The world is a dangerous place for life to survive in, and if we look beyond the localized dangers of our planet, a cosmic force stands ever ready to destroy life. It is called entropy, the universal tendency for order to break down into disorder.
Entropy came into existence at the instant of the Big Bang; starting with the creation of the universe, heat, light, and all other forms of energy have been dissipating, spreading out over time as the universe expands. This tendency to spread out, moving energy to less concentrated areas, is entropy. Entropy is a one-way arrow. An aged body doesn’t automatically turn young again.
Whenever matter and energy collect into orderly patterns, entropy is defied, but physics has always held that these “islands of negative entropy” are temporary, even though some of them – planets, stars, galaxies – endure a very long time.
Eventually stars burn out, planets lose their orbital momentum, galaxies dissipate. The planet earth is an island of negative entropy that feeds off the borrowed energy of sunlight; when the sunlight is no more, we will succumb to entropy, growing cold and lifeless. Entropy is dragging the entire cosmos down to its end, when all energy will be evenly distributed across the vastness of space.
This ultimate “heat death” lies billions of years in the future, but every molecule is being pushed toward it. Some of the most fundamental building blocks of matter, such as the proton, are so long-lived that it takes aeons for them to decay, while other exotic subatomic particles, such as the meson, flash into physical existence for a few millionths of a second before winking out of sight again.
The breakdown of orderliness is inherent in the physical makeup of the universe, but it is at the core of the reason why our bodies deteriorate and age over time. If we want to defeat aging, we must first learn how to defeat entropy.
Adapted from Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, by Deepak Chopra (Three Rivers Press, 1998).