Sabin Russell Science Writer

3Nov/10Off

A World Series, and Entropy Surfing, as Metaphor

A Toshiba Flat-Screen Capture of World Series Entropy

After 162 regular games and three rounds of high-strung playoff baseball, a Season is supposed to end like this: A wave of Giants leaping the dugout rails, streaking toward the mound; grown men hopping around like schoolchildren, tumbling in the grass; hollering, joyful human piles of chaos.

Which is why, of course, I am thinking about entropy.

These days, I think a lot about entropy. Entropy is why things fall apart, why the center cannot hold. It's why a barn door ages and a rock wall falls down. Entropy is a measure of disorder. It's why heat always flows from hot to cold. It's the natural tendency of energy to go to waste.  It's the second law of thermodynamics.

In my scientifically suspect and English Majorly way of thinking, I've come to appreciate entropy as a fundamental property of, well, existence. It's as real, and as directional, as gravity and time. Entropy awareness deepens when the economy goes off track, when oil gushes from a hole at the bottom of the sea, when a pitcher loses his fastball,  and as baby boomers watch themselves fall apart.

But there is no reason to get discouraged or bitter. Entropy may be sweeping us all toward that ultimate rocky shore, but the goal is neither to fight nor submit. There is artistry in cutting back, carving across it, and staying upright. The goal is to surf it, dude.

There is, I think, great beauty in this most natural of processes. Without entropy would a field of grass soothe our eyes with its complexity? Entropy softens the hard edge of order, imparts nuance, bends what is straight, and breaks what is solid. Where we see entropy, we see evidence of life. Entropy imparts the character into a pair of old boots, puts the snap into a well-worn baseball mitt, imparts the fractal shape of mountainsides and fills the beaches with sand.

The “miracle” of life  itself – a process that would appear to be a spontaneous assertion of order – may be just a  gnarly detour in our mutli-billion year cool-down from the birth of the sun.  Bacteria or primate, life is full of order, but living also is a process of energy unwinding, rigidly obedient to the second law of thermodynamics.  We are carried along, sometimes with a sense of control, as the old primal heat does its work and meets its entropic fate.

Perhaps one reason we love the game of baseball it that, as we sit on the edge of our seats, we are watching a spectacle of entropy surfing.  At its best, baseball is a game where the highly skilled slip and slide at the brink of calamity, sometimes succumbing to it, other times inspiring us with their grace and strength. Baseball is an orchestration of statistics, and part of the game is the athletic dance with fate, the calculated pursuit of serendipity, where odds favor failure, collapse, disorder, the triumph of entropy. Yet, for a time, somebody wins. For a time, their artistry seems ageless.  No sport reveres its old-timers – those worn and wizened acrobats of the odds -- as much as baseball. And after game upon game, all the order of the innings ends with a mad, chaotic release. The surfers take up golf. Each season comes with the certainty and unpredictability of waves to a beach, and a good season, like a good life, is wonderful to behold.

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Posted by Sabin Russell

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  1. You’re back! I KNEW I should check your site today for some reason–I was only 3 days off. Just like when I knew a Lettre was coming. This is a great post. We also really don’t care in Dallas that the Rangers lost (too much)–it was amazing just to make it to the World Series.


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