Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature’s Plan for Humankind
Part 1. Metabolic Metaphysics
Entropy: Nature's Preferred Direction?
old science of thermodynamics assigns to nature a capacity to self
deconstruct complex structures and processes spontaneously.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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