Thursday, March 24, 2005


I wrote this one morning a few weeks ago:

There is a level at which I find the concept of entropy comforting. Daily life is full of small defeats: peeling paint, computers that need repair, wrinkles and graying hair. Outside of the tale of Dorian Gray, however, the direction of change flows predictably in one direction. We know that if the paint peeled last summer, more of it will peel next summer, and it is important to think about what to do next. Never once has it happened to me that peeling paint repaired itself.

As sometimes happens, I got to the end of the paragraph and the flow of words stopped, usually a sure sign that there is something wrong with what I have written. I couldn’t immediately see where it had gone wrong, so I filed away this apparently inoffensive fragment for later, and a few days ago, it came into focus.

Dead wrong. The observation is simply wrong. It is rooted in the elegant pronouncements of physics, or rather the more superficial and dreary aspects of the mechanical world. This world is predictable, with bodies in motion tending to remain in motion…and all that. But plain old physics does not account for spring.

It’s early yet, so the snow is just going, the mud is still passable, and we don’t yet see green bursting forth all around, but already something in the air has changed. There is new energy all around, and it is neither dreary nor predictable, even though it happened to us just a year ago. Spring! What theoretical construct can account for it?

I used to know physicists, and the ones I esteemed were focused on the sub-microscopic world of particles. It still tickles me to remember that in that world, a particle might be one place, then somewhere else altogether—the “quantum leap” that is not tiny as in common parlance, but very, very large. If the laws of mechanics are dreary (if comforting in their predictable nature), the world of quantum mechanics is sheer possibility. Maybe that’s a better theoretical model for life as we know it, but still, how to explain spring?

As is probably clear by now, my science education was sketchy, and I am not really looking to re-immerse myself in biological mysteries like the Krebs cycle, which always made my eyes glaze. Even if I understood the science behind the rush of new life about to happen all around us, I don’t think it could possibly expand my delight that after a long winter of breathing in, now it is time to breathe out, to sing, to dance, to run up and down the hill back of my house in sheer exuberance and exultation that it is spring!

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