How the physics concept of ‘negentropy’ can change your life


Life is full of small decisions: Should I pick up this sock from the floor? Should I wash the dishes before going to bed? What about fixing the leaky faucet in the bathroom?

Leaving a sock on the floor is a manifestation of a concept in physics that you may have heard of: entropy. Entropy is a measure of the amount of energy lost in a system. If a system loses too much energy, it will disintegrate into chaos. It only takes a little energy to pick up a sock. But if you don’t take care of your garden, let the pipes get clogged, and never fix electrical problems, it all adds up to a chaotic house that would take a lot of energy to fix. And this chaos will drain your time and your ability to do other things.

The good news is that entropy has an opposite – negentropy. As a researcher who studies social systems, I have found that thinking in terms of negentropy and energy can help you tackle entropy and chaos in everyday life.

Minimize energy loss, maximize progress

In physical and social systems, energy can be defined as the ability or capacity to work. For over two decades, I have studied social systems in schools, community dialogues, universities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. During this time, I have observed that energy wastage is a constant – for example, four-person meetings to schedule meetings for seven people, or everyone’s worst nightmare, meetings that could have been accomplished. by e-mail. These little frustrations can even reach a point where good employees start to quit.

After thinking about energy for so long, I began to wonder – as others have done – if applying physics concepts to social systems could help them function better.

Over the past four years, my colleagues and I have developed a theory of negentropy and, using interviews and case studies, have studied how energy is lost or gained in many types of systems. – including in higher education, leadership for e-education, workplace organizations, and e-learning settings.

Our work suggests that when people keep the idea of ​​negentropy in mind and take actions that limit or reverse energy loss, social systems are more effective and efficient. It might even help people achieve larger goals. In other words, yes you should pick up that sock, and yes you should improve your meetings, and this may allow you to see other ways to avoid future energy loss.

Thermal image of a house showing hot spots of heat escaping from windows.