Dear Holy Spirit, Breath of Life, and Mighty Rushing Wind; Who hovered over the primal chaos at the beginning and brought order; Who infused the first humans with soul; Who inspired the saints and sages of ages past with divine speech; blow! Caress the world with your medicinal gale as You move ever onward, like a tempest over prairies to the east, washing the epochs of the Earth with ever more fertility, vitality, and growth. Let us be Shepherds of the Upswell, and good helpers of the Wind as it invigorates, ushering air from easier ends towards aspiration. For God is dancing over emmer stalks and wheat to seed the future. And the Grace with which He moves is like the ease of rivers’ fluid movements, or the effortless descent of heaviness to earth, or fire’s smooth rise in the direction of its natural element, tingling skyward. Let us partake of that fine talent, as we ourselves move through the world, embodied Wind ourselves, breathless breath in anticipation of where God’s gust is moving, following its star to where it stops: above the Mountain of the sacred city of Omega. Amen.
How does complexification—the emergence of more hierarchically ordered states—occur, and is it really an inevitable and intrinsic aspect of the universe?
We know that the energy of the universe can be neither created nor destroyed. Its total amount is constant, being neither added to nor subtracted from—making the universe, as a whole, a closed system. This is the meaning of the First Law of Thermodynamics. Moreover, we know that it is the natural behavior of energy in a closed system to achieve equilibrium. That is, closed systems tend toward entropy—that is, toward maximal randomness and disorder. This is the meaning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
A Closed System. Source: Figure 4, Chaisson 2001, p. 19: “The essence of classical, irreversible thermodynamics: In a system isolated from the outside world, heat within a gas of temperature, T2, will flow in time, t, toward a gas of temperature, T1, where T2 > T1 and δT = T2 – T1 , thus conserving the system’s total energy, E (via the 1st law of thermodynamics), all the while its free energy, F, decreases and its entropy, S, rises (via the second law of thermodynamics).”
Taken alone, these two Laws would seem to negate any possibility of order and complexification in the universe whatsoever. If the universe is a closed system winding down more and more towards maximal entropy, how could anything ever become more ordered?
The answer lies in localized open systems, which are able to counter the push toward entropic disorder by infusions of energy from outside the system. As Eric Chaisson writes, “This is the gist of non-equilibrium thermodynamics: Localized, open systems can be sites of emergent order within a global (ie, universal) environment that is largely and increasingly disordered.” In this context, entropy is not avoided, but offloaded into the external environment, allowing localized systems to remain far from equilibrium without violating the First or Second Laws of Thermodynamics.
An Open System. Source: Figure 7 from Chaison 2001, p. 28: “In a thermodynamically open system, energy (in the form of radiation or matter) can enter the system from the outside environment, thereby increasing the system’s total energy, E (or more likely its energy density), over the course of time, t. Such energy flow can lead to an increase, a decrease, or no net change at all in the entropy, S, of the system. Even so, the net entropy of the system and its environment still does increase.”
The question then becomes: How do such ordered, localized, open systems arise in the first place? Chaisson explains:
“We know well that fluctuations—random deviations from some average, equilibrium value of density, temperature, pressure, etc., also called ‘instabilities’ or ‘inhomogeneities’—are common in Nature. They inevitably yet stochastically appear in any system having many degrees of freedom. Normally, as in equilibrium thermodynamics, such instabilities regress in time and disappear; they just come and go by chance, the statistical fluctuations diffusing as quickly as they initially emerged. …But should those fluctuations become too great for the open system to damp, the system will then depart from equilibrium and be forced to reorganize. Such reorganization generates a kind of ‘dynamic steady state,’ provided the amplified fluctuations are continuously driven and stabilized by the flow of energy from the surroundings… [S]ince each successive reordering causes more complexity than the preceding one, such systems become even more susceptible to fluctuations. Complexity itself consequently creates the condition for greater instability, which in turn provides an opportunity for greater reordering” (p. 52).
In this way, complexity does indeed build upon complexity, bootstrapping its way to higher and higher levels of order.
Complexification. Source: Figure 9 from Chaisson 2001, p. 54: “Sketched here is an arbitrary equilibrium coordinate of an open system as a function of both time and energy, either of which serves diagrammatically to illustrate the extent of departure of that system from equilibrium. The time axis makes clear that this is an historical, evolutionary process, whereas the parallel energy axis denotes the free energy flowing through the open system as a vital part of that process. At a certain critical energy, labeled here EC1, a system can spontaneously change, or bifurcate, into new, nonequilibrium, dynamic steady states. Statistical fluctuations affect which fork the system selects upon bifurcation (arrows), namely which spatial structure is achieved, therefore the end result is inherently unpredictable. At right, a second and third bifurcation occur further on in time, with the application of additional energy, EC2, and then EC3.”
Such are the basic mechanics of complexification, which can and do occur naturally within the material universe we’re familiar with. The universe began, however, as an explosion of radiation, in which early state entropy was maximized. The decisive factor that gave order a foothold, Chaisson argues, was the decoupling of matter from that radiation as the expanding universe cooled. Ever since this occurred, the universe as a whole has been out of equilibrium, creating the conditions for complexification bootstrapping to occur. Ultimately, then, the cause for complexification was the expansion of the universe itself. Such expansion is occurring “at some rate sufficient to give rise to gradient-rich environments and thus to increasing amounts of complexity and intricacy during the course of universal history” (Chaisson 2001, p. 99). “The establishment of a cosmic temperature gradient is the essential point,” he says. “Such a thermal gradient is the patent signature of a heat engine, and it is this ever-widening gradient that has rendered the environmental conditions suitable for the growth of complexity. The result is a grand flow of energy between the two differentiated fields, and with it a concomitant availability of energy (for use in work) over and above that extant in the early, equilibrated Universe. …Such non-equilibrium states are suitable, indeed apparently necessary, for the emergence of structure, form, or organization—of order! Thus we reason that cosmic expansion itself is the prime mover for the construction of a hierarchy of complex entities throughout the Universe. (Chaisson 2001, p. 126).
The expansion of the universe itself is thus the “prime mover” (p. 15) of complexification. “The very expansion of the Universe, then, provides the environmental conditions needed to drive order from chaos; the process of cosmic evolution itself generates information” (p. 131). Julian calls this force “winding up” the universe the Wind. If universal expansion is the driver, then perhaps it is the same as the driver of universal expansion, known to scientists as “Dark Energy.”
Chaison EJ (2001) Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).
(1) The interior of our collectives is an enchanting place to be, in every sense of the word. To be enmeshed within our group’s ethos is what breathes the unique diversity of culture into our lives. Our collective identities fill up our experience with the color of place, relationship, norms and traditions, and infuse life with that magic sense of connection and belonging that only comes from shared contexts and mutual understanding. However, this expansive sense of significance can also be what narrows our minds. The magic can bewitch us into taking our world as the world, the only world; that the way we do things is the way everyone does—or should do—them. Rather than seeing the beautiful array of diversity of human cultures, we seek to assimilate everything to our own way of seeing. To avoid this trap, it is important to never forget to situate ourselves in our cultural context—to remember that the words we are using come to us already laden with associations and assumptions from other people’s minds; that the very approaches we might use to get at universal ‘truth’ are themselves conditioned by highly contingent, very non-universal contexts. All assertions have perspectives. Our minds are individual, but also bear the imprint of the collective. We must disenchant ourselves of the dark magic of our universalizing tendency, which is always haunting us, casting its spell on us and leading to the deception that our truth is the Truth.
– a. verte
The Wind: “As Henri Bergson put it, the universe shows two tendencis, a ‘reality which is making itself in a reality that is unmaking itself.’ …[U]nder certain circumstances matter will ‘wind itself up’ into higher states of order, as when water running down a drain suddenly ceases to be chaotic and forms a perfect funnel or whirlpool. Whenever material processes become very chaotic and ‘far from equilibrium,’ they tend under their own power to escape chaos by transforming it into a higher and more structured order—commonly called ‘order out of chaos.’ …The material world is perfectly capable of winding itself up, long before the appearance of life, and thus the ‘self-winding’ nature of matter itself sets the stage, or prepares the conditions, for the complex self-organization known as life. …The new sciences dealing with these ‘self-winding’ or ‘self-organizing’ systems are known collectively as the sciences of complexity—including General Systems Theory (Bertalanffy, Weiss), cybernetics (Wiener), nonequilibrium thermodynamics (Prigogine), cellular automata theory (von Neumann), catastrophe theory (Thom), autopoietic systems theory (Maturana and Varela), dynamic systems theory (Shaw, Abraham), and chaos theories, among others.”
See also EROS.
The Quadrants: “Arthur Koestler coined the term holon to refer to that which, being a whole in one context, is simultaneously a part in another...
The upper half of the diagram represents individual holons; the lower half, social or communal holons. The right half represents the exterior forms of holons—what they look like from the outside; and the left half represents the interiors—what they look like from within. Thus we have four major quadrants or four major aspects to each and every holon. The Upper-Right (UR) is the exterior form or structure of an individual holon. This quadrant runs from the center—which is simply the Big Bang—to subatomic particles to atoms to molecules to cells to neural organisms to triune-brained organisms. …[The Upper-Left (UL) quadrant]—the interior form of an individual holon—runs from the center to prehension, sensation, impulse, image, symbol, concept (and so on). These interiors (UL) are correlated, we saw, with specific exteriors (UR), so that emotions ‘go with’ limbic systems and concepts ‘go with’ the neocortex of the complex triune brains, and so forth (that is, every point on the right side has a correlate on the left side: every exterior has an interior). …But individuals only exist in relational exchanges with other holons of similar depth… In other words, every point on the upper half of the diagram has a corresponding point on the lower half (so that all four quadrants have corresponding points with each other.) …The Lower-Right (LR) quadrant runs, as we saw, from the Big Bang to superclusters to galaxies to stars to planets to (on Earth) the Gaia system to ecosystems to societies with division of labor to groups/families… The Lower-Left quadrant is the study of shared interior meanings that constitute the worldview (or common worldspace) of collective or communal holons…” (Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, pp. 26, 127-131)
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