Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools / Order /
@ K. 2004 02 06
Entropy … & More
Mission: to encourage humans toward a little humility
Whatever I wrote about order as a phantasm last time, I want to start over again today emphasizing one point. For all I know it’s the same point I already emphasized: I’ll check later. I also take the occasion today to subsume both files into a new Order folder, a place to collect future quick notes on the subject without having to renovate a dozen menus. Indeed, that is an organizational principle I mean to apply throughout Knatz.com, starting now.
Gather a group: at least a couple of people. If you’re a teacher, you’ve already got them: your students. Ditto parents … Supply one individual with a cup of salt and a cup of pepper: any size grind, from whole peppercorns to fine ground: so long as it’s black (or red, easily distinguished from salt). Tell the candidate to clear the table and to dump the salt onto the table, then to dump the pepper onto the salt. As she does so, point out: “There, a pile of salt. … There, a pile of pepper on the pile of salt.”
Volunteer another of your minions to stir the piles together. “There,” you say, “a pile mixing salt and pepper.”
You see what’s coming. Entropy: an increase in disorder. Sure, why not? An important concept: except that we’ve all seen it N dozen times. But still, go ahead: assign any remaining minions to separate them back into salt and pepper: put the salt back into the first cup, the pepper back into the second.
Be sure to point out that the first task took only a moment; the second will never get completed. The times for the two tasks are immensely discrepant. The first was easy, the second nigh impossible. You might also point out that supplying the cup of salt was easy: you bought it at the story, you ordered it from the chem lab, from the quarter master, you got your wife to give it to you. Same with the pepper. Point out further that the finer the grind of pepper, the finer the grind of salt, the harder the last task will be, the more time required before failure is admitted.
pk, did you make us spend all this time to point out what we already all know?
No, that’s just background for the point I want to introduce. And that’s this:
Calling the salt “order” and the salt-and-pepper “disorder” is arbitrary, subjective: agenda-driven.
I say that pile 1, pile 2, pile 3 … and times t1, t2, t3 … are all orders.
I also repeat wisdom read I remember not where except that the author was talking science:
I know of nothing perceptible which is not ordered
If you can see it, sense it, think it … taste it …, it’s ordered. If there’s disorder in existence, we know nothing of it (and can know nothing of it).
I also repeat a lesson I first learned in a book called How to Take a Chance
The odds against being dealt all spades in a bridge hand are … some astronomical number …
The odds against all four players being dealt all one suit each are … astronomically more improbable (yet hundreds of players annually report just such phenomena) (can’t trust testimony: whatever bibles are sworn on)
Now, the kicker:
The odds against being dealt any specific group: the three of clubs, the eight of hearts, the jack of spades … are exactly the same odds as one player getting all spades!
Specify exactly the contents of all four “junk” hands and the odds are the same as getting four perfect distributions of suits.
In other words, bridge players have an arbitrary order in mind which they then want nature to match. A dog, a mosquito, and non-bridge player … may be equally indifferent to (or stunned by) any distribution.
Understand: I am not indifferent to how my environment is ordered (indeed, my life has been devoted to (failing to) REordering it. I care whether my head is surrounded by air rather than water (and rather than vacuum). But then I’m a man; a fish will have different preferences, needs, priorities. (A cetacean will want both water and then air (but not vacuum).) Though I insist that my preferences count (or ought to), I don’t insist that the fish’s preferences should be ignored.
Grandfather thinks the new regime is sending civilization to hell in a hand basket. Junior may think otherwise. Both are preferring arbitrary orders.
Wait! Dammit! Hold it right there. I am not saying that all is the same and nothing makes any difference, that all orders are equal. One set of preferences may wind up killing us, another may wind up fostering evolution into something more viable, more sustainable … more … some value.
I am saying that they are all orders. Everyone dead of the plague is an order. Everyone sitting on each others’ shoulders would be an order. Everyone rising into the clouds would be an order; or everyone in one big sex ring.
Declaring that your system is order and the system of some rival is chaos is like attributing souls to men and denying them to women; or like allowing some minority the vote (the majority! while assigning all others non-status. I, with my nuclear deterent, am the majority!
OK, now I see that the other file does make parallel points if not the same point. 2012 11 28 I add a line, add a post, will merge another time.