Ever since the world became enchanted by the allure of capitalism, its inhabitants have become increasingly intolerant to idleness. We – the sloths – sink deeper and deeper into the ocean of shame when we read about the diligent, millionaire CEO who wakes up at 4 am and reads his emails, after an hour of yoga, of course. These CEOs — the go-getters — deplore us like the first Homo sapiens deplored the oafish Neanderthals.
However, it is a mistake to deem us sloths unambitious; I find the CEO’s pursuit of hoarding money to be short-sighted and incredibly selfish, while it seems that the indolent see the bigger picture and are, therefore, knowingly or unknowingly, more selfless and prudent. The Universe’s lifespan shortens every time a sloth transforms into a bee and extends when a bee slows down into a sloth; activity pushes the Universe closer to its death and you, if you work hard, are an accomplice! Here’s how lazy people are saving the Universe.
According to the first law of thermodynamics, no machine can perform work with 100% efficiency, which is to say, an engine is incapable of converting the entirety of its fuel’s potential energy into kinetic energy. Why? Because a small portion of that fuel is destined to be absorbed as wasteful, unusable heat energy. This heat raises the temperature of the engine.
It’s not that we are inept at constructing machines; the imperfect conversion is unavoidable because it is a fundamental law of the universe. The machine here doesn’t only refer to an assembly of mechanical gears, but also any structure or system that harnesses and spends energy, such as the sun, plants, animals and us.
Now, according to the second law of thermodynamics, in an isolated or closed system, the unusable heat will only increase. In thermodynamics, an isolated system refers to a confined space that is impervious to any outside forces or energy aids.
This would be exemplified by an engine that cannot be refilled with fuel by any external means; the fuel it must combust is limited. As it combusts the fuel, it generates, as the first law dictates, both kinetic and heat energy. However, the sequestered engine ceases to generate useful kinetic energy or do work after it has combusted every single drop of its fuel. All that it’s left with now is its warmth, the cumulative heat energy, which is unusable.
The engine extracts usable energy from fuel, which is an ordered configuration of molecules (for the simple reason that it takes energy to order things), whereas the heat produced is a clutter of disordered molecules. It is this lack of order that makes it unusable. This heat disturbs the order in the system and creates disorder within it. We measure this disorder in terms of the system’s entropy.
The engine ceases to do work because it has exhausted its ordered energy, so all that it’s left with is disordered energy. To generate more usable energy, we must restore order in the engine, or simply, pump more fuel into it.
To produce this fuel, however, we must burn fossils. The order – or energy – is then extracted from a source that lies outside, in the system’s surrounding. Therefore, entropy in an isolated system will continue to increase unless we seek help from outside: extracting order from its surroundings decreases its entropy, but then, by definition, the system ceases to be isolated. Remember that extracting order requires the machine to do work, which dissipates heat in its surroundings. Essentially, a machine produces order at the cost of dispensing disorder into its surroundings.
However, sources of energy in the universe are finite. Soon, there will exist no more fossils to burn. Soon, the sun will run out of fuel, and all the hydrogen in its core will fuse to form heavier elements, which will refuse to fuse further and produce infernal heat and light. Similarly, every star in the universe, its foremost sources of energy, will suffer the same fate and become cold and lifeless. The universe will then be rife with the radiation that is inevitably produced and absorbed in the process of producing and consuming energy. Disorder will reign.
Like the engine, the universe can then produce usable energy by extracting order from its surroundings. However, ultimately, the universe is a closed system, it cannot extract order from its surroundings because, well, it is the ultimate surrounding; there exists nothing outside it. With all its sources of energy exhausted, the universe will become a cold, barren place; it will suffer a heat death. This is one of the ways the cosmos is predicted to reach the end of its illustrious journey.
How Hard Work Accelerates This Process
Every organism on earth is an organic machine. Food, be it herbivores for carnivores, plants for the herbivores, or sunlight for the plants, is also an exquisitely ordered configuration of molecules. The machines generate the energy to do work by extracting this order or, as textbooks have perennially described it, “by breaking down the food”. When the sun’s core fizzles, all the plants will starve to death, as will all the animals, including humans, as our sources of energy will have no order to offer.
Now, every little twist and turn, every ounce of energy consumed and spent, as we have learned, dissipates heat into the machine’s surrounding. We are, even at this very moment, by merely breathing, contributing disorder and therefore pushing the universe closer to its death.
However, while the sloths of the world are merely nudging it, the go-getters are shoving it forward. They are consuming and spending energy and therefore producing heat and disorder at a much higher rate than sloths do. Of course, heat death is at least billions and billions and billions of years away, and the contribution of an average-sized planet on the fringes of one of the universe’s billions of galaxies is effectively negligible, but when it comes to the annihilation of life, not only on Earth, but on other as yet undiscovered, habitable planets, even insubstantial contributions become profoundly substantial. Waking up at 4 am and doing yoga then is undoubtedly unethical, and no galactic species will condone it.
The indolent are therefore unjustly criticized; they deserve, for their noble deeds, more respect and admiration. However, you can continue to vilify us, because we can take it… probably because we’re too lazy to justify ourselves. We don’t demand our share of veneration. We are, as Detective Gordon described Batman, the silent, unsung guardians, heroes that the Universe deserves, but not the ones it needs right now. So, just let us sleep in peace.