Reflections on the Motive Power of Life

In 1824, Sadi Carnot published a paper, titled Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, which is considered the seminal work on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If the First Law spoke of Work, Energy and their transformation, the Second Law spoke of the constraints to that transformation.

There are several statements for the second law, which can all be summarized simply as the impossibility to create an engine that works with 100% efficiency. No matter how perfect the design and material are, only some amount of energy received as input will be converted into work, the rest gets wasted in the process; discarded to a heat sink. Thus, in real world the resulting action will always be lesser than the energy supplied for it, irrespective of the process. And, I want to discuss how universal this law is, but first let’s take a detour.

Successful individuals have always been the subject of keen scrutiny and research. Mankind has invested a lot of effort and resources to understand its greatest achievers and categorize their attributes. The curiosity is the facade to a widespread desire of formulating genius and mastery. A hope that exists despite the collective and historically proven lesson that rules may never fail but they have to be broken for reaching greatness.

There’s one aspect to greatness that stands out, primarily because it is almost always perceived as a fault by us lesser mortals. In an act of self-righteousness we blame the super achievers for a severe lack of balance, questioning their sanity, butting it (with a heart full of self-defeating malice) against our own ability to handle every aspect of our lives with equal attention and poise. But, is this balance responsible for our mediocre life? Let’s see.

The lack of balance in successful people is the direct result of an ability to focus on the task at hand to an extent that everything else drowns out, becomes indistinct chatter. This ability, in turn, comes from the complete disregard for the result. Let me explain. When we set out to do something, we meet failure more often. Success always seems like an elusive dream, within sight but never reachable. Being hard-wired to seek immediate results, every such disappointment comes with a strong urge to give up and follow the beaten path, embrace the mediocracy. Obviously, it is difficult to pursue your dreams with a mind busy seeking social approval and progress. This tendency to fixate on the result, never lets us obsess about our work, giving us a balanced perspective, but a common life. But then, how do the Greats resist the urge to seek gains? Are we the ones prioritizing it incorrectly? And here comes the Second Law to the rescue.

In life, just like in any other thermodynamic system, input exceeds the resulting output. You cannot expect all your effort to turn into fruitful gains, because a large chunk of it, inevitably, gets wasted. Since every action results in a definite loss of your faculty and resources, what you achieve in life is always less than what you invest to get it. So, if the sole motive behind your endeavour is success, or tangible gains, you might as well not take any action at all. Sitting and metabolizing should be your best bet, the path of least dissipation. Unless you discover a non-tangible gain which balances your loss. Unless you realize the joy of doing, the pleasure of finding simple and elegant solutions to complex problems, the revelry of manufacturing immaculate assemblies and precise fits, the beauty of designing intuitive and organic processes, the sheer exhilaration of using graphite to turn a blank piece of paper into an idea which ends up changing the world. Unless the only thing you care about is the task at hand (and not the success you might achieve if you happen to complete it).

Broken Mirrors

I’m so happy.. Cause today I found my friends,
Their in my head.
I’m so ugly.. That’s OK cause so are you,
We’ve broken mirrors.

These lines are from a Nirvana song, Lithium (Nevermind). The line “We’ve broken mirrors” attempts to describe a state of moral decay where values cease to matter. Human, being a social animal, evaluates it’s actions and behaviour against the norms established by the society as a whole. He checks himself out in this social mirror to ensure that it “looks” good. Though this largely fosters hypocrisy, it at least keeps anarchy in check.

I saw a very sensitive teenage. My reactions to acts of social injustice and corruption used to be phenomenal. I used to believe that world has lost all it’s sensitivity and is headed for collapse. What follows is an angry ramble which little Anupam Ashish penned probably after witnessing another social incident that did not fit into his definition of a fair world.

When was it the last time you actually reacted to something abnormal or disturbing? And I am not talking about your cell not working well or the discovery about the alternate sexuality of a close friend. I am talking about some of the numerous events that shape up the world that goes around you, the cosmos you live in, your habitats, your city, your block, count the cyber space as well. In short, the surroundings that should normally grab your attention. Also, when I say “reacted” I am not talking about cursing before moving on.

An organism is supposed to evolve to higher mental and physical capabilities. Degradation is not the direction of time and that’s why the dials of life should witness an incessant (however minute and insignificant) development in our perception, understanding and compassion.

Then why is it that we are becoming increasingly careless about things going the wrong way around? Why is it that we find ourselves at a complete loss of concern? Why is it that we fail to even notice happenings that should ordinarily provoke a mutiny? Why are we ignoring disturbing facts? Why are we forgetting and forgiving brutal acts? Why are we accepting things which instigate loathing?

– Mundane


This is an article I wrote sometime back as a reaction to a mishap in Mumbai on New Year eve. I just finished reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. It had few examples of social upheaval and even degeneration which I could relate to with this piece.. particularly with it’s last paragraph.


1st of January, 2008
Juhu, Mumbai
01:45 am

Two women were molested by an unruly mob on the New Year’s eve in Mumbai. The women, accompanied by their male friends, had just left a party when the mob attacked them outside a five-star hotel. They tore their clothes and also manhandled their friends, who were trying to save them from the allegedly drunk and out of control crowd.

Post this, media got busy chastising Mumbai Police for the unpleasant incident and the delay in punishing the accused. That was the only noteworthy mishap on the eve throughout the city; evidently the Police was well prepared (or skeptically, unaware!).

A similar incident had happened exactly a year ago, when a girl was molested by New Year revelers at the Gateway of India.

Will the Police be there to guard us everywhere? When will we start targeting the root cause instead of the symptom? That group of 70-80 people belongs to Mumbai. They are amongst us. We, our friends or our friend’s friends or some other people we regularly deal with were there, either doing that crime or committing a bigger crime by being mere spectators.

A society does not jump, it merely creeps. It does not take a certain stand or acquire a particular behavior all of a sudden; the degradation is gradual and contagious. There is a relation between its acceptance, approvals, tendencies and actions. We have encouraged eve teasing in one way or the other in our lives. Either by doing it, or by applauding or meekly accepting it. We are the source, and the harvest, I must say, is pleasant.

Do take care.

Love of Science

This is an excerpt from an address at the Physical Society, Berlin, on the occasion of  Max Plank’s sixtieth birthday. The words belong to one of the greatest scientists that ever lived on the face of earth. Any guesses? You can see the entire address by the speaker at this link: Principles of Research

IN the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside… let us have another look at those who have found favor with the angel. Most of them are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other, in spite of these common characteristics, than the hosts of the rejected. What has brought them to the temple? That is a difficult question and no single answer will cover it. To begin with, I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of objective perception and thought; this desire may be compared with the townsman’s irresistible longing to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still, pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.


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Life is not fair. It never was, and probably never will be. There is no universal regulatory body to make sure that the just happens. We incorrectly confuse God with Life. He/She (I prefer “It”) is not this life or the force driving it. If it were so, would It let innocents suffer. No, It won’t. And this isn’t some angry-god-teaching-a-lesson or adam-eve-paying-for-eating-the-apple stuff either. If there is some force in this world, It isn’t to manifest Itself through our lives. It cannot, and even if It can, It will not control our world. Hence all the wrong things we see happening with us and around us cannot be attributed to God’s negligence or insensitivity because It has no say in this.

But bad happens, as frequently as good. Often people deserving a reward, at best get nothing and at worst get punished instead. Why? There is no answer, in fact the question itself is invalid. How can there ever be a justification to the misery and pain of an angel? The problem is we think there is some mechanism working behind all this. Some algorithm, some plan, some script governs what happens. And assuming a system in place, we expect it to deliver justice.

And then we think that why is that system unfair? Why did I get pain when I helped someone? Why did that person get what he didn’t deserve? We say the mechanism is flawed, that it favors the evil. The truth is there is no mechanism. It is a jungle. It’s an ungoverned unplanned unjust setup of chaos, where nothing happens “because”. Things just happen. No reason, no logic. So don’t ask “Why?” or even worse “Why me?”. I am not trying to prove the non-existence of God or the futility of faith. That is something for you to decide. I am just trying to warn you from holding your goodness as your reason and excuse to expect justice and fairness.