Monday, March 14, 2011


Thermodynamics is a branch of physical science associated with relationships between heat and mechanical energy. An important quantity in this field is referred to as entropy. In simple terms, entropy is a measure of disorder of a system. A basic tenet of thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe is increasing, and further, the entropy of a closed or bounded system can never decrease. In a closed system, any reversible process results in no net change in entropy. However, most processes are not reversible. Once you drop an egg on the tile floor and it splatters everywhere, up goes the entropy of the system and the universe. You can't undrop the egg. The damage is done. The process is irreversible.

My example of an irreversible process serves to illustrate the notion well enough, and I am sure that with a moment's thought you could add a few of your own. However, I wanted to share the real impetus behind this post. I was driving my daughter to one of her activities in an area that was new to me. I tend to get a bit anxious and nervous in these situations, and to make things a bit more flammable, we were running a bit late, and I was faced with lots of traffic, poorly labeled roads, and construction detours. I was lost and confused. When she tried to encourage me, my response was to snap at her.

Another example of an irreversible process is the act of raising our voices in anger or frustration at our children. Once the words escape past our lips, they too impact in irreversible ways. From a smile wiped away, to a slumping of the shoulders, to tears streaming down little cheeks. Where there was once playful warbling, only cold, hard silence remains. Our outbursts surely cause the entropy of the universe to increase. Try as we might to heal the wounded spirits of our children, we can't put the egg back into the shell.