Raging Against The Dying Of The Light, Scientifically Speaking

emergenceself organizing

How does Life start? The answer seems to be that Life starts with fluctuations and tessellation games…

That is, perturbations in an Environment cause the pieces within that Environment to jostle-about through a succession of unstable positions until they collide in such a way as fit together and establish a relatively stable connection– or perhaps, realling excitingly, a self-perpetuating series of changes we can call a System.

What is strange to me is not that such a multitude of atoms sometimes produces Order from Chaos via accidentally formed stable connections or Systems– but that there is Order in the Universe everywhere we look.

Life is but one of type of all this Order. Although, superficially, Life appears as a difference IN KIND from non-Life, upon closer examination, it strikes me as more of a difference OF DEGREE.

One characteristic of Life is that it is a self-perpetuating System. But then, so is the Solar System.  Both Life and the Solar System stubbornly succeed in maintaining Order, however fragile, in the face of a Cosmos relentlessly chugging toward Disorder.

As today’s featured authors (Erich Jantsch and Michael Weinstock) tell us, the type of System called “Life” succeeds in avoiding a fall into Chaos by exporting Disorder.  Disorder, in context of the Universe, is often referred to by physicists as “Entropy.” Life is in the Entropy-exporting business. The more Entropy it can pump out, the more Order it can maintain within.

Perhaps, though, the Solar System is doing something similar. If the radiation of Heat is considered the most disordered state for matter/energy to occupy, then is not the Sun also exporting its Entropy outside its System?

Perhaps the greatest difference between Life and an Ordered System is that Life depends upon inputs from the outside, from the Environment– whereas, a simple Ordered System, once it is up and running, can maintain itself equally well– probably better– with NO interaction from the outside-world at all. An Ordered System can, indeed, withstand a shock from the Environment (if it couldn’t, it wouldn’t remain an Ordered System long)– but it does not depend upon such interactions.

Life on the other hand necessitates FUEL — that is, certain inputs from the Environment– to maintain itself as a System.

Because Life is dependent upon its Environment — indeed, is interacting with it in every instant– Life endures constantly a pressure which a simple Ordered System only rarely and intermittently has to undergo– the pressure to Evolve. In a complex Environment such as the Earth (or an ecosystem of the Earth, or even a neighborhood of an ecosystem of the Earth), everything is moving through everything-that-is-moving… a “constant state of flux” (though that might be a contradiction in terms). Life is constantly adapting to the pressures of an Environment with which it interacts incessantly. The motto for Life could very well be, “Adapt or Die.”

Life, as compared with a simple Ordered System, also appears, as a general rule, to exert a more steady counter-influence on its Environment.  Because Life is always snatching-away from its Environment the resources it needs for self-maintenance and then ejecting its waste-products, it is always altering its own Environment.  Interestingly, as hard as Life struggles to survive, it is in this way also on a suicide mission– for it is constantly depleting its resources and stacking up its Environment with waste-products toxic to itself (for just one example, think of exhaled Carbon Dioxide for humans). If the Environment is not willing to play along and re-supply Life’s resources and recycle Life’s wastes, Life wouldn’t be long for this world.

All this back-and-forth influence and adaptation between Environment and Life, and Life and Enviroment, has been called Co-Evolution. Sometimes people tend to focus on one side of this mutually influencing coin more than the other, but both sides, Life and Environment, exert great power and influence over each other.

As a result of Co-Evolution, over time the more stable and environmentally friendly Life-forms push out the less stable and less environmentally friendly ones (when I here call a Life-form “environmentally friendly” I mean merely that it does not change its Environment faster than the Environment can react and continue producing surroundings healthy for the Life-form).

Interesting to consider, when we step back and look at the Environment of our planet as it has now evolved, we can see that our Environment, itself, is largely made up of Life! Thus when we say that Environment influences Life, we are basically saying that Life influences Life.

Furthermore, as all Systems in the same Environment, given long enough, will interconnect via causes and effects and influence each other, and since the Boundaries which separate Life from Environment are so permeable and flimsy (to the point where supposed Boundaries often seem arbitrary and not-all-together real), it can appear with equal validity that the World is one giant Life-form composed of numerous interacting organs and vascular systems.

Ordered Systems exist everywhere in the Universe.  Life, however, is unusual. I am one of those pessimists who guesses that Earth contains the only Life in the Universe. And mind you, in spite of the Universe’s apparent largesse in terms of its gifts for the maintenance of Life on this planet, this is an ultimately hostile Universe moving constantly and generally toward equilibrium– an equilibrium characterized by an equalized distribution of matter and energy utterly devoid of any snatches of order or self-perpetuating systems; in other words, the Universe is trending, inexorably, toward complete Entropy.

Nevertheless, Earth’s Life-forms, for the most part blissfully unaware of the impending doomsday, stubbornly maintains its multitudinous pockets of non-equilibrium by exporting Entropy into the Environment.

All this order-maintainment of Life depends, ultimately, upon the Energy provided by the Ordered System upon whose back it rides (the Solar System).  Assuming my pessimistic guess about Life in the Cosmos is correct, all Life in the Universe depends upon our Sun, whose own exported Entropy (radiated as Energy) we catch and make use of for our own purposes– at least short-term purposes; if there is some long-term purpose to Life, it completely eludes me– unless it is to eventually escape our Earth before it is no longer conducive to Life, and to radiate ourselves throughout the Cosmos, gradually replacing the simple Ordered Systems (which are nearly self-contained) with tbe more integrated form of Order utilized by Life, that of a highly interactive System-and-Environment.

Self-perpetuating systems, once established, struggle heroically to keep shining as beacons of order in a Cosmos bent on self-destruction. Life refuses to go gently back into that good night of Chaos. All forms of Life, though constantly under siege by the forces of doom– rage, rage against the dying of the light.


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