Physical History

Psychology Versus Fast Entropy Paradox


First published on May 17, 2019. Last updated on May 17, 2019.

Here, we discuss the inherent conflict between fast entropy and psychology. It is ironic, but fast entropy has shaped human psychology to reject the very idea of fast entropy.

People View Science Through the Filter of Feelings

People are emotional beings

People have emotions. They naturally form impulsive judgments based upon their feelings or physiological reaction. Thinking takes time. Emotion can be instantaneous. People evolved from times when there was little time to think. Organisms who thought first were eaten by something bigger. Organisms who emotionally reacted (were immediately scared and ran way) lived to have offspring. Our ancestors evolved to be emotional reactors and we inherit this trait.

New Ideas Are Psychologically Costly

New ideas typically require changing ideas about what is already known. This can make a person feel ignorant, uncertain, out-of-control and even unsafe.

New Ideas Can Be Deadly

To some extent, the social status of all people is at least partially dependent upon their knowledge and wisdom. New discoveries and theories therefore automatically decrease the social status of existing people, for there are by definition unknown. Status has been demonstrated the most important determinant of longevity (how long the worker lives).[1]Therefore the decrease in status caused by new discoveries can shorten the longevity of people, especially older people.

Since new discoveries are actually life-threatening, it is natural that people will resist new discoveries, as if their life depends on their resistance, which it indeed does. Of course, new discoveries are often in fact incorrect in one or more aspects, so it is reasonable for people to initially reject new ideas.

However, the duty to winnow and sift is often not enough to explain the visceral negative reactions that academic workers sometimes have towards new ideas. Therefore, emotions often color judgment. Incidentally, this subject has been studied, such as by Kuhn in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Such impulsive judgments cannot be stopped. However, many decisions and final judgments can be accepted after time passes and reason has a chance to examine new discoveries.

People Don’t Like the Second Law of Thermodynamics

People life freedom of choice

People have the need to feel that they have freedom of choice. Although the Second Law of Thermodynamics is statistical in nature, it tends to be deterministic in effect. People prefer having choices and feel that they do have choices. Therefore anything that is deterministic is unacceptable.

People don’t like limits

People don’t like limits. They don’t like to feel that the choices they do have are limited. Unfortunately, the laws of physics suggest all sorts of limits. The limits on efficiency under the Second Law, or the limited amount of petroleum under the surface of the Earth don’t seem very pleasant to people.

People like immortality

People like immortality. Therefore the illusion of immortality, infinity and perfection are extremely desirable images. People like circles, for they are perfect and have no end. People also like pure sine waves, for they have no end, either. If you can view one cycle of the wave, you will know how it is forever and from one end of the universe to the other, so to speak; by grasping a piece of a pure sine wave, you grasp the whole. Also, pure sine waves exhibit the same sort of perfection as circles.

Motivation Is Inherently Irrational

People need to maintain their motivation. Indeed, the more they maintain their motivation, the more entropy they can each produce. Yet, the laws of physics feel constraining; it is hard to feel motivated when one is aware one is trapped by the laws of physics. So the principle of fast entropy has dictated through the evolution of the brain that people tend to deny the existence of fast entropy or other laws of physics.

Instead, people live by impossible maxims. Have you not heard the saying “You can achieve anything you put your mind to.” You could solve world hunger, cure cancer and finish reading this book by dinnertime. Yet you haven’t done those things yet. Don’t you care about the starving children of the world? Perhaps not. Mother Theresa didn’t solve the problems of poverty or world under either. According to the above maxim, she could have, but chose not to, so she apparently didn’t care either, or was all in favor of starving children. Another maxim is to give something 110% effort. That is physically impossible.

The point is that such impossible maxims help us to achieve more in life. We may not achieve everything we wish to, but we’ll achieve more than the scientifically cynic.

The Complete Picture

Inner and Outer Philosophy

You may recall that it was asserted that both inner and outer philosophies are needed for a complete social science. The emotions and motivational necessities of inner philosophy need to be considered along with the cold, hard scientific facts of outer philosophy, and vice versa. If you can appreciate and practice this, then you have learned the most important lesson in this book.

Great Escapes

The author periodically presents on fast entropy to conferences of sociologists and other social scientists. A frequent audience reaction is to devote the rest of their lives to disproving the principle of fast entropy, or at least its application to the social sciences. How can we escape from the jaws of its limits?

The best way to escape is to remember that as individuals, our rate of entropy consumption is not the primary determinant of our happiness. The quality of our personal relationships and sense of community may be far more important to our happiness, self-esteem and status.

A second point is that, as individuals, we have a great scope of freedom. Specific consideration of the laws of thermodynamics rarely constrain the day-to-day actions or decisions of individuals, even of physicists. You only need to worry about them if you are deciding whether to invest in an exotic energy technology, designing a mechanical device or promulgating a macro social policy.

Third, time is often your friend as much as your enemy. The world is not going to run out of oil today, tomorrow or even next year. To paraphrase French King Louis XV, it may very well last your time. Just as thermodynamic processes are nearly inevitable, they are rarely instantaneous.

Finally, if you are able to use fast entropy as a crystal ball (albeit an often foggy one), you can arrange your life so to use fast entropy to your advantage.

[1]BBC News article.


Content is copyright the author. Layout is copyright Mark Ciotola. See for further notices.