Lay of the Land
Entropy and It's Consequences; Part I
Symmetry is the categorical representation of beauty. Truth is informational symmetry. Lies/deceit are informational asymmetries; an ugly distortion of social relations. They will be arbitraged until which point the truth is revealed. Seek and embody the truth; live beautifully.
The following will be the first in a series of articles reflecting on the interconnectedness of entropy, energy, life and the consequences that follow from their interplay. This piece will waft through the broad delineation of thought that I wish you to embark upon with me. Please feel free to assist in the navigation of our journey by opining openly regarding anything you've read here, are reminded of, feel is incorrect or insightful. We shall approach a deeper truth together.
There is nothing over which a free man ponders less than death; his wisdom is to meditate, not on death, but on life.
Benedict de Spinoza
The internal/external lives of humans are rich tapestries; woven in patchwork from textiles garnered in contest with our environment. We are birthed unto this world wrapped in our natal patch; the instincts of our species and the unique genetic disposition gifted by our forebears. We accumulate knowledge from which we patiently stitch new swaths of cloth to the kaleidoscopic garment detailing our existence. This cloak represents our perception, our understanding of this world. It has two sides. One exposed to the outer world and another only witnessed internally by it’s bearer. Patches are inverted and displayed at different times, towards differing environs and through conscious and unconscious intervention. These robes are the portion of human knowledge, both biological and metaphysical, for which the bearer claims to possess; which conditions both their perception of the world and the expression of their inner life. How do we come to sew such intricate garments? To what end do we adorn them?
It feeds on negative entropy.
What is Life?ii
What constitutes life is contentious. Here we will adopt the definition delineated by Erwin Schrodinger in his 1944 document: What Is Life? He introduces the concept that life is that which stands steadfastly in contravention to the universally persistent and probabilistic march towards increasing entropy. It is by avoiding the rapid decay into the inert state of ‘equilibrium’ that an organism appears so enigmaticiii. Our cloaks offer protection from the propensity towards entropy. So what, then, is entropy?
You cannot step in the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.
Entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder in a physical systemv and underpins the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Though precisely defined in mathematical terms; suffice to say, for now, that entropy is an objectively observable quality of all organized matter. But so too does a rock exhibit organization of matter. What separates the animate from the inanimate is the ability to self replicate. In a biological context, we gift tatters of our worn garment (genetics) to our progeny such that they may incorporate it’s fabrics into their own. So we may venture to define life as that which organizes matter through self replicating means. This leaves something wanting though, doesn’t it?
Since disorder is spontaneous, the human endeavour is a constant, unrelenting struggle against entropy. We are a highly ordered species – a true miracle of the universe. Beating back entropy requires energy. Ergo, energy is life.
Organizing matter requires tremendous amounts of energy. Energy cannot be created, nor destroyed, as dictated by the First Law of Thermodynamics; energy is utilized in facilitating the transformation of matter from one form to another. We do not consume energy. What the Second Law of Thermodynamics entails is that in the formation of order there is generally a more than compensating generation of disordervi. We obtain our energy and material resources from our environment, in various forms and densities, and so knit the cloth with which we shroud ourselves from entropy. This ordering generates greater entropy in the wider world than it does negative entropy (order) in our internal system. This is in the form of heat generated through metabolism and through our bodies various waste byproducts. By what methodology, then, do we construct the human form?
If you want to understand function, study structure.
RNA/DNA are encoded instructions. Genetic material, capable of interacting with the environment through epigenetic and random mutation, is the source code of life. Genetic material is a hardened repository of instructions towards thwarting the tides of entropy, the blueprint from which we develop fundamentals for brandishing metaphysical garments conducive to this end. RNA/DNA are an adaptive integration of evolutionary history; a biological store of information providing instructions for accessing and utilizing energy. It is from genetic biology that we aggregate order of organic resources with increasing efficiency. But what limits our capability to do so eternally?
Time, time is what keeps everything from happening at once.
The Girl in the Golden Atomvii
Time is elusive. The scarcest resource for mortal kind, time is the ultimate arbiter of life. The future is indeed the direction of increasing entropy. The arrow of time – the fact that things start like this and end like that but never start like that and end like this – began in the highly ordered, low entropy state of the universe at it’s inceptionviii. Even our own ordering of organic resources increases entropy overall. How then can we transcend time?
Our privileged view into this one night of this man’s history presses upon us the realization that all knowledge is a borrowing and every fact a debt.
The Traveller, Cities of the Plainsix
The mind capitalizes on it’s ability to store information, experience and learning, our memory, in manners that transcend the purely biological state of the self. We are capable of storing knowledge in both analog and digital forms that resist the entropic disintegration of the individual. Cave paintings, oral histories, music, books, films, the internet; these forms of ingenuity permit knowledge to be stored and shared perpetually, limiting the regression of knowledge attained and lost in each birth; each death. DNA/RNA stores and perpetuates biological knowledge for ordering organic resources. Ingenuity has generated means for storing and perpetuating further amplifying instructions to do so with greater efficiency by referring back to the trials and errors of preceding generations, a meta-biological data set (a synthetic derivative of DNA/RNA). We limit the repeating of evolutionary trials and errors. The better that we all become finer tailors.
Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.
Where does this leave us in our ruminations? Our perception of the world is coloured by stored genetic (biological) and mental (meta-biological) information. One could postulate that life is that which leverages the confluence of biological and meta-biological information in order to harness increasingly dense forms of energy with increasingly novel and efficient means. This attribute permits the pursuit of life’s goal: the transcendence of time by generating negative entropy through generational cycles. We each bear the cloak knit by our own hands in the fashion of our forefathers, adapted to our current environment such that we may snatch our lives from the clutches of the cosmos. Alas, please do not take my word for it, let us explore the depths together.
In Entropy and It's Consequences; Part II, we will begin an in depth exploration of entropy and it's implications for life, computing and cryptography.
Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to me on twitter at:
You can support my work by tipping my Paynym:
Or with XMR at:
i Spinoza, Benedict de; The Ethics, as translated by George Eliot; 1981
ii Schrodinger, Erwin; What is Life?; 1944
iii Schrodinger, Erwin; What is Life?; 1944
iv Heraclitus of Ephesus; On Nature: The Fragments of the Work of Heraclitus as produced by GTW Patrick, PhD; 1889
v Greene, Brian; The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality; 2004
vi Greene, Brian; The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality; 2004
vii Cummings, Ray; The Girl in the Golden Atom (Novel Version); 1919
viii Greene, Brian; The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality; 2004
ix McCarthy, Cormac; The Cities on the Plains; 1998