The Architecture of Life: Forget the Planet - Three: Everything is Going Down Hill

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Friday, October 19, 2007

Forget the Planet - Three: Everything is Going Down Hill

(Third of seven related posts)

I am not being negative, just practical. I believe in respecting Mother Nature because Mom has rules that are immutable. What’s the point of beating your head against the brick wall of natural law?

One of these natural laws makes it clear why we can’t save the environment. The futility of having humans - with their mayfly existences - trying to manage the planet that is billions of years old, is determined by a well establish law of physics.

It is often called “entropy”. Entropy is more formally known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics and many physicists consider it the most general law of nature. When the energy in any system – a star or a living organism – runs down to the point that it becomes a dead, inert lump, it reaches a state a physicist calls thermodynamic equilibrium, or maximum entropy.

This can also be described as “greater order” as significant change in its form stops for all practical purposes. Basically, maximum entropy means the state in which things can’t possibly get any worse. You become an “absolute zero.”

One of the fathers of quantum physics, Erwin Schrodinger, suggested entropy might be the driving force behind all life. Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, credited as a source of his inspiration for his initial research.

Most substances degrade relatively rapidly from the relative disorder caused by heat to a more “stable order” as they cool to absolute zero, but the march of entropy exhibits itself in many other ways.

For instance, Americans degrade the complex organisms we refer to as cattle at a mind-boggling rate. Somewhere around forty million of those brilliantly functional organic systems, each capable of independently maintaining its energy level for a considerable number of years, are “degraded” to the more stable state we refer to as sewage by the process of our consumption.

That sewage is then consumed and degraded by specialized microorganisms even closer to thermodynamic equilibrium. We convert an average of 195 pounds of red meat, poultry and fish each year into simpler forms, converting it to energy and protein which we use to battle the relentless march of entropy.

Each individual organism on earth is an efficient processing plant that is remarkably effective at making other organisms in the world around them more “stable.”


Eating and finding food are so basic to the function of living things that in almost all organisms the brain is located near the entrance to the gut.

According to biologist, John Morgan Allman in his book Evolving Brains, “The consistent location of the brain near the entrance to the gut suggests that the brain arose as the gut’s way of controlling its intake by accepting nutritious foods, and rejecting toxins.”

Allman points out that there are several families of genes that govern both brain and gut development, which “may reflect the ancient relationship between gut and brain.”

It is humbling to consider while pushing our carts through the grocery store that we may be utilizing the first and foremost purpose of our minds. Especially since viruses, the simplest form of life, can do the same thing. And scientists aren’t even sure they are alive.

Like every other animal, our primary business in life is to find food that can be converted to energy to support the functioning of our bodies. What we do not use, we excrete as feces, urine, and perspiration.

Combined, the amount of waste generated by living things, both in life and in death, has altered a significant portion of the earth’s crust. Soil and limestone deposits, both results of millions of years of processing by living things, cover our planet.

All life is knee deep in birth and death, two extremes of this powerful entropic process. This universal contest is present not only in the grand scheme of nature, but also in the daily existence of everything in creation.

Our sun is a powerful generator of energy, but like all sources of energy, that energy is slowly suffering the attrition of entropy. The powerful heat and pressures within the core of our planet create complex mineral deposits, which emerge through volcanic activity and other geological phenomena to create mountains and other grand features, which are in turn worn down by wind, rain, glaciers and other natural forces, and turned into sand and soil.

Our bodies face entropy each day. Millions of years of evolution have built a grand engine in the human physique. Life has an incredible ability to persist in the face of entropy’s relentless march - but in the end - every living thing, every mountain, every energy source…wears down.

Given the facts, it seems likely we are going to wipe ourselves out with our own appetites, so my philosophy is just to enjoy the moment.

Let’s buy ice cream, Chips Ahoy, a six-pal of Blue Moon and party like its 1999!

Oh wait, we already did that.

Forget the Planet Four is here: