Friday, September 19, 2014

The Inevitability of Chaos

9:21 PM

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Chaos, it seems, is inevitable.

Whether it be the state of your school’s corridors, or your room, or your grades, or your amorous relationships—life seems to unravel into a disorganized mess that can’t wait to blow up in your face.

As it happens, the chemists of old have formulated an explanation for this strange (and often frustrating) phenomenon.

We call it entropy: ultimately, it is the likelihood that the universe will become disorderly. At any given moment, the entropy of any spontaneous process is positive. This means that the most likely course of any event will lead to random disorder.

At first glance, it would seem like the universe is playing a rather cruel game: why is everything more likely to unravel instead of falling carefully into place? Is the universe quite literally conspiring against us?

Although it would seem that way, the universe is entirely impartial. It just so happens that there are infinitely more ways to unravel a system than there are to organize it. To explain this further, imagine that you had a sock drawer filled with all kinds of socks (or, if you’d rather, imagine you’re looking at Dobby’s sock drawer instead) — red ones, blue ones, striped ones, polkadot patterned ones, cat eared ones — and they’re all arranged in perfect order. They’re color coordinated, arranged by length, arranged by cloth type—whatever, they’re extremely organized. Imagine the number of ways you could disrupt that organization: you could organize them in random colors, you could un-pair your socks, you could unfold them and stuff them back into the drawer.

There are more ways to disorganize your sock drawer than there are to organize it— and before anyone gets all philosophical with me by saying that ‘technically if they aren’t color coordinated, they’re still organized,’ let me continue on to explain how not all organizations are preferred and not all organizations are stable.

For example, if you had a dozen tennis balls and you organize them into a pyramid, right when you let go of them, they will roll off. They will not remain pyramidal at all. It is not the most stable form, and thus will not remain organized.

But also, some organizations are not preferred. Just as you’d prefer to spread butter onto bread, you wouldn’t spread butter onto strawberries. Given the option between buttered bread and buttered strawberries, the latter is simply not the preferred combination. Just as sometimes, two people in a relationship are incapable of cooperating no matter how hard they try. Sometimes, the relationship tends to explode rather than hold together. Sometimes entropy takes over, and we fall apart rather than fall into place.

But there is good news: the entropy of the universe is the sum of many different parts. To illustrate the brilliance of this statement, think of your life. Your existence is one coherent plot line in a story, but your life can be separated into multiple parts: childhood, pubescent years, adulthood, and the infinite number of stages in between.

In the same way, entropy has many facets. If we’d like to consider one system, we compare that particular system to the rest of the universe surrounding it. The total entropy of the universe, which has a tendency to be random, is then composed of a system and a surrounding non-system. It is, therefore, the summation of its compositional factors that create the spontaneous randomness of the universe. This does not mean, however, that both the system and the surrounding non-system certainly have to be moving towards randomness. Sometimes, though the total entropy of the universe indicates chaos, the system in question—the system within the universe, that is—moves towards order. Equivocally, this necessitates the surrounding non-system to move towards a disorder of greater magnitude than the system’s resulting order, thus preserving the overall chaotic entropy of the universe. That entire science-y paragraph means that your life is not completely chaotic, though as a whole it may seem to be completely chaotic.

Is that even possible? Doesn’t everything naturally gravitate towards disorder? Since orderliness is not the natural direction of the system, something deliberate must be applied to the system for orderliness to be favored over chaos. In thermodynamic chemistry, we call this work. To create order, work must be fed into the system. Furthermore, entropy allows us to use multiple pathways to get to the same desired result. As a parallelism, it doesn’t matter if you save a coin a day for a week or just save seven coins on Monday. By the end of the week, you still have seven coins.

But of course, there are limitations—you cannot organize books onto your bookshelf, for example, if all you have are CDs instead of books.

To have life come together, you need to work for what you want, yes, but you also have to make sure that the elements you require are accessible. It’s not a magic formula, you can’t just call something up out of nowhere. There are limitations—many, many limitations exist. Mindless work won’t do either—not all work is efficient. There’s no point practicing the piano, for example, when you’re practicing the wrong thing. Working at something does not mean that it will automatically lead you to your goal.

You must work at something relevant.

But also, not all work (though relevant) will pay off.

As much as you’d like to date that gorgeous classmate of yours, you can’t force another person to fall in love with you. It’s their prerogative. No matter how much effort you put into it, it is not your decision—unless you’re courting yourself. In that case, it is your decision.

Then, there are some pieces of our lives that fall into place even when we don’t seem to be working at it — how is that possible? In the same way that your parents peek into your room while you’re asleep, we are not aware of all the work being put into our lives— we’re not alone. We’ve got other people who walk along with us on this road called life, and maybe they’re just as keen to see your life work out as you are.

In the end, life is about finding our own little niche of order within the increasing chaos of this world. It’s about making our home in a messy universe. It takes effort, yes, and it may take some time, but somehow, someway, the inevitability of chaos is not so inevitable after all.

Article by Dani
Artwork by Ches
Dani is a storyteller and a Daughter of Eve. She is a curious creature, studying biochemistry until further notice, and considers herself a ‘citizen of the world.’ (Whatever that’s supposed to mean.) Oh, and she’s also very much fond of lemon squares. She shares some of her stories on

Ches is a human being who loves making mixed-media and collage art. She enjoys collecting small things, listening to sad and fuzzy music, making a mess, eating spicy Japanese food, and thinking about everything. You can find her on Twitter (@psychedelicward) and in booksales/local gigs near you.


  1. hohoho woudn't this be a great article to read for anarchists