As a former and recovering physicist, I have been indoctrinated in the 2nd law of thermodynamics, namely that there is always an increase in disorder over time. Your physicist friends will tell you (what do you mean you haven’t got any?) that Entropy is a measure of the degree of randomness or chaos in a system (such as a box/room/universe). This has all kinds of fascinating philosophical implications that I won’t go in to, such as giving us our sense of time. Anyway, whilst I appreciate the mathematics and experiments that clearly back this up this law, I have always found this a rather pessimistic world view.
And yet the more recent trend towards emergence (more on that in my next post) talks of order arising from complexity in nature, in cities, in the brain and on the web. However this directly contradicts this famous 2nd law. In this case entropy or randomness decreases over time as order or patterns arise from complexity. In fact, John Maeda (all round good guy and graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist at MIT Media Lab) has been taking part in a debate hosted by the Economist about whether technology will complicate or simplify our life. He argues that currently most technology is infantile and therefore a complicating influence in our lives, however ultimately technology will unite with design and the arts in unprecedented harmony such that not only will our lives be simplified, but more importantly satisfying. I love the optimism of this argument even if can’t quite bring myself to share it fully. Whose side are you on?