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Hope and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

“All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” –From Edmund Burke’s writings.

“In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.” –Second law of thermodynamics.

“You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” –Benjamin Franklin.



Take a close look at this picture.  There are so many lessons we can learn from nature; from this one picture even.  One’s first impression might be that it is really pretty.  Many will feel a yearning to go there.  Other’s may yawn and remark on “yet another mountain shot”.  But put your analytical hat on.  What do you see when you look carefully?

I see a paradigm for life, responsibility, and self-reliance.  I also remember the taste of roasted trout, but that is off the subject.  Where are the hidden lessons?

Let’s start with the second law of thermodynamics.  This law is crumbling the mountains.  It is this law that formed the lake and will also destroy the lake.  And the living things like the trees show scars of battling against it.

Another way to paraphrase the second law of thermodynamics is that energy does not like to be concentrated.  High energy systems release their energy over time to lower energy systems until all systems have the same energy.  So those mountains will crumble and slide and erode and fill the lake.  Millions of tons of rock will eventually lie flat; averaged by the effects of time.  The lake was formed as snow and ice—seeking a lower energy state—carved out a basin in the valley below and then filled it with water.  This trapped water continues to seek a lower energy state as it slowly carves away the natural dam.  In time there will be a meadow where the lake was with a deep stream bed on the lower end.  But the trees are a little different.  The trees are moving energy from a lower state to a higher, more concentrated state.  In other words, they are using energy to do work, pushing and stretching for the sky while storing vast amounts of energy from the sun in the form of sugars and cellulose and other hydrocarbons.  But the trees show dead limbs that succumbed to the second law.  And there are thousands of rotting logs in this forest; trees that have lost the battle.  Their concentrated energy is returning to the earth.  Even the trout in the lake are in a constant struggle to concentrate enough energy to grow rather than to starve.

Life battles against the second law.  That is a definition of life.  Life concentrates the energy of the environment to do work and affect change.  Life organizes and builds and struggles against the second law to overcome it—if only for a season.  Life creates hope in the midst of deterioration.

The second law of thermodynamics is also known as the law of entropy.  Since energy flows from concentrated states to less concentrated states, matter also flows from order to disorder.  That is because disorder is a lower energy state.  This is true for a bedroom and true for a nation.  It takes living things (humans) doing work to keep a bedroom organized.  Likewise, it takes people doing work to maintain order.  That is why Burke’s famous statement is true.  If good people don’t take action, then societies crumble into greater and greater disorder.

Tolkien riddled another point about entropy in The Hobbit:

This thing all things devours;

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats mountain down.


What is it?  In The Hobbit, the answer is time.  But a more precise answer might be entropy over time.  If time stopped, so would entropy.  But since time flows on, entropy does too; never ceasing, always reducing.  All we have to do to see our lives get worse is nothing!  If we, like the trees, are not working to organize, concentrate, and store energy, then we will fall and return; ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

But the picture is of Middle Lake and not Middle Earth.  How do these lessons apply to self-reliance here in the real world?

Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to this article makes another point about time, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”

Thankfully, we are all given the same amount of time and it is given in a steady stream.  We do get second chances, and thirds, and so on—up to a point.  But with time, entropy marches on.   It is tireless, relentless, and never satisfied.  Eventually entropy can build up so great a state of disorder that we don’t have the strength left to overcome it.

That is why people of responsibility must act.  The trees and the trout are diligently working.  Sure they pause at times to rest, as so should we, but they know that if they are not productive, they will lose the battle with entropy.  We must also work.  People of responsibility must act or lose.

This is true from the simple effort of eating healthy food to caring for tools, maintaining homes, teaching and learning, raising children, and taking responsibility for the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our communities, and—yes—even our nation.

How do you spend your precious time?  I encourage you to rest when you need to rest.  Recharge your physical and emotional batteries so you will have the strength to act.  But once rested, realize that entropy never pauses.  All that is necessary for your life to get worse is for you to do nothing.

How would you like work for yourself doing business that provides wealth, self-respect, and empowerment?  How would you like to get paid for the good you do, rather than for the hours you spend bringing order to someone else’s resources while yours slowly decay?  How would you like to eat healthy foods knowing where each meal came from; celebrating the fruit of your labor?  How would you like to know that you are prepared to weather the tough times without depending on a crippled government for support?  How would you like to know that your children are responsible, loving, productive, and knowledgeable?

Why would anyone give away these blessings by sitting hour after hour, day after day, year after year in front of a TV screen?!  Are people so ill at ease with their own lives that they must feed on the fictitious lives of others like vampires trying to suck life out of the living?

I hope that you cannot relate to this paragraph.  I wish you all the blessings and fulfillment that life can bring.  But….  I just had my small dog do several rather ridiculous tricks for a little scrap of roast.  I don’t blame her.  She is a dog after all and really cute!  But what ridiculous tricks do you do for your master to get your scraps?  Seriously.  Think about it.  Working a dead-end job is a lower energy state.  It may take less effort to sacrifice your time in exchange for scraps.  But what if you acted like a living thing—the trees and the trout— and looked after your own business and responsibilities?  You could be feasting at the table!  It is all about personal responsibility.  It is about overcoming the second law.

A great man of wisdom once wrote:

I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding. And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.

Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:  So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

I think these days we should paraphrase the last lines, “Just one more show, entertain my numbness:   Poverty from spinning my wheels–not getting anywhere–will be the result; and starvation will bully me, making me do things that I hate. “

If you have read this far, then you care.  If you care, then your walls are either strong and sturdy, or being rebuilt.  Your vineyards are productive.  You are alive.  That means you are changing your corner of the world by storing up energy and organizing resources.  You are providing for your needs and the needs of your family.  You are discovering what it means to have liberty.  You are empowering yourself and others.  If you care, then you are overcoming entropy, using your time wisely, and you are a good person doing something!

This is what being alive really is.  The mountains are crumbling because they have no living mechanism to order and preserve them.  But the trees are growing because they are doing the necessary stuff.

Are you alive?  No, I am not asking if you are breathing; sitting like a lump watching your world crumble.  Are you really alive celebrating the good work that you do; making a positive difference?  Time marches on and we do not have as much time left as we once did.  So DO SOMETHING!  Do something and be the person you can look up to.

The new year is upon us.  We don’t really know what 2014 will bring.  But we do know that we can make a difference and start pushing back the onslaught of entropy.  Remember that freedom, liberty, and the opportunities they bring are higher energy states.  The entropy of laziness and politics erode at these ideals.  Do something to organize and build up your own personal liberty this year.  Empower yourself.  Lead by example.  Make a difference.  Build up HOPE and LOVE.

Get off your butt.  Entropy never sleeps.

We at 180 Tack wish you all the best in the new year!  180 Tack is the something that we are doing to make a difference.  You can share the fruit of our labors too, at

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About Curt Linville

The author, Curt Linville, is co-owner of 180 Tack, LLC (, the manufacturer of innovative, sustainable outdoors products for use in the wilds or at home in times of emergencies. He is also an avid outdoorsman who has been practicing survival skills in the Colorado Rockies for over 25 years in all seasons and conditions. Curt lives and learns at 8,600 feet in the mountains of Colorado with his wife and four children.

One comment

  1. Many good thoughts ! I suspect we can all count cooh on our lives , one way or another to a better outcome. I think you are touching on the many illusions and that IMO is the beginning of all awakening processes. A good thought provoking read that touch’s on some excellent points ! Some things we have absolutely no control, like the evolution of the mountain, in its creation or demise. Other things we have a lot of control if we choose to be aware of that power ! There are many choices we can make that better our lives, we simply have to recognize them.

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