Entropy in Five Words or Less

I’ve been trying to make sense, lately, of what exactly entropy is. Entropy is apparently a very important concept applied by physicists to help explain the Big Picture, relating to the workings of the universe in sub-atomic terms. I guess it has something to do with heat distribution: how hotter things like the sun give off heat as energy which is absorbed by cooler things in an ongoing move toward systemic equilibrium.

When the Big Bang happened, so the story goes, entropy began, and, over time, continues to increase so that atomic configurations grow ever increasingly complex and chaotic which is the point in time we are right now. But, eventually all this chaotic complexity will blend together in a homogeneous soup and everything will return to a state of equilibrium as the last star blinks out.

Which all seems somewhat understandable, but then we’re told entropy continues to increase even though everything will have been reduced to undifferentiated matter, which is pretty hard to understand. And this is not to mention the idea that entropy measures the amount of work that CAN’T be done using available energy and the whole concept can be reduced to mathematical formulae.

So, my understanding of this illusive concept remains in the shadowy grays if not quite the complete dark, and I’m left with little choice other than reducing the concept to: the measure of change over time. I know this must be terribly simplistic but I’m pretty confident it’s all I really need to know about entropy.

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Into the Wilderness with Others

I’ve recently returned from a trip into the wilderness with others. And, while my companions were most congenial, offering, as they did, opportunities to share sights and sounds, I found the experience lacking in ways it’s taken me a while to identify.

Most of my treks into the wilds in recent years have been done solo. Traveling alone means extended times of solitude and contemplation which is really refreshing initially, but, after a while I will inevitably find myself missing conversation. At some point I always seem to experience a descent into psychic depths of a fairly profound nature. And, although these mental travels are not always pleasant they provide me an ultimately refreshing reassessment of my existence. Not exactly an epiphany every time you understand, but usually by the end of my adventures I do sense a nuanced change of perspective.

So, the recent trip with companions to insulate my psyche from its otherwise likely meanderings was a clearly different experience. But, after all, placing one’s self in a situation where nature has the clear upper hand, whether with others or alone I think is pretty worthwhile no matter where one’s psyche might wander off to.

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Story Lines

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the multiple story lines that can be thought of as true regarding one and the same experience. That is, a single experience can be explained by emergent explanations, closed systems within themselves. (That have nothing to do, I might add, with political ulterior motives.)

For instance, the object and actors in any experience are composed of basically the same kinds of atomic particles, the movements of which are a complete story or explanation of the event. One could refer to this idea as the Atomic explanation of the occurrence. Then, we can consider the experience in a biological context, how the natural order will lead the actors to predictable behaviors and interactions related to basic physical survival instincts. This, too, provides a complete story in itself.

A psychological story line would focus on relationships and feelings. How actor #1 responds to actor #2’s need for acceptance by the group and, maybe, how the groups’ social dynamic will thereby be affected. On the metaphysical plane, a supernatural agency will oversee events and will ultimately figure in the experiential outcomes. Faith and belief will be required by the actors who wish to tap into the god’s benevolence for no other means are available to affect their destinies.

I guess it’s pretty clear why conflict is so prevalent these days. It seems to be human nature to seek out those of like perspectives, exacerbating divisiveness. Thankfully there are those who can move between these closed story lines and find and promote understanding of differing views, offering hope of finding some sort of common ground. I’m thinking our very existence may depend on it.

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The God Particle

I’ve been trying to make sense, lately, of what science, particle physics in particular, tells us is the underlying structure of the universe and everything in it. Apparently, there is a “core theory” which informs us that the sub-atomic building block of all matter is something referred to (simplistically according to Mr. Higgs) as the God Particle, which, as I understand it, is a really, really small item that has never actually been seen by anyone.

To further complicate things these incredibly tiny particles occur as wave lengths in vibrating fields which make up everything from the planet Jupiter to the fly currently resting on my living room window. The whole system is in a constant state of flux driven by energies like gravity and electromagnetism.

As mysterious as this all seems, and physicists freely admit there are many questions still unanswered, the underlying consensus is that Quantum Field Theory is sound as far as describing what kinds of things can’t occur in nature as we know it. Certain supernatural powers, such as telekinesis, QFT tells us, simply can’t occur because the energies manipulating the universe on a sub-atomic level aren’t strong enough to allow anyone’s mind to bend a spoon or send knives flying across the room while sitting sedately at the kitchen table.

I think, though, the jury’s still out on mind on mind occurrences like extra-sensory perception. Who’s to say all those quarks and things flying around electromagnetically in vibrating fields aren’t interconnecting Mind somehow. Anyway, I certainly find it all fascinating to think about. I look forward to our noble physicists finding more answers to the big puzzle.

 

Opposing Views

I’ve been reading about the dichotomous philosophical views held by the French in the 19th century. One perspective held the great classical civilizations of Greece and Rome were beyond compare and, therefore, a sound basis upon which to guide one’s life. The views of these Neo-Classicists held to staid ideals of beauty and truth exemplified by the ancients, the message being the past holds the principles by which to live.

The other view extolled the virtues of man’s passions. The spirit of life was seen in the serendipitous nature of human existence. These Romanticists championed the flow and flux living presented to the man truly alive. Living fully in the present was pretty clearly the message here.

Interestingly, these opposing views were manifested in the arts of the time. The Neo-Classicists looked to linear emphasis in the imagery on Greek pottery and to the subdued color they found in the art of the ancients they saw on their pilgrimages to Rome. Their more immediate champion was Nicholas Poussin. The Romanticists relished the baroque twists and turns they saw in the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens. Their preferred palette contained the bright colors they found in the exotic cultures of the Near East.

These op positional views fed off of each other; the first staunchly absolutist and rational the second spirited and life-affirming. The first extolled their virtues against the decadence of the second; the second, their flexibility and pluralism against a rigid didactic ism. A lot of great art was created in 19th century France and I’ll bet a big part of the immense creative output was the result of these tensions.

So, I wonder, if everyone everywhere suddenly witnessed an unmistakable ‘Ultimate Truth’, undeniable in any way, so remarkable that all doubt was erased from every mind, what would be the result? It seems to me, even the idea of peace would be meaningless; without opposition there would be nothing to believe.

I can only hope that sort of truth will never become known.

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Cultural Evolution

I was reading recently that cultures with the best chance, over time, of sustainability, most likely to expand and grow, are the ones which nurture an undercurrent of irrationality. When it comes to cultures, dominance depends on size and stability, and in the case of human cultures it appears the ones most likely to excel are those whose practitioners are most willing to sacrifice self-interest to the betterment of what they see as their cultures superiority, as delusional as that may be.

The underlying current driving these successful cultures is, and has pretty much always been religious beliefs that contain a supernatural overseer whose job it is to instill mutual trust, sometimes through a mutual understanding of the dangers of opposition, keep the populace on the straight and narrow and fiercely committed to correct belief and action. Unfortunately, sometimes beliefs turn in to dogma, intolerance develops and anything not orthodox becomes heretical and conflict rules.

I have to wonder if the cultural upsides of these irrational currents override the downside.

 

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Intuitive Thinking/ Analytical Thinking

I was reading the other day that psychological research suggests that those folks who think intuitively are more likely to embrace a personal god than people of a more analytical mind set. Apparently, as it turns out, those who base their thoughts on instinctual understanding are inclined toward a mind/body dichotomy, a separation of the mental and physical that presupposes an existence beyond mortality and lends itself well to religious belief. On the other hand, the analytically minded, using reason to frame reality are far less inclined to figure in any sort of supernatural agency when defining the Big Picture.

I’m inclined to think that most of us harbor a bit of both mindsets, at least, I know that I do. I, alternately, seek to reason and understand and sense and accept the presence of the unknowable. Psychology suggests it’s far easier to embrace the intuitive, which is a more natural mental state, while analytical thinking requires hard work, pushing the intellect to find order in the complexities of the world. Finding a balance, for me, isn’t so easy. I can peacefully revel in the beauty of nature where the supernatural lies in wait and then find myself working pretty hard to make logical sense of what I experience around me.

I guess I’ll just have to let my mind go where it will, relax in intuitive oblivion or analytically battle the difficulties before me, as my energies dictate. I have time for both.

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Worlds within Worlds

I’ve been wondering about this most incredible idea, that, quantum mechanically speaking, there may exist any number of universes. As hard as I try to visualize such an idea in my limited three-dimensional capacity to imagine spatially it all seems pretty much beyond comprehension. When I add time to the mix I can sort of get an idea of it all. After all, the world as it is right now is not quite the same as the world as it is right now. A micro-second in the past or the future might define an entirely separate reality, a parallel existence.

I wonder if these separate realities float around, bump into each other and maybe intersect for brief periods. Is it possible the remarkable sparkling landscape you saw last week was of another world never to be seen in your reality again? Maybe realities are nested within each other. Do the places you glimpse through the trees and bushes on that familiar winding trail through the woods have a certain other-worldly feel?

I find such thoughts intriguing. I revel in the possibilities, and, as long as I don’t think too hard about trying to define the multiverse in three-dimensional terms, I remain content in the limitations of my understanding.

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Are Watched People Nice People?

I’ve been reading that there are a number of scientifically sound studies in psychology that suggest people tend to be good, more generous, altruistic when they’re being watched. And, more specifically, when they are thinking about God, or gods, or other supernatural entities people are more inclined to behave nicely toward others.

I’ve recently been made aware of the fact that a quite large percentage of prisoners in American prisons suffer from one sort of disability or another. According to the report, one of the most common disabilities among the incarcerated is something called ‘executive function disorder’. What this means, I guess, is that those who suffer from EFD are unable to organize themselves well enough to take care of those basic actions required to function successfully, you know, get the things done that need to be done. These folks are apparently unable to get in step with their fellow citizens, or, to put it more simply, they don’t follow the rules, which seems to me a pretty good explanation as to why they’re incarcerated.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these incarcerated individuals thought about God quite a bit, at least in the beginnings of their time behind bars. I wonder if this means, being watched as they are with great care, these folks are nicer, more generous and cooperative with each other than they might otherwise be.

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Totalitarianism

I’ve been thinking about totalitarianism lately. This, in part I guess, because I’ve been reading about the philosopher Hannah Arendt who escaped Nazi Germany in the 1940’s and, as a Jew, gave considerable thought to the subject.

Ms. Arendt determined that a successful totalitarian regime is able to establish a commitment to certain idealisms, such as racial purity or nationalistic solidarity, at the expense of basic human rights. By creating and enforcing with a heavy hand certain rules and laws focused on idealisms, plurality and individuality are undermined and an undifferentiated populace is championed. Faced with being ‘for us or against us’ the individual trying to go about his business taking care of family, putting food on the table and such will understandably become fearful. The fear of being perceived as an outsider tends to push ordinary citizens to embrace and participate in the extreme right wing political agenda. And, before long, most everyone is on board except, of course, those chosen as scapegoats to represent all that is evil and in opposition to the selected ideal truths.

As I think about it, it seems to me most all political structures, even those that declare democratic rule, have a bit of an inclination to push idealisms and demonize an opposition. Hopefully, individual strength and perseverance will hold such totalitarian impulses at bay. One must be careful, thought, not to take individual freedoms for granted, I think.

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