Daily Entropy: hell in a handbasket

wave interference

calm in the interference

“The second [moral] is that entropy is a global quantity, like energy or angular momentum, and shouldn’t be localized on the horizon. The various attempts to identify the microstates responsible for black hole entropy, are in fact constructions of dual theories, that live in separate spacetimes.”

-Stephen Hawking

If you want to know how the world is always going to hell in a handbasket, but never quite getting there, you have to understand something about waves.  Hawking was talking about black hole entropy, but all waves share that global quality.  They are relationships between their ends and origins as much as they are phenomena.  Language handles them poorly, even though communication is made of them.  Language describes bowling balls well – waves, energy, information and entropy, not so well.  Every wave waves a set of waves until there is no wave left to wave.  A wave is subject, verb and object – actor, action and casualty – at all times and locations in its lifecycle.  A wave is not a thing, but it is the consistent behaviour of waves in all things that gives things the solidity that makes them things.  The number of peaks in a wave set is countable, but its shape, size and total energy – its entropy – is not.  This is the difference between resonance and resonators in general.

As it turns out, a wave is as hard to define as it is to hold in your hands.  We can sort of say that a wave is the transmission of energy through a relatively static medium, but that’s just the nominalisation of the verb transmit.  It is convenient to call a wave “information,” but that doesn’t help much because information isn’t any easier to define.  In the case of a standing wave, a particle may pass the wave on without moving, so a wave is not just motion.  Electromagnetic waves definitely act like waves, but they don’t have a medium that we know of, just fields.  In a sense, a wave is the coordination of energy.  Waves are related to entropy in every instance as waves transport energy down gradient from order to disorder, but because entropy is so hard to define, that is no more helpful than calling waves information.  Waves are fundamental to the point where string theory defines the entire universe and everything in it in terms of waves, but that still doesn’t tell us what a wave is.  A wave is not a particle.  Phenomena may be wave-like or particle-like, but still, the particle is definite while the wave is indefinite
Although a wave makes sense as energy transmitted through a medium, when you hit interference the transmission analogy breaks down. It isn’t a package in the post. A wave isn’t cancelled by a wave moving in the opposite direction, but by an identical wave carrying the same energy in the same direction, just out of phase. This is true of all waves: sound, water, light, even a stadium crowd wave. This is not energy moving through a medium, it more like potential, and even more like information about energy that can be converted into actual energy with the right interaction.  Imagine a wave coming in from the sea that could crash violently onto the shore.  If you went behind an island and generated a wave with the same energy in the same direction, but with the opposite phase so the water goes up when the other wave would make the water go down, the two waves will cancel each other out and no energy will reach the shore.  This is why it’s probably better to think of the kinetic energy of an electron as information up until the moment when it actually gets measured as energy.  Until that moment of measurement, the information may or may not be cancelled by equal but inverse information, leading to a measurement of no energy.
When you say something, your words are wavelike.  They may have the potential to transmit ideas, but there is interference at every phase, from the sound waves in air to the ear to the nervous waves in the mind of the listener.  Ironically, interference is most likely from the most similar statements.  So if you feel like people are missing the point entirely, it may be that you see waves, while they see particles.  If the world feels like it’s disintegrating, that’s probably because it is.  But remember that waves originate far from where you see them. I’m not talking about the butterfly effect; a big wave depends on innumerable small interactions averaged together, so one butterfly more or less is irrelevant. With wavelike things, origin stories are always dubious. In the words of Duke Kahanamoku: “Be patient.  Wave come.  Wave always come.”

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