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Arrow of Time

Island Life

It’s funny how things, and one’s perceptions of them, can change. As it is, one can cruise through the day without worrying, for the most part, about randomly flying off the planet and into space, imploding or exploding in a random or orderly fashion, or maybe even turning into an aquatic newt or a brightly colored bag filled with doorknobs. Having any or all of these things happen to you during the course of the day might be disturbing, especially if one weren’t asleep or having recently partaken of some mind altering substance, in which case these and many more deviations from the commonplace might otherwise be a source of fascination and wonder rather than cause for alarm.

I have been thinking about change on a relatively micro scale as of late, mostly because it seems like an inordinate number of things around me are breaking. Somewhere stuck in my brain is a memory of being told that entropy was a word for things falling apart, mostly in a closed system, so I had been operating under this assumption for a time spanning from high school until now. In the spirit of fact checking I got out my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (new being a relative term here as this particular volume was published in 1960). What I found was that entropy has more to do with heat loss and the inefficiency of machines than the falling apart of things. In further investigations through internets tubes and wires it seems that the word entropy comes from a Greek word meaning transformation. As it is a theoretical explanation for heat loss in a closed, mechanical system it seems that it is also a part of a second law of thermodynamics. It deals with small closed systems as well as large ones, which is where one runs into terms like quantum decoherence and cosmic inflation. I finally stopped reading when I came to the sentence: "The law is usually stated in physical terms of impossible processes." As David Letterman and others have often stated (although to the best of my knowledge, probably not in reference to definitions of entropy), I have no idea what that means.

Something closer to what I was expecting to find, and certainly much more understandable, was a graphic depicting an orderly stack of bricks on one side, placed as one would normally see them stacked in a brick wall, and a random and jumbled pile of bricks on the other, with a one way arrow connecting the two. This was supposed to represent what they termed the "phenomenon of irreversibility in nature"- a transformation from order to chaos. Entropy is represented by the arrow in this pictographic equation, and it is meant to act as both a physical and temporal symbol for the forces depicted within, hence the reason entropy is also called the arrow of time, I think. It seems like I would have been much better off in pondering a more simple term, something like decay.

The reason I got started on all of this to begin with was because of a lap swim and goggles. There is a certain feeling one experiences when your goggle strap breaks. First there is a tightness around your head, and then there is an easing of that tension, followed by a flooding of the airspace that both allows you to see clearly underwater and helps one to avoid the burning, eye-watering experience that prolonged soaking of eyeballs in chlorinated pool water brings to the exercise table. On a recent day it was the failure of the small plastic clip that keeps the goggle strap contraption taut around one’s head that brought everything to a halt until I was able to rummage through my backpack for a replacement. Having found a scavenge-able and serviceable part and readjusted the tension to proper and tolerable pressure, I was on my way again. It was the next day, though, when the clip on the other side broke in a similar fashion that the meditation on entropy- or what I had thought to be some form of entropy- occupied my available thoughts between keeping the lap count current and accurate and judging my ability to expend more heat energy in order to continue forward motion. I believe there was also a contemplation on the evils of planned obsolescence and capitalist greed somewhere in that mix. And from a number of different days and experiences I was going to carry on from this point in my examination of the falling apart of things to include the destructive forces of pure clorox on stitching in backpacks, the mass semi-suicide of a number of gas-powered garden machines in my possession, and/or the perils and surprises of buying other peoples’ problems through the internets and elsewhere, but my time and space arrow has reached the end of its travels, although I’m not sure if any transformation has been completed.