Physicists assert that entropy will ultimately destroy our universe. At first glance, then, most would rightly imagine entropy as a terrifying bearer of rock-splitting quakes, grandiose cosmic eruptions, or deadly radioactive detonations, but these cinematic ideas of universal destruction don’t align with popular theory. In terms of the cosmos, entropy measures a trend of ever increasing disorganization and decay. From a point of perfectly ordered singularity, our universe blossomed outward in an event called “the Big Bang.” Since then, it has continued to expand, favoring ubiquitous clutter over order. Scientists believe our universe will eventually become so disorganized that energy will dissipate and matter will fall apart in a sluggish, but eternal, deep freeze. Not quite an action-packed downfall fit for the silver screen, right?
Taking this abstract scientific concept and applying it to human existence, K.C. Cole, a science writer for publications such as The New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine, wrote an essay entitled “The Arrow of Time.” In it, she explores the effects of entropy on facets of daily life. Cole uses entropy as a general measure of disorganization on a smaller scale, emphasizing that, if left to progress passively, aspects of one’s life will naturally deteriorate and eventually fall apart. Publishing this essay in 1982, Cole is a mother, freelance journalist, and nearly 40 years old. Along with the increasing appearance of grey hairs in her brush around this time, Cole is also developing a troubling “deep sense of futility” (238). From car problems, root canals, and leaky windows, to undependable babysitters, instances of entropy litter Cole’s daily routine. To her, it seems like disorganization and decay settled into her life, and there is no way to make them vacate; as Cole says, “[t]he road to disorder is a one way street” (238). Chaos moves in one direction, like an arrow. A fallen vase won’t spontaneously stick itself back together and jump back atop a table. But, as the essay progresses, Cole eventually finds a solution to her problems.
She asserts that to combat this forward-moving trend of dissolution, it’s up to the individual to actively intervene against entropy, applying energy and effort to curb the path of this destructive flow. Cole incorporates an example of her shortcomings with the flute to illustrate this point. After not practicing for several months, she of course became quite rusty. When she picked the instrument up again her playing had deteriorated so much that her daughter inquired as to whether the flute was broken. It was only through practice that Cole was able to sharpen her skills, and eventually she improved greatly. Through this experience, as well as similar ones with friends, family, and social institutions, Cole finds that fighting against decay and working towards order, in spite of futility, yields tangible progress in getting her life back on a stable foundation.
I have dealt with this same kind of entropy in my life, especially since beginning studies here at Fordham, and I can relate to Cole’s essay. While it seemed relatively easy to keep a tidy room the first week or so after move-in, as my schedule became increasingly askew, so followed the state of my personal possessions and space. Just like that, entropy had become startlingly less conceptual, taking physical form by way of the scattered clothes and disjointed piles of books that ornamented my room. Thinking that the general uncleanliness of my dorm was unimportant, I continued to watch the situation deteriorate. Soon after, though, I realized that this adopted mindset, in the wake of my mess, began to invade other parts of my life.
When it came to keeping the social side of things in order, specifically with a girl whom I was attempting to maintain a long-distance romantic relationship with, I started falling short. With classes, new friends, and an entirely new place (New York City) to explore, I became distracted. Due to these distractions, we started to drift. With each passing day, a phone call started to seem like less of a treat and more of a burden. She would constantly be upset with me for not communicating enough, and, ironically, I would become angry with her for just being upset with me. At first, this lack of communication produced a small, manageable rift in our relationship, but after a time, the woman I had so thoughtlessly placed on the backburner did the same to me. This rift grew in width and depth until I essentially felt estranged from one of my closest companions. By this point, when conversation finally took place, it felt forced and confined by brevity. I suffered emotionally due to this, but the ease in not trying to reach out, to just let the situation progress along its chosen course, had a powerful draw. If I ignored the circumstances they didn’t seem like my responsibility, although they undoubtedly were. After several weeks of practicing this decadent laziness, I came to an ultimatum: make an effort or lose someone dear to me. I decided enough was enough.
Just as Cole took personal actions to shore up her life in “The Arrow of Time,” I had to curb my negative progression with meaningful effort. It took more energy than it would have to just let the relationship slip away, but I started to reach out. I expelled many of the distractions that had stolen my focus in the first place and started managing the obligatory ones, like class work, in a more responsible fashion. I kept in contact much better and effectively re-organized my relationship with my partner. Eventually, I even re-organized my room.
My bond with this individual endures to this day, but keeping it stable is no easy task. In order to stay connected with a person, any person, but especially one several thousand miles away, it takes a lot of energy. The universe will ultimately lose to entropy because it has no will, but as humans we have the ability to will against decay. I make a conscious effort to organize my life as much as possible, as to not let things needlessly fall apart. Cole stated it best when writing, “Disorder is the path of least resistance, the easy but not the inevitable road” (240). While it may not be easiest strategy, when faced with entropy in my life, from rooms to relationships, I find an honest effort goes a long way.
Cole, K. C. “The Arrow of Time.” 75 Readings: An Anthology. 11th ed. Ed. Santi V. Buscemi and Charlotte Smith. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 237-240. Print.