The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
In science, the rules of entropy all boil down to a single fact: there are many ways to be chaotic, but only one form of order. In life this translates to the reality that no matter how many times change occurs, it is still a form of chaos and in this perspective, nothing really changes at all. This can be seen in many areas of life and in the course of a lifespan as well.
We are born helpless, completely dependent on others to eat, get around, be protected. And although life changes us constantly and we are put through trials and obstacles, changing us physically and emotionally, eventually we end up in old age, again helpless and dependent. An entire lifetime of change only to be back in the same situation as when we started life. Many of us won’t live long enough to come full circle back to an infantile helplessness, but the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same can be seen in the little aspects of life as well.
I have been traveling for over a year and in this time have been to most countries in Europe, many cities in the United States, and just as many countries in South East Asia as well. This isn’t strange in itself but what might set this journey apart is that I actually have no home. I’m not traveling because I want to see the world or experience different cultures, but because I have no where to fly home to. I have stayed in so many hotels they no longer stand out and my passport is full of stamps even though it won’t expire for another six years. My wallet carries at least five different currencies and I’ve become somewhat of a pro at reading public transportation time tables. I have enough frequent flyer miles to fly for another year and not pay for another ticket.
In every country I visit, everything around me changes. People speak another language, have a different culture and background. Every new city I visit means finding new foods to eat, experiences different social expectations and seeing ways of life in stark contrast to the previous city I might have just visited. Between Frankfurt and Hong Kong, very little similarity exists. Even the very rudimentary basics of life–water, air, and food–are completely different. In Frankfurt the water is drinkable and it tastes great. When you walk outside you can see the sky and the air is crisp. In Hong Kong the water is clean but tastes horrid and the air is heavy and so polluted, you can’t see the blue in the sky. And this is only the basics. When you add culture and history, the discrepancy is metaphorically and literally, on the other side of the world.
But having traveled so much, for me all cities are beginning to feel the same. Everywhere I go I am noticing that really nothing changes. People eat, drink, talk to one another just the same. People take public transportation and people drive cars, they meet friends for dinner and hold hands with those they love. Children go to school with their friends, parents go to work wearing suits and grandparents are seen holding small toddlers while they do morning grocery shopping. In every city I have been to the grocery store will have apples. Each country I visit people communicate with one another–they laugh and they shop, some of them cry and beg on the street. But neither laughing or begging is isolated to one city. Every metropolis is a home to millions of people. All the images associated with home–love, comfort, security, pride–is in every country I have visited.
After traveling for so long without a home I have realized that I would be willing to settle down in just about any city in the world. Each one can offer me a home as well as another and I k now I will be able to find the basics of life in every one whether it be water, air, apples or friends to have coffee with. This isn’t to say that cities aren’t different and surely they do have vast differences but so much changes within each and every country that it all boils down to the fact that nothing has changed at all.
I think back on the great cities of history–Rome, Cairo, Greece–and I feel this feeling might apply as well. Certainly they were different in their own rights and in comparison with the modern skyscraping metropolises of today are starkly unique. But I feel that they just might have been very similar as well. They would have had children who attended school and parents who needed to go to work. Friends would have met to have lunch together and people would have had wedding celebrations to plan and attend. There would be grocery shopping and cooking, hospitals and markets. And the basics would have remained as well–these cities would have had laughter and pain, heartache and falling in love, places of security, comfort and learning. Throughout the centuries the change has been so vast that so much has remained the same.
This is how the law of entropy is: there are so many ways to be chaotic and only one order but regardless of the chaos, the elements remain constant. Like a messy bedroom with the sheets undone, clothes on the floor and books piled on the desk, it doesn’t matter if the room is clean, if the clothes are in one pile or strewn all over. What remains the same is the fact that there are clothes in the room, there is a bed with sheets, there is a desk and books. No matter the order and the placement, the items remain the same and this is likewise how so much of life is. When you see that everything keeps changing, you begin to only remember what stays the same.
Arnheim, R. (1974). Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Jones, R. (2004). History Repeats Itself. New York: BookSurge Publishing.
Rifkin, J. (1984). Entropy: A New World View. New York: Bantam Books.