A Seed And Entropy LO20450

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Tue, 19 Jan 1999 15:36:30 +0200

Replying to LO20380 --

Dear Organlearners

Stan Berberich <sberberi@uhl.uiowa.edu> writes:

>I read several posts by At de Lange and others about entropy
>and entropy production (many of them I've read repeatedly).
>I don't think I understand it.

Greetings Stan,

Thank you very much for writing and articualting your tacit concerns. I
suspect that many others have similar concerns.

I have read through your contribution many times to try and understand
what yur tacit concerns are and which you so dilligently try to
articulate. If I now read too much between the lines, please forgive me.
You write:

>Notice how I ended up speaking in terms of free energy rather
>than entropy. I'm afraid I don't have an "image" for entropy.

You are very honest in saying that you do not have an "image" for entropy.
I hope I will match that honesty. You do not have sufficient experience in
thinking in terms of entropy production. Let me explain it by an example.
Using "entropy production" to explain organisational behaviour is like
speaking in a foreign language. If I would have written my contributions
in a language unknown to you, say my mother tongue Afrikaans, rather than
English, you would not understand them. You need to understand Afrikaans
in order to understand these contributions. But when I write in English,
you already understand English so that it is merely the understanding of
the topics which have to follow.

I sometimes write on my mother tongue Afrikaans. The main reason is to
create experiences for fellow learners which I will use later like in this
contribution. But I write far more often on this foreign technical
language "entropy production". Why? Is it not possible for me to avoid use
this technical language? Yes, it is possible for me to avoid it. Winfried
Dressler has noted a couple of weeks ago that it is possible to to
formulate much of my systems thinking on learning without making use of
"entropy production".

If it is possible to avoid "entropy production", then why do I use it?
Because I have to be honest. It will be dishonest of me to write about
things which I learnt emergently as a result of my study of entropy
production while not mentioning entropy prodution as the cause of these
learning emergences.

It will be dishonest of me to keep quiet about the bridging (unifying)
power of entropy production. Since the early eighties, I became deeply
under the impression how in the subject chemistry the Second Law helped to
unify tens of different disciplines into one grand subject called
chemistry. Another example. Peter Senge says that Systems Thinking
connects the other four disciplines of a LO into a consistent and coherent
whole. Why is it possible at all for Systems Thinking to have this

It will be dishonest of me to keep quiet about the constructive role of
entropy production, from inanimate molecular systems through macroscopic
living systems to the pinnicle of spiritual systems -- love as the
ultimate emergence.

>Entropy and free energy are related.
>As entropy increases, free energy decreases.
>Free energy is that part of total energy that is available
>to do work.
>Although energy is conserved, the free energy decreases.
>If entropy in the universe increases to some maximum, does
>that mean that all the free energy is used up?

Stan, the reason why you have an "image" for free energy rather than
entropy, is because you have much more experiences related to energy.

To answer your question, I first have to explain something. The Law of
Entropy Production (LEP) concerns the universe UN which consists of the
system SY and its surroundings SU as the complementary system. To think in
terms of LEP thus requires a universalistic thinking which involves the
entropy of the system and the entropy of the rest of the universe. Thus
universalistic thinking is from its very beginning extremely complex. What
Gibbs did with the LEP is to refomulate it in terms of energy which is a
physical quantity different to entropy. With that we gain something, but
also lose something. We gain because we now have to think merely in terms
the system's free energy and how it will be affected by the particular
change of the system. We lose because of all its possible interactions
with ALL of the surroundings, we need to know only what particular change
is involved with the IMMEDIATE surroundings in terms of a transfer of
work. In other words, we lose in memory.

If we want to think about the free energy of the UNIVERSE itself as
system, we actually need to know what particular change it is involved
with its immediate surroundings in terms of a transfer of work. But what
is the immediate surroundings of the universe? God? Immediately we are in
the deep side of theological problems. For example, if God works on the
universe (which is acknowledged by the Bible) then God changes the free
energy of the universe through this very work. If God works
constructively, then the change in free energy is an increase. But we
also need the exact details of how the particular change the universe
undergoes. At present we know only one detail -- it creates diversity.

Allow me to reformulate your question to one which I can manage with
confidence. Consider any system except the universe. Assume that the
system is changing as a result of entropy production within the system. It
means that the system's entropy increases which causes changes. Now
isolate the system. Because the system is isolated, its entropy cannot
increase indefinitely, but has to stop at a maximum value. Now for the

If entropy in the isolated system increases to some
maximum, does that mean that all the free energy is
used up?

No. It means that the system's energy decreases (is used up) until a
certain minimum value is reached. But as soon as the isolation is broken,
the systems free energy can change again. If the system does only one
thing, namely to produce its own entropy, then it its free energy will
decrease even further. But when the system exchange entropy with its
surroundings, it is possible under certain conditions to increase its free
energy (without decreasing its entropy). Such systems are known as living

>How does a seed when planted have the ability to germinate
>(in terms of entropy and free energy)?

The gain of nature (the plant world) is to close (partially isolate) seed
from unneccesary influences. The loss is that the seed gradually loses its
vitality. However, the seed is not completely isolated. In other words,
there are favourable conditions for which it is not isolated. Under such
conditions the seed begins to germinate, destroying some other seed
isolations (dormancy mechanisms). In the absence of photosynthesis, the
free energy of the germinating seed is continuously decreasing to sustain
the immergence of the embryonic organs of the seedling. Meanwhile the
entropy of the seedling increases. When photo synthesis commences, the
plant begins to increase also its free energy by forming sugar and then a
host of other substances, eventually locking them up in new cells.

>Once germinated how does the root structure "sort" from all
>the possible elements found in the soil; those elements
>essential for its life and continued growth (in terms of entropy
>and free energy)? From the "chaos" in the soil is sorted and
>assembled higher level organization (stem, wood, grain, etc.).

Any full answer here will amount to a text book of the irreversible
thermodynamics of plant physiology. This detailed answer I cannot furnish
on this forum.

But I do want to make one comment on the "sort" which you mentioned. The
ability of the plant root to differentiate depends on two major sets of
mechanisms working in a push pull fashion The push set is the "transport"
mechanisms such as diffusion and osmosis. The pull set is the "conversion"
mechanisms such as converting inorganic nutrients into intermediate
complexes, thus causing a deficiency of them by concumption. Both the
"transport" and "conversion" mechanisms function in terms of entropy

>The Sun contributes free energy and the plant does work
>to assemble higher level organization from the elements
>of soil (the plant now has free energy but less than originally
>from the Sun?).

Yes, but is not merely a case of producing more complex chemical
substances like sugars and proteins. This increase of chemical complexity
have to be arranged into biological cells and higher organs to sustain the
chemical emergence. In other words, the emergence of chemical complexity
has to be followed up by the emergence in biological complexity to keep it

>When I ponder how thoughts are created I wonder if we are
>not like a plant. ......

Stan, I had to snip your enticing paragraph in which you ponder on the
wonders of biochemical self-organisation. What I liked very much, is that
you think broader than merely the biology. You also think about the
chemistry. Life is not merely biology. Life is even physics. The reason
why an animal with the physical mass of an elephant looks like an
elepehant and not a monkey or even a grasshopper, is its very mass and
thus mechanical constraints. People who want to swop Newton's mechanical
paradigm for the biological paradigm in order to understand human
organisations, are not aware of the real complexity involved.

>Is there a "physical" free energy for physical work and a
>different type of free energy for things like creatively or

No, free energy is free energy. But free energy is always manifested in
terms of organisation. When we tend to think of different kinds of free
energy, we actually have to think of free energy of different kinds of
organisation. The organisation of a spiritual system differs much from the
organisation of a gallon of gasoline. Thus their free energies differ in
amount and availability. But since both involve organisation, both have
free energy with which they can change their organisation through entropy

>Notice how I ended up speaking in terms of free energy rather
>than entropy. I'm afraid I don't have an "image" for entropy.

Just remember that our images depends on our experiences. The more you
experience entropy production (how skewed it may be), the more your tacit
knowledge on it will grow. Eventually you will want to articulate your
tacit knowledge formally.

>Someone may decide it best to simply direct me to a book.

But then it is somebody else who articulate your tacit knowledge.
Recognising how somebody else articulate you tacit knowledge is by far not
the same as articulating your own tacit knowledge. This is what you in
effect have admitted with the following:

>I intend to mostly read from the list rather than contribute.
>But these are some questions I'm seeking answers for.

I think that your articulations concerning free energy, even though you
have done much of it in the form of questions, are superb.

Going from one level of knowledge (experential, tacit, formal and sapient)
to another is like going from simple inorganic substances to complex
biochemical substances, then to biological structures (cells and organs)
and finally to biological organisms themselves. It is all a question of
irreversible self-organistion, proceeding from chaos to order in every
level of organisation, from the lowest to the highest.

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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