Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Re-ordering the hierarchies of the core sciences; Novelty theory and thermodynamics in an evolving universe

Consider this a series of thought experiments I had when thinking about the laws of physics and the rules of biology and chemistry after listening to Terence Mckenna describe a theory which he called "Novelty Theory". I started thinking about the 'arrow of time' in physics, which is the presumed pointing concomitantly with the way current Big Bang theories have interpreted the astrophysics data into a kind of universal cosmogony (I've major Issues with cosmologies inferences on expansion, the CMB and other things, but that's not for this blog).  In other words time is a dimension rather than a property. The flow of time seems to manifest itself as the increase of entropy in the universe as a whole, which is the only real indicator of the direction the 'arrow' of time we have. This is a dimension, you can not measure it or test it in any way shape or form, it's merely inferred as a concept based on ex nihlo models, and their other counterpart similar 'Big Bang' type ideologies.

The more and more interdisciplinary subjects I learn online, instead of simply focussing on one subject like most 'top' professors do, I've become extremely aware that a person who specialises in one subject alone usually had no clue what is going on in science or other fields. This was Terence's virtue, he read all the sciences in depth, and then took a step back and tried to find underlying interlocking principles. I'm not sure if my musings are falsifying his theory as he saw it, or give it more credence, but it tends to bring it into alignment with thermodynamics and other well known phenomenon, so here goes. 

I'll start off with some very very broad contexts that underlie my line of thinking, then will explain the details shortly after.

My hypothesis is that we may have stacked the deck of cards of the three main sciences backwards, or at least the way they are stacked has numerous violations where biology apparently violates some of the laws of physics. The main take away I've gotten from deliberating on this is that biology and consciousness, not physics, may be the primary science; and even systems that to us seem physical, devoid of life and mechanical could in fact be microchosmic parts that make up a currently unthinkably large organism, of some sort. Which we are like cells, or enzymes embedded within, with a role to play in it's body, or a by product of something else (likely the Earth) that has a role to play. 

With so many orders of fractal scaling to it's nervous system and huge size (the Sun, the Solar system as a holistic system, a quadrant of the galaxy quadrant bound or even the galaxy itself) the idea of ourselves being able to detect this organism or comprehend it in anyway would be equivalent to a liver cell in our bodies being able to comprehend its role of binding and releasing energy in the human organism named Dave while be tries to find his lost shoehorn; it's simply inconceivable to us on our comparatively nearly insignificant scale. In a nutshell: The universe, not just what we define as biology, follows the rules of evolution just as much as we do.

Two quotes from two great minds seem to have reached similar conclusions:

"As nervous systems evolve to higher and higher levels, they come more and more to understand the true situation in which they are embedded, and the true situation in which we are embedded is an organism, an organization of intelligence on a galactic scale"
~ Terence Mckenna

"We must see that consciousness is neither an isolated soul nor the mere function of a single nervous system, but of that totality of interrelated stars and galaxies which makes a nervous system possible"
~ Alan Watts

As a reference point many of these ideas resonate with (Lanza, Robert 2011)'s theory of Biocentrism, which takes it a step further and firmly put biology and consciousness above all the other sciences, for the reasons outlined here Biocentric universe. Also the inference about the fractal nervous system of a higher in scale entity is taking the Gaia Hypothesis in the form which it's often referenced as The Strong Gaia Hypothesis.

Anyway I digress, they are adjuncts for context, not main points. Unfortunately the idea that biological processes of life and vitality are violating the law of thermodynamics and entropy needs me to first define our understanding of time, and point out some different perspectives on it. This below picture gives a good brief overview of the different types of time we don't often think about.

Now this paradox raises a lot more questions, as the main way time is measured is through Newtonian mechanics, which is the basis for most of the technology in mechanical watches, and later relativity was added on too, but changing very little comparatively for us of creatures of such small velocity, size and mass, thus we are considered generally sub-relitivistic organisms.

It's still at this point a legitimate question to ask: is our perception of time more a result of consciousness and various endogenous metabolic processes and others; or an actual external real world constant non perceptual time that happens even when there is no consciousness there to perceive times passage?

Newtonian mechanics, which a lot of people use to define time, is in fact reversible in time. So how can you derive a law which is asymmetrical in time from basic principles which are symmetrical in time? You run a clock backwards it’s just as good using Newtonian Physics as if you run it forwards. Yet the entropy increases in the future. Or at least it appears to, to us, as conscious observers.

Although time is well defined by the asymmetric laws of newtonian mechanics it's this asymmetry that still gives no direction to the 'arrow of time', the only way we can work out the arrow of time is by a series of leaps of faith about the evolution of the universe showing a general trend to increased entropy. To quote wiki: "Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that seems to imply a particular direction of progress, sometimes called an arrow of time. As time progresses, the second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases. Hence, from this perspective, entropy measurement is thought of as a kind of clock"

The above clearly seems to have been written by a physicist. A lot of biologists would give a different view.  I think what we have here is another case of not enough interdisciplinary work between the fields, its generally well known that biologists find it hardest to get on with physicists when discussing their subjects, why these two sciences in particular seem to not compliment each other is there are definite friction points between their laws and intuitive positions.

According to the laws of thermodynamics various respected things are stated about the cosmos, for example that in 10(x) years we'll be moving at 20x the speed of light, gaining more and more energy as thermodynamics notches up the whole thing. Which ultimately implies the universe can not be a steady state universe, there are no counter effects on this by mind or organisms or the evolution of systems, but the universe is in fact rapidly approaching all to end until stars burn out and the 2nd law of thermodynamics is going to reduce everything to heat death.

However if the primary substratuum of the universe is mind of some sort, as a driving force for information transfer behind biology (life would be a more suitable term, I consider biology an Earth bound term, as no life from elsewhere else would likely be biological in any sense of the word as we understand it here) with or without an organism, such as the Gaia Hypothesis implies could be true, then were we have an opposite pointing arrow of time for biological life, and we can see from our minds an example of a species with higher conscious abilities (recall of past in memory, anticipations of far off futures, etc) to the physical law. As we are constantly bootstrapping previous ideas, languages, technologies, arts, computers into higher and more complex forms, we've transcended the typical evolutionary mechanism most life on this planet evolves by, the mixing of genes, and moved into the epigenetic world, a world made not of hardware but of the imagination, culture, language, art, all sorts. Novelty building on novelty as a springboard for further novelty. 

This can be thought of in two ways, first; that there is a constant state of flux in the universe between these two forces, the organizational complexifying properties of mind and organism against the entropic heat death end scenario. Either pockets of novelty that evolve in the opposite direction to the rest of the expanding universe, or there is some kind of universal equilibrium of flux between the two which overall is conserved. Secondly; if you consider life and consciousness as extremely precious and a rare cosmic event then we appear to be very lucky in the universe to have evolved to this point of accelerated novelty (vs the cosmological inferences) on Earth, who especially with our recent and much faster evolution via epigenetics has been speeding up and up for ages. 

The picture which the 2nd law of thermodynamics gives us for biology is quite frankly wrong when applied to biology, to quote Roger Caillois:

Equilibrium thermodynamics provides a satisfactory explanation for a vast number of physiochemical phenomena. Yet it may be asked whether the concept of equilibrium structures encompasses the different structures we encounter in nature. Obviously the answer is no"

What Cailois pictured also quite wrong however was 'tumescence' or 'maximum detumescence' is how he explained it, instead all he had to realise is that strange hard to define forces in the universe, usually called “Life and information transfer” are constantly working up into ever and ever more organised, complex forms through time.

To bring in Novelty theory a bit more I'll define it: Novelty is the quality in nature that seeks complexity, it is essentially an evolutionary like tendency. And it’s opposing force would be habit, and that these laws are more primary than the other thermodynamic laws of entropy alone and others we use to explain the end states and other things about the way the universe works; in this model the thermodynamical laws are epi-phenomenons of this constant habit and novelty flux.

Habit simply means repetition of previously established patterns, continuation of a equilibrium situation. A tendency for a system to degrade entropically due to the 2nd Law of Thermodyanmics. The other aspect, novelty, is the new, the untried levels of complexification previously unachieved, unusual connectivity, creativity, surprise, emergent ordered phenomenon from originally chaotic systems; that's novelty in a nutshell.

Ilya Prigogine, who won a Nobel prize for his work on thermodynamics of the 'non equilibrium' variety named this “The principle of order through perturbation”. Which is a counterintuitive phenomenon in physical chemistry. Because for a very long time one of the strongest faiths held in physics was that the universe is undergoing thermodynamic degradation. In other words everything is tending to fall apart.
Prigogine showed that this is not true, he showed that in physical systems, simple physical systems there can be spontaneous mutation to higher states of order. Originally it was just added to thermodynamics as a 'corrective' adjunct, but now it's realised a law of thermodynamics itself, and Prigogine’s principle has taken its proper place within the overall structure of thermodynamics.

Following this a new law became self evident, he and others are talking about the ‘emergence’ of an ordered state from a more chaotic physical system. Mathematicians already know this phenomenon well as Chaos Theory, but in physics (another interdisciplinary gap in understanding) the thing is called ‘non linear dynamics’ and generally taken less seriously.

Take for instance the weather. A lot of warm air particles (O2 and N2 molecules) are bouncing around in the atmosphere in completely chaotic directions. But the Earths spin and the force of gravity are acting on them too, as is the heat from the ocean, which makes it an open thermodynamical system. It also represents the development or emergence of a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic ocean above the equator

Under the proper environmental and external conditions, the chaotic system of the atmosphere tends toward the ‘emergence’ of a whole new and unique phenomenon that has physical characteristics quite different from the chaotic situation that created it. In chaos theory it would be referred to as complexity, yet in meteorology this complexity is named a hurricane. In other words, under the influence of external environmental conditions (gravity and other forces) the prevalent chaotic conditions (high entropy) of an open thermodynamic system tend toward the emergence of a complexity (and lower entropy) with physical characteristics wholly different from the system that gave rise to it. This statement defines a new fifth law of thermodynamics. It could be called the principle or law of emergence. It is all the more significant since it takes into account the physical forces and other laws of nature that are missing from standard thermodynamical considerations.

A third new law based on the concept of ‘system evolution’ is directly implied by Prigogine’s ‘law’ and the ‘law’ of emergence from chaotic systems. Prigogine’s law presents the possibility of higher level stabilities emerging from a chaotic state while the concept of emergence deals with the self-organizational property of emergent systems due to the new physical properties of the emergent system. Tog ether, these result in the natural development of progressively higher levels of self-organizing systems, i.e., ‘system evolution’. So here we have a new sixth law of thermodynamics. Individual living systems and groups of systems undergo a form of natural evolution as time flows forward.

This last addition gives science three new laws of thermodynamics to deal with nature, the way things really are, in a more complete manner – (4) Prigogine’s ‘law’, (5) ‘law’ of emergence, and (6) ‘law’ of systems evolution. It may be presumptuous to call these additions ‘laws’ of nature instead of hypotheses, but they have been verified in other circumstances and they do have an extremely wide range of applications. Yet, still more might be necessary. We still have Murphy’s Law–if anything can go wrong it will go wrong–which will always be the ‘Next’ Law of thermodynamics.

The primary virtue of these additional laws of thermodynamics is that they equalize the process of thermodynamics and mediate between symmetrical opposites in the duality of order (emergence from chaos) and disorder (entropy). Murphy’s Law is balanced by the Zeroth law, and the first three laws dealing with entropy (chaos) are balanced by the newly added three laws that deal with order emerging from the chaos of entropy. They make thermodynamics perfectly symmetrical. They also increase the explanatory power of thermodynamics.

Unfortunately, these new laws of thermodynamics cannot be found, at least stated as laws, anywhere else in science even though it is when they are so stated that they reach their full potential. Yet they are already used throughout science in both thermodynamical and other contexts

With these additions, thermodynamics could now be included in an explanation of how stars, planets, galaxies and other material systems evolved out of chaos in the early universe, while the novel concepts of life, mind and consciousness can also be explained. It seems that evolution is built into the very fabric of the physical universe and it is not just a biological process leading to humans. The new laws also indicate that evolution does not stop at any given point in time or plateau of development such as our normal human consciousness. Evolution is an integral part of all processes, whether material or non-material, living or non-living, and all facets of physical reality. Everything in physical reality undergoes evolution as long as time pushes in a direction. The direction of the arrow of time yields order for biology, not disorder. Indeed, emergence and evolution become the true arrows of time rather than entropy. Now, given all of the external forces and stresses on mind and consciousness as well as the large chaotic population base that has grown in the past few decades, the next step in human evolution is all but required by the universe

So what’s really going on in the universe is a struggle between these two tendencies, biology represents the emergence of a very novel set of chemical strategies for the preservation and maintenance of novelty, probably mediated and accelerated further when a species evolves a cognizing mind to consciously speed up the rate of change of novelty far higher than the slow genetic drift of typical darwinian evolution. The emergence of higher-animals and culture and language and technology, these things are also novel strategies building on previous achievements in the novelty department, building against entropy, into systems of further unique and disparate ecosystems.

Lets look at the Western notion of time as we derive it from Newton from a different take than we did above. The Western notion of time is that time is what is known as pure duration. All time is in Western physics is the place where you put process so that it doesn’t all happen at once.

Time has no quality, it’s pure duration, think of it as a perfectly smooth surface. The only modification to this doctrine in the past 500 years is Einstein came along 100 years ago and said that this smoothness is distorted by an amount depending on the mass of the body in question. So we go from perfectly smooth pure duration, to slightly curved space-time.

But the main idea which is contiguous through all of these intellectual evolutions is the idea that the local fine structure of time can be portrayed as a zero-dimensional space, ie, locally it is OK to think of time as perfectly smooth. But why should it be? The primary reason why it's given a zero dimensional value is we've simply assumed time has any kind of geometric type structure in the first place, it's a ultimately pythagorean geometric idea, with it's roots in greek maths and useful for us to visualize, but for a dimension with no measuring stick invented yet, it is just an assumption. 

I'd say if you want to understand the phenomenon of time you don’t conquer time by building vast technologies and seeking a sub-atomic particles, etc. The way you should try to understand and investigate time is by moving inward to metabolism. The human body could be seen as a sort of knot in time, it is non-thermo-dynamic state of equilibrium maintained by the miracle of metabolism.

Metabolism, the slow chemical burning of organic material, a form of burning so subtle the energy is trapped in various cytochromes and membranes and put the work of organism. For science, one of the most important phenomenon in the universe is the move toward heat-death and entropy. They barely notice that life represents an amazing and persistent exception to the rule that all thermal dynamic systems run down, life has achieved the miracle of a stability far from entropy through the the complicated act of metabolism.

By studying further the way in which metabolism relates to bodily functions, how people can vastly change their metabolism and heart rate to levels (with mere conscious intent) that would kill most people, and how the perception of time is perceived during this, a new way to define the arrow of time for biology maybe be worked out to explain our curious situation of seeming to accelerate faster and faster into time. Which was one of the central tenants of Mckennas Novelty theory, that not only are approaching the more novel, this process (due to human influence) is rapidly increasing. All of this will relate to three things; the influence of epigenetic inheritance of traits; the interaction between human consciousness, metabolism and how our minds relate to matter; and whatever transitional stage we are at as a species and what new novel phenomenon we are emerging into.

And how they all interlink, I've absolutely no idea substantial enough to write it down yet.

All of this, in the grand scheme of things, does imply a kind of omega point for us, but far from proves it. The Omega Point is the purported maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which some theorise the universe is evolving. I would say that the universe is not; but we may indeed be. 

My 2$.

Another fringe theory gathering dust in the recesses of the interwebs :)


Sheldrake, Rupert. The science delusion. Coronet, 2012.
Nicolis, Gregoire, and Ilya Prigogine. Self-organization in nonequilibrium systems. Vol. 191977. Wiley, New York, 1977.
Beichler, James E. "Beyond 2012: Why do we keep torturing ourselves with these predictions?."
Caillois, Roger. Man, play, and games. University of Illinois Press, 1961.
Depew, David J., and Bruce H. Weber. "Entropy, information, and evolution: new perspectives on physical and biological evolution." (1988).