[ExI] Extropy opposite of entropy?

Anders anders at aleph.se
Sun Jul 24 20:42:17 UTC 2016

Yes, as far as I recall Extropy was more like a philosophical/poetic 
opposite of entropy (which after all gets roped in as a 
philosophical/poetic concept fairly often). It was never meant to be a 
thermodynamic variable.

It is very similar to 90s attempts of formalizing complexity. None of 
them really worked: we can certainly recognize it, but it is not just 
Kolmogorov complexity just as information is not just Shannon information.

I haven't read Annila before, but the idea that dissipative structures 
can sustain themselves thanks to energy flows and to some extent 
organize themselves as a response to entropy (evolution requires a 
selection step; in a reversible universe species unevolve at the same 
rates as they evolve) seems to be popular. I haven't seen his diversity 
argument, but I would assume Stuart Kaufmann would argue something 
similar? I am also reminded of Eric Chaisson's claim that we over the 
history of the universe see systems with greater energy rate density - 
maybe evolving dissipative processes become better at dissipation.

Now, the key questions are (1) whether this is a useful way of thinking 
about complex systems, (2) why this tendency for greater dissipation 
seems to be so universal, (3) whether this corresponds to anything of 
value, and (4) if we should try to interfere.

My own stab at (3) would be that if this kind of process produces 
contingent, diverse patterns that may give value insofar diversity has 
value (I think it does), but more importantly by giving rise to 
observers that can experience value - moral patients and agents. Now, 
this does not imply on its own that we should interfere, but if 
something like total utilitarianism is correct that in addition implies 
that we should try to boost the formation of observers (much more 
philosophical footwork is needed to argue that we should go for complex 
observers rather than lots of happy microbes). Other metaethical 
theories combined with (3) may produce some rather different answers to 
(4). Negative utilitarians might actually want to stop the process if it 
produces pain, for example.

On 2016-07-24 20:46, Bill Hibbard wrote:
> Last week during a panel at the Future of Mind
> Symposium:
> https://futureofmind.wordpress.com/
> I discussed the work of Arto Annila:
> https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0910/0910.2621.pdf
> http://www.helsinki.fi/~aannila/arto/natprocess.pdf
> Annila's thesis is that, in the context of the
> energy flow from a hot star into cold space,
> chemistry and life exist because they increase
> entropy.
> One response to the panel was to pose extropy as
> opposed to entropy. And the Wikipedia page:
> from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extropianism
> includes this:
>   The term 'extropy', as an antonym to 'entropy'
>   was used in a 1967 academic volume discussing
>   cryogenics[3]"
> Do folks in the extropian community see extropy
> as the opposite of entropy?
> We sometimes think of entropy in the context of
> cold space, where life and extropian activity
> would be a struggle against entropy.
> But Earth is close to a star, our sun, and our
> context is the flow of energy from that hot star
> out into cold space. Annila's point is that the
> entropy of that energy flow depends on whether
> the energy flows in a single jump from the very
> hot star to very cold space, or if it flows
> through a sequence of smaller jumps. And flow
> through a sequence of smaller jumps has higher
> entropy. Chemistry, biology, intelligence and any
> extropian organization are ways of channeling the
> energy flow through a sequence of smaller jumps,
> and thus increasing the entropy of the flow. So
> in our context, near a hot star, increasing
> extropy also increases entropy. Extropian
> activity on Earth is not a struggle against
> entropy, but a struggle for entropy.
> How does this view relate to extropianism?
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Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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