Am I the only person…

Pic of coffee with a creamer nebula.

Coffee and Cream Nebula by Flick'r user kchbrown.

… who often finds beauty in entropy? There’s a small bit of entropy that occurs for me every morning when I get my first cup of coffee. I’m one of those wussies who can’t drink it black so I keep a supply of flavored creamer handy in the fridge here at work. When I grab a mug full of java I head over to the fridge and put the cup down on a shelf inside to make sure it’s steady when I pour the creamer in.

The combination of a hot fluid in a cold environment and the addition of chilled cream results in some amazing patterns of light and dark in the coffee. Sometimes it’s full of swirls and eddies that look like a storm front or approaching hurricane. Other times it looks like explosions or smoke or even celestial bodies. It’s different every time and it’s always interesting to witness.

The chaos only lasts a short while and is easily erased when I stir up the coffee, but seeing those random patterns first thing in the morning always makes me pause to reflect at the incredible amount of action that takes place in a simple coffee cup.  There are whole books full of mathematical models that describe the processes that are playing out in front of me. Math that I’d never in a hundred years be able to wrap my head around, and yet the universe carries it out without hesitation hundreds of billions of times everywhere that hot and cold liquids interact. It’s like a small cosmic ballet that if you blink or aren’t paying attention can be easily missed.

On those days when I stop to watch the drama unfolding in the swirls and cascades I can’t help but smile. There’s something reassuring about the idea that the universe keeps on doing what it does regardless of whatever else is going on within it.

11 thoughts on “Am I the only person…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Am I the only person… « Stupid Evil Bastard -- Topsy.com

  2. I was actually talking to someone about this today! I’ve studied it here and there while working towards my Bio Engineering undergrad. One thing I’ve seen that’s also amazing is in the cells; the body will set up concentration gradients so that ions/nutrients will flow because the higher concentration will naturally want to go where there is a lower concentration.

  3. Keep a watchful eye for Jesus in eddies. If he appears in toast, wood grain and cheetos, surely he can visit you in your coffee. ;-)

  4. Hi, Les. You may (or may not) remember me as Bodi from some years back. Had an interesting conversation or two with Zilch on spirituality. I’ve been haunting your site again for a while, thought I would jump back in.

    This is a very interesting post to me. I think it even illustrates some points I was trying to make those years ago. I hope you don’t take the points I raise as nitpicking over semantics.

    There is a point about the underlying fundamental order of the universe lurking here in the subject. My disagreement, as before, is that the universe is not simply random, or chaotic.

    The universe, being alive, has purpose, even if its unconscious purpose. The universe is purposeful, the way a seed is purposeful, without ‘mind’ so to speak.

    This is the difference between my viewpoint and the view of the hardcore atheistic/skeptical view. Of course I recognize the BS woo inherent in religion, but I am not speaking of religion. I am speaking of a deeper sort of recognition of the unity of reality that to me is spiritual, without being religious. Carl Sagan would understand, I think.

    The universe isn’t just a random accident. What does that mean? I don’t know. But I’m still sure its so…

    … who often finds beauty in entropy?

    I think the whole big general sort of mish mash is beautiful. I’m not sure how the phenomenon you describe here is an example of entropy, although entropy is certainly directly related to energy flow. My understanding of entropy is that it is the measure of useable energy in a system.

    Certainly as the coffee/creamer system creates these awesome patterns there is an increase in entropy, as the available useable energy is dissipated. However, the dissipation causes the patterns, and the entropy is a byproduct, yes?

    The chaos only lasts a short while

    Aren’t patterns the very opposite of chaos? Organization of certain materials, under certain conditions, which follow the forces of what we call ‘natural laws’ create patterns which is order not chaos.

    and is easily erased when I stir up the coffee, but seeing those random patterns

    Same point. Random and pattern are mutual exclusive terms.

    There’s something reassuring about the idea that the universe keeps on doing what it does regardless of whatever else is going on within it.

    This is the statement that most prompted my reply.

    Les. Seriously. The universe is the sum total of everything going on within it. It keeps doing what its doing not regardless of, but rather because of everything going on within it.

    As above, so below.

    It all connected. Its all alive.

    I highly recommend the Nobel prize winning work of Ilya Prigogine regarding dissipative structures, thermodynamics, and life.

  5. As a note…i misspoke. Actually i meant to convey entropy as being the measure of nonusable energy in a system.

  6. What the devil is this creamer of which you speak? A relative married an American and moved over there some years ago and he’s always updating his Facebook status about coffee and creamer like it’s crack bleeding cocaine or something. I live in the developing nation of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire and when I put semi-skimmed milk in my coffee of a morning it does not deliver a Mandelbrot set. Is it made of Ergot Alkaloids or summat?

  7. Dang, now I want to start using creamer in my coffee. Or milk. Or whatever. :grin:

  8. great post, and that sounds awesome, never actually thought about paying attention to the design play of hot and cold things mixing together. i’ll have to check that out next time i do that.

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