Entropy and the Purpose of Life

 Recently, I had a chance of watching Tenet (2020); one more Nolan mind-bender. The movie explores the concept of how reversing the entropy flow can actually reverse the flow of time. I won't comment on the movie but I really liked the concept. It was really well thought and had no loopholes. Nolan was thorough with his script. 

For the last two centuries, it has been established that the second law of thermodynamics is the most complete law of science ever. It states that:

The total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease.

But what is entropy, you may ask? An elementary physics book will state that it is the degree of randomness of the arrangement of the particles in the system. Very simply stated, think of your bedroom with everything messed up - your clothes hanging around, a room full of dirt, your stuffs scattered, you can barely find anything. Such a room has higher entropy than a perfectly tidy room where everything is in place (ordered). That is just an elementary definition. The actual definition says:

Entropy is the total number of possible arrangements of particles in a system.

Taking the same example again, an untidy room has higher entropy because your watch can be lying anywhere in the room. A tidy room has lower entropy because your watch would be somewhere on the table. Things are more ordered in a tidy room and hence it has less entropy. An increase in entropy implies that more information is required to completely represent the system.

Another fundamental law of physics (not as complete as the second law of thermodynamics), that you must have heard of, states that:

The total energy of an isolated system is always constant.

This is actually another way of stating the first law of thermodynamics. Cool! If that is true, why are we asked to save resources (electricity, food, etc)? Why don't we keep a fan running in the room forever? Why is there an energy crisis? Why can't vehicles run forever? Well, the reason is explained by the second law of thermodynamics. Potential energy is the energy of a particle at rest. It is useless, but to be useful, it can be converted into kinetic energy, i.e, energy in motion. Kinetic energy can drive the turbines that we need to generate electricity. Kinetic energy once consumed is released as heat and it is no longer a usable form of energy. It cannot be converted back to potential energy. The kinetic energy releases heat and increases the total entropy of the system. What is heat anyway? Without going into many details, I can state that heat is nothing but the increase in total entropy of a system. If you try to memorize the number of arrangements of particles of a system (using computers maybe), then much more memory would be required if the particles have kinetic energy compared to potential energy as the particles are constantly moving. If you wish to store the state of the system as a binary representation on hard drives, it will require much more space due to increasing randomness.

But why does entropy keeps increasing? This is because more randomness implies better equilibrium of the system. The big bang started the universe with the purpose of increasing the entropy and reach perfect equilibrium. It is the increase of entropy that is constantly drifting and expanding the universe. The concept of entropy is now so fundamental that time, indeed, is referred to as entropy. Time always flows forward because the entropy is ever-increasing. The amount of information that is needed to represent the state of the universe is constantly increasing.

What is the purpose of life? Why did Earth support life? Why were the creatures born? To answer these questions, let's imagine a planet made out of only Hydrogen gas. Hydrogen in itself is very unstable. It needs to pair up to form higher atomic structures (until it becomes Iron) which are more stable and have good equilibrium. The sad part is, to reach the state of equilibrium, a lot of heat is released thereby increasing the total entropy of the universe. All fundamental particles combine together to form a new structure that has more equilibrium. Remember, the goal of the universe is to increase entropy at the fastest possible pace to reach better equilibrium states. What combination of such particles can make the process even faster? The answer is - carbon and its compounds. Protein is one such carbon compound that is extremely stable. The particles in the compound have good equilibrium and thus its formation results in the release of a huge amount of heat thereby increasing entropy. But this is far from enough. Such compounds need to stabilize more by forming higher compounds. Long chains of proteins are formed and this gives birth to DNA. DNA and Oxygen can reach an even higher equilibrium state. This releases heat and increases total entropy. We now have a very fundamental living organism. The system is further stabilized when such compounds combine together to form a cell. Cell joins together to form organisms. Organisms consume energy to prepare food for themselves. They consume food, they digest it, they work & they sleep, and in each of these activities heat is released. This heat is a million times more than the heat released by Hydrogen gas alone. Organisms are able to increase entropy that increase is million times more than the entropy increased by Hydrogen alone.

I hope that by now you are able to comprehend why I am trying to convey:

The purpose of life is to fulfill the purpose of the big bang.

To reach a higher and higher state of equilibrium and to keep increasing entropy forever.

This sounds scary? Is there nothing that we can do to stop this from happening? Is our birth all about that? Sadly, YES! We are born to destroy. Population explosion is required. World War III must happen. Nuclear bombs must be dropped. Earth must be destroyed. The sooner, the better! Every concept that we have today - science, religion, myths, economy, money, business, power, politics, is all because they are constantly accelerating the rise in entropy. In fact, intelligent beings have the highest potential to increase entropy. Our intelligence is also a result of an entropy increase. We are only fulfilling the purpose for which we were born.

Why do we care about saving our resources then? Why do we care for our future generations? The answer is a bit subjective. Obviously, the more we consume, the faster would we will be able to fulfill the purpose of the universe. Ideally, if every human starts consuming at its maximum, Earth will be deprived of all its resources within a year. However, we should not estimate the amount of potential energy in the universe. The sun is itself huge potential energy and can alone last for one billion years at least. The purpose of saving our resources is to buy maximum time for humanity to survive and potentially hope for an escape from this planet to a new one once it is deprived of all resources. The escape is obviously not forever. Eventually, everything in this universe will vanish into dust.

It is so depressing to believe that every emotion that humans have is a result of a reaction that increases entropy. Stress is the most desperate way to burn out. Relationships cause most of the stress. Maybe, that is why there is a concept of love which is the most immense of all other emotions. It burns a person more than anything. If everything is going to go down to dust, why do people think about their education and career? Why is a father concerned about his child's survival and thereby concerned about the survival of its own blood in the generations to come? Why are we heavily investing in the field of technology when we have already known that there is no escape? All the pages of history will be erased. All our knowledge is bound to be lost. Nobody would ever acknowledge your achievements. The universe will simply restart from ground zero and things will just repeat. What is the purpose of our consciousness? Is there any serendipity of us knowing that we are going to vanish? Maybe. Most probably not. Maybe, the origins of Hinduism (or any other religion) account for the fact that it gave us a purpose to live and perform our duties; otherwise, humans, owing to their intelligence, might not have survived.

What is the purpose of life? You don't control the beginning. You don't control the end. But everyone is a master of their own body, master of their own emotions, and master of their own mind. Maybe the purpose of life is to be happy. Maybe the purpose of life is to do what your heart says. Our happiness and excitement release dopamine, one of the many hormones. This hormone may cause the maximum entropy release in human cells. By being happy, we are fulfilling the purpose of the big bang as well. Or maybe I am wrong. Who knows? I will let you introspect.


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