To Know Or Not To Know…That is the Question.

This piece will contain unrelated paragraphs describing conceptually what I think entropy means.  Do not expect eloquent writing and flawless analogies.

In one part of the world, a nursery teacher is distributing blank sheets and paint brushes to her students.  The children can paint anything they want to under the sun. They can mix existing colours and create new ones.  What do you think the teacher will say if asked what her students have drawn? She is demanded to give a non-ambiguous answer. If you ask me the person who posed this question to her should be beaten up black and blue.  Now those colours certainly sound non ambiguous, don’t they?

In another part of the world, six year olds are playing hide, stand and seek.  This revolutionary game has become an instant hit in the neighbourhood, prolonging hours of hiding immeasurably. The rules of the game are simple.  After counting up to the agreed number the seeker should stand and shout out the names of friends hiding along with their hiding place.  He gets many chances to do it for each hiding position but he can only stop seeking when he gets all of them right. The neighbourhood has approximately a fifty children actively involved with more than a hundred hiding places. Tough luck, seeker!

The powerful monarchy of Red Rock has declared a new form of punishment for thieves and burglars.  Her Holiness has abolished life imprisonment.  Instead, the guilty should play a form of a tortured treasure hunt.

Tortured Treasure Hunt: Practical Handbook

Aim: To acquire an item every day for the designated period of your entire life.

Theory: The Guards of the monarch will transport each of the criminals to different places of work on a daily basis. After 8 hours of work the guilty should set out to find what is expected in just four hours.  They will not be told what they have to acquire.  The only clue is that it is something that they encountered at work on that day.  They have the painstaking job of narrowing down more than a thousand different possibilities to one! They can buy many items with their meager daily wages, so long as the correct one is present among the many items.  They will not be told whether they successfully acquired the expected choice of the day which Her Holiness made on a whim (that particular day).  The only way the thief will know he made a mistake; the game gets more difficult the following day with increased possibilities at a new workplace.

If however, by sheer luck, the guilty acquires the specific item of the day, he will be transported to the same workplace the next day with fewer possibilities to choose from.

Now let us go to the Free State of Upturned where I live.  If I was asked what entropy was, I would give you a back story of how I struggled to understand it for months.  Any question should be answered with a cup of coffee, if you ask me.

Things only coffee lovers understand; (any beverage lover, for that matter)

  1. You will pass a comment on how hot or not hot the beverage is.

You have understood temperature.

  1. You will tell the person who made it to add more sugar or congratulate her on a well-made ‘strong’ coffee.

You have understood concentration.

  1. You will observe the coffee powder dissolve and disperse throughout the hot water.

You have still not understood entropy.

A game of dice played by two teenagers to explain why the universe loves entropy ( i.e. if the universe loves entropy).

One of them is blindfolded and the other one rolls ten dice (one after the other).

The sum is thirty.

The blindfolded teenager should guess the numbers on the dice.  The sequence is – 6,4,2,2,1,5,3,1,5,1.

The number of possibilities of such sequences that also give a sum of 30 is approximately 3,000,000; value arrived upon by a friend (readers may calculate the exact number. I am still figuring out how to do it).

What sounds more likely to you?

a) Low Entropy;  blindfolded teenager guesses the sequence; 6,4,2,2,1,5,3,1,5,1 without making a mistake or cheating.

b)High entropy; other 3,000,000 minus one sequences the teenager might guess.

This is no love story. It is a purely calculated move.

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One thought on “To Know Or Not To Know…That is the Question.

  1. Brilliant piece. I’m not sure if I stopped receiving updates or you stopped updating, but either way it’s been far too long since I’ve read your writing, and it’s clear you’ve come such a long way from the early days. ❤

    Like

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