Newsletter: Why life always gets more complicated

Today we are going to talk about a curious topic: why life always seems to get more complicated. The content of this Newsletter is essentially a summary from a James Clear article [jamesclear.com], so please go browse his material if you like this!

<< Murphy’s Law states, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

This statement refers to the annoying tendency of life to cause trouble and make things difficult. Problems seem to arise on their own, while solutions always require our attention, energy, and effort. Life never seems to just work itself out for us.

 Why is that?

 To think about this, I’ll like to talk about one of the drivers of the Universe: entropy. It’s possible that you have already heard this word before, either in a thermodynamics class or in a regular conversation, as a substitute for the notion of disorder. Entropy is, in fact, kind of a measure for disorder.

Imagine that you build a sand castle on the beach and return a few days later. It will no longer be there. There is (essentially) just one combination of grains of sand that looks like your sand castle. However, there are infinitely many ways for those grains of sand to be arranged in a way that does not look like your castle.

In theory, it’s actually possible for the wind and waves to move the sand around and create the shape of your castle (just like it’s possible in theory for you to drop a puzzle out of its box and find it perfectly solved). In practice, however, that never happens. The odds are astronomically higher that sand will be scattered into a random clump of sand. The sand castle has low entropy, whereas the clump has high entropy.

 And here’s the thing about entropy: it always increases over time. Things tend to lose their order: sand castles get washed away, weeds overtake gardens, and magnificient cities become crumbled ruins. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and one of the most fundamental laws of the universe. This law is, actually, the one thing essentially no (serious) scientist ever doubts – if your theory contradicts the Second Law, just pack up your stuff and go do something else.

Of course, you can “fight” entropy: you can rebuild your castle or solve the puzzle. It simply requires an effort on your side. Creating order, stability, structure… it all requires effort. A successful team requires communication and collaboration. A successful relationship requires care and attention. Without effort on our part, things decay.

 You have some combination of talents, skills, and interests that are specific to you. But you live in a society that was not designed with your specific abilities in mind. What do you think the odds are that the environment you happen to grow up in is also the optimal environment for your talents?

At the very least, life will not be optimal – maybe you didn’t grow up in the optimal culture for your interests, were exposed to the wrong subject or sport, or were born at the wrong time in history. And knowing this, you must take it upon yourself to design your ideal lifestyle. You have to turn a mismatch condition into a well-matched one. Optimal lives are designed, not discovered. (Here I must disagree with the author: in order for you to know what is optimal for you, you have no other choice but to explore and discover what works and what doesn’t work for you. We are as good in thinking our way through a search for our vocation and our perfect environment as we are in diagnosing ourselves without medical knowledge.)

 And the notion of entropy is a good way of understanding Murphy’s Law: there are many, many more ways things can go wrong than right, because “right” is essentially a handful of options we have thought of, and “wrong” is everything else. It’s obviously nobody’s fault that life has problems. It’s merely a probability thing. Given that the odds are stacked against us, what’s remarkable is not that life has problems, but that we can solve them at all. >>

I hope this one gave you a little bit to think about!

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