Entropy, in the non-physical sense

Disclaimer: Before you guys go fleeing for the hills because I used the word “entropy”, don’t worry, because this isn’t going to be (entirely) a scientific piece. These are just some thoughts I have about the literal versus metaphorical meanings of entropy, and I’ll try to keep it simple.

Here’s your thought for the day: does entropy apply to non-physical objects as well?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states:

The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy.

Entropy is a measure of the order and disorder of the universe. Put simply, the natural state of the universe is chaos, and any system, no matter how organized and carefully constructed, will disintegrate over time due to entropy. These systems can be anything: human bodies, buildings, large machines…you get the point.

If you view everything with this perspective, I began thinking if the laws of entropy apply to non-physical things as well. First, let’s think about memories. In the literal sense, a memory is a series of electrical impulses in our brain with accompanying neurotransmitters, among other things; in the metaphorical sense, the sum of these impulses and neurotransmitters create the experiences that shape the people that we are.

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Borrowed time

We have all used or experienced borrowed time before. There are always costs associated with it, but we find ourselves wanting it all the same.

The simplest example of borrowed time is credit. You are borrowing time from the bank to use money that you do not have yet, but that you know you will, in theory, be able to return this time. The cost of not returning this time is interest, where you simply have to pay an additional percentage of the initial cost. Very simple and straightforward.

Terminally ill patients who live past their given life expectancy are said to be on borrowed time. The cost here is not so straightforward. The cost could be fiscal, as keeping someone knocking on death’s door can be very expensive. The cost could be someone else’s life, where only that person’s organs will prolong the inevitable for ten to fifteen more years. The cost could also be emotional, as families have spent time preparing for the end; when the patient makes it past the diagnosed time, since we humans are creatures of hope, a small part of us may begin to wonder if your loved one is the statistical anomaly, the one exception. The price for this borrowed time, is devastation.

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