David Silva and Annie Wyman – sophomore students in my Talented and Gifted Chemistry class, 2002, Highland Park High School, Dallas,Texas
Order and Chaos/Entropy
Problems of Applying Scientific Principles to the Theory of Socio Political Entropy
The Second law of Thermodynamics indicates that everything in the universe will revert back to its most simplistic form, be it sand, dust, molecules, or eventually atoms. This law predicts what may be called an Armageddon Principle of Entropy: that the universe will eventually end by the degeneration of all matter into its ultimate irreducible subatomic particles. Unfortunately, as intriguing a theory as this may be, some have tried to use the history of human society as proof of the validity of the Second Law, or to argue the Second Law explains why human societies degenerate.
Deceptive evidence for this argument include the conflicts experienced in the Middle East at present, the fall of Rome and its split into contemporary nations, and, on a more basic level, what would be appear to be growing dissent among citizens of every nation. However, as compelling and convincing as these may initially be, the inherent logic in any argument of this sort is flawed. The Second Law dictates only that all matter will eventually revert back to its natural state of chaos. It is based on scientific studies that satisfactorily prove that at some point, equilibrium in matter, and the forces that maintain the bonds of atoms, will eventually collapse in favor of a more suitable arrangement, chaos, through a process called entropy. However, no such analogous
studies exist of human social systems using scientific standards. While it is indeed serendipitous that human social evolution for the time being seems to follow the Second Law, there is no evidence that the Second Law has anything to do with the course of human social constructs.
It is important to understand that proponents are not merely saying that the Second Law and the behavior of human societies offer an interesting analogy, but rather that the Second Law causes such behavior. But, if that were the case, one would have to show how matter breaking down into its component parts could cause societies to fall as well. Since the Second Law does not require that humans break down in the short run, though it could perhaps account for a cataclysmic explosion of a single human body into its component atoms, it is thus inapplicable. Rather, for this side of the argument to be supported, it would be necessary to prove that the affinity of atoms to chaos fuels a human behavioral desire to an analogous chaos, shown in the fall of nations.
Current political tension in Afghanistan coupled with the Israeli- Palestinian and Indo-Pak conflicts and others have led many to believe that the tenuous order between all nation states is on the verge of collapse. Although current political institutions are perhaps strained and may fall, this does not mean that a new order will not arise in their place; human history would suggest that humans are inclined not only to destroy governments but to create them in a cyclical fashion whereas molecules are inclined to simply destroy their order through an eventual entropy and remain in that state.
The evolution of human society is one of ups and downs, where nations rise and fall as a matter of practicality and favorable conditions. The Second Law of
Thermodynamics does little to account for this. In mathematics, a graph may be made showing any increasing rate using a Cartesian coordinate system. A field of study that is based on a strictly chemical level will indeed show the rise of entropy with a rising line because that field is the only valid one for that idea. Even the most simplified graph of human history would show spikes and valleys unexplainable through the Second Law. However, this in itself is illogical. No comparison can be made in scope between two equations with entirely different variables and criteria.
The population of the city of Rome held within its boundaries a population of three million, eight hundred nine thousand, eight hundred and twenty-nine in December of 1 999. The most commonly accepted date for the founding of Rome is April 21 , 753 BCE, at which time the city could not have included more than a few hundred people. If, for the sake of argument, the number is set at an outrageously large estimate, perhaps one thousand, then the population of this region has increased byabout four thousand fold in three thousand years. By even these simple calculations, it can be asserted that despite the Roman Empire’s decline, the city of Rome has experienced the sort of exponential growth globally evident on a planet that contains six billion individuals. The city of Rome and the population of the greater Roman Empire demonstrate that despite differing political conditions, humans show an incredible affinity for population concentration and reproduction that molecules cannot achieve.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics exists simultaneously with another accepted theorem called the Law of Conservation of Matter, which states that it is impossible to create or destroy matter. The amount of ingredients available to create a universe, a planet or elements to form a compound is fixed and unchanging. Humans, although they are composed of matter, are not subject to this rule the way atoms are. A human being may create a dozen other humans in its lifetime, or it may kill a dozen. A molecule cannot reproduce the way a human can, and it does not possess the power to annihilate, only change. The phenomenon of consciousness can be destroyed and created, multiplied and subtracted the way no molecule can, placing human beings in an entirely separate category than non-living matter. This invalidation of the Law of Conservation of Matter towards human life also invalidates its kin in the scientific community, including the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Apart from these reasons, consider the following analogy. For the sake of clarity it has been truncated, thus it does not account for entropy on a subatomic level and miscellaneous human developments such as individual forms of government and ideology; however, this simplification does not affect its validity.
At room temperature entropy drives the following process which occurs spontaneously:
H20 (ice, low entropy, high order) melts to H2O (liquid, more entropy, less order) evaporates to vapor (more entropy, more disorder) finally, after a very long period of time to separate H and O atoms (maximum entropy, maximum disorder). Compare this molecular change to the following cultural change which implies cultural entropy increasing with time:
A Unified World (maximum order) to independent nation states to hunting gathering societies to solitary existence (minimum order)
The Second law dictates solid water as ice will revert to liquid, then to water vapor, and finally into two free hydrogen atoms and one free oxygen atom (it is more efficient for solid ice to convert to gas than for gaseous water vapor to freeze and then sublime.) Were this principle to be applied to a socio-political decay like the one given above, it would seem that the world order, if one would ever truly exist, would break down back into independent nation states similar to the status quo, then into the hunting and gathering societies, and finally into a world populated by solitary beings. However, at this point, one hits a brick wall. The final phase in this example can never be proven because if human society was ever broken down to a point where each individual existed utterly
independent of every other, that generation would end with the extinction of the species, and so we would never know the result.
Analogies such as these can be made ad infinitum or ad nauseam, as likewise analogies can be made to practically anything else in the world. For example, Gorbachev’s characteristic epidermal discoloration could be compared to the appearance of red blood cells in patients with sickle cell anemia or a map of Europe.
Hence, one must base their opinion on the factual evidence indicated, and the theoretical presumptions that are prone to agree with it. This in mind, one is inclined to believe that while the Second Law of Thermodynamics is valid as applied to its original context, it is totally unrelated to the possible degeneration of human society or even a singular human being. Rather, chemical entropy and socio-political progress could be likened to parallel lines or even parallel waves. Both move in much the same manner when viewed at an angle that is perhaps too convenient and contrived to be believable. However, these similarities occur for entirely different reasons for the two lines never intersect, save perhaps at the beginning of time and at the eventual end, if indeed they even lie on the same plane.
These talented and gifted students were exceptionally gifted and were challenged to write a rebuttal to my political/science essays and they did a superb job! I miss teaching these bright students - they are the true hope of our future!