Entropy And Syntropy

Consciously or not, every day we choose between breakdown and transformation

Rust Running From Stairway

Because the rust is so prominent in this image, giving the appearance of a “bleeding” or disintegrating stairway, I see it as an excellent illustration of entropy—matter in the process of dissipation, reverting back to heat energy. According to the Third Law of Thermodynamics, matter disintegrates. Everything transforms. Dust to dust. Iron rusts, computers fail, bones break, noise disrupts communication, relationships fail, businesses reach the end of their lifecycle and civilizations collapse. Without exception, all forms of matter eventually return to their component elements and energies.

I observed to my video production students, “The natural tendency is for cameras and production crews not to work. Parts, relationships and communication break down. So if you want things to work, every element needs attention—maintenance. Constantly. Periodically. Metal needs to be oiled. Connections need to be maintained. People need to be on the same page, fairly compensated and encouraged.” From a human perspective, the forces of entropy are put off for a time by caring, maintenance and increased information.

This stairway would not have been bleeding had it been properly cared for, perhaps with periodic painting or applying a retardant at the first sign of rust. Without maintenance, entropy speeds up and culminates in dis-integration. The steps break and need to be replaced. One of life’s principle lessons for me is that in every domain, maintaining a system is better in the long run than shoring up the consequences of entropy.

In this image I also find it metaphorically suggestive that “steps” are disintegrating. In the course of our lives we take the steps we believe are necessary to reach our goals. We start out feeling secure because the steps have a proven track record of stability and success for other people. But with experience we sometimes find those steps to be unreliable in our situation.

Even when we feel we’re on the right stairway, we may not care enough or give proper attention to certain steps and we falter. Minimally, security and trust are at risk, particularly when someone else’s course of action doesn’t resonate with our temperament, values or beliefs. Worse, is continuing to follow a path that has already been shown to be entropic. Instead of bemoaning breakdowns, the more appropriate response is adaptation by analyzing the situation objectively, paying close attention to the location of the breakdown, and if warranted, taking appropriate action to retard the forces of disintegration.

Consider this in terms of a social system that are experiencing breakdowns. Where are the points of disintegration? Where is entropy in evidence? What can I do about it—personally, within the context of my family, friends and colleagues? What can we do together? Syntropic acts, those that reduce entropy, can be as simple as a smile, saying “yes” to good ideas and doing the right thing. Then too, realistically it can take some time, effort and possibly some expense to keep our personal and professional “steps”—desires, projects, businesses— from disintegrating. Entropy is a dragon that cannot be tamed. But it can be managed effectively.

Syntropic management involves a process of “remaking.” Businesses and other organizations, including nations, characteristically follow the standard bell curve: birth, growth, peak experience, decline and death. It’s the lifecycle of all systems, living and inanimate. When a system recognizes that it’s facing decline there’s a choice to me made. Do nothing, that is, continue doing what it’s doing. Or create a new identity, purpose, mission and vision based on the new, currently threatening circumstances.

Die a slow death? Or engage in a process of rebirth by shifting to an identity, purpose, mission and vision that functions well, even thrives in the new environment. Living systems are what they are today because at some level the organisms or organizations chose to change themselves, to adapt. The scientific term for this process is “evolution.”

Entropy is the occasion less for cosmic pessimism than for hope that the universe is always open to new creation.

John Haught

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

One thought on “Entropy And Syntropy

  1. Dave, maybe our enthapy has reached a turning point and entropy will win. Doesn’t it always? So, to not be pessimistic, perhaps the focus should be on managing the entropic process such that we gently go backwards.
    Depopulation is already happening in “advanced countries” and generally worldwide. As our huge beautiful homes begin to fall apart we should take off the top floor and have a bungalow. We could drive our cars around the pot holes. Sorry, just dreaming of a livable high entropy day. Let it rust…let it rust…let it rust.



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