„A Measure of Disorder“ – Entropie als Metapher für das Andere der Ordnung

Robert Feustel

Abstract


Entropy has been used as measure of disorder in several ways. Originally based on physics, the term has extended its meaning, and since the late 19th century describes the upcoming end of the world, the heat death, the unstoppable increase of disorder within closed systems (e. g., the world or the universe). Understood in this way, entropy has been a shifting concept which has partly adopted the role of apocalyptic narratives. The paper follows this concept from its origin in thermodynamics (Clausius) into cybernetic theory (Wiener, von Foerster) and beyond. It emphasizes the dissimilar understandings and misunderstandings of a physical notion including its surrounding philosophical discussions. During this journey, different and sometimes opposed concepts of entropy appear: First it is part of the second law of thermodynamics measuring molecule disorder; then it makes a shift into information theory and emerges as measure of noise, of misleading and chaotic non-information. Depending upon the precise definition of information, it then pops up as “hell for cyberneticists” or – on the contrary – as the basis of any kind of progression and innovation. Finally, the paper indicates that the issue of entropy remains an unclear and a heterogeneous notion which plays a major role in theorizing (and measuring) the other side of order. However, because of the concept’s ambiguity, it is inappropriate to translate entropy into the social sciences and hence as a justification of pessimistic prospects.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.6094/behemoth.2014.7.1.779