February 10, 2015

This is amazing

You have to be a true science geek to get excited about this, but that describes me perfectly. Long ago, I encountered the idea that life is merely a means to dissipate energy. In other words, life is just another agent of entropy. It may be true that we are not more meaningful than the bubbles that rise up from boiling liquid.

Here's the key idea in one sentence, taken from this article:
The general trend of the evolution of biological systems seems to be this: more advanced life forms tend to dissipate more energy by broadening their access to various forms of stored energy.
In other words, life began on Earth because our sun shines on an otherwise cold planet. The heat differential is what did the trick. Plants took the sun's energy and made it into something they could use. Then animals ate the plants. And then people ate the animals. It's all part of an energy scheme: we must dissipate energy in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics.

But intelligent life can do way more than eat a few animals. As smart creatures, we're able to not only eat everything that walks past -- we can also rip the Earth up and get the plant mass from eons past and turn it into oil, which we then expend through machine use. Heck, we're so good at using energy, we may nuke the entire planet. USA! USA! etc.

We are engines for energy dissipation. I love that. Extra bonus: this may mean that intelligent life is very likely on other worlds. After all, we intelligent creatures dissipate heat so well. 

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