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The Science of Disorder: Understanding the Complexity, Uncertainty, and Pollution of Our World
by Jack Hokikian
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Rating:
Reviewed by: Norman Goldman

When I completed reading Jack Hokikian's The Science of Disorder: Understanding the Complexity, Uncertainty, and Pollution of Our World, I was reminded of Albert Einstein's brilliant observation of The Laws of Thermodynamics when he stated: "The more impressive a Theory, the greater is the simplicity of its premises, the more different are the kinds of things it relates and the more extended its range of applicability." Hokikian, who received his Ph.D in experimental nuclear physics from the a University of Southern California, contends that in order to comprehend why our rapidly changing world is becoming more complex, disorderly, and polluted, we must refer to the discipline of thermodynamics for the answers.

The introductory chapters of the book provide us with a better understanding of the origination of these laws and their modern scope of applicability. In addition, Hokikian explains in layman terms the first two Laws of Thermodynamics wherein we are informed that the first law is a statement of the conservation of energy, while the second is the direction of that energy. It should be pointed out that Thermodynamics is the study of the inter-relation between heat, work and the internal energy of a system and they came about while studying heat and heat engines. From here we learn that the first law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be transformed from one form to another. The amount of energy in the universe is constant. The Second Law pertains to entropy and Hokikian points out that entropy increases in all processes in an irreversible manner. Hokikian tells us that Physicists identify entropy as a measure of the disorder of a thermodynamic system. In other words, it exacts a tax from all our activities by increasing the disorder of our thermodynamic system.

Since the time these laws were conceived they have become some of the most important laws of all science and very often they are associated with concepts that have far more reaching effects than it would appear. As Hokikian illustrates and exposes, their applicability applies to cosmology, agriculture, economics, chemistry, psychology, medicine, education, ecology, technology, weather patterns, social behavior, nuclear fission, and almost to everything. In other words, as mentioned, "the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics govern all processes and activities-from physical, chemical, and biological to economic, social and intellectual." They allow us to see the whole picture and not confine us to narrow interpretations which are so often prevalent among many of our present day specialists.

Hokikian has culled many scientific journals and other writings to put together a highly readable account of the importance of these laws. His synopsis of how mechanization of agriculture and the reliance of fertilizers and pesticides have affected humans and our environment is an eye-opener. As he points out, the transition from horses to tractors, humans replaced an essentially renewable source of energy with a nonrenewable one. However, what is more important is the input of fossil fuel energy per hectare is often substantially greater than the energy yield contained in the food produced. As mentioned, "although it appears that high-intensity agriculture is extremely efficient, the discipline of thermodynamics gives this technique failing marks because the system often operates, energy wise, with a deficit." We may have benefited from the use of fertilizers, but the benefits are not without costly ramifications. Although there have been important increases in the production of food, this has come about at the expense of massive increases in entropy. Just look at the runoff of chemical fertilizers into rivers, lakes, and subterranean waters and its effects on the environment!

Another interesting and fascinating chapter is the relationship of the Laws of Thermodynamics to Economics wherein Hokikian contends that economic laws and views are presented by economists without any mention of the law of Nature. As a result, whenever a new economic ideology or policy is put forward there is no accounting for the Laws of Thermodynamics. In other words, their view of the economic system is purely mechanical that can be controlled at will without any entropy increases. Government intervention in economic activities of a nation in an attempt to control its behavior invariably creates turbulence-entropy-in the socioeconomic system. As a Canadian, I don't have to look very far when I consider the disastrous effects price controls exacted on the Canadian economy that were implemented in the 1970s or the Canadian energy policy that was attributed to the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and which was later scrapped by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Although, I have to admit that I did struggle with the first few chapters of the book (Science has never been my forté), it all came together when Hokikian shows the practical applicability of the Laws of Thermodynamics to many of today's hot button issues wherein our behavior patterns very often have zero concern for the human and environmental damage they cause.

Beyond doubt, The Science of Disorder: Understanding the Complexity, Uncertainty, and Pollution of Our World is an important contribution in helping the layman to understand the significance of the Laws of Thermodynamics pertaining to their wide application affecting every facet of our lives.


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