Entropy is a concealed force we struggle to understand.
In the strict sense of the word, the definition—with its scientific meaning is often beyond most of us. But that doesn't let you off the hook.
The Wikipedia entry makes my point:
- Entropy is a scientific concept
- It's a measurable physical property
- It quantifies the disorder, randomness, or uncertainty of a system
This isn't an article where I expand on the scientific meaning of entropy.
No, I want to highlight to you the life-changing impact of entropy. I want you to understand how disorder, randomness & uncertainty will affect your decision-making.
In this article, I explain how entropy entered my parent's lives and ruined them. I’ll give an example of what you should do to limit the impact of entropy in your life.
How Entropy Took Over My Parents’ Lives
What unfolds in the true stroy below, is summarised as follows:
- My stepdad suffered a stroke
- His cognitive abilities began to reduce
- His—and my mum's desire to do things began to diminish
- Their quality of decision-making declined with a loss of objectivity
- Covid and the lockdown only reinforced their bad ways of living
- My Stepdad suffered further mental deterioration ending in an unsurprising diagnosis
- A kitchen fire started by my stepdad trying to make toast caused chaos
- After the fire came my stepdad's death from Covid caught in a hospital
Here are the tragic events which explain how entropy took over my parents lives...
The Descent to Chaos
In 2017, my stepdad suffered a small stroke.
He seemed to recover well, returning to his love of driving after a mandatory break.
But he began to change.
Subtle in the beginning, but over time they grew to be noticeable to those standing afar.
Retirement initially suited my mum and stepdad. But, as they both grew older, so they changed.
The sense of purpose they needed to go to bed at a sensible time or to get up disappeared. The sofa became the bed, as their lives drifted into disorder.
Their phones became their homes.
Living on a diet of endless scrolling on their phone or playing solitaire, their lives evolved into one without purpose.
My stepdad became forgetful.
His driving—his one love—scared most passengers. My father-in-law once declared that he would never get in the car with him driving again.
I talked to Mum about our concerns, but she couldn’t convince her husband to see the doctor.
Meanwhile, a new idea arose.
They decided to move home. Not to somewhere local, but one that would mean moving over three hundred miles.
This idea seemed to come from a desire to step back to happier times. There was no consideration from them of what might be happening to my stepdad.
Hindsight Reveals Some Shocking Truths about My Stepdad's Mental Health
The day before they were due to move, I travelled down to help them.
Due to COVID, and that I lived some distance away I hadn’t seen either of my parents for six months. What I walked into was horrifying.
As the second law of thermodynamics says, the entropy of a closed system will only increase when left unchecked.
- Half-packed boxes everywhere
- A kitchen (not packed) and full of out-of-date food
- No plan on how they would be ready to leave the following morning
My stepdad couldn’t do anything. He just followed me around like a lost sheep, unsure of what to do. It was clear his stroke had led to something more sinister.
When visiting, some friends told us about the boxes on the floor. The four sides of each one were taped together in a vertical position, meaning they couldn’t be sealed. Now, with less than 16 hours until the removal company were due to arrive, I had to repack every box.
As I discussed the situation with Mum, so more stories surfaced.
Before COVID, they had visited homes that were for sale.
It transpired that they never visited a single home because they couldn’t follow the directions the satnav was giving them.
With my stepdad driving, they had a terrifying drive home with cars hooting at them. The reason; was the slow speed they were travelling.
They were on a motorway doing a speed of thirty to forty when everyone was doing seventy.
The Horrifying Ending No One Expected
The move brought more chaos.
The promise of a new dawn was a darkness that never brightened.
The sofa became their bed, with the bedroom a dumping ground.
In the kitchen, dirty plates arose like skyscrapers in Shanghai. Food grew rapidly beyond its sell-by date, as the takeaways supplemented their hunger.
My stepdad couldn’t dress, putting t-shirts on back to front, or two socks on one foot – leaving the other bare. A call to the doctor gave us the hope of a mental health assessment. The appointment wasn't due for six months.
Covid created a delay he didn’t need.
He would never make that appointment.
Then, silly falls began to happen. Sliding off the sofa, he couldn't get back up. Four times this happened, with the final fall ending in a trip to the local accident and emergency hospital. The only crumb of comfort was an urgent referral to a consultant.
It could have been Parkinson’s, but it wasn’t. The consultant confirmed our worst fears—suspected vascular dementia.
As we pondered the news, entropy was about to show its hand in devastating style.
For reasons of a lack of space, the toaster lived on top of the hob.
My stepdad, alone in the kitchen, turned the hob on with the toaster still on it. It didn’t take long for the toaster to melt and catch fire.
The flames spread to the kitchen cupboards above the stove, and across to the microwave.
The fire spread quickly, and with the help of the neighbours, both my mum and stepdad escaped unharmed.
They were so lucky.
With the kitchen gutted, and the electrics damaged the house was clearly unsafe.
Amid another stay-at-home lockdown, we struggled to find a hotel for my parents to stay in. A friendly call from a neighbour helped us find them a place to stay.
For my stepdad, the unfamiliar environment was terrifying.
His dementia required the comfort of surroundings he knew, but they were gone.
For five days, we battled to keep him safe before a suitable care home became available.
The move to the care home only brought more disorder for stepdad.
Made even worse by the COVID restrictions. For ten days, he had to isolate himself in his room, without visitors.
This was the cruellest stroke entropy could play.
Three days he lasted at the home. A fall left him with a bruise on his head and a broken collarbone.
And so, the hospital took him, treating him for his injuries.
And then, if it couldn’t get worse, it did. COVID got him.
My stepdad caught it a week after his admission, from a mass outbreak on one of the wards.
His dementia had one play left; stopping him from accepting the ventilation he so desperately needed.
Sadly—and shockingly, he passed away a week later.
Why Entropy Should Scare You
It’s a horrible story, but a true one.
The disorder, the random events and the uncertainty are all there.
- Moving Home
- Loss of Purpose
Think about it; all are signs of entropy in action. They represent the chaos which follows disorder, randomness and uncertainty.
My stepdad couldn’t defend himself.
This is the thing about entropy, you can’t see it coming. It is there, poised, ready to bring chaos to your life—if you let it.
In my stepdad’s case, he couldn’t defeat it.
First, the stroke, then the creep of vascular dementia followed. Stealthy it picked away at his brain, taking a piece at a time. It went unnoticed for years until it had compounded to such an extent you couldn’t miss it.
Then, when a diagnosis was urgently needed, COVID struck.
You might consider the randomness of the kitchen fire to be an outlier. But in the context of how entropy increases, I don't think it is.
What followed; Well, you could call it bad luck, but for me, it was the perfect manifestation of entropy.
My wife and I tried to fight it, but we never got the chance to tackle the root causes. If you'll pardon the pun, we were putting out fires rather than removing the fuel which was increasing.
James Clear shares a story of how entropy affects a garden with a summer house. He describes what happens if we just leave the garden alone. How the grass grows, the weeds spread, and the paint on the summer house peels.
The longer you leave them, the more overgrown the garden will become.
Left for years, the summer house will begin to fall apart. The rain will weaken the wooden beams no longer protected from the paint.
The garden was my stepdad’s last four years of life.
Action is the Only Way to Live with Entropy
My stepdad's passing was a shocking event.
And although I would like you to remember what happened to him so it will serve as a warning, we must zoom out.
Randomness means you’re unlikely to hear another story like this. Although I’m sure there will be others who suffered similar situations through the pandemic.
By zooming out, we can draw the following conclusions:
- Entropy is the scientific term that quantifies disorder, randomness, and uncertainty.
- Left unchecked, it only increases with time.
- The impact on human life cannot be foreseen.
What is clear is this; if you do nothing you lose any form of control you could have. The only way to reduce the impact of entropy is to take action and create stability.
Standing still doesn’t work.
Waiting for luck to roll in your favour won’t stop the oncoming tide of entropy.
To push back against the growing instability entropy will bring into your life, you have to keep creating stability.
I say keep creating because the moment you pause entropy won’t. That is how the second law of thermodynamics works.
So the answer is action.
The more you keep doing, the more you get to push back against this force. Of course, you won’t completely stop the disorder, randomness, and uncertainty in your life.
But, you reduce its impact by taking action.
I can’t think of a greater reason to not let indecision rest.