Computing with Entropy

An interesting concept is entropy. Entropy is the tendency of things to become disordered and chaotic over time. For example, if you have a bottle of red dye, and a bottle of water, and you put a drop of red dye into the bottle of water, the red dye will start off concentrated, but then will slowly diffuse through the bottle of water, until the whole bottle is just a little bit more red. This same concept applies to everything: things are (in the long run) becoming more disorderd. Entropy is even used to determine which way time is going: time is going in the direction of increased entropy.

Now, as my ‘end of the universe’ post pointed out, we don’t have a way to reverse entropy. What’s fun to think about, is how we use things as they’re falling down the order ladder towards chaos. For instance, the sun fuses hydrogen together, and the universe loses a little bit of matter it will never recover, as it is converted into energy. Uncountably many times this happens, and those little photons travel about a hundred million kilometers to earth, and heat up some water molecules just enough, so they turn into vapor. The vapor rises, and collects into clouds, and then falls in rain or snow. The rain and snow collect in rivers, and eventually we dam some of them up, so we can let the water fall down a few hundred feet and turn a crank so we can excite some electrons and get them to start flowing. This flow we transmit hundreds of miles through transformers and wires, until it gets to our homes. At this point we push some of the electrons through little gates and switches (I can just imagine them sloshing through pipes) as they race towards chaos (in this case, the ground). So we turn them this way and that to fit with our abstract concept of ‘numbers’, and then depending how the electrons fall through our electron maze, we can say, “ah, 2+2 IS 4”, and then the electrons fall through the chip, into the ground wire and find a companion proton somewhere in the Earth.

At least as the universe falls towards chaos, we can use some of it to add!

2 Responses to “Computing with Entropy”

  1. Ira says:

    I really like the way you described that, Liam! It made the whole process sound
    like a fun adventure for the little electron. You should consider giving workshops to little
    kids! 😉