|Build a dam and in a few
centuries its reservoir will be completely full of silt.
Furthermore, that silt will not simply fill the space that was taken by the water when the reservoir first filled. It will back up far upstream, because it must create a slope for the river to flow down. Water flows downhill. No hill; no flow.
The men who built the dam had their reasons for tapping into the flow of water, but Mother Nature has her say about that flow, too. The builders will speak of "energy" when giving their reasons, and they see a picture of the Sun flooding Earth with radiant energy which evaporates water in the oceans, lifts the water vapor to great heights so that it may fall on the mountains and flow from the mountains downhill to the seas. "The Sun is our source of life-giving energy," they will say. "It's there for the tapping."
But Mother Nature sees something a little different. She hangs around for so long, compared with that man who decided to construct the dam, that the man isn't even a minor itch for her to scratch. That water flowing from mountains to seas is a sculptor's carving tool. She is the sculptor, and the silt is the waste product of her sculpting. The man with his dam taps something he only partially understands—and then impetuously reacts in his myopic vision of time and his simplistic notion of what he calls "energy."
It's a shame.
The Sun is not "The Source of our energy." Some wise men of the mid-nineteenth century discovered that fact, taught it to the rest of us, but too few of us understood what we learned. That energy which flows from Sun to Earth to water to clouds to rain to rivers, etc. doesn't stop flowing. It will eventually flow out into the vast cold of outer space. Exactly as much energy flows from Earth to outer space as flows from the Sun to Earth. We don't tap that flow with our dams so we can "use it up." Energy cannot be destroyed—nor can it be created. That was one of the discoveries of the mid-nineteenth century. It is a discovery that remains rarely understood at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Not really understood.
So the dam builder makes statements like,
"I think it's a shame that we haven't developed every single possible kilowatt
from this renewable, non-polluting source of
Waste products are unpleasant, and man prefers to forget about them. Does forget about them. Waste products are a complicating factor adding to man's problems, and man likes to think about only one problem at a time. Perhaps can't handle more than one at a time. And so, only a handful of men have seen the significance of the insight of one mid-twentieth century wise man, Erwin Schrödinger. That "thing" so important to us in food, important to us in fuel for our engines, that thing we call "energy," is the removal of "wastes," and more insightfully, is the removal of what those wise men of the mid-nineteenth century called "entropy."
"What then is that precious something contained in our food which keeps us from death? That is easily answered. Every process, event, happening—call it what you will: in a word, everything that is going on in Nature means an increase in entropy of the part of the world where it is going on. Thus a living organism continually increases its entropy—or as you might say, produces positive entropy—and thus tends to approach the dangerous state of maximum entropy, which is death. It can only keep aloof from it, i.e. alive, by continually drawing from its environment negativeThe source of negative entropy (what we usually call "energy") is not simply the Sun. It's the whole system that starts with the heat from the Sun and ends up with the "waste removal" provided by the cold of outer space. The dam builder's big mistake is seeing too small a piece of the world. It's a mistake that leads virtually everyone in the twentieth century to anthropocentrically see "energy" as like the food we consume.
So today we see Mother Nature continuing her task
as sculptor, as always relying on the inexorable waste removal of the flow
of energy from Sun to Earth to outer space. She remains completely
confident that pozzolan-planting man will be no more than a momentary itch
as he naively blocks that flow to temporarily collect the wastes of her
sculpting in his proud silt baskets.
It's a shame the dam builders did not see Schrödinger's insight.
is the capacity to do work" writes the textbook writer. Then,
a few chapters later, he writes, "Energy can be unavailable
for doing work."
of today’s science is new in the evolutionary progress of mana few centuries
old, at most. Most is simple. But it’s subtle. It requires
ways of looking, ways of thinking, that stretch our thought processes.
It wasn’t obvious in the days of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, and
it’s no more obvious today, even though it has catapulted us into technological
cultures undreamt of by the ancients. Most of today’s science is
simply not what it seems at first glance, and too few people ever take
that necessary second glance.
is almost always oversimplification. It’s infected with “Herpes
simpletonisus,” a whole zoo of “singles” … Single-minded,
single cause and single effect, single purpose, single-person subcultures
(egocentrisms), single-component measure, etc. It’s also often infected
with an unskeptical wish to believe. Science succeeds because it
looks to our world, not only to our wishes, for its information
to act upon.
simple things can have complex causes. “That precious something contained
in our food which keeps us from death” is “energy” to most of us.
Schrödinger recognized that many influences create many possibilities
of what that precious something might actually be. He sorted through
those possibilities and found that energy, as known to science in the 20th
century, isn’t particularly relevant. The key to understanding is
entropy, and the key to Schrödinger's insight is skill at picking out
the relevant from the irrelevant.
Several years ago, one person with unusually clear perception of the simple but subtle concepts of modern science examined all the textbooks submitted to teach the children of California the science they might need in their lives. What he found was a hidden disaster in progress. “Everything was written by someone who didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, …They were teaching something they didn’t understand, and which was in fact useless…”
(Richard Feynman in Surely You’reIn Poisonous Dwellers of the Desert, Natt Dodge tells us that many people believe that the Gila monster has no anus and collects a lifetime of wastes in that huge tail. They are wrong.
Joking, My Feynman, pp 262-276.)
The authors of those textbooks were the teachers of our teachers. That hidden disaster is still progressing.
You can't cheat Mother Nature!