A plate changed from low to high entropy.
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

How to find our nature and what can the Universe around us teach us about it? To examine this question, we will look at entropy. The second law of thermodynamics and how it can help us get a better grasp of Nature as a whole. Often described as the arrow of time, entropy relates the amount of energy put into a closed system and the level of order and disorder the result would be. When looked at from a Stoic standpoint, we can apply this principle to who we are and how to live a better life. Entropy equals the constant we have in life, change. It stems from the Greek word meaning ‘transformation’. Whether we do nothing or do a lot, change will happen.

“Before long, all existing things will be transformed, to rise like smoke (assuming all things become one), or be dispersed in fragments.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6.4

What is Nature

Nature is what we perceive as the world, the planets, the stars, the Universe, and that which lies beyond. We are pushing our boundaries of knowledge with every question that arises. You can read Aristotle’s Physics, or Seneca’s essay on Earthquakes, to see how our knowledge has evolved. And who knows what we might think about our present ideas a few centuries from now. Yet, when looking at how we view living better lives through philosophy, the ancient lessons still hold up. It is our time to challenge them against our current scientific knowledge and see what we can learn from them.

“The world is maintained by change – in the elements and in the things they compose. That should be enough for you; treat it as an axiom.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2.3

We don’t know the state of the Universe from before the big bang, at least not yet. It could have been a singularity, or the shortest of times where everything was in perfect balance, harmony, and peace. If that last scenario were to be the case, then we can see that it is as difficult for the Universe to maintain at peace, as it is for us. It could be possible to extrapolate our own need for peace to that of the Universe. Since we are part of the Universe, build from the same materials. We could take it a step further, that we are the Universe. And because we share, deep in our core, vital parts with Nature, we can learn from that what the perfect state of the Universe could be and find nature.

Reason and Logic

Reason and logic are what the Stoics call the Logos, the Rational Universe. Going back to what we share with Nature, then reason and logic are that. It is what sets us apart from all the other animals, as far as we know, and helps us experience the world around us. When applied as the sage would, in the perfect way, then we would also be able to find peace of mind. But until then, we are faced with turmoil in our lives. Some more than others depending on how far in their journey they are.

To find that state, or work towards it, we can fall back on Virtue. Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance. Which comes down to doing the right thing. Learning to give the right judgment to the events that happen to us. And assigning the right action or opinion to them. If we apply a technique by Marcus Aurelius, to look at events from a zoomed-out stance, we can see that the things that happen to us aren’t inherently good or bad, they are just events. Our attachment to them is what gives them those labels. What follows is that if we can remove ourselves from the events, and learn to look at them objectively, we can examine them for what they are. This would take far less effort, than adding all the filters through which we view them normally.

“Nature is pliable, obedient. And the Logos that governs it has no reason to do evil. It knows no evil, does none, and causes harm to nothing. It dictates all beginnings and all endings.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6.1

Enter Entropy

Then where do we find Nature? It’s all around us and within us. We can read as many books as we want, and watch all the videos we can, but the true lessons are out there in Nature. That’s the one source we all share. Then it’s a matter of interpretation, and that’s where the books come into play. But it wouldn’t have surprised the Stoics that others would come to the same ideas if those were the right conclusions. Such as Virtue being the only good. The reason for it is that they are working with the same material as us. The world around us. The truth is out there and will be found by others. By studying the interactions in Nature, we can increase our knowledge. This will help us reflect on our philosophical ideas and see whether they still stand.

Although the term was known in the ancient world, it stems from the Greek language. The way it is used now in a scientific meaning was most likely not so familiar to them. It shows us the most probable way energy moves in a system.

“If energy has the opportunity to spread out, it will.”

Jeff Phillips, Ted-Ed, 2017, What is Entropy

Find Nature in Entropy

With regards to entropy, we are looking at the possibility in which the energy and material it has an effect on, can be found when left alone. One way to picture it is by imagining a puzzle. Before opening the box and after shaking it, how likely is it that you will find the puzzle completed in the box? For this to happen, the probability is extremely low, but it couldn’t be ruled out. The state in which the pieces are to be found would be spread evenly in the box. This is what is called high entropy, or a disordered state. Or, one of the examples we see in the video, is an ice cube. When left alone, it will turn into water. Which we could see as more disordered since the cubes give us clear outlines and shapes.

Yet, I would opt to change these denominations around. If the most probable state of energy and matter is high entropy, shouldn’t that then be the most ordered state? Now, mind you, I’m not a scientist. Which most people could tell from a mile away. What I’m doing is trying to make sense of the limited knowledge I have.

Order or Mismash

“An ordered world or a mishmash. But still an order. Can there be order within you and not in everything else? In things so different, so dispersed, so intertwined?”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4.43

From what we know now, is that nature moves in one direction, towards high entropy. Build a sandcastle on the beach and when you come back sometime later, it will be gone. All the grains of sand will have joined the rest of the beach. (The inspiration for this example comes from the video at the bottom.) Spreading out the energy and balancing out the whole. It’s because our minds are geared toward pattern recognition, and seeing the order here, that high entropy seems like chaos to us. But to nature, it is the other way around. That’s where peace can be found and where things make sense.

Should I then do nothing?

This is not a piece to say that we should do nothing and let Nature run its course. It will do so no matter what we do. Because as we get older and there is less energy to spread out over our body, we will slowly start to decay. It is the natural order of things. How can we then use entropy to find our nature and guide us to a more peaceful existence?

How to Find our Nature: Entropy and Stoicism.

“An ordered world or a mishmash. But still an order. Can there be order within you and not in everything else? In things so different, so dispersed, so intertwined?” Marcus Aurelius
Photo by Vinícius Henrique Photography on Unsplash

We can look at it this way. If we try to reach for things that are beyond our control or not in our nature, we need to add extra energy to the system. This will cause a shift in balance, which will have to be compensated for somewhere else. Finding ourselves in a low state of entropy, manufactured order will leave us fragile and disturbed. It will take great effort to fight the arrow of time and go against nature.

Nature is entropy

We ought to find that balance within. And also remember that at one point in time, the particles and atoms that we are made of will be dispersed out into the Universe again. If we learn to accept our current state and go with the flow of our energy, then we will be able to find peace. Because we will stay as close to the highest probable state of our being. Meaning what is allocated to us and the balance that comes with it.

The more artificial energy you put in, the greater the unbalance you will experience. To live a peaceful life and find our nature, we should reach the highest level of entropy we can sustain, while remaining a cognisant and active member of the human race. And when our time comes to even let go of that, we will be at peace, knowing that we will return to the natural state of the Universe.

If you want to learn more about entropy and the arrow of time, watch this great video as well.

How to Find Our Nature: Entropy and Stoicism
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