Monday, November 29, 2010

Negentropy! Part 2

Here's a great response from Noah Kramer to my last post. He said he had some trouble posting it. Has anyone else had trouble? You can reach me at if it won't come through here.

Hey Rick

I much enjoyed your opening thoughts on negentropy. The idea of negative entropy, or syntropy, is really fascinating to me. So okay, the universe is constantly dissipating energy from higher to lower concentrations, ultimately theorized to lead to total heat death. And entropy is increasing faster and faster all the time! As this is happening there are these low entropy bubbles where some processes are moving into more complex and differentiated forms. But complex structures require more energy to be stable. As I understand it, order and differentiation is actually maintained by creating entropy someplace else. Complex systems, like you and me communicating about entropy using sophisticated technology, can only cohere by dissipating a huge amount of heat energy in the process. The more information and structure we want to create and maintain, the more energy we are going to have to come up with to use (and lose). This at least seems valid in most biological systems, which is why there can only be so many predators on top. And look at us now--dissipating billions of years of stored solar energy in a few centuries by burning hydrocarbons in order to create and sustain this interconnected hyper complex world we’ve made.

So in a way, entropy is the power source making the whole show dance; the faster we create it in order to do stuff, the more stuff happens. I think it’s not that we are reversing entropy, we are basically moving it somewhere else so that our internal order can be maintained. I should say that I’m no expert and could be utterly incorrect, but that’s what I understand to be the case.

Now, I am very intrigued by the connection you are drawing between energetic coherence and negentropy / syntropy, and I would like to understand more. First, what is the relationship between complexity and efficiency? A car is more complex than a bicycle, but a bike is way, way more efficient per pound / calorie. (Expediency certainly seems to come at the cost of efficiency in most cases) So when you suggest that coherence involves using energy in more complex ways, and that complexity translates into more efficiency, I intuitively get it right away, but the language and theoretical aspect hasn’t caught up for me.

“Entropy is inversely proportional to efficiency and harmony within any system.” I’m right with you here, an efficient system produces entropy less quickly than an inefficient one, and can do more with less by reducing heat loss. What is confusing is how complexity and coherence connects to efficiency. Moreover, I don’t quite understand negentropy to be the same as efficiency, more as the capacity to create and maintain order and differentiation by offering up entropy somewhere else, outside of the internal system. So entropy approaching zero would be, in sort of physical terms, like the moment of the big bang--all potential but no differentiation, no stuff, no movement, no change. Is that infinite coherence?

Then time / entropy starts to happen and bang, suddenly there can be work and change and complex structures precisely because potential is being used up and thrown away.

I should add, I’m right there with you about the nonstuff parts of consciousness, the subtle, mental, and beyond aspects on the continuum, of which stuff is the most gross and material. The question is, is that non stuff-stuff bound by the same laws of entropy as the stuff?

How does less become more in coherence?

My sense is that you are basically freeing up energy that has been locked, stuck, or misused in the separating or atomizing parts; and this change is a change in view / attitude and in subtle awareness (energy). Is it possible that a coherent body-mind is more evolved, more developed and present, but actually less riven by the complexities of innumerable parts and isolated systems, confused views and incomplete understandings? When the body-mind becomes a coherent whole, interconnected and open, is the awareness more expansive but actually less complicated (fractured)? It certainly feels that way in those aha! moments you've shown me. Exponentially anyway, moments of genuine presence feel much less complicated than moments of confusion. Once you get above rationality, complexity seems to become inclusivity.

Anyway, thanks for offering up some good fodder for ponder and letting me play along.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Entropy happens. It is inevitable in any system. Left to its own devices, stuff always moves toward decay. Energy is lost. Stuff wears out. We don’t need science to tell us that all forms are impermanent. That idea is the foundation of just about every religion. (“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”) Shoes, cars, empires, galaxies—they all come into being, hang around a while, then lose their mojo and disappear.

If you view the world from the materialist side of the Western Gate, then all you see is stuff. You even see yourself exclusively as stuff. And as stuff, you then feel the same entropy you see in all other forms. You see yourself wearing out, getting older, losing your energy.

Of course we are made of stuff. But we are non-stuff as well. When we only address our stuffiness, then physics and chemistry are often sufficient to explain what is going on. But when we go beyond the Western Gate things get a little fuzzy. That’s where Life enters the picture.

I wrote about negentropy in Taijiquan:Through the Western Gate, but it’s an idea that bears repeating. I’m not sure if Erwin Schroedinger coined the term, but he wrote about “negative entropy”:“The essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.”

As all the stuff in the universe moves toward entropy, Life evolves to more complex forms to utilize all that lost energy. Grass utilizes the energy of sunlight via photosynthesis. Sheep can’t do that. But they have evolved to eat grass and access the energy they can’t get directly from sunlight. Wolves can’t get their energy from grass, but have evolved a taste for mutton to get energy that way.

Humans are constantly developing new ways to reclaim lost energy. Consequently, living has become quite complex for the species. There is a desire to keep the game going. We may wax nostalgic for the simplicity of the “good old days”, but that djinn has left the lamp.

We can, however, slow entropy down, at least in our own bodies. Biophysicist May Wan Ho describes negentropy as “stored, mobilizable energy in a space-time structured system.” Energy gets “trapped” in a living organism and does work in sustaining it. The energy doesn’t stay there, it does its work and moves on. The more complex the system, the more energy that is required to sustain it. It also takes longer to move through a complex system. (A whale needs the energy of the millions of krill it had for lunch to keep on keeping on.)

Taijiquan and qigong use the consciousness of the practitioner to utilize the energy of food and breath in more complex ways than in normal activity. More bang for the buck. They also train the body/mind to move more efficiently, so there less energy leakage. Energy becomes more coherent.

Mae Wan Ho says, “As coherence approaches infinity, entropy approaches zero.”
That is to say: Entropy is inversely proportional to efficiency and harmony within any system.

It is the non-stuff of consciousness that makes it work. It continues to evolve new ways to utilize the energy that is dissipated by all the stuff it meets. Learning what it means to be coherent and how to access it often is the key to negentropy.

Thankfully, the process is quite a bit of fun.