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Friday, November 26, 2010

Entropy reversed

I had an ulterior motive when I wrote the last blog post. It was a needed lead-up to its final italicized statement:

If you pump energy into an isolated system, order will increase.

It 's easy to prove the opposite. Just be lazy for a while and don’t put energy into keeping your living space in order. Disorder [entropy] increases, and it can get really messy!

It isn’t so easy to do an objective experiment to prove that adding energy to an isolated system brings about order. However, I did read of a very convincing such test suggested by Dr. John Todd in his forward to Gaia’s Garden, a book by Toby Hemenway. I was so impressed, in fact, that I have described it below and quoted Dr.Todd himself:

In teaching ecology classes Dr. Todd asked his students to collect samples of equal volume from at least three aquatic habitats, such as a small pool in the woods, an animal wallow on a farm, and a river- or lakeside marsh. They were then to mix them together in a glass jar until it was about half full, and with the jar’s lid screwed on tightly, turn it upside down and place it in a sunny window. They were then required to watch and record the unfolding drama within over a period of weeks.

Quoting Dr. Todd: “In the presence of sunlight, a microcosm, or miniature world, begins to organize itself. … Within days, an internal physical structure or architecture starts to evolve, complete with biological zones of activity. … The communities that adapt within are unique. … And each of the student’s microcosms develops differently. … If a blind is left closed and the sunlight blocked for several days the ecosystem within will collapse. But if the jar is returned to the light soon enough, the living system will begin to reorganize itself. The self-repair process generates a new system, usually different than the one from which it was derived … yet as a whole, the system is amazingly persistent. … The miniature ecosystem (on my desk) that I am looking into now as I write may well outlive me.”

Amazing? I rest my case that the reverse of the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds true. Rie

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