By Suma Varughese
When we care enough either for ourselves or others or life itself, then we crest the balance between the death impulse (thanatos) and the life impulse (eros)
While working on an article for our new sister publication, Life Positive Plus, on Gaia, the living Earth, I encountered the term entropy as well as a fascinating description of life. Dr James Lovelock, who first floated the Gaia Hypothesis, also had to define life in order to make his theory stick.
According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, everything in the universe is moving towards decay and breakdown. This process is called entropy. Life, he says, is the paradoxical contradiction of the Second Law, for evolution has inevitably moved from complexity to greater complexity, proceeding from the amoeba to man. Therefore, the presence of life reduces the entropy in any organism.
Entropy then is the death impulse, the opposite of the life impulse. Surely this must be the fundamental duality with which the Universe was created? It is the balance that any organism strikes between entropy and life that decides its fate.
If the entropy rate is too high, then death triumphs. If it is very low, then life has the victory. Entropy is the dragging down force that stops us from evolving. Entropy makes us roll over and sleep instead of going for that life-enhancing walk. Entropy stops us from reaching out and helping the blind man cross the road.
Entropy stops us from sitting up at nights and sweating for our exams; it slips us into habits like taking the same road to work, holidaying at the same time and place every year, choosing the same restaurant meal over and over again.
M. Scott Peck writes about entropy from the human context in his wonderful book, The Road Less Traveled. All growth involves effort, he says, because we have to struggle against the force of entropy. We all know how difficult it is to do the right thing and how easy it is to go with the flow.
Even a simple thing as getting up and offering an elderly person a seat in a bus takes effort, which explains why so few people do it. The Buddha likened the whole process of inner growth to swimming upstream. One has to struggle against entrenched habits, against the force of one's likes and dislikes, against inertia.
Those of us who have a high level of entropy know how difficult it is to act. Even going for a movie or buying tickets for a play or planning a holiday can seem strenuous. Perhaps all the laziness and disinclination in the world comes from the presence of entropy. Or do they create entropy?
It is probably a mutually supporting system where Entropy and laziness create one another. Certainly the more we give in to entropy, the more entropy we create. Once we get into negative cycles of taking the easy way out, of postponing, of doing the wrong thing, it becomes difficult to get out of the cycle.
So why are some people high on life and others on entropy? What makes the difference? According to Scott Peck, it is love. When we care enough either for ourselves or others or life itself, then we crest the balance between the death impulse (thanatos) and the life impulse (eros). Caring makes effort worthwhile and puts us on the side of life. It follows that the more we care the higher the life force within us.
The vitality that we see so vividly in some people is the index of their ability to love. Indeed, this is how Scott Peck defines love: ''The will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.''
Conversely, entropy creates indifference. When entropy becomes really high, we stop caring about any aspect of life: how we look, what we wear, what others are feeling, even about whether to live itself.
It is probably no coincidence that depressives lose interest in living and that many of them even to succumb to suicide. The scientist-mystic Teilhard de Chardin had predicted that a time would come when we would perceive that love was a force in the universe as real as gravity. Makes sense, doesn't it?