My new year’s resolution is going to be to stop complaining so much about physics. In the meantime though…

Our final physics unit was on thermodynamics. There are three laws of thermodynamics that summarized pretty much amount to: “Heat makes the universe go ‘round and we’re running out.” Or, as our textbook put it, at some point all of the heat will move from the hot objects in space, like stars, to the colder objects, like planets. And when everything is all evened out, like a coffee cup in a cold room, the universe will “cease to do anything of particular interest.” (Of interest to whom, I wonder, as the human race will be dead long before then.)

Awfully depressing, really, the universe is basically a big clock winding down. But wait! says our textbook, What about life? Life must be an exception, because we’re all such organized, un-entropic beings who create order out of the expanding chaos of our worlds. We build houses! And roads! And eat food that we turn into energy to make things like DNA and babies! Doesn’t this fly in the face of the increasing entropy of the universe?

Ha! says the physics textbook. You would think that, but you would be wrong, like the foolish little non-physicist that you are. (Okay, it didn’t read quite like that, but I’m sure that’s what the author was thinking to himself at the time.) No, in fact we are but contributors to the eventual stagnation of the universe. Because every time we try to work against entropy, we end up expending more energy, and thus contributing more entropy to the universe than we undid in the first place. Like your air conditioner or your freezer, we are but inefficient engines pumping disorder into the universe. Your life is futile, for every step forward you take two steps back. Or, as our professor succinctly put it: “We as living beings are organized and the universe hates us. See you for your final exam next week.”

Ah, I thought to myself. Now I have proof. Physics really does hate me!

But wait a minute. I mean, I’m as pessimistic as the next guy, but really? That’s where you’re going to end it; the universe hates life and we’re all going to die at lukewarm temperatures? That’s not an end to any conversation; it’s the beginning. If we’re all winding down like a great cosmic clock, then who wound us up in the first place? Somehow the hot stuff became hot and the cold stuff became cold and I realize we didn’t have time to go into all the ins and outs of how that happened, but it least bears mentioning, right?

I’m not a religious person, but I’m always a bit surprised to find how antithetical spirituality is to scientists. It’s not that I think theology belongs in a physics lecture, but I do think there is time to work in a little awe. I don’t care if you think God put it in motion or if you think particles and waves just happened to collide in the right way to bring us to the present moment. Life. Is. Really. Freaking. Cool. I can’t imagine any reason to study science other than because on some level you’re a little blown away by it all. (I’m sure there are people who study science for other reasons, but I rather pity them.)

In a way it was poetic. After a semester of futilely struggling to stay afloat in a class that was more alienating than educational, I feel as though physics was true to the last. As was I in my disdain. If that was physics’ parting message for me, then I counter with Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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