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“There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” — Robert Heinlein
I recall the first time I was exposed to this expression was during the science fiction binge reading period of my late teens. It was from reading a novel by Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Mr. Heinlein was a Naval Academy graduate, and after experiencing health issues left the Navy and did some additional graduate work in physics, which I am sure in hindsight influenced his notion that the universe gives nothing for free, and wound it into his opines on the nature of men, and well … nature.
Why do I think exposure to college-level physics engenders a viewpoint of a curmudgeonly universe? Because after three semesters of physics, and then later grinding through, in greater computational depth, three more semesters of thermodynamics, it becomes clear that TANSTAAFL is in fact built into the operating system of the universe. Every exchange of one form of energy to another comes with a price. Every exchange of matter to energy, or energy back to matter (truly an exorbitant exchange) comes with a cost. This theory is enshrined in Laws of Thermodynamics and here are the rules as approximately coined by my introductory Physics class professor, who was riffing off Ginsberg’s parody theorem, which helps you get your mind around the “big picture.”