Resilience Within Collage - Dr. J. Cory Demko
William Hooke1 said it best, “Earth does its business through extremes.” If given the opportunity to add just a single itty-bitty addition to that statement, William might say “the atmosphere also does its business through waves.”
I attended my daughters’ 5th grade field day at a local park (relatively recent on 28-May-2021 she is now a 7th grader). We all stepped off the bus (well most of the 5th graders ran) and enjoyed the morning with some well-mannered frivolity2. A group of kids, including my daughter, wanted to start the morning playing some volleyball. We started out playing simply 3 vs. 3 (2 of the participants were adults) with a large, non-volleyball (ball equivalent in size of a large beach ball that had some nice bounce when it hit the sandy surface). Given that it was an odd sized ball we had to come up with an unorthodox play style as the kids simply were trying to play within the confines of traditional volleyball rules (i.e., we had to adapt our traditional volleyball rules to have some well-mannered frivolity).
As said earlier, the Earth and atmosphere does its business through extremes and these extremes are manifestations of waves. Everything, and I mean everything, can be broken down, or decomposed and approximated into a series of waves (sine and cosine waves). Some of these waves are indeed visible to the naked eye as illustrated by some stable waves seen that day (Figure 1). Most, if not all atmospheric variables we observe and measure according to the arrow of time (i.e., time space). But what patterns are hidden when we transform atmospheric variables, we observe in frequency space? These transforms require mathematical techniques known as Fourier3 analysis or Eigenvalue decomposition, transposing the arrow of time into frequency space. Time and frequency space just doesn’t stop at regular observed variables such as temperature, moisture, vorticity or even Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), regular events such as an impromptu volleyball game with an unorthodox ball falls into that same category (well that is everything that does not travel at the speed of light).
As with atmospheric waves, variables, dynamics, and thermodynamics, human behavior or simply predictability may also be decomposed into waves, some canceling (in this instance boisterous persons forcing strict game rules) and some amplifying (with an adult saying, “Hey, why don’t we hit the ball off the bounce, that way we can keep the ball going!”). After this catalyst, or simply, interacting with another wave, this game transformed from never volleying the ball over the net more than once to the kids all laughing with delight as we were now able to keep the ball going over the volleyball net. This act, or wave, was simply a thought of trying something different with observations and experiences over time. This act sparked a positive feedback mechanism increasing local entropy (i.e., other children noticed what we were doing, curious, interested, and came over to join the game).
Wait…I just introduced entropy, a measurement of chaos or disorder in systems, viewed today as the grand 2nd Law of Thermodynamics attributed to the fervent passion of Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann4 whom upon his tombstone etched his entropy formula, S=k?log?(W). The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that disorder, or entropy, always increases within the universe, a closed system. This, by far, is the most unforgiving, harsh reality facing humanity. We all experience the occasional entropy bout. Have you ever tried unscrambling an egg, taking ashes and reassembling the burned logs, or how about putting ointments back into its tube after you squeezed it out? Painful as it is to even write and say but killing or dying is much easier than bringing something back to life. Just ask anyone who has tried gardening, planting flowers, or even had indoor house plants.
Notice earlier I stated that a positive feedback mechanism was introduced when we started playing the ball off the bounce increased local entropy, increased disorder in the system. Yes, I know it is counterintuitive because this allowed for such a positive experience from a game, child, and even adult standpoint. The universe dictates this unforgiving reality, this harsh law allowing humanity the only option, buying time. Barely two millennia ago, the world’s population was just under 200 million human inhabitants. In just approximately 2000 trips around our local star, the world's population has increased an order of magnitude, now at approximately 8,000,000,0005 (approximately 40x as much). Humanity has never seen this population growth, ever. Just 200 years ago, the world eclipsed 1,000,000,000 and it is estimated the world will exceed 10,000,000,000 before the end of this century.
Children exhibit qualities that most adults do not or more appropriately have since forgotten due to what my soon to be 16-year-old son would say, “Ugh why do we have to take care of responsibilities, Dad!” That simply is innocence, and it is amongst the greatest inhibitors in allowing humanity to simply buy time for future generations. Innocence, manifested within frequency space, may allow humanity to conquer the greatest threat to our existence, adapting, developing, and mitigating sustainable development policies as our ever-increasing global population decreases the Earth’s ability to rid itself of excess heat (i.e., global warming).
Innocence, in the form of curiosity, questioning ability, understanding nature, adapting, trying something new, and most of all, persistence6 traveling in waves, some canceling, some amplifying outcomes moving forward in time combining with the increasing disorder may allow humanity a brief glimpse, buying time. Science’s alter ego, curiosity, manifests itself with wanting, needing, persisting at unraveling the unknown based upon the known questions asked today. Perhaps these waves in frequency space will interact and amplify moving forward in time transcending humanity into a planetary civilization. Positive feedback loops interacting and dampening by negative feedback mechanisms all being transported through the arrow of time by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This is no different than how the atmosphere conducts its business as energy waves ripple through, some amplifying, some dampening, producing atmospheric phenomena we all experience as weather.
The key may lie within the cavernous, spacious spatial and temporal inner workings of Ludwig Boltzmann’s atom, the subatomic world. What if one could slow down the arrow of time (without increasing velocity) while reducing the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics’ effects, or perhaps even reverse the dance towards chaos? For close to a century, physicists all over the world have been trying to unify the theory of the large (Gravity) with the theory of the small (Quantum) into a singular equation from which all known fundamental forces may be derived. Remember, I stated that Entropy always increases within a closed system. The key word here is the word closed. In open systems, entropy may decrease through energy transfer from outside the system (think refrigerator). Within that open system, energy transfer allows either steady state or decreasing entropy, however, that transfer yields a steep cost to the other “open” systems outside the one in question or eventually to the closed system (universe). Anyone who works around steam engines knows why. The “waste” heat generated and, therefore, increasing entropy outside the system in question greatly outweighs the slight decrease in entropy in that open system. Essentially increasing tomorrow's entropy for today’s steady-state or entropy decrease.
I know what you are thinking, and I grasp with these concepts all the time that no matter what we do, we cannot reverse the arrow of time through the decrease of entropy on the Earth-Atmosphere system. All we can do as William Hooke says, “buy time” or in other words what we are really looking for is “buy entropy.” Perhaps some positive feedback mechanisms transposed into frequency space will allow some innovative scientific and technological advancements combating anthropogenic climate change and its effects, buying humanity time. Innocence, creativity, thought experiments collectively through frequency space allows humanity solution development buying time and perhaps some entropy along the way.
So, remember, unorthodox thought processing inevitably increases entropy of a system but perhaps in doing so, allows a “newer” structured order (albeit more disordered than previously ordered system). These interacting thought processes may act as a catalyst restructuring a system into a more disordered state and as simple as it may be, perhaps buying time (or even entropy).
Figure 1: Various stable waves made visible by different cloud types. The random picture of the word “waves” came from my Synoptic Meteorology undergraduate notebook further illustrating atmospheric business via waves.