Entropy in your home, life, body and mind

Like Fritjof Capra, I instinctively see Eastern philosophy and Western science as yin and yang. They rarely disagree and usually reinforce each other, the East using the vocabulary of metaphor, the West that of empiricism. So indulge me as I apply this instinct to my current thread on stuff.

The Feng Shui view is that stuff, ie clutter, blocks the flow of energy (qi) in your house and, since you are not ultimately separate from the space around you, in you.

The relevant Western analog is that clutter wants to increase all by itself. You have to expend energy to keep your stuff from spreading, multiplying, breaking, rotting.

This idea is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. “Clutter”, in the argot, is entropy, the amount of disorder in a system. Disorder will increase as surely as water flows downhill (from a high-energy state to a low-energy state). The “system” in question can be:

  • your body, in which entropy manifests as aging and breaking,
  • a glass of warm water that cools (trading the “order” of warmth here and cold there for the “disorder” of lukewarmth everywhere)
  • your house or home office as it mysteriously gets submerged in stuff,
  • the entire universe (which is incredibly bad news for us, since there is no other system that we can decamp to), and
  • almost anything else.

Now, you might object that you can make water flow uphill, and you can warm a glass of water even in a cool room. Yes. But the key insight is that this takes energy, which must be added into the system. You have to pump, or boil, et cetera.

Hence the dilemma of stuff: First the clutter increases, thus (according to Feng Shui) blocking our energy, which is thus unavailable to reverse the cluttering, and so the shit–sorry, stuff–just happens.

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6 thoughts on “Entropy in your home, life, body and mind

  1. Many people think the Tao of Physics is hooey. The reason people don’t think it’s hooey is attributable to the observation that physics and spiritualism can be confounding and riddled with paradoxes. So if anything, there might be analogies, but not so much insight whereby one informs the other.

    Entropy is an interesting example in this context because you think, oh yeah, physics for all my crap. Entropy is quantifiable. How messy is my house? I’ll measure it. But, no one makes an entropy meter (that I know of). You can measure a change in entropy by measuring other quantities. Based upon the states of each atom of your mess being known, the German Physicist Boltzmann (a great thinker who went bonkers) created an explicit definition of entropy. This is great for the conscientious homeowner. Merely superimpose the states of the constituent atoms of your shtuff and multiply it by Boltzmann’s constant. You can do this every year as part of your spring cleaning. (Put the number on facebook! Compete with your Buddhist friends!) You could argue that the number is good only for an instant and then you have to start all over. At least you can say if your house has greater entropy this year than it did last year.

    Unsolicited advice: Bear in mind that it would be faster to debate the merits of Feng Shui with an opponent until he dies than to count all your atoms. If you don’t have time to clean, just keep your home at absolute zero (but this only sends the entropy to some factory in China). For the obsessive compulsive: reduce your belongings to a single hydrogen atom and keep it stored in a cool dry place.

  2. As with almost anything, it can be hooey or deep, depending on who’s spouting off.

    But let me give you some examples of Eastern/Scientific “rhyming”–ie, of an Eastern metaphor fitting perfectly onto scientific hypothesis:

    Compare our notions about the Big Bang with the Tao Teching:

    “Tao gave birth to the One;
    The One gave birth to two things,
    Then to three things, the to ten thousand…”

    Compare our notions about expanding and collapsing universes with the Vedic (Hindu, Yogic etc) ideas about cosmic inhalation and exhalation, about cycles of Brahma creating a universe, Vishnu preserving it, Shiva destroying it, Brahma starting again…

    Compare our ideas about positive/negative charge, matter/antimatter, positron/electron with yin/yang, shiva/shakti, ha/tha ….

    I’m not saying that Eastern philosophy is scientifically “useful”. You can’t construct an experiment out of it. But I do think that those guys, without the aid of our tools and experiments, turned their gaze inward so perceptively that they intuited a lot of what we are now proving.

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