Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pay It Forward

Ok - I wanted to get this "essay" done and out there. So, if it doesn't make much sense I apologize and plead my lack of time for editing.

Anyways, I watched Pay It Forward this weekend. From what people told me, I knew it was a movie I would enjoy. And the "surprise ending" had already been spoiled for me as well. But I still really enjoyed the movie, and it really got me thinking about some things.

First, it confirmed my belief that we have this illusion of control. Mankind seems to be in love with the idea that it can control everything and anything, when in fact we have very little control at all. What we do have is an amazing impact on the world immediately around us.

In the movie, Trevor mistakes his lack of control for a lack of impact. Towards the end of the movie he is very disappointed that the outcomes he was striving for did not come about. But what he didn't realize is that he had had a profound impact. He had really touched the lives of those around him. And while he did not get the exact result he was reaching for, those people went out into the world better for it - and touched the lives of other people in a positive way. A chain-reaction of goodwill that ended up crossing state lines.

This theme of the movie oddly made me think of a completelt unrelated book I'm reading right now, Borrowed Tides. While the book itself is not very good, it does present one idea that intrigues me. At one point in the book, the characters get caught in a "time roll-back" in which time is actually running backwards for all of the inanimate objects around them. However, time for them continues to press forward. The author's (kind of lame) explanation for this is what really caught my attention.

If you've ever studied Physics, you've probably heard the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the entropy of a closed system (the universe) always increases. The author (Paul Levinson) points out that Life bucs this trend. Life is always working to increase order - always fighting against the increasing disorder around it. (And boy does that feel true!!)

So, the natural order of the world is to get stinkier. But what really makes you feel alive is to work against that - to Pay It Forward.

In the end, it reminds me of what you try to do as a parent. You try to pump as much good into a person as possible. But at some point, you have to send him or her into the world. And they will disappoint you at times, but you can only hope they will use the good you've given them - possibly in ways you never thought of.


At July 27, 2006 10:59 AM, Blogger Mike Knapp said...

What follows is an IM Session in which Matt and I debated the idea I presented from Borrowed Tides:

(10:21:41) Mbardeen1: And I think Paul Levinson's wrong.
(10:21:43) MikeDotNap: :-D
(10:22:27) Mbardeen1: Life is just a much more efficient way of increasing the disorder in a closed system.
(10:23:43) MikeDotNap: Well, I always find these order/disorder things interesting. When the say that, they mean things like having a gas evenly fill a container is more "disordered".
(10:23:47) Mbardeen1: (heh. got you thinking about that one)
(10:24:55) MikeDotNap: Or for a better example, two gases to evenly mix in a container. Where the more "ordered" state would be for all of one gas to stay on one side, and the other gas to stay on it's side of the line.
(10:25:16) Mbardeen1: Yes. At the moment, energy is distributed into clumps. Life tends to break down these clumps and distribute them more evenly than they were already.
(10:25:59) MikeDotNap: Depends on what you mean. Life tends tends to go out and gather and concentrate energy into itself.
(10:27:56) MikeDotNap: But in general Paul Levinson's ideas a pretty - wrong. :-) If you read the linked review you'll get an idea of how bad the book is. Hey, I took a $1 chance at a clearance sale. :-)
(10:29:00) Mbardeen1: Life itself is more ordered, but in the process of keeping itself ordered, it makes its surrounds more unordered.
(10:29:40) Mbardeen1: It generally "processes" energy into more usable forms.
(10:30:06) Mbardeen1: i.e. Think of the difference between rocks and soil.
(10:30:25) Mbardeen1: Soil is at much lower energy state that rocks are.
(10:30:59) Mbardeen1: The weathering of rocks happens through water, but it is also helped by lichen, moss, etc.
(10:31:46) MikeDotNap: But then a mole comes along and takes that nice evenly distributed soil and fills it full of holes.
(10:31:46) Mbardeen1: (tho.. this is all just my "feeling" with little actual research behind it)
(10:32:27) MikeDotNap: Or the bees that gather pollen from hundres of square miles and converts into into honey inside their little hive.
(10:32:31) Mbardeen1: But in the process, the mole uses some of the resources above the soil (grass) and distributes them underground ;)
(10:33:07) Mbardeen1: Increases order for life. But decreases (in general) the complexity of the material.
(10:33:13) MikeDotNap: I guess my point is that in the end the Second Law must win - but Life is the only force that attempts to disrupt the flow.
(10:33:29) MikeDotNap: Actively works against it.
(10:33:58) MikeDotNap: Seeks to apply order.
(10:33:58) Mbardeen1: Yes, I agree with that. But in total it doesn't actually increase order.
(10:34:12) MikeDotNap: Well, it can't, according the the second law.
(10:34:52) Mbardeen1: Exactly. So every bit of "order" it puts into itself must be met with the same amount of "disorder" outside itself
(10:35:04) MikeDotNap: But we sure would be surprised if all the pebbles on the beach piled themselves in one place. Only life can do that.
(10:35:49) MikeDotNap: I don't think you see what I'm saying. I'm saying that life loses, but it fights back.
(10:36:25) MikeDotNap: It is actively seeking to apply order (even if it is doomed to fail) <g>
(10:37:01) Mbardeen1: No, I understand that! But life exists because it's a more efficient (quicker?) form of energy redistribution than alternatives.
(10:37:13) MikeDotNap: And I was trying to point out that we as humans feel the best - the most alive - when we are doing just that - trying to make things just a little better.
(10:37:32) Mbardeen1: I don't disagree with that point ;)
(10:37:54) MikeDotNap: Or at least what we perceive as better. <g>
(10:38:03) Mbardeen1: bingo!
(10:38:21) Mbardeen1: the inexorably draw of the second law is still there.
(10:38:50) Mbardeen1: (i.e. we perceive it as better, but it's really not ;))
(10:39:50) Mbardeen1: the energy we expend (disorder we create) piling the pebbles in one place on the beach is more than order we create.
(10:40:05) MikeDotNap: Depends on your point of view. If you follow the second law to conclusion - life eventually cannot exist. Definitely not better if you value the sanctity of life.
(10:40:46) Mbardeen1: Who's to say the universe values the sancity of life?
(10:40:53) Mbardeen1: er sanctity of life.
(10:41:01) MikeDotNap: I think we may be arguing different things here without really disagreeing. You're concentrating on the macroscopic - me on the micro.
(10:41:26) Mbardeen1: Yeah, micro life is an increase in order.
(10:41:29) MikeDotNap: The universe doesn't. Life itself may.
(10:41:54) Mbardeen1: Macro life is a decrease in order ;)
(10:42:23) MikeDotNap: You keep trying to hammer home the net effect (which I don't disagree with) and I keep trying to point out the ummm. "temporal" effect (which you don't disagree with)
(10:43:02) MikeDotNap: because quite honestly in planning out my life, I really don't care what happens 1,000 years from now. ;-)
(10:44:11) Mbardeen1: heh. typical short term view of humans ;)
(10:46:09) Mbardeen1: Personally, I think it would be cool if life does exist as a more efficient way of energy distribution.
(10:46:18) Mbardeen1: makes the whole evolution thing make sense
(10:46:42) MikeDotNap: Universal agents of energy distribution.
(10:47:12) Mbardeen1: exactly.
(10:47:22) MikeDotNap: If it's true, that would mean that life should exist abundtly throughout the unvierse. Hmmm - just got interesting. ;-)
(10:47:59) Mbardeen1: Exactly. It's probably not a one time only event.
(10:49:11) Mbardeen1: I'm sure this point has been argued before, but I'm not sure by who and where.


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