Entropy LO19742

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Thu, 5 Nov 1998 09:31:40 +0200

Replying to LO19727 --

Dear Organlearners,

John Zavacki <jzavacki@greenapple.com> writes:
(replying to John Gunkler in LO19683)-

>Thank you, John, for reminding me of that. I have always
>believed that the human is the anti-entropic device, the
>provider of feedback and feed forward, the controller, orderer,
>improver of systems. When we misunderstand the language
>of control (as in control systems) and eliminate reference to
>it for its political correctness or the excitement of abandonment
>to entropic devices (change for the sake of change?) we lose
>track of our goal, which is to constantly and forever improve
>the systems within our sphere of influence.

Greetings John,

In the quote above you have expressed a very important idea. I will
refer to it as follows:
"When we misunderstand the language of control .....
and eleminate references to it.....
we lose track of our goal ....."
This idea is not only true for me, but sheer wisdom.

I had to snip deliberately some parts of your sentence by ..... to
unveil the idea.

One part snipped, is
"(as in control systems)"
Since this is an explanation of what you mean by "language of
control", I have snipped it to get to the essence of your wisdom. This
part is a fine "explanation by example". It suggests that we have a
diversity of languages for actual examples of control systems. For
example, in any religion the language would be "the laws of the god(s)
of that religion".

The next part snipped, is
"for its political correctness"
Since this is also an explanation, I have also deleted it. It is a
fine "explanation by reason" for misunderstanding and eliminating the
"language of control".

However, note that by introducing this reason (or any other reason like
the next one), you tacitly introduce "causality" -- the concept that every
"effect" is the irreversible result of a specific "cause" owing to a
specific "action". In Western rational inferences the "cause" is the
assumptions, the "effect" is the conclusions and "action" is the logical
system used to derive the conclusions from the assumptions.

One of the hottest problems in all thinking is "Is causality actual, and
if is, what causes causality?". Many people deny causality and consider it
rather as a myth. But the far majority of them use "explanation by reason"
to do it. Thus they invoke causality to deny causality. Most of the others
use "explanation by example" to do it, offering examples so complex that
it becomes very difficult to trace the "web of causality" in these
examples. Many other people accept causality, but deny its
"irreversibily". Some replace the "irreversibility" with "serendipity",
meaning that blind luck or fortune had been the cause of the effect.
Others replace the "irreversibility" with "reversibility", meaning that
the effect can equally well cause the cause. However, almost all people
who accept causality, also accept (usually tacitly) that the cause and the
effect are connected by a specific "action". But the diversity in the
specific action which people have in mind, especially from different
cultures, is astounding. In other words, when one person infers a certain
effect from a certain cause by using a certain action, another person
using a different action for the same cause and effect, may easily
disagree on the causality.

In my own systems thinking I believe that causality is one of the
fingerprints of God in His Creation. In other words, causality has been
created by God and is sustained by God. Causality is one of the
uncountable many ways which He uses to remind us of Him -- in this case
that He is the cause of the Creation. I am also able to explain (by
example or by reason) that causality does not have an immanent cause (a
cause in all Creation), but that it is one of the many ways in which we
perceive "entropy production" (the cause) and its manifestations (the
effects). I am fully aware that my systems thinking is rather unique. But
there is a book which I can recommend wholeheartedly to all fellow
learners in which the author at least tri es to explain the relationship
between the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which concerns "entropy
production") and causality. It is the cosmologist Sir Arthur Eddington's
"The nature of the physicial world" (1948, Macmillan). If you have the
time, you can also read the book of Erich Jantsch "The self-organising
universe" (1980, Pergamon).

The third part snipped is:
"or the excitement of abandonment to entropic
devices (change for the sake of change?)
Let us first consider the "or the excitement of" phrase. I have tried
to explain in some of my contributions that excitement, like
curiosisty and happiness, are not only valid causes for change, but
also extremely powerful ones. It is because they are adjoints of
higher order emergences. Or to say it using your words, the reason is
"the excitement of" emergences. Sadly, one of the many
misunderstandings about emergences is that the "new" which has
emerged, has "abandoned" the "old" from which it has emerged. It is
like saying a child abandons its parents when it is born. No. The
essential part of the "old" becomes "locked" into the "new". The
essential part of the "old" is never nothing. In other words, not
anything can emerge from nothing. For example, in the emergences of
life (new specimens and species) the most obvious essential part of
the "old" is its DNA.

Let us now get to the phrase "entropy devices". First of all, entropy
and energy go hand in hand. It is impossible to find energy without
entropy associated with it, or to find entropy without energy
associated with it. The one needs the other, or in other words, energy
and entropy are "complementary" concepts like "man and woman",
"teacher and learner" or "body and spirit". So if we think of "entropy
devices", we must also think of them as "energy devices". Secondly,
entropy is not a property of merely "devices". Everything (natural
objects or cultural artifacts) in Creation has energy and entropy,
whether we use such a thing as a device or not. Consequently, should
we label some things as "entropy devices" and not realise that "energy
and entropy" are properties of all things of Creation, we would be
causing confusion and misunderstanding galore.

But there is an even deeper confusion and misunderstanding possible,
one which will prevent us from understanding clearly how the laws of
"energy conservation" and "entropy production" works. If any person
assumes that "entropy expresses only chaos", then I can guarantee you
that this person willl get stuck at some definite stage of
understanding these two laws. Yes, guarantee is a strong word, but I
can back it up with history itself -- of people failing to understand
how "energy conservation" and "entropy production" causes the
evolution of Creation, or to use a phrase of Eddington, of people
failing to understand how "entropy is the arrow of time". Before Ilya
Prigogine's own contributions, my guarantee would have made no sense
because there were no exceptions to make comparisons with. But now
such comparisons are possible so that we can use history as arbiter.
The stage where that person will get stuck in understanding the two
laws is when this person has to realise that "entropy expresses only
chaos" is merely an assumption. The person will keep on insisting that
"entropy expresses only chaos" is a fact, using every possible means
to substantiate that fact. The most common way is to say that since
all Nobel prize winners in physics up to now considered it as a fact,
who can differ. Well, Prigogine differed with sufficient reason so
that he was awarded a Noble prize for it, but (note) in chemistry

However, when a person assumes that "entropy expresses chaos and
order", then the first thing which that person will do, is to check
the validity of the assumption for two reasons. Firstly, the history
of science teaches with extreme clarity that unvalid assumptions
retarded the advancement of science while validating assumptions
promoted it, often with large leaps. Secondly, since the assumption
"entropy expresses only chaos" has been so universally acclaimed, it
is foolish to seek affirmation for the assumption "entropy expresses
chaos and order".

Unfortunately, validating the assumption that "entropy expresses chaos
and order" is a very, very complex task. For example, since chaos and
order are not only in the physical (material) world, but also in the
spiritual (abstract) world, that person will have to demonstrate that
"energy conservation" and "entropy production" also apply to the
spiritual world as they apply to the physical world. Can you imagine
the complexity of this task when comparing it with the human hours it
took to demonstrate that "energy conservation" and "entropy
production" apply to the physical world? The latter process took
approximately a hundred years (1865 -1965) and thousands of physicists
and chemists to culminate in the work of one man -- Ilya Prigogine. Is
it possible for one person to do it all for the spiritual world, or do
we rather need a team of thousands of people working for a century to
accomplish it?

But let us take into account another facet of chaos and order ---
hurting. In the process of making sure that there is such a thing as
"conservation of energy", nobody realised from 1865 for 40 years that
they will even have to propose and then validate that also matter is a
form of energy. Then Einstein came along, building on the work of
hundreds of physicists through centuries, proposed his (special)
theory of relativity (1905) with a remarkable equation E = MC^2. From
then on it took another 40 years and thousands of scientists to show
CONVINCINGLY that E=MC^2 is indeed the case. How? By dropping the
atom-bomb on Hiroshima.

Conviction of the law of "energy conservation" enabled humans to
unleash the power within atoms -- to create nuclear bombs for
destructive purposes and nuclear reactors for constructive purposes.
Is it not possible that conviction of the law of "entropy production"
where "entropy expresses chaos and order" will enable humans to
unleash even greater powers? If this is even remotedly possible, how
will people behave? Will they use these cosmic powers for destructive
or for constructive purposes? Should they use these cosmic powers for
destructive purposes, is it not better for all humans to stick to the
assumption "entropy expresses only chaos" because their ignorance will
make it impossible for them to unleash these cosmic powers?

Let us lastly consider the phrase "(change for the sake of change?)".
John, I want to agree fully with you. It is foolish to "change for the
sake of change". But there is something in the back of my mind and the
bottom of my heart which warns me that we have a semantical dimension
here. It is one thing to say "change for the sake of change" and
another thing to say "change because of change". In the former there
is no causality involved, but in the latter causality plays a
fundamental role. For example, if the ambient temperature change from
25C (degrees celsius) to -10C, I will soon have to change my clothes
or else I will die.

By the way, it is because of "entropy production" that heat will flow
out of my body into the environment with a temperature lower than my
body. Heat flow spontaneously from a higher to a lower temperature.
Thus "entropy production" can cause my death if the ambient
temperature is too low. But it is also by the same "entropy
production" that my body stays cool in an environment with a
temperature higher than my body (like in a hot desert), thus saving my
life. It now happens by means of sweating. Since heat cannot flow
spontaneously from a lower to higher temperature, my body uses another
mechanism (evaporation) to decrease the thermal energy of my body.
This can only happen when the humidity of the environment is lower
than the humidity close to my skin. The entropy produced in both cases
can easily be calculated. In fact, I used to give such comparison
problems for my students to solve through these very calculations.

John, I am almost finished. When I think of your basic idea,
summarised as "When we misunderstand the language of control, we lose
track of our goal", the wisdom of it makes me excited. But the use of
the word "entropy" in presenting that idea, compelled me to reply as I
have done above. I know that the word "entropy" has been used very
little in a constructive sense in the "language of control". I know
that most scholars of cybernetic systems up to now had a very negative
opinion of entropy because it was equated to chaos. Thus I am well
aware that these scholars do not suspect that they "misunderstand the
language of control" when they bring "entropy=chaos" into their
discourse. However, since control systems are a subsystem of
irreversible self-organising systems, maybe we should have suspicions.
After all, are we not irreversible self-organising systems ourselves
rather than mere control systems?

Lastly, I believe that the idea "When we misunderstand the language of
control, we lose track of our goal" plays an important role in the
lives of Christians. This is, for example, what Jesus had in mind when
He said to His followers that they are the salt and the light. Their
goal is to love the Creator and Creation as God does. It is for this
reason that God has given His laws or "language of control" to use
your words. If Christians "misunderstand the language of control", for
example, using the Laws of God to judge other people, they lose track
of their goal. For this example we have a perfect case study
concerning Jesus himself. Do you remember what He did when the people
threw the woman of bad habits down in front of Him, commanding Him to
judge her? People were astonished at His reaction because they
expected Him to react according to their notion of the "language of
control". Few realised what He actually did, namely to help her how to
regain control of her life.

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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