Some thoughts on how I look at the world.
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Now to today’s piece 🤝
I’ve had some jumbled thoughts about “life” that I’ve wanted to condense and put in writing for about two years now, and this blog post is the result of me finally sitting down and writing about these thoughts. I hope you enjoy.
The entirety of the human experience can be understood through two lenses: the things that happen, and our understanding of the things that happen.
Take gravity, for example. What happens when you toss a rock out of your window?
Thing that happens: The rock falls to the ground.
Our understanding of thing that happens: Gravity.
Our current idea of “gravity” is a novel concept. Sure, for thousands of years, humans have recognized that objects thrown in the air must return to earth. But our modern concept of gravity was first defined by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687.
Of course, when Isaac Newton published his law of universal gravitation in 1687, he didn’t create gravity. He simply quantified a phenomenon that had existed forever. Newton’s Law just bridged the gap between the reality of objects falling to the ground and our understanding of this reality.
We call these tools that bridge this gap between reality and understanding “stories.”
The word “story” has a negative connotation. According to Thesaurus.com, its synonyms include “fiction,” “tale,” “fabrication,” and “untruth.”
But stories, fictions, and tales reveal far more about human nature than basic “facts.” Stories are our best, and possibly only means of understanding ourselves.
Jesus Christ spoke almost exclusively through parables, metaphors, and analogies. The result? Thousands swarmed to hear him speak, the religious leaders of his day had him crucified, and 2,000 years later, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world.
Not bad for three years of telling “stories” around the Sea of Galilee.
The 10 best-selling books of all time, excluding religious texts, are Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, And Then There Were None, The Dream of the Red Chamber, The Hobbit, She: A History of Adventure, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
These 10 books, which have sold a combined 1.6 billion copies, have one thing in common: they’re all fiction. They’re all stories.
We don’t enjoy Game of Thrones and Harry Potter because they provide an escape from our current reality. We are enthralled by these “fantasy” worlds because they mirror our current reality. Jon Snow and Harry Potter are endearing because we relate to their struggles of being outsiders in their own families and their anguish over unrequited love, not because they served on the Night’s Watch or conjured a stag-shaped Patronus.
It’s not the dragons and wizards and magic that seduce us. It’s the display of raw, shared humanity.
Great stories cause us to see ourselves in the characters on the pages. We empathize with their struggles, successes, failures, love, heartbreak, betrayal, and redemption because we have lived through those same experiences ourselves.
As with Newton’s Law and Christ’s sermons, the best stories in literature bridge the gap between reality and understanding in the human experience. They reveal truths about our lives that we always “knew,” but we otherwise couldn’t put into words.
Stories don’t just explain the present and the timeless, they also connect us to our past…
The Big Bang Theory helps us understand the genesis of the universe, hieroglyphics give glimpses into the lives of the ancient Egyptians, Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils help us visualize the hazy realm in which dinosaurs roamed, and the writings of Anne Frank and Viktor Frankl provide accounts of the struggles of Jewish people during the Holocaust.
and our future:
The Bible is littered with prophecies about the returning Messiah, environmentalists forecast a world decimated by global warming, The Jetsons predicted a future with flying cars, economists weave all sorts of theories about the downstream effects of inflation and monetary policy, and politicians entice voters with visions of “Building Back Better” and “Making America Great Again.”
But the most important story isn’t found in textbooks, novels, sermons, theories, or predictions.
The most important story is the one we tell ourselves about our own lives.
In the story of our lives, we are our own protagonists, struggling to accomplish some goal, to reach some destination. We have our own plots and side missions, allies and antagonists, love interests and rivals, successes and defeats.
Some of us are hell-bent on reaching the apex of our chosen profession, others desire to cultivate knowledge and experiences. Some put love and relationships above all else, while others are willing to sacrifice these things to focus on some other singular desire.
We are eight billion humans with eight billion unique stories, and these stories help us navigate the messy world around us.
Of course, every good story needs one key element: a worthy antagonist.
And in the stories of our lives, all eight billion of us share one antagonist: entropy.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the level of disorder in the universe is steadily increasing, and systems tend to move from ordered behavior to more random behavior. This disorder is known as “entropy”.
In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking said, “The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”
Entropy is observable in the breaking down of everything over time. Or perhaps more accurately, entropy is the passage of time.
Take, for example, ancient Rome. Entropy took the greatest city of the old world and left ruins and rubble in its wake.
Back to stories for a second.
The movies and books that we enjoy all end the same: The boy gets the girl, the team wins the championship, the good guys beat the bad guys, the heroes save the world, and our protagonist rides off into the sunset, happily ever after. Let the credits roll.
The difference between the stories that we read and the story that we live is that in the story of our lives, entropy always wins.
Allow me to explain:
Living organisms like you and I are structured, organized networks of cells. But entropy favors disorder over order; it seeks to break down these structured, organized networks of cells. In other words, entropy is the driving force behind aging and death. You can fight it, you can stave it off for a time, but you can never actually defeat it.
We’re all playing this game of life against a stacked deck. The rules aren’t fair, and the game goes something like this:
You didn’t ask to play this game, but as soon as you entered this world, naked, cold, and crying, there was no going back.
You may not like this game, but you have to play.
And, most importantly, you cannot win this game. Maybe you play for 40 years, or maybe you play for 90 years, but eventually, for every single one of us, the game does come to an end. Entropy: 1, Us: 0.
We all know that we’re stuck in this game, but we rarely discuss it. That would just be somber, depressing. Contemplating entropy is contemplating our own mortality, after all, and who wants to do that? So we distract ourselves with politics and sports and all sorts of gossip like, “Did you see what Ashley wore to the office today?”
If we can’t win the game, but we’re stuck playing the game, we might as well ignore the game entirely, right?
At some point, everyone experiences this “Oh, shit” moment where the finite-ness of this game becomes all too real, and once your “Oh, shit” moment hits, you can’t really go back. For me (and I would suspect for most people) that moment came about a year after I graduated college, when I was staring the rest of adulthood in the face and thought, “Damn, is it 40 years of this then I retire and die? That’s it?”
It’s my belief that after having their “Oh, shit” moment, most people spend the rest of their lives actively ignoring this realization until their time is up, because that’s easier to do than facing the reality of our human condition head-on.
Today, I would like you to reconsider this stance. I offer a new perspective: perhaps this game that we’re playing is an opportunity, not a curse.
In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey said it best, “When we truly latch on to the fact that we are going to die at some point in time, we have more presence in this one.”
And McConaughey is spot on. Once you have that realization, you have two choices: you can dread the inevitable and surround yourself with distractions, or you can acknowledge it, lean into it, and attack life accordingly, knowing you have one shot to do it right.
If you’re reading this right now, you’re alive. You’re still playing the game. Now, we know that at some future point, this game is going to end, but we can’t do much about that, can we? So let’s not worry too much about the end of the game, and focus on playing the game while we’re here.
You can’t defeat entropy. From the second that you entered this game, the ending was written in stone. But the goal isn’t defeating entropy. The goal is fighting entropy.
The problem isn’t that entropy kills you. The problem is that entropy strives to take everything from you while you’re still playing the game.
Entropy isn’t some singular moment separating life and death. Entropy is a process, and entropy wears many masks. Entropy is procrastination, envy, apathy, and malaise. Entropy is the antithesis of excitement, and it’s the opposite of opportunity, optimism, and effort.
The fight against entropy has led to some of mankind’s greatest achievements. Martin Luther King Jr. fought entropy when he sought to unite a struggling, divided nation. The astronauts fought entropy when they set foot on the moon. Professional athletes fight entropy by pushing the human body to its limit on the highest possible stage.
But the fight against entropy isn’t reserved for grandiose accomplishments. It’s a necessary part of our everyday lives.
As I mentioned before, entropy is observable in the breaking down of everything over time. That means:
Entropy degrades your body if you don’t work out.
Entropy ruins marriages and destroys friendships if you don’t cultivate those relationships.
Entropy dulls your mind if you fail to keep it sharp.
Entropy strives to erode your life from a breathtaking adventure to monotonous drudgery.
You fight entropy by rekindling friendships from years past and repairing broken marriages. By pushing your mind and body to their limits through learning foreign languages and getting in the best shape of your life. By connecting with strangers and seeing new parts of the world. By creating something new through art, music, writing, and architecture. By sharing your thoughts with the world.
Entropy thrives on our idleness, but it shirks away from our efforts. Any effort that improves your life in any way is part of that battle against entropy, and these efforts are uncomfortable for a reason. That discomfort, that voice in your head saying, “Why don’t we just do this tomorrow?”
A couple of years ago, I was struggling with all of the existential stuff that we all struggle with as I tried to make sense of the world and my place in it. For the first time ever, I was all too aware of my hourglass ticking away, and it messed me up.
I don’t know if “depressed” is the right word, but I felt something. Lost? Hopeless? Confused? Some combination of those? I’m not sure.
I spent weeks trying to ignore those thoughts, to push them out of my head. But once something shakes you to your core, forever altering how you look at the world, you can’t go back. So one day, I stopped running from this problem and decided to face it head-on.
And that’s when this idea of “fighting entropy” began to form in my head, and that idea has only grown stronger over time. To me, life is nothing if not a struggle with entropy, and this idea is so central to me that for the last 18 months, one reminder has popped up on my phone at 7:00 AM each morning.
This story has affected how I look at, well, everything, from my career, to my relationships with friends and family, to how I spend my free time, to everything in between.
Every protagonist needs a proper antagonist, and in the story of my life, entropy happens to fill that role well.
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