I hope you enjoy this week’s post. Here’s some reading music from the always-relevant Sun Ra.
In a nineteenth-century thought experiment, the physicist James Clerk Maxwell showed that the second law of thermodynamics is more of a strong suggestion than a law. The experiment shows our universe’s natural entropy can be subverted using intelligence. I think we all hope some kind of super-intelligence can prevent the disintegration of our universe.
Imagine a box filled with gas. Now divide it in two by a wall. We put a tiny door in the wall the size of one gas molecule. Now we put a demon in there to operate the door. The demon watches the gas molecules bump and grind against themselves on the dance floor and he sees that some are hotter and faster than others. He watches for a hot molecule from This Side on a trajectory with the door and he opens it. The hot molecule goes through to the Other Side. The demon keeps doing this, and letting cooler molecules back through the door to This Side. Suddenly we have a distinct temperature difference without adding outside energy; things are becoming less homogenous, and we have more energy to do work.
The experiment is meant to show that information (the demon’s intelligence) can be used like an energy source to do physical work. Of course in the experiment, the demon is an energy source doing work inside the box, but what the experiment points out is that the right organizing principle can reform our our fundamental ideas about how the universe works. Maybe Mind can reverse the decay of matter.
I once had a conversation with a Creationist who claimed there is no such thing as negative entropy, therefore God must have intervened to create us. But human beings have always organized into more and more methodical structures, physically, culturally, and mentally, for all of our history. Obviously this Creationist person was repeating an argument he had heard before, but it’s interesting to me that in his worldview, human beings are outliers in the natural order of things.
Author, inventor, engineer, philosopher, and autodidact Bucky Fuller realized in the twentieth century that technological advancement was making it possible to do more work with less materials and less time. This idea undermines Thomas Malthus’ proclamation that the world is a place of limited resources, hence there will always be “haves” and “have nots”.
Back in the day if I wanted to give you forty sheep for your daughter, I had to shepherd them to your house, then haul your daughter back to my place (gently, of course). That’s a lot of work. Transactions now happen using about three calories of thumbwork on a smartphone. Money and purchasing power are now metaphysical and with them you can buy physical labour to plow your fields, carry your luggage, and park your car, or you can purchase physical goods to do with what you like.
Fuller saw that every generation is increasingly technology-savvy, and the advancement of technology therefore increases exponentially. And technology allows humanity to accomplish more work using less pounds of material, ergs of energy, and seconds of time at a correlative rate. This implies that the human race is more and more capable of supporting itself and doing the work it needs to do at a decreasing toll on natural resources.
He called this process “Ephemeralization“. Doesn’t that word sound like the name of an angel? Ephemeralization…she drifts over us intangibly, giving blessings of efficiency.
Unfortunately, the weapons get better as well.
One Big Happy Play-Thing
It’s exhilarating to think how fast our collective intelligence is rocketing us into the future. It’s a bit like a roller coaster in the dark; it could yank us in any direction and there are too many possibilities to prepare for. I’m new to smartphones while in science labs around the world right now people are accomplishing quantum levitation, invisibility clothes and 3D printing. (Cheers to the best invention using those three technologies together for something awesome.)
When I think of the amount of personal information I have floating around cyberspace it’s a little unnerving. And I don’t even use Facebook. Financial information, contact information for everyone I know, purchasing habits, web history, and so much more could be lifted and used for who-knows-what. I have the choice to be paranoid and secretive about my personal information, protect it from the Googles and Apples and Facebooks etc., or I can extend my trust and hope all the beautiful conveniences that come with those brands are symptomatic of good intentions.
Conceive of an “angel” as an organizing principle following good intentions, and conceive of a “demon” as an organizing principle following selfish and freedom-reducing intentions. Demons play dirty, but angels surely have the bigger team. Once the angels and demons have had their fun, my hope is that our collective will to survive and evolve will continue to move us forward to a point where everyone’s needs are met and people can get on with being happy.
And as always music is there to help us along.
“Without music life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols