6 responses to “Weekend Journal: Entropy and Human Nature”

  1. Cherish The Scientist

    Honestly, I can’t say it’s about destruction. It certainly seems that way, but I think that’s a somewhat superficial impression. Destruction and danger is exciting!

    I think it’s about skill. People who have tried to play football realize how much skill is involved, and they admire people who have those skills. Even when you don’t have those skills, it’s exciting to watch and easy to understand how skill plays into the game.

    Now contrast that with engineering: not only is it not exciting to watch, most people don’t even have the rudimentary skills necessary to appreciate the difference between good engineering and bad engineering.

    I guess I ran into this sort of thing when I was involved in dancing. When I was dancing, most people could generally understand that what I was doing was hard, and they could appreciate that. When I was at my peak, I actually did some sword dancing…and after my performances, I would get some people almost gushing because they thought it was SO exciting. (Believe me, nothing gets people more excited than putting a large, heavy, sharp, and dangerous object on your head and then moving around, leaving them terrified you’re going to have it fall off your head and slice your foot off. If you do exactly the same moves without a sword, people will get bored quickly.) However, while most people thought I was a very good dancer, I still considered myself a ‘baby dancer’ and would regularly go to master teachers for help. Also, people outside of my style who danced didn’t appreciate some of the nuances of the type of dance I did.

    What I concluded is that people appreciate skill, but skill by itself only goes so far. (I’m guilty of it myself…I always appreciate watching group choreography far more than solo despite the fact that the soloist may be significantly more talented than the individuals in a group.) Something needs to be exciting to draw people in. Engineering is not exciting. Further, there has to be at least a level of understanding of how much skill is involved before anyone will appreciate it. Most people have played sports and understand that there is a good amount of skill involved. Most people haven’t even attempted engineering and so have no clue what it entails. On top of that, there’s a strong anti-intellectual sentiment that runs through the country – meaning people don’t want to understand. I think that all these factors tie together to result in what you’re seeing.

    This is part of the reason that scientists (at least some) are really making an effort to try to keep science at a level that people understand and can appreciate. But unfortunately, by doing that, people miss the subtleties that are important and start saying things like, “Global warming doesn’t exist,” usually by arguing that something about it defies ‘common sense’. They fail to realize that anytime you’re dealing with a huge, dynamic, non-linear system with hundreds of variables, common sense isn’t really going to work. :-)

    Okay…off my soapbox. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  2. AS

    Sadly Junkyard Wars got canceled. Never mind the flimsy premise of having a junkyard that well stocked, it was a pretty nice show with projects like hyper-miler cars, catapults, all-terrain vehicles and demolition machines.

  3. bill

    They say the appeal of sports (from a spectator’s perspective) is the risk free emotional investment it offers. Investing emotion in humans is risky, a girlfriend/boyfriend can dump you, a friend hurt you, etc. A sports team can let you down in losing, but they’ll always be back for the next game, season, etc. They are always there for you.

    Junkyard wars was awesome.

  4. Sen


    Junkyward wars was an amazing show. I have never understood, the amazing popularity of football, because to a certain extent it is controlled chaos, in that there is a break after every play, and the judicous (sp?) use of timeouts can slow the play down…as opposed to say Rugby or say hockey.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I started playing hockey at a young age, and I played it all the way through high school…and so my formative years have always been hockey. Furthermore, the joys of sport, are shared by your friends and the people around you, but technical joys tend to be shared only by yourself. And most of the time a solution to a technical problem comes at the end of lot of time spent on the problem and hardwork, and at times, it’s more of a relief than “Yes!” feeling. (You usually only get that feeling once the whole thing works which is usually at the end of the road). Sports gives you an instant gratification when you do something cool, though of course that is the result of hours of hard work as well.

    It should be noted that with athletics in general, for most people, even a little bit of practice makes them better whereas for technically demanding things, the hours of practice to make even a slight improvement is a lot. Say shooting a driblling baskeball vs playing the trombone.

    1. bill

      I think hockey is far and away the most fun sport to play. It’s fast, has constant action, and allows you to be creative in real time more than I think a lot of other sports.

      That being said, watching sports is different. Football is a better spectator sport in part because of the breaks. You don’t need to worry about missing some big play that happens in a split second while you get up to get a beer or turn your head to talk to someone, it will be replayed a dozen times anyways. It also requires very little investment to stay up to date as the teams only play once a week and the games are generally scheduled at reasonable times (on Sunday afternoon while people are usually enjoying some down time anyways). It’s also easy to talk about.

      HDTV and DVRs have helped hockey a lot, but still, watching it just makes me want to play it, unlike football.

  5. Matthew

    Some really neat thoughts. As a contractor I find the idea of a war against entropy a fascinating topic of discussion. Great points!

    I would interject a thought about why we love sports so much though. We are designed to worship. The intent is for us to use that innate desire to worship and focus it on worshipping the One that created us. However, we so often choose to focus it on something else (it by no means stops at sports – money, gadgets, knowledge, friends, the things we build – the list could go on forever). Sports is a perfect example though because it allows us to worship something intangile (the game of football) and also something tangible (the players). Not only that, we can do it privately and corporately. All things that are good and are part of our design. Unfortunately for a lot of people the object of our worship is only a football game and never the One that it was intended to fall upon.