Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Battling Entropy














We sweep dust out of corners. We repair our belongings. We trim our hair. We bathe, mow the lawn, and wash our clothes. We categorize and alphabetize. We create order. We order everything. And yet things rust. Old clothes wear holes. Our fingernails grow to lengths undesirable. And the upkeep of everything is constant. We grow old. Our backs begin to hurt. Our hair falls out. Spots appear -- dark ones on our skin and empty ones in our brain. We try to cope. We try to make it easier. We try, always, to simplify. But isn't chaos prevailing somehow? Aren't we always in pursuit of an order that nature seems to object to?
As you glance around you, there are probably many straight lines. There are groupings of things. Books together, but separated from magazines. Pens in a cup or holder. Glyphs that, strung together, form meaning. There is, perhaps, a filing cabinet with some sort of system, a clock, a calendar, this computer in front of you. There is a sense of order.
But when you leave your dwelling, and go into nature, let's say. The glyphs aren't there. The clock isn't there. The straight lines aren't there. None of the order is there. It is spell-binding. It is "organic". Amorphous and unpredictable lines flow in abundance. There is shade, gradation and texture. Birds and animals are driven by fear and pleasure and pain. There is something indescribable happening everywhere.
This indescribability impels the way we function in the world. And for practicality's sake, the human brain has become a very good machine. Essentially, the human brain works so that it doesn't have to work. It is efficient in storing information so that it doesn't need to relearn things constantly. Neurological pathways are established to make life easier. If you had to learn how to tie your shoes every time you had to tie your shoes, life would be very tedious. Just getting out the door would prove difficult. The same goes for more complex thinking as well. If you had to learn how to type every time you wrote an email, you'd never get through it. And if you had to start from square 1 with friends, coworkers or classrooms every time you met, you'd never get very far. The brain, and its memory, are cumulative. And so are all our modes of thought. For better or worse, we don't forget everything we know -- even though it would be better in some problem-solving situations.
This characteristic of the human brain translates into our sense of truth because our basis for truth has much more to do with common and accepted standards. Just like tying our shoes, if we had to debate what "REALITY" was every time we had a conversation, we'd never get to the conversation. This is true of all understanding. We have to agree on certain basic premises before we move into the more esoteric climes of thought.
This is what Linnaeus did for biology. He set out a structure for us to build on. But nature doesn't seem to think like us. Without Linnaeus' structure, we're left with nature's wild, undisciplined procreation -- it's inexplicable, hit-or-miss style. Linnaeus affected biology, but he didn't change nature.
Take the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89...). In this sequence, each number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it. This sequence has been proven to exist in the organization of a good deal of plant life, the shapes of shells, the genealogical patterns of rabbits and bees, etc. Without this sequence of numbers, and our theory about its importance, nature would go on the way it is. It is just our way of understanding it. Nature continues with or without our foisting a sense of order onto it.
Consider this:
Imagine you throw a box of spools of ribbon into the air. The box flies open and all the ribbons unravel and fall pell mell to the ground. There is a chance, however small, that with the proper confluence of physics, wind gusts, friction, etc, that the ribbons could roll up and set neatly into the box and the box could be blown back together and land perfectly in your hands again. However, that chance is so small, that physicists consider it negligible. Hence, the idea of entropy. Nature has a tendency towards chaos, and disorder. The human mind, towards order. So, in essence, man's life is a struggle against entropy.
Why is this? Aren't we a product of nature? Didn't we come from the swirling evolution? Why is our sense of organization in opposition to that of the rest of existence?
We seem to want to preserve and order things. We archive and alphabetize. We write and speak and communicate. Clarity and comprehension are manifest in this. So, of all the things to pursue in life, design and communication are the most difficult because they are the biggest rebellions against chaos. But they are also the biggest assets to humanity. The choice to design is not a choice to make things attractive (though that is often an important by-product). The choice to design is a choice to fight hard against degeneration. Our designs are our evolutions to survive -- our constantly refined tools. Believe that design, be it born of experimentation or refinement, is the most truly human act. It is design which molds the future of the human race.

(photo by Martin Klimas)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are right, good sir. I have had this feeling for quite some time. I believe the purpose of life is twofold: to create, and to understand the human condition. Both are mighty virtues.