consumables disappear, the consumers will grow even stronger at first, but all of a sudden all associated ecosystems will come to a screeching halt. Why? No more consumables! Once again we will have a rather large and unwieldy consumer sitting there, scratching its proverbial head and saying “Now what?” Entropy will be having a field day!

How do you like that! I think I finally found where I was headed! I hope others came with me. Let me condense the mass of gobbledygook that went before into something possibly worthy of understanding. Humanity is part of an environment. We can even play the word games again and say “Humanity is part of THE environment”. In order to hold off entropy for as long as possible this environment that is the essence of all our ecosystems must maintain balance. Thus we have a choice. As humans with the ability of economy we can most effect the balance. Do we work towards maintaining the balance? This choice is the most unselfish and is the most beneficial to all ecosystems (whatever labels we choose to call them by). Do we push everything towards consumables? I personally do not see any ultimate benefit for this choice, but what do I know? Or do we take the most selfish route and focus on the consumers? In the short term it may be the most comfortable (at least for the top consumers), but it might actually be the most destructive path, ensuring a quick end for many ecosystems. Which path do we choose?

As with truth, morality is in the heart of the beholder. I cannot tell anybody what is right or what is wrong. I only hope to offer my understanding of what is. If my gift is accepted, then maybe others will make the same choices that I have made. And if enough others make the same choices maybe these many ecosystems will achieve the reality that I would like to see. Are my choices the right choices? In my mind/heart yes. But I am just one. I cannot compel, but I can hope. If anyone has managed to stick it with me right to the end I hope you enjoyed the ride. I hope I was able to impart some understanding. I hope.

Choose well!