[Paleopsych] Re: from Eshel/paper
HowlBloom at aol.com
HowlBloom at aol.com
Tue Sep 21 07:24:41 UTC 2004
Eshel--I dove into your paper and found it exhilarating. But this is what it
drove out of me. Hopefully I'll dive deeper and farther in future days.
Eshel—I know I may sound obdurate, perverse, and ignorant, but it’s really
time, in my opinion, to toss the laws of thermodynamics out the window—both of
them. First of all, the conservation of energy is a great idea and has done
extraordinary things for science. But it is an unproven assumption, one too
big for me to grapple with here. Let’s just admit that it’s not necessarily
true and move on.
Second, the concept of entropy is upside down and backwards. So let’s look
for something that concept obscures. What is the creative, forward-moving
force of the cosmos, the principle that milks opportunity from catastrophe and
carries the cosmos forward like a salmon going upstream? No, let’s cancel that
image. The universe IS the stream, and it is going uphill, not downhill. In
fact, it is MAKING the hill as it steps upward. Why and how does it pull this
An organism doesn’t take a low entropy energy—a formless, random energy—and
turn it into a high-entropy energy—an even more formless and random form of
movement (which, at heart is what all energy is--movement). An organism does
just the opposite. It takes an already formful and organized form of energy and
adds additional form and function, additional Rube Goldberg gadgetry that
makes the energy travel through a far more complex, ordered, repeatable,
upgradeable, and exultant path. Now let’s strip the anthropomorphist poetry from that
sentence and call the path more ornate, more intricate, and, to use a word you
’ve wisely put into play, but one whose meaning is still mysterious, a path
that has more meaning, a path that triggers more compressed and repeatable
Life feeds off the screams of atoms ripped apart in the heart of the sun.
Those screams are streams of photons. Streams of photons are highly ordered. A
photon alone is a mystery we’ve scarcely begun to fathom. Why does it pulse?
Why does it wave? Why do any waves wave? What keeps the photon wobbling
with amazing precision as it travels a straight line? Where does the precision
come from? Why does the photon continue traveling? What strange form of
trapped motion is this that wobbles with precisely the same frequency for vast
distances and never deviates in direction? If this is the random universe of
v Photons should not have a precise wavelength—their wavelength should
v Photons should not be organized in precise quanta
v Photons should sometimes blob, sometimes glop, and should slither and
slur in ways that make then unrecognizable from one second to the next
v There should be nothing at all so regular and ordered, so repetitive and
predictable, that we can call it light and reduce it to photons
We are limited in being able to understand life by the fact that the best
evidence we have on its origins come from some streaks of iron that seem to have
been metabolized 3.85 billion years ago, and by the fact that the first life
we know already had cells, genomes, communication, and social organization.
Taking the highly ordered rays of sunlight, selecting a small slice of their
spectrum (another mark of organization, formfulness, and non-randomness) then
twisting it into a chemical cycle, using it the way a waterwheel uses a stream—
but ever-so-much-more complexly and creatively—is a remarkable feat.
Using it to maintain the vast society of molecules that is a single cell is a
miracle of vast proportions—highly anti-entropic. Using some of that
photon-chemical-machinery-fueled-energy to translate motion from one medium to
another to another and to many others, that’s anti-entropic, too. Using some of
that energy to communicate and keep a social organization going, using some of it
to communicate to find new food, using some of it to communicate to make
chemical war with enemies, using other batches of that photon-based energy to make
each generation’s contribution to the pyramid a succession of billions
cyanobacterial generations manages to build, a stromatolite, all that is
negentropic. Jeesh, I shouldn’t be using this vocabulary. Believe me, words based on
entropy are scientific poison.
Then there’s the shit that life-forms excrete. We know that some bacteria
attack a batch of food with phenotypes, morphs, that are born to gorge
themselves. We know that their shit is poisonous to them. We know that other morphs
are born to eat shit and love it.
What these bacteria excrete, I do not know. But I suspect it’s something
Why? Because I know that the dung of any life form is highly processed
stuff. It’s the opposite of random. And I do know that other life forms rapidly
find a way to exploit it. We are all shit eaters, Eshel, because even shit is
gorgeous in its way. My shit feeds bacteria. So does yours. For
microorganisms human shit is gourmet food. Judging from the way flies congregate around
a bit of shit, I suspect they find the stuff we excrete to be candy and mannah
We’re shit eaters like the rest. We love cheese, vinegar, and beer—all
But that’s the secret of the universe. Each form of shit is a gourmet dish
awaiting the evolution of its eaters. Electrons and protons lose their
independence and are imprisoned. Their imprisonment makes atoms, atoms of new
wonders, hydorogen, helium, and lithium. From a torture comes a miracle.
Atoms are shredded in the hearts of suns. From that vast destruction light
comes. Life eats star-shit of two kinds. It finds good use for the shit
spewed out when stars go through their agonies and die. That shit comes out in an
extraordinarily ordered and extraordinarily constrained way. It comes out as
89 new forms of atoms. A mere 89 new forms in a cosmos with gazillions of
particles? That ain’t random. That ain’t disordered. And that ain’t a move
backwards. It isn’t entropy.
Look what life has done with the resulting 92 natural atoms and the molecules
that self-assembled along the way.
Every old form’s shit is another new form’s delicacy. Every catastrophe
that besets what’s old is a step toward a new kind of wonder.
This is a cosmos of miracles. But the word miracle implies that only God can
understand these things, and that we humans are passive admirers doomed to
sing god’s praises. Sorry, God does some inexcusably vicious things—like the
Holocaust and his current torment of Israel. We are scientists. In other
words, we are the best god has been able to do up until today. It’s our task to
understand the incomprehensible, to turn yet more energy into a higher-level
summary of what this cosmos is about.
The cosmos, in my opinion, builds on the unfolding of the implications of her
axioms. And she builds on self-reflection—on the power of new summaries of
herself to become new sorts of processes and things. Life is the cosmos’
project of self-reflection lifted to a new degree. A genome is a portrait of the
cosmos painted in her own materials, summarizing the past in order to predict…
and build…a future. Consciousness, passion, religion, and art are summaries of
the cosmos too, summaries that become the building blocks of whole new kinds
That’s how the cosmos works. Turn an implication into something hard and
fast. Use that something hard and fast to summarize the past and to predict a
future. Use it to digest and to condense. Then use the product, use the bit of
mind-or-matter-shit , to build, just as the dung beatle turns a bit of feces
into a treasure trove or as a termite builds a palace with its own small bricks
Then spring a really big surprise, another implication turned into a wildly
new reality. Toss in something really big and unbelievably new—like particles,
waves, and gravity. Like planets, suns, life, and “dark energy”. We are the
newest generation of those who yank the implicit into the hard and fast. We
are the newest generation of cosmic mirrors helping an entire universe admire
herself in our glass. We are the latest past-crunchers metabolizing a vast
history to predict what’s next and what with our efforts we can cause to be.
Every miracle is understandable. And the task of understanding is up to you
Entropy is not a tool of understanding. It’s a forced denial of all we see.
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see:
for two chapters from
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History,
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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