Suzana Herculano-Houzel

My kitchen tends toward maximal entropy

Kitchen Entropy

My favorite definition of life is a system that, thanks to metabolism (cycles of transfer of energy and matter) and self-organization, is capable of keeping itself at a dynamic equilibrium away from the ultimate equilibrium: maximal entropy, or total disorder.

My kitchen, like everything else in life, also tends inexorably towards maximal entropy – and it takes a lot of work to constantly keep it from reaching it. It would be a living system, if it weren’t for the lack of self-organization and metabolism. In their absence, I do the part of keeping my kitchen organized and functional.

The very workings of a kitchen generate disorder; like in a cell, or organism, heat and waste products that tend to accumulate if not actively removed. Producing a meal out of meats and vegetables, like assembling proteins from amino acids, requires mobilizing machinery and supporting actors that tend perniciously not to return to their places on their own. Dishes, glasses and cutlery barely make it back into their drawers and cupboards and they are dirty again. Tending to the kitchen is like being the ATPase on call, incessantly hustling sodium and potassium, dishes and glasses uphill against their natural gradient, against their tendency to stable equilibium, total disorder, maximal entropy. Remove the ATPase from the system and it inexorably converges towards the final, stable equilibrium: death.

Living – like keeping an organized kitchen – is the fine art of holding your balance away from the final balance.

Originally published on March 20th, 2017

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