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No. 117: May-June 1998

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More Disorder Here Produces Order There

Physicists use the word "entropy" to describe the well-observed tendency of the universe to run down; that is, become more disorderly. In some situations, though, the increase in disorder (entropy) in one part of the universe can create order elsewhere. For example, if you add tiny plastic spheres of two sizes to salty water, you will not get a uniform mixture. Instead the larger spheres will pack together into tightly ordered crystaline shapes (representing more order) while the smaller spheres become more disordered. It is like watching cream unstir itself from coffee. It smacks of magic, but it is all within the laws of thermodynamics.

This strange "force" exerted by entropy may explain some puzzling biological phenomena, such as the expulsion of nuclei from mammalian red blood cells before they enter the bloodstream as sacks of hemoglobin. The idea being that the increasing entropy of the proliferating hemoglobin molecules (analogous to the smaller spheres) is maximized when the nuclei (large spheres) are squeezed out of the cells altogether.

(Kestenbaum, David; "Gentle Force of Entropy Bridges Disciplines," Science, 279:1849, 1998.)

Comments. The red-blood-cell example presented in the article is on shaky ground, because while mammalian red blood cells do lack nuclei those of birds and reptiles retain theirs. (See BMC6 in Mammals II.)

In the above context, the origin of life (more order) anywhere in the universe can be thought to be due to the "gentle force" of entropy; that is, the result of increasing disorder elsewhere. See? It's all very simple!!

Smaller spheres added to a sytem of larger spheres increases order When many smaller spheres are added to a sytem of larger spheres, the "gentle force" of entropy "pushes" the latter into a corner and a state of higher order

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987