Does Muse know science behind ‘2nd Law’?

It’s not often that a famous music group uses physics to make a political statement.

But in their sixth studio album, “The 2nd Law,” the British rock group Muse does exactly this: in their song “Unsustainable” they argue that our current economic growth is unsustainable because of the second law of thermodynamics. But how true is this?

UIC physics professor Dirk Morr weighs in on that question in a video on the Rock It Out! Blog.

“If a system is completely closed, and no energy can enter, then the second law tells us that the system eventually becomes completely disordered and dies,” Morr said in the interview.

“To sustain economic growth, to create order from disorder, you require energy.”

Muse compares the earth to a closed system, arguing that our economic growth is unsustainable.

“But the earth is not a closed system because we receive energy from the sun daily,” Morr said. “There is always energy coming in that we can try to capture (think solar energy) and use to be creative, to progress, to evolve.”

So Muse’s idea of the earth as a closed system is not quite true. But if we used up all energy resources on earth and had to completely rely on solar power, our growth and progress —  economic, technological, societal — would be severely curtailed, Morr said.

“What Muse is saying is 75 to 80 percent true — they didn’t lie — there is just more behind the concept,” Morr said.  “This is a typical problem you encounter when you teach: if you tried to teach a very complex concept in its full complexity, you would immediately overwhelm everybody with that amount of information.” When information is complex, it’s important to find different, simpler ways to present it. For example, in his research of complex systems, Morr studies the entanglement of electron wave functions in space.

“New systems are so complex, that we have introduced color to represent information, providing us sometimes with a result that looks like a piece of art,” he said.

So, was Muse justified in using the second law in their argument?

“That is a judgment call, but there is definitely some truth to what they want to get across,” Morr said. “The great thing about it is that there is a discussion in society about sustainability.

“Discussions about how we can evolve are often held in the political arena, but what is the best way to create growth, not only economic, but overall progress as a society, is not only a political but also a scientific discussion and that is the point they made.”

sragal2@uic.edu

• Stephen Ragalie is a senior in English. 

 

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