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Introduction
& Prolog
Part 1.
Metabolic Metaphysics
Part 2.
Star Larvae
Part 3.
Space Brains
Addenda
Epilog

The Star Larvae HypothesisAstrotheology
Nature’s Plan for Humankind
Part 1. Metabolic Metaphysics


Entropy: Nature's Preferred Direction?

The old science of thermodynamics assigns to nature a capacity to self disorganizeto deconstruct complex structures and processes spontaneously.




The ideas swirling around complexity theory seem to amount to a skirting of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The hallowed Second Law declares all of nature to be running down, falling apart, inexorably drifting toward equilibrium—away from organized complexity. Mountains erode, stars burn out, organisms die and decay, and the distinguishing features of these physical forms evaporate as their materials get recycled. Potential energy gets used up; entropy, or disorganization, increases; and the world ultimately drifts toward a state of homogeneous featurelessness. Thus is the transience of the physical form.

"A subsystem of the universe modeled as if it were the only thing in the universe, neglecting everything outside it, is called an isolated system. But we should never forget that isolation from the world is never complete. As noted, in the real world there are always interactions between any subsystem we may define and things outside it. To one extent or another, subsystems of the universe are always what physicists call open systems. These are bounded systems that interact with things beyond those boundaries. So when we do physics in a box, we are approximating an open system by an isolated system."

— Lee Smolin
Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

Science gives the name entropy to the disorganization that increases as events trend toward equilibrium. The end result of any natural process will be a state of complete equilibrium, a state of maximum disorganization, maximum entropy. The concept of increasing entropy is a canonical foundation of the scientific understanding of nature.

Applied to the universe as a whole, the Second Law predicts its eventual demise, dubbed the "heat death" by physicists. Given enough time, the universe will devolve to a state of maximum equilibrium, in which every potential source of energy will have exhausted itself. The Second Law sentences the universe to death by entropy.

But the Second Law is a curious description of nature, because it relies fundamentally on the concept of a "closed system," an imaginary box cut out of nature that is perfectly isolated from outside influences. In other words, in fairness to the Second Law, it applies, strictly speaking, only inarguably to closed systems, even though "openness" does not guarantee that any particular physical system will be shielded from the pull of entropy. These qualifiers aside, a closed system is a construct of the human capacity to idealize. No closed systems occur in nature. As a result, the Second Law must be treated as contingent. The ideal of the closed system to which it applies is a fiction. In nature energy always leaks into or out of any defined volume of space. As science has done with phlogiston and ether, it can discard the extraneous notion of "closed system" without selling nature short. Nature is of a whole. And within that whole, entropic—tearing down—and anti-entropic—building up—processes operate side by side.

Trying to stay loyal to the Second Law, scientists labor to account for nature's observed ability to manufacture systems that proceed actively away from equilibrium, spontaneously gaining in complexity and shedding entropy. And these labors have led to the development of complexity theory, or complex systems theory. Theorists have proposed terms such as "extropy" or "negentropy" to name the attribute of a system that increases as the system grows in complexity. ( Some long-lived structures, such as spiral galaxies, persist in states of disequilibrium for many millions of years, in seemingly stark defiance of the Second Law.) In any case, the physical world can be imagined as being governed by a tension between entropy and complex organization.

By developing complex systems theory, science is coming to grips with the paradox of a natural world that obeys both the Second Law and flaunts its ability to outrun the law. Science tells us that, despite apparent violations or bendings of the Second Law, that the Law should remain on the books because every anti-entropic process—every self-organizing complex system—draws energy from a source outside of itself, so that the total system that constitutes both the anti-entropic process and its energy source does predictably increase in entropy. But the question remains as to why nature would construct complex structures and retard their degradation by enlisting anti-entropic processes in the first place. From what law of physics does this capacity issue? (And what evidence exists to support the contention that the entropy of the universe as a whole actually is increasing?)

In the light of science’s new enthusiasm for vitalism, albeit a vitalism stripped of any metaphysical "life energy" but still granting nature mysterious powers, the psychology of science suffers from cognitive dissonance. It observes that nature tends spontaneously to degrade organized structures into simpler components while simultaneously using those simple components to build up complex structures. So where do nature’s loyalties lie, in the building up or in the tearing down? Complexity or entropy? And how does she decide when and where to construct and when and where to destruct? The dilemma suggests a theoretical impasse. But the impasse can be resolved by retaining both tendencies in their full expression and linking them in a feedback relationship of mutual dependence. What is needed to break through this impasse is a meta-concept that encompasses both tendencies and locates each operationally relative to the other, in a loop. The biological sciences provide such an overarching concept. It is called metabolism.

NEXT > Metabolism and the Complexity-Entropy Circuit

 

The Star Larvae Hypothesis:

Stars constitute a genus of organism. The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase. Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.

Elaboration: The hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which    

 

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