The Consolation of Thermodynamics.

Historians of science have long made note of the surprisingly high rate of suicide attempts amongst the founders of  thermodynamics. On the face of it, it makes a great deal of sense; thermodynamics is a particularly grim branch of physics which (among other, much more useful things) seems to prove the inevitability and irreversibility of death. Indeed, in applying it to the entire Universe, Lord Kelvin argued that not only life itself, but all physical processes anywhere would eventually become impossible.

I admit that I am sympathetic to this view, and that I can even occasionally make myself dizzy by thinking about it too deeply. And yet, at the same time, coming from my own, individual perspective, I actually often find the idea of entropy to be comforting.

The reason is this: it is very easy, as a transgender person, to fall into the trap of thinking of yourself as a defect. This, indeed, is how broad segments of society see us and there is a tendency to internalize this view; that we are nothing more that a sort of blight upon the perfect, Platonic forms of gender; that, indeed, in a perfect world, we would not exist at all.

But thermodynamics cuts through this nonsense. It shows that on a macroscopic scale, variation is not only to be expected–but is, indeed, necessary. And further, that this variation is a much more fundamental aspect of nature than all of these illusory, macroscopic-scale forms which are ultimately nothing more than emergent properties of massive numbers of atoms. It becomes apparent that things like gender determination are nothing more than complex sequences of chemical reactions, and that in such complicated reactions, some degree of variation is almost inevitable.

I should note that I am not stating this as to make any sort of prescriptive statement; this is merely how I justify my own existence to myself.



About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
This entry was posted in Personal Stuff, Physics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Consolation of Thermodynamics.

  1. ChrisCQC says:

    So we trans* people are the natural result of universal entropy, as an outside force. I may even be able to use this to convince religious people 🙂

    Posts like this are why I follow your blog.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I hadn’t known that about thermodynamics and suicide. That’s really surprising to me, because I don’t feel that way at all about entropy. I don’t feel anything about entropy, really, because everything *I* see as a critical existential threat will happen way before the heat death of the universe. Even if there weren’t any of the near-term things that worry me — climate change, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation and over-exploitation of natural resources — our Sun would still turn into a red giant and swallow all the planets inside the asteroid belt a long, long time before the entire universe will fizzle out. So the heat death of the universe might be somewhat interesting to me, but it has no emotional valence for me. I just feel a much larger-scale version of, “What do I care? I’ll be dead.”

    It is interesting to me that the Second Law would be your source of comfort at being different: to me the obvious one is evolution, and the fact that evolution is inherently an engine of diversity. That might just reflect the different branches of science we were trained in, though.

  3. Pingback: The Efficient-World Hypothesis | voxcorvegis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s