In thermodynamics, entropy reversal, "reversals of entropy", or reversals of the second law, is an oft-used, albeit convoluted, verbal argument to explain or reconcile English naturalist Charles Darwin’s 1859 law of elevation (or evolution) of life with Scottish physicist William Thomson’s 1852 interpretation of the second law as a law of degradation.

In 1921, English experimental biologist James Johnstone stated that “we are convinced that an evolutionary process that has occurred”, and that “we cannot think of a time in the past when the universe did not exist”. On this basis, to account for the existence of “human and animal minds” (which he associates with a retardation in the increase of entropy), Johnstone reasons: [1]

“We are compelled to postulate that somewhere or other, or some time or other, the second law of thermodynamics must reverse itself, that is, some time or somewhere entropy must decrease, or have decreased, otherwise we shall be compelled (as Sir William Thomson was) to postulate a beginning, or creation.”

Johnstone went so far as to give an elaborate so-called "proof" that a body of gas at a uniform temperature, may, of itself, separate into two temperature system, creating an entropy decrease, supposedly if the molecules collide in a certain way, essentially arguing that the second law is not always true.

In 1922, American physical chemist and mathematician Alfred Lotka cited Johnstone's work, but argued that entropy is only "retarded" not reverse. Specifically, as Lotka states: [2]

“In living processes, the increase in entropy is retarded ... [Johnstone] points out that this is true, primarily, of plants; but that among animals also natural selection must work toward the weeding out of unnecessary and wasteful activities, and thus toward the conservation of free energy, or, what amounts to the same thing, toward retarding energy dissipation.”

In 1925, American mathematical prodigy William Sidis began writting his thermodynamics of life treatise The Animate and the Inanimate, written in 1920-24, where it is argued, similarly on the logic of Thomson, that: [3]

Reversals of the second law are a regular phenomenon, and [they are identified] with what is generally known as life.”

In his 1941 lecture “The Weight of Glory”, in his series of lectures on Christianity, Irish-born British writer C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) stated: [6]

“Lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. Hence all the nonsense that Mr. Shaw puts into the final speech of Lilith, and Bergson's remark that the élan vital [vital impetus of evolution] is capable of surmounting all obstacles, perhaps even death—as if we could believe that any social or biological development on this planet will delay the senility of the sun or reverse the second law of thermodynamics.”

In 1981, British neuropsychologist Richard Gregory stated: [4]

Time’s arrow given by entropy—the loss of organization, or loss of temperature differences—is statistical and it is subject to local small-scale reversals. Most strikingly: life is a systematic reversal of entropy, and intelligence creates structures and energy differences against the supposed ‘death’ through entropy of the physical universe.”

The 2001 book The Ingenious Mind of Nature by American engineer George Hall devotes a considerable amount of text to argue that growth and configuration is a form of “reversing entropy”. Hall states for instance, that “a catastrophe is the result of configuration reversing entropy by virtue of its own mechanics and configuration.” In his preface, however, Hall acknowledges that he learned about entropy from his West Point thermodynamics professor who told him that it had shells piled neatly (low entropy) and helter-skelter (high entropy). [5]

Difficulties on term
The idea of "reversing" or retarding entropy is mis-used or mis-understood attempt at an interpretation and application of entropy as defined by German physicist Rudolf Clausius, which he defines, with mathematical rigor, as a type of internal energy book-keeping factor or quantity.

See also
‚óŹ Local entropy decrease

1. Johnstone, James. (1921). The Mechanism of Life in Relation to Modern Physical Theory (pgs. 192-203). New York: Longmans, Green & Co.
2. Sidis, William J. (1920). The Animate and the Inanimate, [PDF], (published in 1925, R.G. Badger).
3. Lotka, Alfred J. (1922a) “Contribution to the energetics of evolution” [PDF]. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 8: pp. 147–51.
4. Gregory, Richard L. (1981). Mind in Science: a History of Explanations in Psychology and Physics (keyword: Entropy, pgs. 136-50). Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
5. Hall, George M. (2001). The Ingenious Mind of Nature: Deciphering the Patterns of Man, Society, and the Universe (pg. viii). Basic Books.
6. (a) Lewis, C.S. (1941). “The Weight of Glory” (audio/text), given at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, June 8.
(b) The Weight of Glory and other Addresses – Wikipedia.

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