“Breaking Up is Hard to Do” Part 2
Last time, in Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Part 1 (please read or listen to Part 1 first, before reading or listening to this post), after describing how everything in the universe is in the process of falling apart, I ended by posing what I called The Big Question:
How, in a universe irrevocably moving toward increased disorder, did something as complex and organized as life develop? Why do some things become more ordered?
How, indeed. This is an incredibly important question. You wouldn’t be here if SOMETHING had not happened to counteract all that entropy.
Despite the evil Mr. Entropy, here’s what happened, beginning eons ago:
Atoms became molecules, which became amino acids, which became proteins, which became single celled organisms, which became more complex organisms, then plants, animals, and eventually human beings–who then created social systems and even more complex ways of ordering things, such as art and creativity and cities.
How could this happen if entropy is always increasing?
Scientists swept this question under the rug for over a hundred years after the laws of thermodynamics were formulated. They just didn’t have the mathematical and scientific ability to deal with the infinite number of variables involved in complex systems. But Ilya Prigogine and other scientists, using probability theory and the new field of chaos theory, finally answered this intriguing question.
And, the answer turned out to be a real stunner! Prigogine’s “Ah-ha!” was that order arises because of chaos, not in spite of it.
Let’s look more closely. Prigogine realized that the Second Law applies only to closed systems. Closed systems are self-contained, already at equilibrium. They can’t exchange energy or matter with their environment. Examples would include a brick, a pile of sand, a piece of plastic.
Living systems, however, are open systems. Open systems freely exchange energy and matter with their environment. For instance, we take in heat, light, food, air, information, and other things, and give off carbon dioxide, waste, heat, art, taxes, and so on.
Open systems are far from equilibrium. They are constantly in motion, adapting, changing, adjusting to unpredictable stimuli. They grow and change in unexpected ways. They reproduce, fix themselves, and adapt if part of the system is lost or altered.
An open system is a flow of energy and matter–like a whirlpool. Water is constantly entering the top of a whirlpool and constantly exiting at the bottom. In fact, the whirlpool is the water coming in and going out. In the same way, you are like a whirlpool, though your whirlpool is moving more slowly. Matter and energy enter and exit, constantly. And, like the whirlpool, you aren’t just a container with something flowing through it—you are the flow itself.
Open systems adapt. Every day you deal with different sights, sounds, people, happenings. The weather changes, you eat different foods, you’re confronted with new information. Most of the time you “go with the flow” and easily deal with what happens. Once in a while, though, it’s just too much. You feel the chaos. And, sometimes, if conditions are right, you’re transformed by it. We’ll see why in just a moment.
Prigogine was studying a chemical process called the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, where four chemicals in a shallow dish at a specific temperature amazingly self-organize into concentric, spiraling waves, spreading and pulsing with clock-like regularity and changing colors at precise intervals. This seemed to contradict the Second Law–it decreased entropy and increased order.
Ultimately, though, the second law WAS obeyed, though in a surprising way: this reaction became more ordered by actually exporting entropy to the surrounding environment! In other words, open systems can become more ordered by increasing their ability to export entropy to the environment.
Prigogine called these systems dissipative structures–they dissipate entropy. This should be of personal interest to you, because YOU are a dissipative structure. All open systems, including living systems, are matter and energy whirlpools–they maintain their structure by constantly taking in matter and energy and exporting the resulting entropy.
A brick can’t export entropy. When energy or matter affects a brick, it’s either worn down or it shatters. A dissipative structure, however, dissipates enough entropy to maintain its structure. In this way, it deals with input and change.
Here’s the key point, though: If the system can’t get rid of the entropy, it builds up, and eventually the system falls apart.
The more complex an open system is, the more fragile (and, the more dynamic). And, the more entropy it must dissipate to maintain its structure. A Ferrari is more complex than a Honda Civic. It’s also more fragile and spends more time in the shop. It’s also much more dynamic and can handle a more varied environment. It corners better, accelerates better, and so on. It thrives in far-from equilibrium, high-energy, unstable driving environments.
So, you’re an open system, a flow of energy. To continue to exist, you need continuous food, air, water, and so on. And, you must continually get rid of a corresponding amount of entropy, by exhaling, excreting, moving, giving off heat, and so on. If you don’t, the entropy builds up inside–and we all know how that feels.
I talk a lot about threshold in Centerpointe support materials. Each open system has a threshold: the point where what’s coming in exceeds the system’s ability to dissipate the necessary entropy.
Up to that threshold, you easily deal with change. Your spouse won’t do what you want, you’re out of eggs, you miss your bus, the power goes out, you lose your keys, the boss yells at you, whatever. You deal with it. Dealing with the events of your day (as well as all your biological processes) creates entropy, but you’re usually able to dissipate it and maintain your equilibrium.
But when you reach your threshold, though, the input is too much. Why? Because you’ve reached the point where you can’t get rid of the entropy fast enough. It builds up and you literally become more chaotic, less ordered. Hopefully, after a short while the excess input slows a little and you have time to get rid of the buildup. Sometimes, though, it just keeps building up (I’m sure you know what I mean). If this continues, at some point the chaos becomes so great that the system (you) begin to become quite unstable.
Finally, things might reach a critical stage, where one additional small fluctuation causes the system to fly apart. Do you remember the scene in Monte Python’s The Meaning of Life, where Mr. Creosote is offered “just one thin mint” after eating everything in the restaurant, and then he explodes? Well, maybe that’s not the best example. Never mind. This moment, though, where the chaos becomes so great that the system can’t sustain itself any longer, is called a bifurcation point. It’s a moment of truth, a fork in the road, a point of no return, a leap into the unknown.
What happens next? No one knows–until it happens. Why? Because there are an infinite number of possible outcomes. When enough entropy builds up, the system just might come to a crashing halt and cease to exist as a viable system. However, there are an infinite number of other possible outcomes–which, I think you’ll agree, is a lot. These are arranged in a bell curve (google it), with the most probable outcomes in the center and the least probable at the edges. One of those infinite numbers of outcomes is the death of the system, but all the others involve the system reorganizing in a new way, at a higher, more complex level.
What is this new structure like (remember, we’re talking about you)? First, it’s more complex. Second, it can handle input that the old system couldn’t handle, because it can dissipate more entropy. It’s better at getting rid of chaos.
This process applies to all open systems: a seed germinating, a highway system, a society, a living thing, an ecosystem, a galaxy. A seed can remain a seed, and deal with changes in moisture, temperature, and so forth, up to a point. Eventually, though, a seed can’t dissipate enough entropy to remain a seed. It goes into chaos, temporarily, and then bursts into a seedling.
A cell in your body takes in nutrients, water, heat, and so on, and gives off waste products and in other ways dissipates entropy. If it can’t dissipate enough entropy to stay a single cell, though, it either dies or reorganize at a higher level by going through mitosis, cell division. It becomes two cells. You’ll remember from high school biology that in cell division the nuclear material goes into chaos temporarily, followed by the cell dividing.
Consider the evolution of scientific thought. The prevailing theories of science maintain their structure, even as new information is discovered. At a certain point, though, enough new information comes to light that old theories can’t continue to exist. Human thinking goes through a period of chaos and then suddenly reorganizes in a new way, integrating the new information and creating a new paradigm.
When Galileo and Copernicus said that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around, the church fought these new ideas for a long time. But as more and more evidence came to light, a point came where thinking on this subject became more and more chaotic, until the old way of seeing things broke down and was replaced by a new perspective.
This has happened countless times, in science, in medicine, in technology, in every area of life. It’s happened for you, personally, over and over. In your life you’ve had a series of ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Each one worked pretty well–until it didn’t. Then, you went through a time of chaos, where things didn’t make sense, until a new way of making sense of your life suddenly replaced the old way. This happens when we learn to talk, when we first start school, when we go off to college, when we first go out on our own, when we realize we’re getting old, and at several other times.
It happens over and over as you use Holosync. In each case, new input, if there’s enough of it, throws things into chaos. Then, at some point, your view of yourself and how to deal with life reorganizes at a higher, more complex, more functional level.
Here’s another example: a highway system. When you add in the highway engineers, a highway system is an open system. Cars come into the system, and through the off-ramps and exits, cars leave the system. If more vehicles come into the system than the system can dissipate, what happens? Chaos. A traffic jam. But if the highway engineers come along and build more lanes and more exits, the highway system reorganizes at a higher level that can dissipate the entropy.
Or, a revolution creates a new government that handles the problems the old government couldn’t solve. Your body creates new antibodies that overcome a disease. Your brain creates new learnings that allow you to deal with what previously overwhelmed you. Or, Saul of Tarsus is transformed into St. Paul.
Out of chaos, a transformed system emerges.
Scientists call such a process saltatory: characterized by a series of leaps and bounds, or quantum leaps. Each new system, each new perspective, involves a true death and rebirth, and truly is new.
This applies to every field of human inquiry: how cells transform food into energy, how an audience breaks into applause, the growth of plants, the organization of society, bee swarms, human culture, stock market patterns, altered states of consciousness, the interaction of nerve cells, the origin and development of cancer cells, behavior changes, and artistic expression. All change in the universe happens in this way.
Personally, I find this awe-inspiring.
In Part 3, which I will post in just a few days, I’ll finish this tale of chaos and reorganization by describing why you fight against this process (the answer will surprise you), why this fight is unnecessary (and a cause of most of your suffering), and what you can do instead.
Until then, try to hold yourself together.
And, as always, be well.
(click the player above to listen to this post)
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