Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Meaning of ENTROPY

An Apocryphal Story

Once, a bright young engineering student asked me: "What is Entropy?" 

"The opposite of Negentropy," I answered.

"Can you tell me what is Negentropy?" she persisted.

So I told her this story.


Once upon a time there was a young hat seller who used to roam around from town to town selling hats for a living.

On one summer afternoon, while travelling from one city to another, he felt tired and decided to take a nap in the forest.

He found a mango tree with lots of branches and cool shade. Placing his bag of hats beside him the hat seller went to sleep.

When he woke up after a refreshing nap, he found that there were no hats in his bag.

Bewildered, he exclaimed to himself, “What bad luck. Of all the people, why did the thieves have to rob me?”

Suddenly he looked up and noticed that the mango tree was full of monkeys wearing all his colourful hats.

He yelled at the monkeys and they screamed back.

He made faces at them and in response the monkeys made the same funny faces back at him.

He threw a stone at them and they showered him with raw mangoes.

“Oh my God, how do I get my hats back?” the hat seller pondered for some time, and finding no answer he got so frustrated that he took off his own hat and threw it on the ground.

To his surprise, all the monkeys also threw their hats to the ground.

The hat seller did not waste a second and hurriedly collected all the hats and went on his way to the next town.

Fifty years later, the grandson of the same hat-seller who continued the family business of selling hats was passing through the same jungle.

After walking all afternoon he was very tired and found a nice mango tree with lots of branches and cool shade and he decided to rest a while and soon was fast asleep.

A few hours later, when he woke up, he realized that all the hats from his bag had vanished.

He started searching for them and to his surprise found some monkeys sitting on the mango tree wearing his hats.

At first he was confused, and at a loss not knowing what to do, but then suddenly he remembered the story his grandfather used to tell him about the monkeys and the hats.

“I know how to fool these monkeys,” he said to himself, “I will make them imitate me and very soon I will get all my hats back.”

He waved at the monkeys and the monkeys waved back at him.

He blew his nose and the monkeys blew their noses.

He started dancing and the monkeys also danced.

He pulled his ears and the monkeys pulled their ears.

He raised his hands and the monkeys raised their hands.

Then, he threw his hat on the ground expecting all the monkeys to do likewise.

But instead, one monkey jumped down from the mango tree and walked up to him. Then, looking into the young man’s eyes the monkey said, "Do you think only you had a grandfather?"

Had a laugh?

Liked the story?

Now, Dear Reader, you please tell me what is the meaning of Entropy?

Still clueless?

Read the story once more - in fact, keep reading the story again and again till comprehension dawns on you.

Have a nice entropy-free Wednesday.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like this story?
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and he is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts. 

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Mohit Rathore said...

i've read the story many times and it hasn't dawned upon me how does it explains entropy/negentropy. The engineer in me is cursing me for not studying thermodynamics more! Please give some clue.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ Mohit - Entropy (Information Theory) - a measure of uncertainty, also a measure of ignorance, also the the measure of the value in a message.
Third Law of Thermodynamics - The Entropy of the Universe keeps increasing.
So, if you don't keep learning your ignorance will keep on increasing. Also, if you think others (like the monkeys) are not constantly learning from experience and remain static where they were you will land up in a position like the hat seller.

Anonymous said...

In the past 7 years what I studied was entropy. Based on my limited knowledge and understanding, I find this tittle misleading. Simply taking a definition of a term without deep understanding can only give rise to confusion as in this case.