Zen and entropy

Picture1Last weekend I went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah in our local cathedral.  The atmosphere in the vast cathedral was wonderful and for part of the performance I was transformed into a zen-like state by the music.

However, there were quite of lot of disturbances during the performance including some that went beyond the usual coughing and sneezing.  It is interesting that a sneeze in the quiet environment of a cathedral or library causes a large disturbance while the same sneeze in a busy street goes unnoticed.  Of course, it is about the change in the noise level, and as a percentage, the added noise of a sneeze is much greater in the quiet library than the busy street.  Noise is a form of energy that becomes dispersed and dissipated as it propagates and so it is easy to equate it to heat which exhibits the same behaviour.  Heat transfers from hot to cold places while noise propagates from loud to quiet places, and neither does the reverse, which was Clausius’ observation that lead to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Clausius also defined change in entropy as the heat transfered divided by the temperature at which it occurs.  So the same heat transfer creates more entropy at low than at high temperatures, just as a sneeze causes more disorder/disruption in a quiet than a loud environment.  We can equate entropy to the level of disorder present in any system or environment.

And the second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system will always increase until it reaches a maximum at equilibrium.

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