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The Explanation of Life

 

The Explanation of Life

 

 

 

 

 

Mysterio448

The Explanation of Life

 

Copyright © 2016 by Mysterio448

 

Cover design by Mysterio448

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

Preface

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: The Concept

Chapter 3: Observations

Chapter 4: [+ *** in Mathematics +]

Chapter 5: [+ *** in Physical Sciences +]

Chapter 6: [+ *** in Biology +]

Chapter 7: [+ *** in Physiology +]

Chapter 8: Some Thoughts on ***

Chapter 9: The Randomness Paradox

Chapter 10: The Universal Duality

Chapter 11: Weird Events

Chapter 12: [+ *** in Religion +]

Chapter 13: The Science of Why

Chapter 14: Life Forms

Chapter 15: The Nature of Purpose

Chapter 16: Is Life Worth Living?

Review

Conclusion

Final Thoughts

Notes

Illustration Credits

[+ PREFACE+]

 

I am an amateur philosopher. I do not identify myself by any particular philosophical labels, perhaps with the exception that I am an atheist. I admit to not being particularly well-read in academic philosophical literature, however I devote myself continually to introspection and contemplation. Some time around 2008, my philosophical musings yielded a certain idea which I found intriguing and which concerned the origin of existence and its underlying nature. This idea has since slowly developed to such complexity and volume that it surpassed the ability of my memory to contain it. As a result, it became necessary for me to write the idea down, the purpose being as much to clarify and organize it for myself as much as to communicate it to others. I originally intended to write an essay of about ten pages or so, but as I began writing, it became clear that more content would be necessary to convey the concept faithfully and intelligibly.

My aim in this book, in a nutshell, is to explore the reason why we exist, as well as why everything exists, why anything exists, and why things exists in the way they exist. Many people ask such questions; however I feel that most people are not really looking for an honest, straightforward answer so much as they are looking for something to comfort them, or to make them feel happy or important, or perhaps to help them resolve some of their practical problems or affairs. Many people are only motivated by and concerned with their senses, their feelings, and their ego. Apart from these things, such people don’t really care why they exist. Others may not be mentally prepared to know it. In contrast, my path of inquiry has been, I feel, more genuine. My goal has simply been to obtain the true answer, and with this attitude I have prepared myself to accept the answer whatever it might be, whether or not it is practical or useful, whether or not it is pleasant or makes me feel good about myself. I believe I have found the answer to the question that so many have been asking, and this book is my attempt to share it with you.

The answer that I have come to is founded upon a certain core concept. The concept is actually quite simple in principle, and an explanation of it could probably be condensed into a single paragraph. However, I have allowed myself to freely elaborate on the concept in order to discuss the numerous implications and applications of it in our lives, and to attempt to build an argument for the idea that is strong enough to sway even the most stubborn skeptics. The idea, although simple, can seem rather strange and perplexing. It is a rather abstract idea and it may be different from anything else you have heard before, so I implore you to read this book with an open mind and a sense of imagination. Although the idea is unusual, I will attempt to explain it in the most accessible way I know how.

This book will try to formulate thoughtful answers to deep questions; some of the questions will be ones that most people don’t even bother to ask. This is not a self-help book; it is not designed to make you feel good or to help you solve personal problems, though it could possibly have those effects. Some things in this book you may even find somewhat unpleasant. My goal is not to elicit any emotional response one way or the other; I simply seek the truth for truth’s sake. This book is not for someone looking for a fun, light read; it is for a mature, deep thinker and a genuine seeker of truth, and someone who is willing and able to think “outside the box.” It is for the person who is like me in that he or she wants an honest proposal for the meaning of life and not something merely self-serving. It is meant to be an objective evaluation of reality as it is, not what we would like it to be. This book may cause you to begin seeing the world in a very different way.

In elucidating my idea, I will not rely simply on my own words and thoughts. I will also draw information from the sciences – such as biology, astronomy, physics, quantum mechanics, mathematics, and others – in order to illustrate and corroborate my ideas. This is not a philosophy book of groundless abstractions and speculations; this is a book that whenever possible will attempt to base its ideas on examples or hard facts. Another aim of this book is to take the various findings from the aforementioned scientific fields and integrate them into a single, coherent model. This may seem like an impossible undertaking, but I think that the core concept of this book can accomplish it.

My core concept is not a provable fact; it is essentially a kind of theory, and thus I am not able to conclusively prove it nor do I think it is possible to prove it. However, as with any good theory, there is an abundance of objective data that seems to support it. I feel confident that the idea is fully-matured and complete, however the idea also has room for further growth and clarification.

Which leads me to another purpose of this book. The idea herein sheds light on an aspect of reality that is being discussed very little if at all in society. And furthermore, I am but one man, and I can see things only from a limited perspective. In delineating this idea, I hope to inspire further discussion and further contemplation in others in order that more can be learned about this important topic.

[+ CHAPTER ONE:+]

INTRODUCTION

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? Why do I exist? These are questions that have haunted me my entire life, but for a long time I never found a satisfactory answer. I have heard various ideas from others who have asked the same kinds of questions. But I wasn’t just looking for a meaning of life, I was looking for the meaning of life – the absolute, objective, definitive meaning.

As I contemplate this inquiry into life’s meaning, I find that the path to the answer is a slippery one. I look for an answer that is final, complete and unqualified, yet all I seem to find are explanations that require further explanations, one answer merely raises another question. Say, I proposed that the meaning of life is to better ourselves as a species. Someone could ask, “What is the purpose of bettering ourselves?” I might answer, “So that we will acquire a peaceful, utopian society.” The other asks, “But why should we acquire a peaceful, utopian society?” I might say, “Because it would make everyone happy.” The other asks, “But what is the end goal of being happy?” I might say, “Because it will achieve the ideal condition for any living being.” The other asks, “But how do you know that this is the ideal condition for any living being?” I say, “Because happiness is what everyone seeks after.” The other asks, “But how do you know that that which everyone seeks after is the ideal condition for any living being?” – The chain of questions and answers could go on forever without any definitive resolution.

Perhaps the meaning of life is not to be found from the bottom-up but from the top-down. In other words, perhaps instead of trying to deduce our purpose based on experience, there is some higher power beyond our experience that bestows our life with meaning. Maybe we were created by a powerful cosmic being or a super-intelligent alien race. But even if that were the case, the questions don’t stop. For what purpose did they create humankind? What role did they need us to fill? If we were created to fulfill a role, then this raises the question of why was the role empty to begin with? And what happens once we’ve fulfilled that role? – does our existence then become worthless and superfluous, like soiled tissue paper? It seems one could never propose an answer for which someone could not ask another question. This line of inquiry is like an infinite array of Russian stacking dolls (pictured below). Every time you find what seems to be a final reason you find that there is something arbitrary and unsatisfying about that reason, necessitating there being an even deeper reason underneath.

Nevertheless, let’s analyze some of the more commonly proposed answers.

THEISM

 

I grew up a Christian, and I was told by the church that the purpose of life is to worship God and build a personal relationship with him. A part of me was satisfied with this simple, apparently self-sufficient answer. However, another part still had more questions: If God is the ultimate object of my life’s purpose, what is the purpose of God’s life? Why does he exist? Who created him? It seemed that the Christian answer did not so much provide an answer as shift the question back a notch. If my existence requires a purpose, doesn’t God’s existence require a purpose as well? And whatever reason there was for God’s existence would presumably also require an explanation. There seemed to be a troublesome infinite regress of reasons: one reason which requires another reason which requires another, ad infinitum.

Some people promote the idea of divine creation by using some manifestation of the “watchmaker analogy.” So its goes, complex, orderly things do not simply appear out of nowhere; the watch must have been designed by a watchmaker – this intricate world in which we live must have been created by an intelligent designer. However, there is a fundamental fallacy in this argument. If we assume that every complex mechanism must have originated from an intelligent mind, then considering that a mind is itself a complex mechanism we must then ask what intelligent mind created that intelligent mind? It seems like a classic catch-22.

God is considered to be the prime mover, the first cause, the uncaused cause, that which causes everything but is not itself caused by anything or anyone. However, the problem with this idea is that God is complex, a whole made up of many parts. Even if one were to assume that the “anatomy” of a spirit is some kind of indivisible whole, and as such cannot be reduced to constituent parts such as organs or cells, we can still divide God up into his constituent attributes and faculties: his power, his benevolence, his emotions and intellect, his anger and mercy, his desire and satisfaction – these can all be considered separate parts of his nature. Each attribute is a discrete part of the very substance – the body – of God. Thereby, God is in fact a composite being rather than a simple one.

But the problem with this idea is that things do not tend to develop from the complex to the simple or from the grand to the modest. Things work in the opposite way: things start simple then become complex, things start primitive and crude then become sophisticated, things start insignificant then become significant, as an atom to a molecule, an embryo to an adult, a seed to a tree, a construction site to a skyscraper. For everything to start from something innately complex is illogical. God is far too complex and grandiose to have been the first cause; the first cause must have been something supremely simple and supremely insignificant (to use an oxymoron).

Furthermore, I have heard of philosophies and theories suggesting that the universe itself is alive, conscious, and intelligent. These ideas suggest that this intelligent universe is itself responsible for creating life for some reason of its own. I have also heard of an idea called the “biocentric hypothesis” which suggests that biology (rather than physics) is the fundamental science of the cosmos and that life and consciousness are at the core of reality as we know it. It is suggested that the universe has conditioned itself to facilitate the existence of life, rather than the reverse: life adapting itself to survive in the universe. It’s my belief that these kinds of ideas – in addition to being strangely anthropomorphic and anthropocentric – essentially commit the same fallacy as theism: the “starting point” of reality that they postulate is much too complex to be tenable. Intelligence and life are innately complex and thus cannot be the first cause.

 

Moreover, I have heard some Christians suggest that this life on Earth, stuck in this mortal coil, is not the true fulfillment of our existence, but that our true destiny is in heaven. In heaven, we will be at peace, free of suffering, and we will live for eternity. But this only evokes more questions. Is heaven the end, or is there something else that comes after it? How is the afterlife any more meaningful than this life; doesn’t this only push back the question of existence? If my true purpose is in heaven, then why was I created here on Earth in the first place?

Do you really want to live for eternity? How long is eternity, exactly? Many people say they want to live forever, but they don’t think about what it actually means to live forever. Eternal life is actually a pretty weighty prospect. To put things into perspective, I can pick an arbitrarily huge amount of time, say, 350 trillion trillion years –is that eternity? Shall you live that long? Why would you want to live that long? What will you be doing with all that time? At some point, after having lived for countless eons, you will lament to yourself, “What is the point of this?” Existence is a mystery, and extending existence to infinity merely extends the mystery to infinity. Perpetuating the mystery does not resolve it.

Heaven appeals to people because it is full of happiness, and people like happiness. But the problem is, although happiness is an understandable pursuit within the context of one’s existence, it is not itself a reason to exist; these two concepts – happiness and meaning – should not be conflated. As satisfying as it might be, an eternal endorphin-rush in heaven is ultimately no more meaningful than eternal pain in hell.

 

The Christian model of reality puts the universe in a strange light. God created the universe for some unknown motivation; he resides in a place called heaven surrounded by legions of angels; he is described as a male, but there is no indication as to whether he puts this status to any use, such as for sexual reproduction; he has a son, yet there is no mother to speak of; he created me to worship him, but for what reason? – why can’t he just worship himself? God is going to judge everyone according to their actions in life, but for what ultimate purpose? – what is the point of bringing a life into existence merely to give it a test and judge it on its performance? What does this accomplish? God is described as omnipotent and benevolent, yet he allows absurd amounts of suffering and tragedy to occur as a matter of routine, and despite his infinite power does nothing to thwart it. And apparently the ultimate destiny of all human beings consists of two options: to either cower at God’s feet and flatter him for eternity or else be subjected to constant, soul-crushing torture for all eternity. The Christian model of reality ultimately seems strange and arbitrary (and in some ways unpleasant), with apparently no underlying necessity or logic behind it. This answer only raises more questions.

The Christian answer is insufficient. Not only that, but we can also deduce that neither God nor any other kind of complex super-being could have been the first cause of reality, and the meaning of life does not descend from such a being. Furthermore, whatever the meaning of life is, it cannot be anything arbitrary. It must be something self-explanatory, an explanation that requires no further explanation and evokes no further questions. The explanation should comply with Occam’s razor (i.e., involving the fewest amount of assumptions possible).

ALTRUISM

 

Some people say that the meaning of life concerns one’s fellow man. Our purpose is to treat others well and live together in harmony. But this explanation seems insufficient as well. For how can the purpose of my existence be found in relation to beings whose existence apparently contains no more innate purpose than my own? If the lives of others have no innate purpose, how do I derive purpose from my interaction with them? And if their lives do have innate purpose, from whence does it come? The reasoning here just seems circular. This answer is insufficient.

HAPPINESS

 

Some say the meaning of life is to find happiness in this life. This explanation initially appears satisfying; after all, who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet this answer doesn’t so much explain the purpose of life as it explains what one’s personal objective/ideal should be in life – I feel that these are actually two different questions. Being happy is nice, but it is not in itself a reason to exist. I am looking for the reason why I was brought here in the first place, not how I should feel now that I am here. To give an analogy, if I have just committed a string of bank robberies and then I get caught and go to prison, I fully understand why I am in prison, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. My feelings toward being in a certain place have no relevance to the reason why I am in that place. Even if everyone’s life was like heaven on Earth, it would not make people’s lives any more meaningful; don’t confuse happiness for meaning. Being happy is a reward and end in itself; it is not a means to finding the meaning of life. Knowing the meaning of life does not imply happiness, and happiness does not imply knowing the meaning of life; they are two separate pursuits. And furthermore, whatever the meaning of life is, we should be willing to accept it, regardless of whether it makes us happy or not.

Finding happiness is not why I am here. This answer is insufficient.

 

SCIENCE

 

From more scientifically-minded people I have heard the explanation that the meaning of life is to simply follow the pattern that all life forms in nature seem to follow: survive, reproduce, and spread ones genes. This seems somewhat more cogent than the previous explanations. But are we here to survive purely for the sake of surviving? Are we here simply to live and to perpetuate life through reproduction, in an endless cycle? What is the ultimate purpose of this cycle?

Reproduction does not seem to be a very meaningful goal on its own. Life on this planet presumably began as simple, microscopic organisms. The kinds of these organisms that did not somehow make copies of themselves have since died and are no longer among us. On the other hand, other organisms did begin to make copies of themselves, likely by way of chance (or otherwise unintelligent) circumstances. Subsequently, organisms with the proclivity for reproduction are the only kinds of organisms that still exist today. Thus, the case could be made that we do not live to reproduce but rather we reproduce because we are necessarily the descendants of beings that reproduced, and from those ancestors we have inherited the urge to reproduce – a rather circular state of affairs, to be sure. From a species perspective, existing and reproducing are one and the same, simply two different sides of the same coin. It can be argued that there is no actual reason why humans reproduce; it is merely a perpetuation of an old habit that was set in motion by chance occurrences.

It seems clear to me that reproduction is not the purpose of life. Reproduction is a necessity of life on the species scale. In essence, reproducing is to a species what breathing is to an individual. It is necessary for a species’ survival; but to say that the purpose of a species is to reproduce is like saying that the purpose of an individual’s life is to breathe. It is fallacious thinking to assume that the means to an end is itself the purpose of that end.

Furthermore, reproduction is the creation of new life. Therefore, just as immortality merely extends the mystery of life rather than resolves it, to reproduce is not to resolve the mystery of life, but to re-create it anew.

Some people see ourselves as merely survival vehicles to do the bidding of our genes, to serve as a protective vessel for them and assist them in replicating themselves. This view sees the organism as merely a means and genes as the end. However, it is helpful to remember that genes are little more than instructions on how to build the organism. So essentially, this view is saying that the organism exists to protect the genes which exist to build the organism which exists to protect the genes, and so on ad infinitum. This too seems like circular thinking.

And what about the anomalies of life? What about the life forms that do not survive to reproduce, or the ones that never have the opportunity to reproduce, or are infertile, or ones that have debilitating genetic disorders that make them unfit to spread their genes —what is their purpose? We cannot simply ignore cases such as these. Surely they play some part in the overall equation of things. It is too convenient to just dismiss them as negligible outliers or mistakes. Whatever the meaning of life is, it must be something that is complete in its ability to explain all observed phenomena. It must, in its logic, incorporate both norm and anomaly together into a harmonious whole. The meaning of life, whatever it is, must be found through observing life as it is, and extrapolating from that data. We will not find a satisfactory answer by simply inventing an ideal that is pleasant to us and then shoehorning life into that mold.

Some would say that we are here because we evolved. As our ancestors walked this earth, they struggled to survive and, through natural selection, those most fit to survive passed on their genes, making stronger, more well-adapted offspring. Through a series of mutations, species gradually changed, giving rise to new species until, somewhere down the line, Homo sapiens appeared. However, the problem with this explanation is that it really only tells us how we came to be, not why. To give an analogy, if you go to the grocery store, your reason for being there is that you need groceries. But the cause – the how – of your being at the store is presumably the vehicle you drove to get to the store. Evolution is the cause of our existence, that which “drove” us to our current state, but it is not the reason for our existence. Evolution is how we are here but not why we are here.

Furthermore, as any biologist knows, there is no teleological objective to evolution. A horse, for example, has a long face which enables it to hold its mouth to the ground to graze while keeping its eyes above grass level in order to watch out for predators. However, it would be a fallacy to think that horses evolved long faces in order to help them survive by grazing with their eyes above the grass. More accurately, horses evolved long faces because long-faced horses who could keep their eyes above the grass statistically tended to survive more often than short-faced horses. The physical constitution of an organism says less about the organism than it does about the habitat in which the organism lives and what it takes to survive in it. Hence, evolution is not so much a means of aiding survival as it is a passive end-product of survival. So how then can evolution, an effect of life itself, be the cause or purpose of life? Thinking that we live in order to evolve is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. In a manner of speaking, we do not live to evolve; we evolve because we live. Therefore, the evolutionary answer is insufficient.

NIHILISM

 

Then there is the nihilist view. The nihilist resolves the question by claiming that the question itself is invalid. According to them, life is absurd; there is no ultimate explanation or logic behind our existence, and hence there is no objective purpose or value to this life. We are relatively insignificant creatures living in an enormous universe run by cold, impersonal mathematics and laws – a universe that has no concern for our happiness or well-being. In this view, the only purpose or value that exists or can exist is the subjective purpose or value that the individual attributes to his own life. Many philosophers seem to be satisfied with this answer. However, I am not one of those philosophers.

Some nihilists might say that life is a cosmic mistake or accident of some kind. But the existence of a “mistake” assumes a certain context, that is, a certain system from which that mistake emerges and which the mistake inherently defies. And different kinds of systems make different kinds of mistakes. The mistakes made by a computer program are different from those made by a printing press, which are different from those made by a record player, or a vending machine, etc. So the question is: What kind of system makes mistakes such as the one we call “life”?

The nihilist might say that the system is the impersonal forces of the universe. Then I might ask, “So what exactly are the impersonal forces of the universe trying to do?” The nihilist might answer, “They are not trying to do anything. They just exist.” Then I would say, “If they are not trying to do anything in particular, then how can they make a mistake?” I doubt the nihilist would have an answer.

But the main problem I have with the nihilist view is that it is ignoring the elephant in the room: the underlying complexity that makes life possible. The truth about life is that life is not a thing or object; rather life is a process. This process lies on a razor’s edge, relying on a delicate balance of intricate biological processes. Our bodies are a densely packed interweaving of purposeful systems: skeletal, muscular, circulatory, nervous, digestive, immune, respiratory, endocrine, lymphatic, integumentary, and so on. The human body is a unified whole made up of a dizzying amount of cooperating parts, such as cells, organs, and glands. Our bodies are not simple vessels only serving to house our thoughts and aspirations; each of us is an intricately and brilliantly engineered machine. If you have ever studied biology or human physiology, it should be apparent that the human body is just not the kind of thing that could just pop into existence in a universe completely devoid of objective purposefulness. The heart pumps blood through the veins with a sense of purpose. When leukocytes attack infectious pathogens that invade the body, they do so with a sense of purpose. The idea that there is not some objective impetus of purpose or logic in this universe would appear an untenable position.

Personally, I have always been fascinated by a process that occurs in cellular mitochondria that is called oxidative phosphorylation. This is a complex process that uses the synthesis of water molecules as a driving force behind the transport of electrons along a chain of proteins that in turn pumps protons outside of the mitochondrial membrane. This creates a concentration gradient between both sides of the membrane, which creates the potential energy needed to drive a particularly ingenious machine, a protein called ATP synthase. This protein looks and acts a bit like a machine that you might see in a manufacturing line, receiving protons and sending them through the mitochondrial membrane with an intermittent circular motion, all the while using the energy derived from this passage to mechanically bond ADP with inorganic phosphate to form ATP, a molecule vital for life.

Such ingenious processes like this and so many others occurring in the body represent the aforementioned elephant in the room, and the gaping hole in the nihilist’s logic. How does a nihilist reconcile the concept of a universe devoid of objective purpose or meaning with the reality of oxidative phosphorylation? If life itself is objectively meaningless, then why does such a meaningful process exist to maintain life? The nihilist would say that meaning only exists in the subjective realm; however, oxidative phosphorylation is not some mental construct – there is nothing subjective about it. It is physical machinery that we all have inside of us, yet we did not imagine it, engineer it, nor build it. So the question is: Where did it come from? Why does it exist?

When the nihilist says that life has no inherent purpose, this response merely dismisses the proposed question rather than actually answering it. Saying life has no purpose does not tell us why oxidative phosphorylation exists, nor does it tell us why we exist. Saying life has no purpose tells us nothing. The nihilist answer is insufficient.

QUESTIONS

 

So what is the meaning of life? I think in order to facilitate finding the answer we may need to re-evaluate the question. What exactly do we mean when we ask, “What is the purpose/meaning of life?” Clearly life is not like, say, a piano or a gun; it does not have any one specific purpose or function it is meant to perform. And clearly life does not have a meaning in the sense that, say, a message in a foreign language or a secret code has some yet unknown meaning. Life does not lend itself to such circumscription.

The world is a mysterious place, but often not so much because the answers are elusive as because our imaginations fail to conjure the right questions. Perhaps this is the source of our difficulty: we are seeking answers to the wrong questions. The fact is, an answer can be no more meaningful than its question will allow it to be. An invalid or pointless question cannot have a good answer, no matter how substantive the answer may seem in its own right. A vague question will yield a vague answer; an irrelevant, inane question will yield such an answer. The quality of one’s answer is always limited to the quality of one’s question. If a person wants the right answer, he must first ask the right question.

Many people are looking for some kind of great, profound, life-changing truth. But a truth is nothing more than an answer to a certain question. In order to attain a profound truth one must ask a question and provide a context which implies such a truth. The burden of responsibility lies with the questioner as much as with the answerer.

Some people have simply given up and said that the “meaning of life” question has no answer, but perhaps the problem is only that the wrong questions keep being asked. Ultimately, it seems that we are tasked with finding the question as much as with finding the answer.

EXPLANATIONS

 

Even though I have so far been addressing the meaning and purpose of life, this is a bit of a misdirection. To be honest, this book will not propose an answer to either of these questions because, frankly, I have come to the realization that life does not have a meaning or purpose to be found. But what life does have, I believe, is an explanation. Hence this book is entitled “The Explanation of Life.” I believe this is the only feasible and meaningful approach to the question of life’s meaning and purpose, and it more accurately represents what people are looking for when they ask the generic question, “What is the meaning of life?” Furthermore, our existence is a complex phenomenon, and thus an inquiry into our existence must respect that complexity. This book will attempt to address the various facets and nuances inherent to the topic in question.

So what is the difference between an explanation and a purpose? Let’s try to clarify this issue with an analogy. Take a tornado: what is the purpose of a tornado? You never really hear people ask this kind of question. It is generally understood that a tornado is simply the product of impersonal processes in the atmosphere. It begins when a thunderstorm cloud containing a rotating ring of wind pulls in warm, moist air from the ground, which stretches the ring into a more columnal shape; downdrafts produced by falling rain pull the ring down to the ground, eventually creating the funnel cloud. After making landfall, the tornado rampages along the earth, pulling things within itself and destroying everything in its path. So what is the purpose of all this? The truth is, we cannot know the purpose of a tornado because, strictly speaking, a tornado does not have a purpose. A tornado is not the result of any intention, nor does it perform a specific function within a greater whole. It is purely an effect of certain dynamics at work in nature. Hence, despite a lack of purpose, there is still a certain logic to tornadoes, a certain concept to be understood about them. And if we can understand that logic, then even if we cannot know the purpose of the tornado, we can at least understand and reconcile ourselves with the tornado’s existence.

I believe that human existence is, in a sense, much like a tornado in that I don’t believe there is a purpose to human existence, per se. However, this assertion must be approached carefully. Saying that life has no purpose should not be construed as a kind of deprecating statement, implying that there is something wrong or amiss with life because it lacks a purpose. Nor should this be construed as a source of despair. There is nothing wrong with a tornado for lacking purpose because it is not in the nature of a tornado to have purpose. We could say this about many things. We will probably not find any answers if we were to ask questions like: “What is the purpose of Antarctica?” or “What is the purpose of a pimple?” We should not start with the assumption that everything has a purpose to begin with. Likewise it is not in the nature of humans to have a purpose. I do believe, however, that there is a certain logic behind human existence, a set of dynamics that explains why we exist. The purpose of this book is to unravel and explain those dynamics and thus present an explanation for our existence.

In regards to the ultimate cause of our existence, there appears to be two general possibilities: Either we were created by an intelligent force (such as a deity or some other source of intelligent design) or we are, like the tornado, the result of random, aimless forces. But there is a dilemma here. For if we were created by an intelligence then this would raise a host of questions, such as those mentioned previously in regards to the theist model: who and where is this creator and what does it want from us? On the other hand, if we were created by random forces then we face the questions that plague the nihilist model: how do we make sense of the complexity and purposefulness behind life’s machinery? However, I would like to propose a third possibility: what if we were created by an intelligence and by random forces simultaneously? You might consider this impossible and absurd; you might say intelligent design and randomness are polar opposites and have nothing to do with each other. Yet throughout this book I will attempt to convince you of this very thing.

[+ CHAPTER TWO:+]

THE CONCEPT

 

LEAST COMMON DENOMINATOR

 

When contemplating the meaning of our existence, we must remember that our existence is a part of and contingent upon the universe. We ought not try to isolate human life from the context in which it resides; human life cannot be understood in a vacuum. We are children of nature, siblings of living things great and small, and nature itself is a child of the cosmos; the physical cosmos is itself the offspring of certain physical laws. We are but one member of a cosmic family. Therefore, some questions about our own existence can be applied to the universe as well. To ask why we exist is, in a way, to ask, “Why does the universe exist?”

Consider two separate questions: one is “Why does the universe exist?” and the other is “Why does the universe work the way it works and look the way it looks?” I believe these two questions are not wholly separate questions; on the contrary, the nature and details of the universe’s existence and the fact of its existence are organically connected. To find the answer to one is, in some way, to find the answer to the other. Often when people ask why the universe exists, they regard only the universe taken as a whole; they seem to consider the universe’s appearance, its quirks, its features and mannerisms, to be merely incidental and unimportant to the overall subject. But I think this approach is flawed; I think the clues to the universe’s origin are all around us. There is a reason why the universe exists, and, I believe, that reason is not something lost in time but rather it reverberates throughout the cosmos in some form even today. Learning why the universe possesses the nature it does can help us to understand why the universe exists in the first place, which may also shed light on the reason why we exist. Much of this book will address the explanation behind the nature of our reality.

So why does our cosmos operate the way it does and look as it does, with atoms and molecules, planets, the hot glow of stars, sprawling galaxies, the cold vastness of space? What’s the story behind it all? I find that when tackling a difficult problem, it is usually a good idea to try to reduce the problem to its simplest terms and then work our way up from there. So what are the simplest terms of the universe? Or better yet, what are the simplest terms of reality itself?

After contemplating this question for a while, I came to this conclusion: the simplest terms of reality are order and chaos. Why is that? Well, the simple fact is that for any given thing that exists, either that thing is ordered or it is chaotic. Either that thing has a structure or it doesn’t, either it has form or it doesn’t, either it performs a function or it doesn’t, either it follows a pattern or it doesn’t, either it has a meaning or it doesn’t. This is as simple and basic as things get. This dichotomy between order and chaos is, in my understanding, the least common denominator of reality. This dichotomy is more basic than the elements of the periodic table, more basic than matter or atoms or energy or mathematics or any scientific laws. It is upon this simple foundation that all other phenomena of reality are built.

When most people hear the words “order and chaos,” they tend to think of these as merely abstract terms representing certain properties exhibited by objects or processes. Someone might speak of order and chaos as they would speak of the “beauty” of a sunset or the “violence” of a thunderstorm. But contrarily, I understand these terms to be much more than that. They are things that have concrete existence apart from the phenomena through which we perceive them. It is important to note that the particular meanings of these two terms – “order” and “chaos” – within the context of this book are different from the conventional senses of these words, and they are unique to my thesis.

Order and chaos are not physical phenomena such that they have physical substance or can be located in space or be quantitatively evaluated. They do not possess any appearance or structure or quantity. They do not exist as any kind of particle or wave or other kind of fundamental form. This dichotomy is that which confers structural character upon everything, but has none of its own. Order and chaos imply certain primal patterns that things in reality tend to follow. You could think of each of them as a “force.” Hence, order and chaos are not so much the properties that we may perceive in phenomena so much as the forces that impose those properties onto phenomena.

I can try to explain order and chaos by using energy as a comparison. What is energy? The most common, formal definition is “the ability to do work.” There are some other slightly different ways in which people have defined energy; however, all the definitions I’ve encountered really only tell us what energy does, not what it is. And calling energy an “ability” doesn’t really indicate what it is, since an “ability” is just an abstract idea rather than a thing. (For example, if I said that there is 60 watts of “work-performing ability” going through a light bulb, this would not seem to explain very much.) Unlike energy, we generally have a good idea of what matter is: matter is the stuff that constitutes our bodies, the stuff we touch and interact with on a daily basis. We know from chemistry that matter is made up of molecules; and molecules are made from atoms; and atoms are made from subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons; and we know from physics that these subatomic particles are ultimately composed of concentrated energy. So naturally the next question is: what is energy made of? What is energy? It seems that energy is such a primal property of reality that we lack the words and concepts to explain or identify it in terms of its own intrinsic substance. It would seem that the best we can do is explain what it does.

Now, what energy does is expressed through the forms that energy takes. Those forms include kinetic energy, potential energy, electromagnetic radiation, heat, chemical energy, etc. These forms are essentially the intelligible manifestations of the ineffable phenomenon we call “energy.” Also, the forms of energy all seem to be characterized by a common theme; I suppose if one had to put that theme in a word, one might use the word “action.” The forms of energy represent action, as opposed to inactivity. Energy makes things happen.

Order and chaos are each like energy in a number of ways. Like energy, they are both primal properties of reality. Like energy, order and chaos are not composed of some simpler component material. Energy is all around us; likewise, order and chaos are all around us. Like energy, order and chaos influence things: while energy tends to exert its influence on matter in particular, order and chaos influence circumstances themselves and shape the way that they play out. And like energy, I cannot tell you what these forces are; I can only tell you in general terms that they are forces, and I can explain what they do and what forms they take.

Just as energy assumes various forms that imply the quality of “action,” order and chaos both assume forms that imply a certain central quality. Order manifests itself through a set of qualities that could collectively be grouped under the general theme of “stability.” These qualities include structure, predictability, sameness, repetition, wholeness, coherence, creation, utility, and sensibility. Chaos, on the other hand, manifests itself through a set of qualities characterized by the general theme of “flux.” These qualities include randomness, unpredictability, variation, irregularity, disparity, incoherence, destruction, futility, and nonsense.

The attributes of order are all similar to each other in one sense or other, and the same with the attributes of chaos. All the attributes of either order or chaos express the same essence in different ways. Furthermore, the presence of one attribute tends to imply or precipitate the presence of one or more of the others. For example, irregularity in one place often leads to unpredictability somewhere else. Flux often implies or leads to variety, or variety to flux. Repetition or regularity implies stability in time, which tends to lead to predictable behavior. Creation implies the establishment of some kind of structure and the bringing of parts into an ordered and functional whole; destruction implies the dissolution of an established structure and the bringing of parts into a state of disorder and futility. Structure is coherent; randomness: incoherent. Coherence leads to sensibility; incoherence leads to nonsense. Things that are sensible tend to be useful or functional in some way; things that are nonsensical tend to be futile.

To reiterate, order is the force which causes things to be predictable, meaningful, purposeful, structured, useful, etc. Chaos is the force which causes things to be unpredictable, meaningless, purposeless, formless, useless, etc. Order produces necessity; chaos produces chance. Through order, things happen for a reason; through chaos, things happen merely because they can. You can think of chaos and order as, essentially, the two primary “flavors” or “modes” of reality.

Chaos in particular possesses a quality I call “supreme simplicity.” What this means is that there is nothing simpler than chaos. The reason is simply that anything outside of chaos will necessarily exhibit some kind of structure or defining properties, thus granting it order. Order is the substance of complexity; therefore the presence of order in a thing disqualifies it from being the simplest thing in existence. Earlier in the book, I said that the first cause of reality must have been something supremely simple and supremely insignificant. Chaos is the first cause, the unmoved mover, that which moves everything else but is never itself moved upon. Being supremely simple, chaos cannot be broken down into constituent parts or attributed certain causes. Chaos circumvents the problem of the infinite regress of reasons; one reason requires another reason which requires another, but chaos requires and possesses no reasons. It has neither an originating cause nor an end goal. All things began with chaos. There can be no intelligible root cause for existence; the root cause is simply nonsense itself.

 

When people ask for the ultimate reason for existence, they often make the mistake of looking for a significant reason: something lofty, important, beautiful, dignified. They may envision some profound, cosmic objective or imperative, or perhaps a pre-eminent God full of authority, power, and majesty. But the real reason is actually the opposite of such things. As a great tree originates from an insignificant seed, the reason for existence is not something great but something insignificant. It is the most insignificant reason that anyone can imagine, which is absurdity itself. Some nihilists say pessimistically that existence is absurd. However, these people probably do not realize the morsel of truth that they have unintentionally stumbled upon. Yet, to be clear, the absurdity that underlies existence is not merely an immanent property of existence itself, as the nihilist’s words most likely intended; rather the absurdity is a transcendent force.

FIRST CAUSE

 

There is ultimately no reason behind existence. There is no reason for anything to exist. For that matter, there is no reason for anything to not exist, either. The prerequisite of any given reason is another reason, because if the given reason did not have a preceding reason then the given reason would not be a reason but an arbitrary condition. For any given reason “A,” that reason will require explanation by some other reason “B,” which will then require yet another reason “C,” and so on without end. Here we have two possible scenarios: either our existence does in fact originate from some infinite regress of reasons, or there is a “first cause” which can be identified as some “non-reason” – some arbitrary condition. I prefer the latter option: that there was a first cause of existence. That first cause necessarily preceded all reasons, thus the first cause had no preceding reason, thus the first cause was itself an arbitrary condition. In other words, the first cause did not need to happen for any particular reason – it just happened. I would surmise that it was not only arbitrary, but random. The first cause of reality must have been random and not orderly because order does nothing without a reason, therefore only reason-less randomness could have broken the “existential inertia” to get things going.

So in a manner of speaking, there is no reason for reality to exist, and the lack of a reason for reality to exist is itself the reason why reality exists.

Now if we are all the products of randomness, does this mean that we too are random, that our lives are pointless? Furthermore, how did order follow after the first cause of chaos? Through what logic does our structured reality descend from randomness?

 

UNDERSTANDING RANDOMNESS

 

In order for us to reconcile intelligent design with randomness, we must first get a better understanding of the nature of randomness. Let me propose an analogy. Let’s say you were very bored one day. Searching for a way to while your time away, you find a pair of dice lying around, so you decide to just roll them over and over. With each roll, you come up with various numbers between the numbers 2 and 12. There is never any order or sequence to the numbers you get – they are just random numbers. Now let’s say that, after a while, you roll the dice at one point and you get a 2, you roll again and get a 3, then a 4, then 5, 6, 7, 8 all the way to 12 in perfect consecutive sequence. You find this very strange, as they are just a normal, un-rigged pair of dice, and you lack the precise muscle control to deliberately make the dice fall in this manner. Nevertheless, you keep rolling. As you roll again, the pattern starts again: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and so on. This continues to happen for roll after roll. You even obtain a different pair of dice but the same pattern still keeps happening. At a certain point, you will probably say to yourself “This is impossible!” or “How is this happening?”

But why are you surprised by this event? It is probably because you understand the rolling of a normal pair of dice to be an activity that operates within the realm of chance. Chance is understood to be devoid of structure and pattern. Thus for a meaningful pattern to unfold immaculately through the random rolling of dice should be virtually impossible. But why? How can we impose restrictions or rules on chance? How can we dictate what chance can or cannot do?

Here’s an additional thing to consider: Is this event just a strange coincidence or are the dice generating this pattern for some particular reason? Where exactly do we draw the line between a coincidence and a reason? Is there a line at all?

One might think of the roll of dice to be something that conforms to laws of statistics. But strictly speaking, there are no statistical “laws” in the sense of something that explains what necessarily will occur. Statistics does not produce laws; rather, it produces models. The purpose of these models is to attempt to predict the unpredictable and understand the inscrutable. Statistics is not something that can stipulate what can or cannot happen; it can only map out the way things tend to happen given a large number of instances.

How long, would you say, can this strange dice behavior last? Technically speaking, nothing in probability is impossible. The pattern could go on forever. But our everyday experience with random behavior seems to tell us that this will not happen. We know intuitively that, although randomness has no strict rules, there is still a certain regimen that we expect randomness to follow. The dice will generally yield a pattern-less progression in which there is no meaningful relationship between successive numbers. There may be occasional instances where you may roll a series of consecutive numbers (or even a series of the same number or a repeating sequence of different numbers), but you would expect such instances to be rare and short-lived. But exactly how many times are the dice “allowed” to yield consecutive numbers before they must return to their normal regimen of unpredictability? Exactly how much repetition is allowed before “random” is no longer random? How do we precisely measure the “pull” of randomness and the “pull” of structure?1

With this analogy in mind, consider the idea that maybe randomness and structure are not mutually exclusive or distinctly separate things, but are intermingled somehow. My belief is that the universe in which we live is a mysterious harmony and unity between randomness and structure, chance and purpose, between what could be and what is meant to be.

THE NATURE OF RANDOMNESS

The word “randomness” is a strange sort of word, in that everyone thinks they know what it means but, as it turns out, the meaning is elusive. There has been much debate regarding how to precisely define the term. When we think about randomness we think “futile” and “sterile.” We think of randomness as being something trivial, worthless, fruitless.

One might define “random” as being that which occurs without pattern, purpose or intention. This definition sounds reasonable in theory, but when we apply it to reality, how do we separate what is random from what is (or at least seems to be) by design? Take this example. The Earth’s core produces constant convection currents and random waves of molten iron. The charged particles within these currents produce Earth’s magnetic field. Without this magnetic field serving as a kind of shield around the planet, Earth’s atmosphere would be torn apart by solar winds and life on Earth would be destroyed. Not to mention, the magnetic field is an essential tool in the migration of migratory birds and has been used for centuries in marine navigation. And how do you separate the random phenomena of water evaporation and cloud formation from the seemingly purposeful phenomenon of rainfall that moistens the soil and nourishes the plants, enabling the entire ecosystem to thrive?

We take randomness for granted. We see it all the time: in the flapping of a flag, the billows of smoke from a car’s exhaust pipe, a leaf being blown by the wind, the paths of snowflakes as they fall to the ground, the popping of popcorn in a microwave, the odd, formless shape produced when you spill a drink on the floor. It’s interesting how people find themselves in awe of structures and systems that exhibit much complexity and order, but they are never surprised or wowed by instances of randomness. People are amazed by the structure of, say, a crystal or a skyscraper, but think nothing of the bubbling of boiling water or the turbulence in a rocky stream. To most of us, randomness is just randomness. We think of it as merely the passive backdrop within which we perform meaningful tasks in the foreground; but randomness is in fact a dynamic and fascinating marvel of the universe, hiding in plain sight.

Since my childhood, I have long been fascinated by randomness. Sometimes I would carefully analyze, for example, a water stain on a ceiling or the fracture pattern on a broken window and would be captivated by their otherworldly mystique. I felt that random forms, in their own way, were more interesting than familiar, ordered forms. They were not merely absence of form but were rather a kind of transcendent form, a form without limit, unbound by the stifling restrictions of human geometry or aesthetics.

I often tried to find ways to unravel the mystery of randomness. I would sometimes shuffle a deck of playing cards and then pull individual cards from the deck, trying to predict what each card would be. I would look for hidden images in the clouds or in the grain of wood. I have always felt that there was more to randomness than what met the eye. I felt that randomness everywhere was trying to speak to us, yet it spoke things too profound for us to understand, like the secret hieroglyphs of divine beings.

We think of randomness as a kind of vacuum or void. We assume that it is not a thing in itself but is rather a lack of a thing – a lack of order. But I disagree with this. Randomness is not ontologically empty; there is something that dwells within it, or lies behind it, driving it. Randomness embodies a force.

Contrary to common belief, randomness is not constrained to fruitlessness. As a matter of fact, it is not bound to anything at all. That’s what makes randomness so powerful. It is a complete lack of constraint, complete freedom, a powder keg of infinite possibility. It is an impulsive force: If it wants to produce something stupid and pointless, it will do it; if it wants to produce something meaningful or favorable, it will do that.

 

Furthermore, if you look at a random sequence, you will notice that the randomness therein obstinately resists repeating itself. Randomness can be viewed as something that is infinitely creative, never running out of new “ideas” or new directions. A great example is the biological process of cellular meiosis; a crucial component of sexual reproduction, this process contributes significantly to the vast variety of genetic traits which creates the billions of unique individuals that exist in the human population, and it does so by a random shuffling of genes during cell-splitting. Or one might also consider the random motion of supercooled water droplets inside of a cloud, and also the random motion of their constituent water molecules, that gives rise to countless unique snowflakes.

 

People try to understand randomness by isolating or contrasting it from structure. Some think that you have found randomness only when every single iota of structure has been eliminated. But such thinking is flawed. Randomness cannot be fully understood apart from structure; it can only be fully understood through its relationship to structure, just as, according to science, time can only be fully understood through its relationship to space.

Some people say that randomness does not really exist, that what we see as randomness is merely patterns or mechanisms that we do not yet understand. I would say that such people are partially correct: randomness truly does not exist . . . by itself. Order and randomness are in fact two sides of the same coin – where there is a tail there is a head, and where there is a head there is a tail. Whenever a person says “This thing is random” or “That thing is orderly,” it must be understood that these statements are merely qualitative shorthand for what is actually a quantitative reality. What we perceive as random is only random to a certain degree or in a certain way, and what we see as orderly is only orderly to a certain degree or in a certain way; in one there is always a little bit of the other.

ANALOGIES

Randomness and structure constitute a mutual whole. Recall the dice-rolling analogy: in the analogy, it was unclear where randomness ended and pattern began; it was unclear how to circumscribe the jurisdiction of each. One thing the analogy illustrates is that randomness and structure form a kind of unity that is impossible to separate. They are two distinct things with very different characteristics, yet they are inextricably intertwined, and thus are essentially one thing.

This may seem like a foreign concept, but what is interesting is that it seems such a concept is actually rather common in the universe. There are at least four other forces in the universe that appear to work along this principle.

You may have heard of the space-time continuum; it is the idea that space and time together form the fabric of our universe. The passage of time is not absolute but is relative to the speed at which an object travels through space; an object moving fast experiences time more slowly than a slow-moving object. And a spatial phenomenon such as a gravitational field can actually affect the passage of time, causing it to slow down. Hence space and time are not really separate phenomena but are inextricably connected. In light of this, I might propose another kind of continuum: you might call it the “randomness-structure continuum.” It is the idea that randomness and structure are, like space and time, not discrete, separate phenomena but are inextricably related.

Another example is the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Science tells us that an electric current produces a magnetic field around the wire conducting the current, and alternatively a magnetic field can potentially induce an electric current in a wire. Thus, electricity and magnetism, though superficially separate phenomena, are inextricably connected and essentially constitute a single force, which is called “electromagnetism.” Electromagnetic radiation, a derivative of electromagnetism, is one of the most common forces in the universe.

Another example of this kind of relationship is that between energy and matter. Albert Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence formula (E=mc2) essentially says that matter and energy are merely different forms of the same thing. In essence, matter is “congealed” energy, and energy is “liberated” matter. A small amount of matter can yield a large amount of energy, as is demonstrated through the detonation of a nuclear bomb or the energy yield of a nuclear power plant. Also, a radioactive substance will gradually lose its mass as it gives off high-energy radiation. Alternatively, the addition of energy to an object can actually add mass to the object. For example, a spring that is compressed possesses potential energy that makes it more massive than a relaxed spring. And a fast-moving object possesses kinetic energy that makes it more massive than an identical object at rest.

There is yet another example of this kind of relationship. It is an integral principle of quantum mechanics that says that any quantum particle, such as a photon or electron, exhibits behavior characteristic of both a particle – a condensed and discrete parcel of matter – and a wave – a diffuse, continuous flow. This fact has been verified by at least one experiment which is known as the “double-slit experiment.” In this experiment, a stream of quantum particles is shot at a plate perforated with a single slit, with a screen placed behind the plate. The particles that pass through the slit are observed to strike the screen in a location directly parallel to the slit, as one would expect particles to do. But if the plate possesses two slits, the particles will strangely amass on the screen in such a way as to produce a pattern known as an “interference pattern,” which is behavior that is characteristic of wave motion. Thus, a quantum particle has a dual identity: it is a particle but, at the same time, is also a wave. This principle is known as the “wave-particle duality.” The quantum possesses two distinct natures, yet these nature’s are inseparable from one another.

Indeed the universe has a strange, two-headed nature. The universe does not always separate things into neat, distinct categories as we do; sometimes there exists a mysterious quality of separate things which are in fact one thing. But it is not so mysterious when we realize that the universe is the product of the paradoxical two-headed unity that is order and chaos. These relationships that exist between space and time, electricity and magnetism, mass and energy, and wave and particle, are excellent analogs to the relationship between randomness and structure. On the surface, each pair of forces seem to be completely unrelated phenomena, but each are actually inextricably connected, constituting a single force. For all pairs, wherever there is one of them there is the other, and where there is the other there is the one. Likewise, randomness and structure appear to be opposites, but they are only opposite sides of the same coin, different forms of the same thing. Where there is randomness there is order, and where there is order, randomness. This is one useful way to look at the mysterious relationship between order and chaos – as a dual unity, or perhaps for a more streamlined term, a duality.

MODELS

1) There are four main models which I like to use to describe and illustrate different aspects of this randomness-structure relationship. A duality, which was previously explained, is the first model.

 

2) Another model is a spectrum. You might say that randomness and structure are just extremes on a single spectrum. Everything in the universe falls somewhere on that spectrum, either being extremely chaotic or extremely ordered or somewhere in between. However, this kind of spectrum has no ends; there is no absolute randomness or absolute structure. No matter which side of the spectrum you are leaning, there is always some fraction of the other side present. This is not to imply that order and chaos are quantifiable properties, but the spectrum is instead a measurement of the perceivable appearance of these properties and their relative amounts within a certain context.

3) Another way we can think of the order-chaos relationship is as a “realm.” This realm is a place inhabited solely by the forces of order and chaos. This realm is not a real place in the sense of having dimensions or physical substance. It is a figurative construct to represent the plane in which the forces of order and chaos move and interact with each other. The realm is independent of our reality but overlaps our reality. The events that occur in our reality are contingent upon the behaviors occurring in the “order-chaos realm.”

4) Another way to imagine their relationship is as a kind of tug-of-war or tension. It is as if order and chaos are distinct and separate forces, and which are constantly pulling upon each other for dominance, as in a game of tug-of-war. To illustrate: when you look at a forest, what do you see? You see trees. What do you notice about the trees? What you might notice is two simple yet significant observations. One is that each tree in the forest is different from any other tree; for example, some trees are tall while others are shorter, some trees have more branches than others and stick out at different angles, and so on. The other observation is that each tree in the forest is . . . a tree. You probably will not mistake any of the trees in the forest for a basketball goal or a giraffe; they are all clearly identifiable as trees. In other words, there is an extent to which each tree is uniquely different and there is an extent to which each tree is the same. The same could also be said of the leaves on each tree: they are all different leaves yet, in a way, they are all the same leaf.

The forest is filled with a tension between the quality of differentness and the quality of sameness. Variety is an expression of chaos; similitude is an expression of order. Our forest is but one playing field in the ongoing tug-of-war between order and chaos. You may have noticed that many things in nature follow this pattern. Among the many species and subspecies of life forms, or among classes of inanimate phenomena such as clouds, stars or hurricanes, there exists a tension between variety and similitude. Within each group they are all alike, yet they are all different. To an extent, people are all roughly alike in the way they look, talk, and behave; and yet, contrarily, people are all different in these ways.

The gestation period of a human baby is nine months. But it is not always exactly nine months. For some babies it’s a little longer, sometimes shorter. The extent to which the gestation period is consistently nine months could be attributed to the influence of order, and the extent to which the duration varies is the influence of chaos. And it is apparent that there is a tension between these influences.

 

In addition to a tension between difference and similitude, there also exists in nature a tension between form and formlessness. Many things in nature have an obvious sense of form, such as the sphericity of planets or pearls, or perhaps the straightness of a flower stem or a tree. However that form is never perfect: the sphericity of planets and pearls is never a perfect sphere, and flowers and trees are never perfectly straight; they are always irregular to some extent. This deviation from form is not, as one would assume, evidence of a flaw in nature but that deviation is rather the pull of chaos against the pull of order. Order is the culprit of that appearance of form, and chaos is what aims for anything but form.

The tension expresses itself between structure and randomness. For example, if you look at your own skin you will see many small striations and shapes in your skin’s texture. You can also notice various loops and whorls on the friction ridges on the palms of your hands. When you look at these things, you can see that it is not a conventional, orderly lattice of lines, but rather it seems as if there exists some unclear barrier between structure and randomness. It is unclear where the order ends and the randomness begins, or vice versa. You might assume that there is simply a structure there that is flawed and messy; however I prefer to view it as a manifestation of the tug-of-war between order and chaos. You can see this kind of tension all throughout nature: on the striations of a leaf or the patterns on a piece of wood; on animal markings, such as the stripes of a zebra or the spots of a leopard; it can be seen in the structure of the human body’s internal tissues on the cellular level. For example, if you have ever seen a microscope slide of your blood, you probably noticed that the blood cells do not assume perfect, comely shapes such as spheres or discs, but typically are instead “ugly,” rough approximations of such forms. The same is true of any other cell in the body. Nature often tends to eschew simple and perfect Euclidean forms, straight lines, and perfectly rounded curves; the forms of nature are often irregular. Sometimes nature’s forms can seem mostly structured but somewhat messy; other times forms can seem mostly random but with intermittent flickers of shape and structure. One may interpret this observation to indicate that nature is striving to achieve mathematically perfect forms but has difficulty doing so. On the contrary, it is not a failing of nature but is the resolute signature of the order-chaos tension.

This tug-of-war model also applies to the dice-rolling analogy from earlier. In that scenario, the extent to which the dice are “allowed” to keep landing in consecutive sequence can be understood as the pull of order, and the extent to which the dice “must” return to the fluctuation regimen is the pull of chaos.

ENTASY

For the sake of brevity, I refer to this dichotomy and interplay between order and chaos, which I have described as a duality, a spectrum, a realm, and a tension, as “entasy.” I derive this term from the Greek word entasi, which has various meanings such as “tension,” “intensity,” and “tautness” — all of which describe qualities of this concept. To put the term in perspective, just as for space and time there is “spacetime,” and for electricity and magnetism there is “electromagnetism,” likewise for order and chaos there is “entasy.” In addition, the word “entasy” can be used to refer to the dichotomies implied by the attributes of entasy, such as randomness and structure, sense and nonsense, stability and flux, etc. The formal name I have given to the hypothesis delineated in this book is called “the entasy model of existence”; but for the sake of brevity, I will simply refer to it as “the entasy model.”

MORE ABOUT ORDER AND CHAOS

 

As chaos causes things to happen unpredictably, one product of this is the creation of variety; as order causes things to happen predictably, one product of this is repetition or similitude. Thus, when you look at the various colors of the leaves in fall, or when you consider that no two snowflakes are ever identical, you can think of these as manifestations of chaos. Everything varies: cloned animals often have slightly different body coloring or markings; identical twins have different fingerprints, and may have slight differences in blemishes or freckles. Alternatively, when you consider the reliability of scientific laws, or the uniform characteristics found within individual kingdoms and species of life, you could say you are seeing manifestations of order. Order is conservative, perpetually seeking consistency, complacency, and uniformity; while chaos perpetually seeks deviation from the norm and the exhaustion of all possibilities.

In the example earlier, we saw that the dice were following a predictable pattern. The dice in that example exemplified bias; they had a preference towards that particular sequence over all other sequences they could follow. In many contexts, bias is a characteristic trait of order. In this same sense, chaos is signified by equality. All possibilities are given equal regard.

Order implies a pulling-together, while chaos implies a dividing or rending-apart. Order causes systems to work as designed; chaos causes the system’s components to drift and makes the system fall apart. Order puts things into distinct, identifiable groups; chaos makes things difficult to organize and classify.

Order gravitates towards symmetry, periodicity, proportion, ideal-ness, peace, intentional-ness, and clarity; while chaos gravitates towards asymmetry, aperiodicity, disproportion, less-than-ideal, turmoil, accidental-ness, and confusion/obscurity. Order tends to produce that which we deem beautiful, of good quality, wise, desirable, normal; chaos: that which we deem ugly, of poor quality, foolish, undesirable, strange.

Order is the realm of reasons, but there are no reasons in chaos; there is never a “Why?” to what chaos does, there is only a “Why not?” Chaos is that which causes events to veer from a fixed pattern, intended path or ideal. It is the intention-less antagonist of intent, the aimless antagonist of directionality.

The strength of order is that everything it does is for some reason; yet the weakness of order is that everything it does is for some reason: it is constrained and limited by reasons and cannot act without them. Conversely, the weakness of chaos is that it has no reasons; yet the strength of chaos is that it has no reasons: it can act without need of them.

Understanding of order is tautological: the more you understand order, the more you understand order. Understanding of chaos is paradoxical: the less you understand chaos, the more you understand chaos.

Embodiments of order are subject to destruction. Organized systems can be disrupted. Stars and planets can be destroyed by external forces. Life forms can be killed. But instances of chaos are by their nature indestructible because there is no structure to destroy.

A famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein is: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” It is a wonder in itself that this enormous and complex universe in which we live operates through laws that are within the ability of us little humans to understand. I don’t think this is so much a testimony to the precocious intellect of mankind as it is a testimony to the influence of order in the universe. Order is what makes this universe comprehensible, insofar as it is comprehensible. Order is what consolidates reality into intelligible patterns; it is why there exist laws and mathematics; it creates the regularities, the coherent principles and dynamics that are the substance of observation and analysis by scientists. Order produces distinct quantities and categories in the world around us. It organizes the distinct clumps of matter that we call “particles.” Order is the reason the laws of the universe are consistent; thus we don’t see wacky anomalies such as time going in reverse, gravity being interrupted so that we float in the air for a moment, or physical matter momentarily losing it’s solidity so that we can walk through walls. The regularities and cycles of the cosmos: the rising and setting of the sun each day, the cycle of the four seasons, the phases of the moon, eclipses, the orbits of the planets – these predictable phenomena are all the result of the force of order.

Conversely, the dark regions of the universe, the aspects which are still mysterious, bizarre or even unknowable, things that make no sense or are outrageous, things that cannot be categorized or reduced to a law or set of dynamics – this is the domain of chaos.

There is a side of reality in which things are straightforward and are exactly as they appear to be, and there is a side in which our senses deceive us and reality defies logic. Herein lies another distinction between order and chaos, respectively.

When our endeavors work out smoothly, like a well-oiled machine, this is order at work; when it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong, this is chaos at work.

When we look back at our individual lives, we will notice that there are particular events we have gone through that have been helpful, meaningful, or otherwise remarkable. We also may notice that there have been periods or events in our lives that were uneventful, absurd or pointless. Herein lies another distinction between order and chaos, respectively.

One might notice that the course of life does not proceed like a typical work of fiction, such as a movie or a novel. In a fictional story, every event that happens factors logically into the larger whole of the story. Nothing is ever superfluous or out of place. Every new development, every bit of dialogue exists because it is relevant to the story in some way. But life is not fiction. In life, there is nonsense, there are absurd situations and absurd conditions. Things can happen that are superfluous, incongruous and ugly. This aspect of the universe’s nature exists because of chaos.

 

Regarding order, a person might be inclined to ask, “Where does this force of order come from?” It is interesting and telling that the person doesn’t ask questions like: “Where does randomness come from? Where does futility come from? Where does meaninglessness come from?” People don’t really ask questions like that. People assume that such things are a given, the natural, automatic state of reality. They assume that it is order that has to “come” from somewhere; it is order that is an extraneous, active thing which acts upon reality and the intrinsic, passive randomness thereof. But this is false. The forces of order and chaos are both united as one, and are both native to reality. People take randomness for granted such that if someone were to ask, “Where does all the randomness in the world originate from? What is its source?” it is likely that most people would not even consider this a meaningful question. However, this should be no less the case with order.

 

GOOD VS. BAD, LIKELY VS. UNLIKELY

 

I want to make it clear that order is not to be construed as “good,” per se, and chaos is not to be construed as “bad” or “evil,” per se. This dichotomy is not about morality or quality, but about structure and effect. Chaos equals change, it equals unexpected twists and turns of fate; thus when change is good, chaos tends to be good, and when change is bad, chaos tends to be bad. It is because of chaos that a healthy, vibrant individual can suddenly be struck with some sudden malady. It is because of chaos that a diseased individual may see a miraculous improvement, such as a cancer suddenly going into remission. It is because of chaos that a wealthy man can suddenly lose his fortune, while a loser in life can suddenly find success. When a person remains on the same path in life, this can be interpreted as the work of order; when a person has a change of heart, a moment of disillusionment, or a moment of epiphany, this is chaos at work.

Accidents are a double-edged sword. An accidental storm may ship-wreck you on an ocean voyage. Alternatively, if you are stranded in the middle of an ocean, an accidental passing-by of a cruise ship could be your salvation. Chaos can be your enemy in good times or your friend in time of desperation. On the other hand, order resists change – for better or for worse. Entirely depending on your circumstances, chaos is either a source of worry or a source of hope.

When events occur in a manner that one would interpret as likely or commonplace, this can be understood as a kind of chaos. “Likely” events are events in which there is no perceivable order: no sense of bias, structure, meaning, or coherence. For example, if you are driving in a freeway and all the vehicles you pass by are various makes, various models, various colors, with no meaningful and consistent pattern among them, as one would expect to usually happen, one could consider this a form of chaos. However, if you are driving down the freeway and every vehicle on the road is, say, green or is only one particular make and model (assuming that the arrangement of vehicles is spontaneous and not prearranged), you could interpret this as a manifestation of order.

Order can create “unlikely” situations in which multiple factors seem to converge in a meaningful, coherent fashion, as if it were happening “on purpose.” A spectacular “miracle” that occurs to a person’s benefit might be considered a manifestation of order. On the other hand, a “perfect storm,” an improbably coherent or organized calamity, could be considered the work of order also. I know that in my own life I have had certain disastrous calamities befall me, and in doing so they occurred in a manner that seemed to indicate order more so than chaos. They involved a number of factors that fit together so seamlessly that it seemed as if the event had been orchestrated by some sort of cosmic intelligence, as if it were meant to be. It is easy for someone to make the snap judgment that calamity is naturally associated with chaos and favorable events are associated with order, but I don’t believe it’s that simple. There is an interesting story that occurred some years ago in the city of Hamilton, Bermuda: In July of 1974, a seventeen-year-old man named Neville Ebbin was driving his moped down a certain street when he was accidentally hit by a taxi and killed. In July of the following year, his brother Erskine Ebbin was also accidentally hit and killed by the same taxi on the same street by the same driver carrying the same passenger as the year before. I don’t see anything particularly “good” about this situation, but it is difficult to doubt that it is orderly.

There is also a story about a man named Major Summerford, who was a British cavalry officer during World War I. In 1918, he was riding his horse on a European battlefield when a lightning bolt struck both him and the horse; the horse was killed and Summerford was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. He subsequently left the military and retired to Vancouver, Canada. In 1924, having sufficiently recovered, he went out fishing one day, when a bolt of lightning hit the tree that he had been sitting under; as a result he became paralyzed on the right side of his body. He recovered two years later. In 1930, he was taking a walk in a local park when lightning struck him a third time, this time permanently paralyzing him. He died two years later and was buried in a local cemetery. However, during a thunderstorm in 1936, lightning struck his tombstone, shattering it to pieces. There is nothing “good” about this sequence of events, but there does seem to be a distinct pattern in it, and to that extent (absent any plausible scientific explanation) Major Summerford’s fate was orderly. It seems evident that chaos does not necessarily have a monopoly on what we would consider “misfortune.”

As a side note, one might also consider certain weather phenomena such as hurricanes and tornadoes to be orderly structures from a scientific standpoint, as opposed to when atmospheric air is diffusely and incoherently spread out, although they are not necessarily what one would consider “good.”

To reiterate, it is important to keep in mind that the order/chaos dichotomy is not the good/evil dichotomy; it is a completely different concept. Regardless of whether an event is “good” or “bad,” when it occurs in a manner that indicates the attributes of order, to that extent we can attribute the event to order, and when a situation occurs in a manner that indicates the attributes of chaos, to that extent we can attribute the event to chaos. It is also important to keep in mind that people cannot truly perform acts of chaos or order. These terms, as they are typically used in this book, pertain to naturally-occurring phenomena. They pertain to events that occur outside the realm of conscious thought and intention and not to personal actions. The reader should not interpret from this book that an individual ought to do “orderly things” or avoid doing “chaotic things”; that concept is not what this book necessarily specifies. Incidentally, “intentional chaos” is an oxymoron. People may do things that are arbitrary but people are not capable of acting on true randomness or chaos.

 

SENSE VS. NONSENSE

 

Sense and nonsense are manifestations of order and chaos, respectively. However, no act or situation is ever sensible or nonsensical in itself. By themselves, events just happen the way they happen; outside of some conceptual context, events are incompatible with such labels. But the abstract constructs of logic and reason allow us to give form to formless circumstances, so to speak. If we can pose a specific and meaningful set of questions or premises, then we can create a certain inquiry or argument through which we can detect within events or actions the presence of order and chaos in the form of that which we call “sensible” and “nonsensical.” Although, the conclusions that we come to through reasoning can only be as accurate as the questions or arguments that we frame will allow. Entasy attributes such as, for example, creation, repetition, and stability, or destruction, irregularity, and flux would seem to be fairly concrete examples of order and chaos. On the other hand, sense and nonsense would appear to be the most abstract attributes of entasy; they are attributes that cannot be discerned through the senses, only through the mind.

 

[+ CHAPTER THREE:+]

OBSERVATIONS

 

DELICATE BALANCE

This world in which we live is a paradox in that it is a kind of discordant harmony. The very fabric of reality is a delicate balance of necessity and chance, stability and flux. As it happens, we do not live in a perfect universe; in fact, I would argue that a “perfect universe” is an oxymoron, like a “triangular circle”—it is something that, by definition, cannot exist. That which is undesirable can be minimized and marginalized but never annihilated. The flawed can never be exorcised from the ideal, nor can the ugly be exorcised from the beautiful.

Order and chaos are not to be construed as mutual enemies; their relationship is much more mysterious. At times they seem to be at odds while at other times they seem to have a cooperative relationship. They are interconnected opposites, like yin and yang. The complex universe as we know it did not arise solely from the efforts of order, but rather was developed from a fusion, a strange and paradoxical marriage, between order and chaos. The universe as we know it would not be possible if there were only sameness, predictability, and creation. But obviously neither would it be possible with only things like irregularity, unpredictability, and destruction. The universe could only exist with both of these ingredients.

Any good machine, in order to function, must possess a certain balance of flexibility and rigidity. If the working parts are too flexible and have too much freedom, they veer aimlessly and cannot coordinate themselves in a configuration conducive to useful work; however, if the parts are too rigid and have too little freedom of motion, the machine cannot operate this way either. Hence a proper balance of the two qualities is needed. Thus it must be for a universe to function. The flexibility of chaos coupled with the rigidity of order makes possible the emergence and maintenance of creative, fruitful phenomena.

Consider for a moment that our survival hinges upon the destruction and consumption of plants and animals. We kill them and butcher their bodies, we grind them to mush with our teeth and then digest them with stomach acids, and from this destruction we thrive. We kill microbial life when we wash fresh vegetables or cook raw meat, as well as when we bathe or disinfect a wound. Our immune system is constantly killing pathogenic microorganisms that invade our bodies. In nature, herbivores must be killed by carnivorous predators; otherwise large herds of them will procreate out of control, the balance of nature will be upset, and natural food resources will be depleted. Much as we dislike them, calamities such as natural disasters, diseases, miscarriages, murder, fatal accidents, and war help to keep our own numbers in check and help prevent overpopulation.

Over the billions of years, evolution has been prolific in producing new and diverse species of life. Earth is now rich with life, like a saturated sponge. Yet, it is a fact that over 99% of species that have inhabited this Earth have since gone extinct. But extinction and genesis often have a strange interrelation. For example, the destruction of the dinosaurs paved the way for the "Age of Mammals" and subsequently the "Age of Man."

Each species relies upon the death and elimination of older generations in order to make way for the new generation. Try to imagine a world without death, where everyone was immortal and every generation to have ever lived was still around. How would we have enough space? How would we have enough food and resources? How could human civilization evolve and improve, with so many old people clinging to their old ways? It is inconceivable, isn’t it? Life and death, creation and destruction, are inseparable. Opposite sides of the same coin.

When an embryo attaches itself to the mother’s womb, it destroys many of the uterine cells in order to carve out an ulcer-like hole in which to plant itself in the uterus’s tissue. When a fetus is developing, its fingers and toes are sculpted by the apoptosis – programmed cell death – of the cells that were once located between the newly emerging digits. These are instances of destruction working in conjunction with creation.

The delicate balance between order and chaos is something we can easily observe around us. One might observe that nature is oddly two-faced. Often the weather is peaceful and the air is still; and yet sometimes the sky rages with lightning, thunder, hailstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Often the ocean waters are peaceful, and yet at times there can be violent ocean waves, tsunamis, and floods. The ground is usually still beneath our feet, but sometimes there can be earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Also consider stars. Stars perform many orderly functions. Stellar nuclear fusion produces different elements of matter; a star’s gravitational field corrals planets into regular, predictable orbits; and the light and heat from our closest star, the sun, is vital to life on Earth. Yet stars can sometimes go supernova, violently exploding and destroying everything around it; or they can sometimes collapse into a black hole that devours everything around it. Stars are the most constructive things in the universe, yet they are also the most destructive things in the universe.

DESTRUCTION AND CREATION

 

Let’s look more closely at the phenomenon of supernovas. A typical star strikes a balance between the outward-pushing energy of nuclear reactions within the core and the inward-pushing energy of gravity. When the core runs out of helium for nuclear reactions, the force of gravity wins over and the star implodes. When this happens to a large star, the gravitational collapse can create enough potential energy to trigger an explosion, called a supernova. During this explosion, the star’s gases are blown away at high speeds, and a destructive shockwave travels across space. Extremely intense heat and energy are released. Some astronomers have feared that a particular star in our galaxy, called WR104, may one day explode and wipe out life on Earth with lethal gamma rays.

Yet supernovas can build as well as destroy. Supernovas spread a large amount of stellar gases into space, and sometimes enough of that gas will accumulate in a particular area to give rise to a nebula, which may eventually develop into a new star. Furthermore, different elements can be manufactured within stars through nuclear fusion, but a star by itself cannot produce an element heavier than iron. However, the extreme energy and temperature within a supernova blast allows atomic nuclei to fuse violently enough to produce all the elements on the periodic table from iron to uranium. Life on Earth as we know it would be impossible without the contributions of supernovas.

 

Let’s also look more closely at the phenomenon of black holes. Black holes, along with supernovas, are one of the great instruments of destruction in the cosmos. They form after dense stars implode under the weight of their own gravitational fields, significantly deforming the fabric of spacetime. The resulting hole possesses such a strong gravitational field that everything that comes near it, even light, is sucked into it. Objects nearing a black hole are stretched out like spaghetti by the immense gravity, torn apart, and then crushed into a tiny singularity of infinite density. Black holes have been observed devouring objects as big as stars and gas clouds.

Yet ironically, black holes can organize as well as disrupt, and create as well as destroy. In the center of most galaxies lies a supermassive black hole; its gravitational field is what holds the stars of the galaxy together into a single cosmic unit, much as the sun holds the solar system together. Furthermore, as matter is devoured in the supermassive black hole, some of it gets flung around at such high velocity that it reaches escape velocity and is ejected outward in large jets of particles and energy. These large jets emanating from the black hole are instrumental in the delivery of particles to distant parts of the galaxy, triggering and accelerating the formation of new stars. The supermassive black hole destroys some stars while simultaneously creating others.

 

Hurricanes are a powerful agent of destruction that is native to our own planet. But in addition to their well-known destructive effects, they are ironically also useful to the environment in various ways. Hurricanes help circulate global temperature by moving warm tropical air towards the poles, and they stir up the ocean, cycling nutrients from the ocean floor to the surface. Hurricanes promote the cycling of forest plants by knocking down taller trees that restrict sunlight to forest floor plants, thus giving them a chance to flourish until the taller trees resurge. The strong wind and waves distribute important sediments to hard-to-reach landmass areas that would otherwise never receive them, the abundant rainfall can bring rain to areas in drought, and the wind helps disperse plant seeds to distant areas.

As you can see, in nature there is no clear distinction between a cataclysm and a mechanism, between a pointless disaster and a useful turn of events.

 

One may also see a semblance of this tendency within the general phenomenon of death. People have been known to meet their end in all manner of ways. Dying of old age would appear to be the manner of death which nature “intended” for us, but many die in other ways, ways which often seem accidental, random, pointless, absurd, or untimely. Indeed, many deaths and manners of death possess an air of chaos about them. However, death as a general phenomenon serves an important function in nature, as previously mentioned; death, in general, is good for the species as a whole. So how do we translate this from broad, statistical terms to individual terms? How exactly do we discern between the sensible deaths and the senseless deaths, between the necessary deaths and the superfluous deaths? There is no such distinction. You cannot browse through an obituary column and pick out different deaths and say “This death was mandated by nature” or “That death was against nature’s will.” Sometimes while driving I will see a dead animal by the side of the road which had evidently been run over by a car, and I will think to myself, “Was this animal’s death an unfortunate accident, or was it a deliberate measure taken by the cosmos to help keep the animal population in check?” The answer is unclear.

 

MEANING AND ARBITRARINESS

 

Just as all order originally emanated from nonsense, also all meaning has its origin in arbitrariness. All the practical things that have meaning to us began as something arbitrary. Even now as I write this book, I am presuming that the words I am typing have meaning. Yet these words are only meaningful to a point. Words, after all, are but arbitrary metaphors which bear no inherent relation to their referents. For example, I may refer to a particular entity as a “cat,” yet that term is arbitrary – it has nothing inherently in common with that entity, apart from the fact that this is what the language-makers of yore chose to call it. However, the name “cat” still proves meaningful since, innately meaningless as the word may be, the word is crucial if one wishes to discuss this entity. Furthermore, the letters and punctuation marks that make up this book are but meaningless marks, arbitrary sets of lines and curves boasting no absolute necessity to their appearance; yet without these meaningless marks, written communication would be impossible. Literal meaning as we know it is dependent on meaninglessness.

Every week people go to work to obtain a quantity of currency – slips of paper and metal coins. These things are valuable and purposeful to us, yet at the same time they are in themselves just arbitrary knickknacks that have no value beyond what people imagine them to have. The economies of the world depend upon these meaningless things in order to function. As you can see, the relationship between sense and nonsense is evident on a fundamental level in many practical human affairs.

STABILITY AND FLUX

It is fascinating how many things in the natural world that appear to be stable and unchanging are actually in a state of flux. Stability and flux often function seamlessly together, like perfectly coordinated dancing partners. I have always been fascinated how, during the winter months, countless randomly falling snowflakes fall to the ground, and yet they accumulate as an even, smooth layer of snow. In this manner as well as many others, entasy has a way of taking the variegated and unintelligible and condensing them into something coherent and unified.

For much of mankind’s history, it was simply assumed that the Earth was stationary, as if firmly planted on some enormous cosmic foundation. And, for all appearances, what reason did we have to think otherwise? If not for the scientific findings of the past few centuries, we probably would have no idea that the Earth is actually rotating on its axis at 1,037 miles per hour (at the equator) and traveling in its orbit through space at 66,660 miles per hour.

Many ancient cosmologies envisioned the sky as a solid dome, or firmament, rigidly situated above the Earth. In actuality the atmosphere does not sit still as it envelopes the earth. The apparent stability of the sky belies the dynamic, swirling atmosphere infused with cyclic wind cells and meandering jet streams. The Coriolis effect, caused by the Earth’s rotation, places giant, spinning cyclones of wind all over the Earth. It is largely through the wind-limiting surface friction caused by the Earth’s topography that we are oblivious to much of the flux going on in the atmosphere.

The Earth’s magnetic field is not a static feature of the Earth, but is dynamic. For one thing, the strength of the field is prone to increase and decrease over time. As a matter of fact, 100 million years ago the field was three times stronger than it is today. Additionally, ever so often, about every 500,000 years on average, the poles reverse; north becomes south and south becomes north. However, the actual intervals of time between reversals are strangely random in nature. The intervals can last from tens of thousands of years to tens of millions of years, and there is no discernable pattern to them.

Neither is the Earth’s climate static. Over the course of time from tens of thousands to millions of years, large-scale climate change alters the face of the earth. Overall global temperature bounces between warm and cold. The climates of continents vary. Glaciers once covered much of the Americas and northern Asia. The Sahara desert was once a fertile savannah. Antarctica was once home to a tropical climate teeming with palm trees. As you can see, Earth’s polarity and climate are in constant flux.

It may be an understatement to say that we take the ground for granted. We walk on it every day without a moment’s thought or consideration. We understand it to be the very epitome of stability and immutability. However, beneath us is a dynamic lithosphere composed of tectonic plates sliding, pulling, and pushing each other. Over millions of years, tectonic activity pulls the continents apart and enlarges the oceans. Through subduction, old ground is forced down towards the Earth’s hot interior, with magma rising up and cooling on the surface, forming new ground. Geological structures are molded into existence; from the dynamic flows of the ground emerge mountain ranges, valleys, volcanoes, and mid-ocean ridges. Old topographical features disappear, new ones emerge. Continents move around, oceans get bigger or smaller. Moreover, the ground that we take for granted isn’t so peaceful and reliable when an earthquake makes it rumble and shake beneath our feet, or when a volcano suddenly belches lava and smoke. The Earth’s lithosphere is in a constant, albeit slow, state of flux.

Many people understand how our sense of smell works in physiological terms, but people often don’t think much about why we are able to smell things in the first place. What makes things give off a smell? The answer is that all of the objects around us that have a smell are constantly, randomly evaporating away their molecules, which are what our noses pick up and analyze with olfactory receptors. Therefore anything you can smell, though it may be quite solid, is still in a state of constant flux. When we think about all the smells that we come across on a day to day basis, it becomes clear that flux is much more prevalent than our sense of vision alone can discern. Presumably dogs, with their superior olfactory sense, are even more aware of this flux than we are. Dogs are able to pick up a faint scent from several miles away; this gives one an idea of just how diffuse a solid object’s molecules really are. Dogs have even been known to detect the scent of microscopic things, such as cancer cells and bacteria. This further demonstrates that everything is in a state of molecular flux that is impossible to visualize; every solid object is surrounded by a large, invisible cloud of its own molecules.

 

We can see this stability/flux relationship in the human body as well; the body is constantly changing yet still feels the same. The cells of the body periodically undergo mitosis: one cell suddenly splits apart to become two whole new organisms. Old atoms and molecules in our bodies are swapped for new ones from the foods we eat. Organs of the body undergo cell turnover, becoming whole new organs, but the organs look the same. Old hairs fall out of the scalp and are replaced by new hairs; thus ever so often one acquires a completely different head of hair, yet one’s hair looks the same. One’s skin is shed and replaced and, every month or so, one acquires a whole new layer of skin, yet one’s skin looks the same. Every several years, your entire body has essentially become a whole new physical specimen. The body is in constant flux, yet it is the same.

Throughout our lives we go from a helpless infant to an adolescent to a mature adult to a wrinkled elderly. Each stage is like a different person; each looks differently, thinks differently, and behaves differently. Yet mysteriously, it is the same person.

Everything is changing, yet things are the same. Things are in flux, yet they are stable. This paradox is a function of the larger paradox that is entasy.

STRUCTURE FROM CHAOS

There are instances where orderly structures can spontaneously emerge from random behavior. A classic example is the snowflake (pictured right). An ideal snowflake is an intricate, symmetrical, six-armed design. It is a wonder that something so beautiful and complex is merely the product of mindless natural processes, that being the freezing of supercooled water droplets in the clouds.

 

Over millions of years, deep within the Earth’s crust or mantle, various crystals may form. They form when certain elements or compounds are present and are subjected to intense levels of heat and pressure, causing their atoms to go from amorphous arrangements to highly ordered arrangements. These crystals may be formed from an atomic lattice of various three-dimensional shapes, with these shapes often expressing attributes of symmetry and regularity in the angles between their sides, consonant with the force of order. Tectonic motion and magma activity can bring these crystals closer to the surface, where they can accumulate in mineral deposits and be mined. Many such crystals are referred to as “gemstones.” They appear in many forms: quartz, beryl, garnet, topaz, peridot, tourmaline, zircon, to name a few; the most rare and valuable ones include rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds. Opal is commonly considered a gemstone, but is different in that it is not a crystal. Instead, opal is composed of a closely-packed lattice of many tiny spheres of gelatinous silicon dioxide; the spheres are of uniform size and are arrayed in regular arrangement. It is fascinating how these various stones, although highly ordered, were all formed from mindless natural phenomena.

Perhaps the most conspicuous example of structure from chaos is something that we observe (but probably don’t give much thought to) every time we look up at the sky. If you look at the sun in the daytime or the moon at night, you will notice that both of them are circular in shape. Basic astronomical observation reveals that most (if not all) planets, moons and stars are not amorphous blobs but tend to be well-defined spheres. Scientists tell us that it is random, undirected accretion of gases or rock along with gravitational attraction that give celestial bodies their perfect-looking spherical shape.

Often the clouds in the sky have a random, amorphous look to them. And sometimes the clouds may have a more entasy-like appearance, with a curious mixture of form and formlessness. But sometimes, strikingly orderly patterns or distinct shapes can emerge. Sometimes clouds can form almost perfect rows of parallel, evenly spaced bands, such as with “cirrus radiatus” clouds (pictured below). There is a strange and rare type called a “roll cloud,” which is a solitary cloud that appears to be rolled about a horizontal axis, and looks a bit like a long French baguette loaf in the sky. Another rare and unusual cloud type is a “fallstreak hole” (pictured below). With this cloud type, natural atmospheric processes cause a nearly-perfect, large, circular hole to form inside a cloud layer, appearing as if it was somehow carved out with a knife. The clouds in the sky are an especially conspicuous and revealing illustration of entasy; it is entasy that we can see every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are curious structures that can appear in the shape of galaxies. Spiral galaxies, such as the one we inhabit, possess a striking sense of coherent structure, and have been known to possess almost perfect, mirror-like symmetry. As perhaps an even more notable example, there exist galaxies known as “ring galaxies” which consist of stars arranged in an enormous circle with a large hole in the center, giving the appearance of an enormous hula hoop in outer space.

Another illuminating example of structure out of chaos is the phenomenon known as “Benard cells.” Benard cells sometimes occur when, in a fluid, the surface directly underneath the fluid is significantly hotter than the top surface of the fluid. For example, if a liquid is being heated in a pan, the heat from below causes the hot liquid to rise to the top. The relatively cold, dense liquid from the top is pulled more strongly by gravity and begins to fall to the bottom. With the light, hot liquid rising and the cold, heavy liquid falling, there is a clash between the two temperature masses that creates turbulent conditions in the liquid. When the heat is no longer able to disperse fast enough through the turmoil, the fluid spontaneously transforms into an orderly lattice of hexagon-shaped convection cells – the Benard cells. These three-dimensional cells form vertical vortices of rising hot fluid and falling cold fluid. Benard cells are not just limited to man-made heating conditions; they are regular features of the Earth’s atmosphere through solar heating. The hexagonal lattice shape of these vortices can sometimes be imprinted on the Earth’s terrain. As writer Klaus Mainzer states, “A footprint of such a sea of vortices can be observed in the regular patterns of hills and valleys in deserts, snowfields, or icebergs.“1

THE SCIENCES

 

The entasy model is more than just theory. The next four chapters will demonstrate the ways in which entasy, through various scientific fields, can be discerned in the real world.

[+ CHAPTER FOUR:+]

ENTASY IN MATHEMATICS, PART ONE: CHAOS THEORY

 

Natural phenomena in the universe can often be modeled by certain mathematical equations, and their corresponding behaviors can be predicted by those equations, as is commonly done in physics. Even further, there exists the idea that all systems in the universe are based on precise mathematical equations and scientific laws, and if all the variables are known, the future states of those systems can be accurately predicted. So it goes, what the state of a system will be at one given point in time can be accurately extrapolated from what the state of the system had been at some earlier time. However, this idea seems to assume that the laws or equations in question all involve what is known in mathematics as “linear dynamics.” Linear dynamics are system behaviors that can be described by linear equations. With linear dynamics, motions or systems develop in a predictable fashion in which one can intuitively approximate future values based on past values. The linear equations which characterize linear dynamics can be decomposed into parts, and the parts can be solved separately and then recombined, and one will still get the same answer – the whole is merely the sum of its parts. In linear dynamics, if a variable is changed in an equation, the effect it has on the equation at one time will be the same effect it has on the equation at another time as a system progresses.

In a linear system, a system based on linear dynamics, small input leads to small output; large input leads to large output. Linear systems evolve in a way such that if you were to plot their progress on a graph, it would form a straight line – hence the word “linear.” Two or more values that are close together at one point in time will have no reason to diverge and will remain more-or-less close together through the system’s duration. In summary, linear equations are orderly and predictable.

Alternatively, in mathematics there also exists something called “nonlinear dynamics,” which is the opposite of linear dynamics. Nonlinear dynamics is the product of nonlinear equations, which are certain equations in which typically some term is multiplied by itself. Such equations, unlike linear equations, cannot be decomposed and recombined to achieve the same answer – the whole is not the sum of its parts. Nonlinear equations and dynamics possess what is called a “sensitivity to initial conditions.” This means that an apparently small change to the starting state of a system can result in a disproportionately large difference in how a system plays out. Nonlinear equations are characterized by abrupt and unpredictable changes in behavior as a system progresses. A change on the equation at one time may have a totally different effect at another time. Values of the equation that were close together at on time may abruptly diverge at another time, and may end up as far away from each other as is possible. A nonlinear system will tend to progress in such a way that instead of forming a straight line when values are plotted on a graph, it may instead form curves, loops, breaks, and other irregular forms. In short, nonlinear equations tend to be disorderly and unpredictable.

Chaos theory is a field of mathematics that primarily deals with the behavior of nonlinear dynamics. An interesting fact that chaos theorists have found is that most real-life systems are actually nonlinear. Many natural phenomena can readily be understood in nonlinear terms. For example, if you take a certain dose of a pharmaceutical drug, increasing the dose to twice the normal amount will not necessarily double the effect or intensity of the drug; it could be less or exponentially more. Or taking a number of drugs simultaneously could have an effect that is more than the sum of taking each drug individually at separate times.

The freezing of water is a simple nonlinear response. If you keep water at some temperature above 0° C, nothing happens. And as you slowly lower the temperature nothing out of the ordinary will happen, until the water hits 0° C, at which point it abruptly begins to freeze. Clearly, this is not a gradual, linear phenomenon. A nonlinear equation can model the way an earthquake erupts when tectonic plates which have been gradually pressing against each other for many years all of a sudden reach some critical value at the very next millimeter, which causes the ground to shake violently. Nonlinear systems typically have critical pressure points, places in their progression in which one kind of behavior will abruptly jump into some different kind of behavior. Nonlinear dynamics causes erratic, unpredictable behavior to be observable throughout the natural world.

Chaos theory revolves around a central concept called “deterministic chaos,” but which is commonly simply referred to as “chaos.” The chaos of chaos theory is different from the term as I use it in the entasy model: it is a mathematical concept rather than a philosophical one. Deterministic chaos, technically speaking, is not true randomness. In mathematics, randomness is defined as a complete absence of determinism; in other words, it does not follow from any particular laws or rules. Deterministic chaos, on the other hand, is behavior that appears random yet, paradoxically, it follows directly from the nonlinear equations. Nonlinear equations may produce chaos even though there is nothing chaotic about the equations themselves. (Note that not all nonlinear equations necessarily produce chaos, but all chaotic systems involve nonlinear equations.)

I believe that deterministic chaos is itself a form of entasy; the oxymoronic term itself seems to imply entasy. In observing the effects of deterministic chaos, it is easy to see the tension between the order of the equations and the chaos of the erratic behavior that emanates from them.

 

ORDER TO CHAOS

 

TURBULENCE

A classic example of nonlinear behavior in nature is turbulence. Turbulence is a phenomenon that occurs in fluids. Imagine a fluid, such as air or water, flowing smoothly along a path at a moderate speed. If you gradually increase the speed of the fluid flow, at some critical velocity the smooth, predictable flow will spontaneously transform into swirling, bumpy mayhem. This is turbulence. Whereas at a moderate speed, every part of the flow seemed to move parallel and in synchrony, now any one part of the flow behaves completely differently from another part. All synchrony and sameness is lost; chaos has taken over.

Turbulence appears in numerous places: in the waters of a rocky stream, in the air rushing around a moving car, in a jet of liquid shooting into another liquid. It can commonly be observed in smoke rising from, say, a candle or a cigarette; for the first few centimeters, the smoke rises in a smooth flow but then at some point transitions to a messy, complex, turbulent flow (pictured below). A flame from a burner may have an orderly form with the burner at a moderate setting, but as the fuel is increased the flame will eventually transition into turbulence. Turbulence in the atmosphere is commonly a nuisance to people in the aviation industry, causing aircraft to suffer a sudden, bumpy ride.

 

One thing that is interesting about turbulence is its characteristic of interdependence. In laminar (or smooth) fluid flow, any perturbation of one part of the flow tends to diminish and be smoothed out by the rest of the flow; the flow tends to gravitate towards stability. However, in turbulent flow all parts are interdependent; the behavior of each part depends on what all the other parts are doing. Any perturbation of a part of the flow can dramatically change the course of the entire whole. The parts affect the whole, and the whole affects the parts. This interdependence makes it virtually impossible for scientists to make predictions about turbulent flow. In theory, turbulence is deterministic and there are certain equations (such as the nonlinear Navier–Stokes equations) that could potentially describe and predict the motions of turbulence, but the mechanics are infinitely complex and virtually impossible to understand. Physicist Werner Heisenberg, who did research on turbulence, was once quoted as saying, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.”

Ironically, although turbulence is traditionally understood as chaotic in nature, scientists have for several decades observed that certain coherent structures may spontaneously emerge in turbulent flow. The complex, nonlinear interactions within turbulence have been observed to produce distinct, orderly structures, classified by labels such as stream-like “zonal jets,” arch-shaped “hairpin vortices,” “wavy streaks,” and “quasi-streamwise vortices,” to name a few. Many such structures can be relatively stable, enduring for long periods of time in contrast to the constant flux and rapidly-dissipating eddies of their surroundings. Zonal jets in particular can be observed in numerous situations in nature, such as in the winter polar-night jets in the Earth’s stratosphere and the sub-tropical jet stream, which are both intensified by turbulent processes.1 Moreover, scientists studying turbulent systems have been able to visually observe distinct patterns or swirls appearing, disappearing, and then reappearing at quasi-periodic intervals through the system’s progress. The mechanics behind this emergence of order in turbulence is still not well-understood, but it is fascinating to acknowledge the ability of chaotic motion to self-organize into stable forms and patterns.

Turbulence may otherwise reveal more subtle forms of order. Vortices may subdivide into smaller ones which then subdivide into smaller ones, yielding a sort of self-similar, fractal-like structure. Parts of a turbulent flow may seem to fluctuate capriciously between chaotic and coherent motion; flickers of form may appear through formlessness. Turbulence may be the perfect physical model of entasy.

THREE-BODY PROBLEM

 

Another notable example of nonlinear behavior is what is known as the “three-body problem.” In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton devised linear equations that enabled mathematicians to predict the orbits of any two planets that are being affected by each other’s gravitational pull. If calculating orbital systems involving two bodies, say, the sun and the Earth or the Earth and the moon, the trajectories of both bodies in the system can be predicted to any point in the future. According to Newton, the Earth will just continue to travel in its normal elliptical orbit for all eternity. However, if we include a third body in the system, for example if we include the gravitational pull of the sun in the system involving the Earth and the moon’s pull on each other, there are no linear equations that can predict how the respective orbits will be affected. Interestingly, all it took was the addition of one more body to make Newton’s equations unsolvable.

In the 19th century, French mathematician Henri Poincaré made an attempt at solving the three-body problem. He did so by applying nonlinear mathematics to Newton’s equations for two bodies. His results were that most possible orbits between two bodies were only slightly affected by the motion of a third body, but the overall orbit remains intact. However, with some two-body orbits, a seemingly insignificant perturbation from a third body could result in catastrophic effects to the two-body system. A planet could potentially drift out of the solar system altogether. Thus, nonlinear mathematics has shown that even with something appearing to be eternally predictable, such as Earth’s orbit around the sun, there is the potential for chaos to emerge.

It is also noteworthy that the chaos leading to this potential dissolution of Earth’s orbit is actually intrinsic to the orbital system itself. John Briggs, a writer on chaos theory, says, “Until Poincaré, chaos had been assumed to be an entropic infection that comes from outside a system, the result of external contingencies and fluctuations. But it now appeared that a system sealed in a box and left untouched for billions of years could at any moment develop its own instabilities and chaos.“2

 

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

 

Few things have a more unpredictable character than the weather. Temperature, precipitation, humidity, air pressure – these things can vary widely on a day to day basis. For the typical individual, it is impossible to extrapolate tomorrow’s weather based on today’s weather. But the job of meteorologists is to use today’s weather conditions to extrapolate the weather as far into the future as possible. But even with the best computers, weather-gathering technologies, and mathematical models, they still can only give detailed forecasts only a few days in advance. For more general forecasts, two weeks or so tends to be about the maximum; beyond that, the predictions are no better than guesses.

The reason for this uncertainty is sensitivity to initial conditions, of which the weather is a classic example. The models that meteorologists use to forecast the weather typically use nonlinear equations. Because of this, a relatively small atmospheric event can lead to drastic differences in the weather later on. This weather effect was discovered in the 1960s by meteorologist Edward Lorenz. One day, after doing a computer simulation of a two-month weather forecast, he decided to repeat the simulation to examine it in greater detail. However, in the second simulation he rounded off one of the many variables in the computation from .506127 to .506 – an insignificant difference. After an hour, to Lorenz’s surprise, the computer had produced a weather forecast that was completely different from the original simulation. At first, he figured that something was wrong with the computer, but then he realized that his rounding off of the variable had caused a small error that steadily amplified until it dominated the entire forecast. The initial errors doubled in severity about every four days in the forecast, and those small errors eventually snowballed into complete chaos.

This experience led to Lorenz becoming the pioneer of chaos theory. He once gave a meteorological presentation entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?” In time, the term “butterfly effect” was used to describe the phenomenon of sensitivity to initial conditions.

The butterfly effect is a real consideration in meteorology. For example, frontal depressions in Europe can start off as small waves from the eastern coast of North America3; convection above the Gulf of Mexico sometimes causes thunderstorms in the southeastern U.S., which then spark snowstorms in the Northeast.4 Small differences in the intensity, size and location of an atmospheric event, and in variables such as temperature, wind speed, air pressure, and so on can have a drastic effect on the overall outcome of the weather. The nonlinear dynamics in the atmosphere ensure that the atmosphere is a complex arena in which everything is interconnected. Just like in the case of turbulence, every part is dependent on every other part. Weather forecasting poses a serious challenge to the deterministic worldview. According to Lorenz, even if the molecules in the air behaved non-randomly, a long-term prediction of the weather would still be impossible simply because of the interdependence of so many variables.5

The butterfly effect of the weather is one more evidence to indicate that unpredictability, uncertainty, and obscurity are intrinsic features of the universe.

EXPERIMENTS

 

There are a couple of simple experiments common in chaos theory that demonstrate nonlinear dynamics and sensitivity to initial conditions. One is the double pendulum. The swing of a single pendulum, like most real systems, is most accurately described mathematically by nonlinear equations, but its behavior is typically so predictable that linear approximations are sufficient. After you set a pendulum in motion, disregarding the force of friction, each swing will look exactly like the one before it. The amplitude of each left swing is identical to that of each right swing. The pendulum’s speed does not change drastically from one swing to the next. However, if you attach a second pendulum to the bottom of the first pendulum and then start them swinging, the double pendulum swings erratically and unpredictably. The speed and amplitude of the double pendulum varies from one swing to another; sometimes the double pendulum will actually swing in a complete circle. Because of sensitivity to initial conditions, all it took was the addition of a second pendulum to unlock the chaotic potential within a seemingly simple, predictable motion.

Another simple experiment is one known as the “chaotic water wheel.” In the experiment, cups are placed around the periphery of a tilted turntable. Each cup has a hole in the bottom, and an inflow of water is poured into one cup. Eventually the entire turntable begins to turn, but as it turns it eventually begins rotating erratically, turning in one direction for an unpredictable amount of time then stopping and turning in the opposite direction for some indeterminate time, repeating over and over. Every time you operate the wheel, it performs a completely different sequence of turns and reversals. The water wheel is designed to be essentially a physical representation of certain nonlinear equations (called the Lorenz equations) that correspond to the chaotic rotation of a fluid convection cell. The inflow of water is substituted for the temperature gradient that would exist in a convection cell. It is interesting that the wheel behaves erratically even though there is nothing erratic about the configuration of the wheel itself. The chaotic behavior emanates purely from the tiny variations in the initial conditions of the wheel.

In summary, mathematicians have found that although many phenomena can be modeled across short-term ranges by linear equations, most real-world phenomena are more accurately described by nonlinear equations. The nonlinear nature of the universe is a source of much of the chaos that we can observe around us. As seen through the previous examples, in our nonlinear world there is a thin line between order and chaos. And often order can cross that line into chaos.

CHAOS TO ORDER

 

SOLITONS

 

On the other hand, things can just as easily go the opposite direction: chaos can cross the line into order. One good example of this is something called a “soliton.” You could actually think of a soliton as the opposite of turbulence. Whereas turbulence happens when orderly flow dissipates into disordered motion, a soliton is essentially disordered motion that coalesces into a well-defined, solitary wave. The soliton was first observed in 1834 by engineer John Scott Russell; he described it this way:

 

I was observing the motion of a boat which was rapidly drawn along a narrow channel by a pair of horses, when the boat suddenly stopped – not so the mass of water in the channel which it had put in motion; it accumulated round the prow of the vessel in a state of violent agitation, then suddenly leaving it behind, rolled forward with great velocity, assuming the form of a large solitary elevation, a rounded, smooth and well-defined heap of water, which continued its course along the channel apparently without change of form or diminution of speed. I followed it on horseback, and overtook it still rolling on at a rate of some eight or nine miles an hour, preserving its original figure some thirty feet long and a foot to a foot and a half in height. Its height gradually diminished, and after a chase of one or two miles I lost it in the windings of the channel.6

 

This often spontaneously-occurring phenomenon is caused by nonlinear relationships between individual waves in a fluid, causing the waves to be coupled together into a larger and more stable wave. A soliton travels at a constant speed and maintains it shape and height as it travels. Solitons can survive collisions with solid objects. Multiple solitons can even pass through each other; a faster soliton can catch up to a slower one, merge with it momentarily, and then pass through with both solitons remaining intact. They can appear in any fluid; they can occur on the surface of the water, in the deep ocean, in the atmosphere, and even in magnetic fields or heat energy. Many scientists believe that the Great Red Spot, a permanent feature of the gas-planet Jupiter, is actually a giant soliton, spun into a vortex by the planet’s rotating atmosphere.7

 

NONLINEAR DYNAMICAL SYSTEMS

 

What is probably the primary concern of chaos theory is the behavior of “nonlinear dynamical systems.” A “dynamical system” is a system that varies deterministically as time progresses.8 A dynamical system can be a rock rolling down a hill, a rocket flying into outer space, the growth rate of an insect population, or even the swing of a pendulum. No matter how random dynamical systems may sometimes appear to be, they are all still governed by precise mathematical laws or equations. A “nonlinear” dynamical system is one which happens to be governed by nonlinear equations. The nonlinear equations underlying such systems will tend to cause the systems to produce chaos (in the mathematical sense) – erratic behavior and dramatically varying output depending on the system’s initial conditions. Yet chaos theory shows us that the chaos in these systems can often produce a hidden kind of order.

This order can be seen by constructing a visual representation of a dynamical system. In chaos theory, this is usually done using a kind of graph called “phase space” (also known as “state space”). In phase space, a dynamical system is visualized in a configuration where each axis represents a variable inherent to the system itself. For example, if someone wanted to visualize the progression of a baby’s growth, one might use a graph where one axis represents the baby’s height whereas the other axis represents the baby’s weight. The variable of time is not included in phase space, and may be represented implicitly by observing the relationship between the variables of the system as the system progresses. The phase space for a system has as many dimensions as there are variables in the system; it may have two, three, or even more dimensions. The points in phase space correspond to the possible states of the system given the particular equations used.

Representing a dynamical system in phase space can visually illuminate certain patterns that may be inherent to the system. One common pattern found in phase space is called a “limit cycle.” A limit cycle is when a dynamical system is drawn towards a limited and cyclic path in phase space. A good example of this is a pendulum that is electronically assisted to continue swinging indefinitely despite the effects of friction or air resistance. In this system, the variables are position and momentum, and with each variable being represented by one axis, there would then be a two-dimensional phase space. With this configuration, the normal swinging of this pendulum would draw a perfect circle in the phase space. If one were to swing the pendulum harder, it would create a bigger circle; if one were to dampen the swing slightly, it would create a smaller circle.

Alternatively, if one were to swing a pendulum that was not artificially powered, the pendulum would continue swinging until friction and air resistance gradually caused the pendulum to slow to a halt. This system would be represented in phase space as a path that spirals around in a circular path that slowly constricts until it comes to rest at a single point. This type of system is called a “fixed point attractor,” since the points in phase space tend to gravitate towards a fixed point, which is the point at which the pendulum stops swinging.

An attractor is a feature in which the points in phase space are attracted towards certain, specific areas in phase space. Attractors are one of the most interesting aspects of chaos theory. Limit cycles and fixed point attractors are but two basic types; attractors can come in many different forms and shapes, existing in two, three or more spatial dimensions. According to the entasy model, chaos (in the entasy sense) tends to drive things toward equilibrium, towards a scattering of things throughout the area in which they inhabit, whereas order gravitates towards bias. An attractor in phase space is often an instance of such order; it can manifest as a biased instance of form where there could just as easily be diffuse formlessness. The attractors one may come across in phase space are typically not straightforward diagrams of the motions one would observe by watching a dynamical system play out, but rather they are hidden forms that can only be seen through the abstract lens of mathematics.

Dynamical systems are usually plotted with computers, as the mathematics involved is often too complex for the systems to be plotted conventionally; also, initial conditions of the system may be impossible to recreate from one trial to another in the real world. Certain equations may represent the physics involved in a certain system, and through the equations a computer will plot points onto phase space. After the plotting of only a few points, one will often see those points being scattered randomly with no pattern visible. However, after hundreds or thousands of points from the equation have been plotted, the phase space may often begin to reveal distinct shapes and forms. These attractors are a manifestation of the order hidden within chaos. What follows will be some examples of this mathematical technique.

 

ATTRACTORS

 

One illustrative example of a chaotic system is an old-fashioned pinball machine. This is a pinball machine without flippers or bumpers, and only has a spring mechanism to propel the ball to the top of the machine and an array of pins that the ball strikes against as it makes its way to the bottom. With each trial of the game, it is impossible to predict exactly which pins the ball will hit, the sequence of pins the ball hits, and how the ball will bounce off each pin. Even though each trial is mathematically deterministic, it is extremely sensitive to initial conditions; the slightest difference can lead to a completely different path to the bottom of the machine.

In his book The Essence of Chaos, Edward Lorenz proposes an imaginary dynamical system that is similar in essence to the pinball machine example. But instead of the system having balls deflecting abruptly off of hard pins, the system consists of a board sliding down a ski slope that slopes southward, and on which is situated an arrangement of moguls – sloping humps – that are of identical height and are uniformly spaced, and the board can slide smoothly over the moguls and through the pits between the moguls. In Lorenz’s computer simulation of this system, if seven of the boards are set up at the starting line at intervals of only one millimeter apart, and then released down the ski slope at identical velocities, after they have traveled sixty meters down the slope their positions will have spread apart by nearly nineteen meters between the left and right-most boards (pictured below). This system is clearly chaotic and sensitive to initial conditions, as seemingly negligible variations escalate into large differences further down the line.

 

The board system possesses four variables: down-slope speed, down-slope distance, cross-slope speed, and cross-slope distance. By using a powered sled instead of a board, the down-slope speed can be made constant, causing the system to have only three variables, and thus one can produce a three-dimensional representation of the system in phase space. The computer simulation now uses a collection of thousands of sleds starting at random points on a starting line, with the down-slope speed kept constant at 3.5 meters per second, and the cross-slope speeds being set randomly between five and zero meters per second towards the left or right. The computer then creates a three-dimensional representation of the phase space. Looking at a two-dimensional cross-section of the phase space (which consists of the variables of cross-slope speed and cross-slope distance) one will notice a completely random assortment of points that is diffuse throughout the graph, but as the sleds are allowed to travel further down the slope, a distinct shape increasingly emerges, which becomes more well-defined the longer the sleds travel down the slope. It is a symmetrical figure with an elliptical-shaped body and arms extending from the top and bottom of the body to the left and right edges of the graph, respectively (pictured below; progresses from upper left panel to lower left to upper right to lower right). The ellipsoid body consists of many looping, parallel curves. Various re-arrangements of the variables in the equation can result in slight alterations to the overall form of the attractor.

 

The figure formed by this dynamical system is what is called a “strange attractor.” A strange attractor is an attractor that contains an infinite number of curves and surfaces which often occur in parallel arrangements. A strange attractor has a “fractal” structure, meaning that the overall form of the attractor repeats itself infinitely at smaller and smaller scales. It is fascinating that the same kind of system revealed only chaotic behavior when there were seven sleds, but with the addition of thousands of sleds and a slight modification of the equation, it can begin to reveal a complex, orderly shape.

Strange attractors are a fairly common occurrence in chaotic systems. Another strange attractor was found by researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz by performing a simple experiment. They used a constantly dripping faucet which was set to a particular flow rate that yielded an erratic and never-repeating pattern of drops. They situated a microphone underneath the faucet and measured the time intervals between successive sound pulses made by the drops; they then plotted the pulses as points on a graph. At first, the points on the graph appeared diffuse and random, but as over 4,000 drops were recorded and graphed, a distinct shape emerged. The shape looked like a two-dimensional cross section of a particular strange attractor known as a “Henon attractor,” which is shown below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If one were to graph a system that was truly random, points on the graph should arrange themselves to create a formless, featureless blob. But the fact that certain chaotic systems can generate forms with any structure at all, let alone with a complex fractal structure, indicates the method behind the madness of chaos.

One of the most well-known attractors is the “Lorenz attractor.” This attractor is created using the Lorenz equations, which are three nonlinear equations used to model atmospheric fluid convection – the same equations that underlie the behavior of the chaotic water wheel discussed earlier. In this kind of system, a fluid is heated from below causing the fluid to move in a rolling, circular path. The phase space for this kind of system is three-dimensional, corresponding to the three variables of the system – x: the speed of the convection roll, y: the temperature gradient across the convection roll, and z: the temperature inversion effect. The attractor is a three-dimensional figure that consists of two different attraction zones, pictured below:

 

 

 

 

 

The paths around the attraction zones are the paths of points that correspond to the plottings of the system’s equations using certain initial conditions. Points on the attractor will tend to loop around the attraction zones. With some initial conditions, a point will tend to settle down to the center of one of the attractors, representing a stable convective behavior. However, many of the points, before becoming stable, will tend to chaotically fluctuate between looping around the left attraction zone and looping around the right one, representing constant change in convective behavior. With certain initial conditions, a point on the attractor may fluctuate erratically between the two attraction zones for centuries before finally “making up its mind” and settling into a stable behavior.9

The Lorenz attractor exhibits sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Any two points on the attractor, no matter how close together they are in the beginning, will eventually diverge into completely different trajectories. However, in spite of the chaos in the system, one should also take note of its simultaneous order. As erratic as the paths can be, they still stay on the attractor no matter what, and they manage to produce a distinct, symmetrical form after the system has progressed long enough.

 

BIFURCATION DIAGRAMS

 

Some combinations of constants and variables in a nonlinear equation will give rise to attractors, while some combinations will ultimately give rise to nothing but chaos – a random-looking arrangements of points. Sometimes by slightly altering a constant in an equation, a dynamical system can undergo a qualitative change, such as from orderly to chaotic or chaotic to orderly. These qualitative changes tend to occur at abrupt, unpredictable steps as one raises or lowers a given constant over a considerable range. Such changes are called “bifurcations.”

Returning to the model of the board on the ski slope, Lorenz makes a diagram – called a “bifurcation diagram” – consisting of a horizontal axis representing the maximum value of the cross-slope speed of the board going either to the east or west, and the vertical axis of the diagram consists of progressive values for the constant in the equation, which is the height of the moguls on the slope (pictured below). As the height constant (labeled “h”) is gradually raised, the maximum cross-slope speed (labeled “V”) is initially confined to zero, indicating movement due southward down the slope. Lorenz explains this behavior: “Near a mogul the board is riding a ridge, and, if it becomes displaced slightly westward or eastward, it will tend to slide off. Before the board can slide very far it will be nearing the next pit, so that it will slide back again, and, aided by the damping effect of friction, it will regain its straight path.“10

 

However, once h is raised to 33 centimeters, values for V begin to gradually increase and extend out on both the east and the west. Lorenz explains: “When h reaches 33, the board will stay near the moguls too long for their destabilizing effect to be offset by the stabilizing effect of friction, and the straight-line path will become unstable. The board must do something new, and evidently, as seen in the figure, it will undergo a three-phase oscillation, with no net progression toward the west or east.“11 On the graph, the values look like a thin, vertical stem (representing the initial straight southward path) that has begun to branch out to form a “U” shape, but with an extra branch close to the right branch (representing the three-phase oscillation). These three branches represent the three possible values of V that can be acquired at a particular value of h. As h comes near 40 centimeters, the three branches each split up into two (this is called a period-doubling bifurcation), thus creating six new branches, representing the six possible maximum values for cross-slope speed. However, shortly after this happens, the system goes into chaos: instead of being limited to narrow branches, the points are now scattered randomly, indicating that the board now has considerably more freedom as to which direction and what values of V can be encountered at a particular value of the constant h. (In dynamical systems, period-doubling bifurcations are common precursors to chaos.)

When h is raised to 44 centimeters, chaos subsides and orderly behavior abruptly sets in. Now two vertical stems are beginning to rise, eventually sprouting “U” shaped branches, which then undergo period-doubling, splitting into eight branches, after which – when h is close to 90 centimeters – chaos sets in once again. Shortly after, chaos subsides and there are now three vertical stems, and the pattern continues.

When h is around 96 centimeters, the system goes into chaos once again – now lasting longer than ever before. However, if we look at values of h in smaller increments and look at the chaos at a higher level of resolution, we can actually see hidden in the chaos tiny windows of orderly behavior, with single stems that begin to branch off neatly (pictured first below). The second picture below is a magnification of a small section of the upper periodic window in the previous diagram. Fluctuating repeatedly between orderly behavior and chaotic behavior is a common occurrence in nonlinear dynamical systems. The transition from orderly behavior to chaotic is not unlike the transition from laminar flow to turbulence discussed earlier. By studying nonlinear dynamical systems, it is easy to observe the mysteriously intertwined relationship between order and chaos.

 

 

Also, as we can see by Lorenz’s explanations of the sled behavior, the activity within a dynamical system can often have simple, mechanical, and quantitative explanations on a small or individual scale. But if we look at the system from a larger, more populous perspective in phase space, we can begin to see beyond the quantitative and observe qualitative changes in behavior – that is, order and chaos. What can be explained by simple cause and effect on the small scale can reveal something more on a larger scale.

 

SUMMARY

 

In summary, one important thing that chaos theory teaches us is the curious fact that even within the orderly world of mathematics, there still exists chaos. Not only that, but chaos theory shows us how this chaos has a counterintuitive relationship with order, an observation which is consonant with the entasy model. It is also interesting to note that chaos theory, particularly with regard to phase space, appears to be similar to logic in that it too is an abstract construct through which we can observe the presence of order and chaos in a particular context.

ENTASY IN MATHEMATICS, PART TWO: FRACTALS

 

If we may return once more to the subject of structure from chaos, one more notable example of this phenomenon is in natural fractal forms. Mathematically speaking, a fractal is a certain form that possesses fractional dimensions. Different forms have different dimensions. A point has a dimension of zero. A line segment, having only length, is one-dimensional. A closed shape with length and width is two-dimensional. A shape such as a cube or a sphere which also has depth is three-dimensional. Fractals are strange mathematical constructs because they dwell in the dark, hidden crevices of geometry. A fractal is a shape that typically has dimensions in a non-whole number. A fractal form that has a fractional dimension of, say, 0.63 is a form that is essentially somewhere between a point and a line. A fractal with a fractional dimension of, say, 1.35 is a form that is somewhere between a length and an area. A fractal with fractional dimension 2.9 is mostly a two-dimensional area but almost a three-dimensional volume.

Fractal forms seem to have at least two common theoretical properties. The most notable is self-similarity. Fractals usually consist of a simple shape that iterates (repeats) itself over and over. What this means is that you will see a relatively simple version of the form and then inside of that form are smaller versions of the form, inside which are even smaller versions of the form, and so on. Every small part of the fractal is essentially a microcosm of the whole fractal.

Another common property of fractals is infinite complexity. The iterations are infinite, and therefore a “true” fractal is only theoretical and cannot practically be drawn or manifested in nature, only approximated. Because a fractal is infinitely complex, it may have theoretically infinite length or area. The closer the fractional dimension is to the next whole number, the “rougher” and more intricate the fractal will appear.

Fractals are worth mentioning here because it so happens that fractal or fractal-like forms exist all throughout nature. The most common example of a natural fractal form is a tree. If you look at a tree, you will see that there are large branches, and projecting from those branches are smaller branches, from which project even smaller branches, and so on. The branches at each scale look very similar to each other. One can also commonly see fractal-like forms in the striations of leaves, or the leaves of a fern. Broccoli also has a fractal form; a notable example is Romanesco broccoli (pictured below), which has a particularly intricate and symmetrical fractal shape. Bifurcating, self-similar structures can be seen in the outline of a cloud, in a bolt of lightning, in crystals, snowflakes, and in the shells of snails and conches; approximate fractals can be seen from a bird’s-eye-view of canyons, rivers, coastlines and mountain ranges. Mathematicians have found that many irregularly-shaped forms in nature that cannot be described in terms of man-made Euclidean forms are often describable in terms of fractals; many natural structures can be artificially replicated accurately using fractal geometry where using traditional geometry would prove futile. As the famous fractal mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot observed: “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” Nature is indeed marked by a weird, unruly sort of geometry. But the abundance of fractal forms in nature is an example of the order hidden within what, to the less inquisitive eye, would be perceived as merely random forms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also biological fractal forms such as blood vessels, which possess self-similar branching at different scales from large vessels to capillaries. Also possessing fractal structure are the alveoli of the lungs, the membranes of liver cells, and the folds of the mammalian cerebral cortex. Fractals in biology often are of use because the complexity of fractals is able to maximize the surface area of tissue within a limited space.

The scientific mind may assume that the fractal structure in organisms is purely a result of evolutionary and physiological expedience. But I believe functionality is only part of the reason. Physiological usefulness is, I think, but one dimension of the reason, but entasy is a separate dimension that runs parallel to the other. On the one hand, the fractal structures exist to serve a specific function; on the other hand, the structures exist for the sake of structure. We can interpret fractal tissue forms as instances of structure standing in opposition to more random-looking, less well-defined arrangements of tissue, in a manner implying the actions of order and chaos.

One might also assume the same about other prominent examples of structural order in nature. For example, one could suggest that the symmetry commonly found amongst organisms is merely a matter of biological expedience, that symmetry enables the organism to balance itself better or that simply making one side of the body a copy of the other is easier than making it drastically different. Similar could be thought of flowers; their comely, intricate patterns and shapes exist merely as pragmatic adaptations to the demands of pollinators. One could also include the nearly-perfect, hexagonal, honeycomb structure of a beehive; one could suggest that this natural structure is merely a means of achieving maximum storage area for honey. But while these things may be true, there is still, at a deeper level of things, a force of order which is ultimately unconcerned with causality and whose main concern is effect. Thus the phenomena in nature which we may in some cases perceive as beauty are no mere accident but are, in a sense, cosmically “deliberate.”

In addition to spatial fractals, there also exist temporal fractals. Cardiologists have done studies where they would monitor people’s heart rate over a period of time. They have learned that the heart rate of a healthy person tends not to be steady but rises and falls erratically over time. Looking at a graph of heart rates over a half-hour or so, people whose heart rates make a regular, sine wave pattern tend to end up with congestive heart failure. On the other hand, people whose heart rate pattern is extremely random tend to suffer atrial fibrillation. The heart rate patterns for healthy people tend to fall half-way between the other two, striking a balance between pattern and randomness. But not only that, the patterns for healthy people tend to produce fractals; similar patterns of rising and falling heart rate can be seen at decreasingly smaller time scales.

The concept of fractals, as a distinct mathematical and structural entity, has only existed since the 20th century. In times previous, fractals may have largely gone ignored. This is understandable. The “structuredness” of the fractal structures in nature is in many cases subtle, such as in the case of mountains, coastlines, and clouds. To the uninitiated, such things merely seem completely random. But that, I think, is a part of the mystery of entasy. This represents the tightness with which chaos and order are often intertwined.

Fractals are of relevance to the entasy model for a couple of reasons. One is that they represent a relatively common example of spontaneous order that emerges in nature from random phenomena. As one publication puts it, “Fractal structures are often the remnants of chaotic nonlinear dynamics. Wherever a chaotic process has shaped an environment (the seashore, the atmosphere, a geological fault), fractals are likely to be left behind (coastlines, clouds, rock formations).“12 Second, I see the fractal itself as a kind of symbol of entasy, much like turbulence. But whereas turbulence was a symbol of the mixture of randomness and structure, a fractal can be seen more as a mixture of sameness and variation. A common fern (such as the one pictured below) is one such mixture. Each leaf of the fern basically looks like a smaller version of the whole fern, yet each leaf is still noticeably different from the whole fern, as are each of the leaves different from one another. The same goes for a tree. The largest branches of a tree emanating from the main trunk tend to look generally similar to the main trunk, and the branches which bifurcate from the largest branches tend to look similar to the branch from which they emerge, and so on for subsequent branches. But at the same time, all of these branches bifurcate at different angles and have different lengths and different shapes. Earlier in the book, we noticed that there was a tension between sameness and differentness amongst the individual trees of a forest, but that same tension exists even within the individual tree itself. Here we can see the tension of entasy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fractal is produced mathematically when you take a certain function, usually z^2^+c, and insert a complex number into a variable z and make c a fixed complex number. After you obtain the solution to this equation, you then feed the solution back into the variable z, and then solve the whole equation again, repeating this task multiple times (each repetition is called an “iteration”). When this is done, wildly different mathematical behaviors can result depending on the specific complex numbers used in the function. This is a nonlinear function and exhibits notably chaotic behavior. Most of the time in mathematics when values are multiplied exponentially in this manner, they will invariably grow to infinity; but with this particular arrangement, the values behave unpredictably. Some sets of complex numbers will result in the iterations growing to infinity, some growing then subsequently falling back to zero, and some becoming stuck in a numerical cycle. When you enter this data into a special computer graphing program, the program takes every possible complex number on a complex number plane and shades them according to how fast the numbers grow to infinity. The result of this will probably be a picture similar to the ones shown here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are two fairly well-known fractals; the first one is the “Mandelbrot set” and the second one is the “Julia set.” Computer-generated fractals such as these and others possess infinite detail and show self-similarity at various magnification levels. But what is interesting is that the fractal does not merely make exact copies of itself, but at various locations and at various magnifications, the fractal will express varied and innovative forms. You may observe certain strange shapes and patterns on one part of the fractal that are not visible at other parts. It is interesting how one can start out with a simple mathematical function (an orderly thing) but by reiterating the function – feeding its solution back into itself over and over – it can yield chaos (the iterations’ unpredictable numerical behavior), but by placing that chaos in the right context it will counterintuitively yield order (the self-similar structure of the fractal), yet even within that order is some chaos (the variations within the fractal structure). The mathematics of fractals gives one an illustrative, abstract look at the interwoven relationship between order and chaos.

Interestingly, researchers in biology have recently begun to find evidence that fractal mathematics plays a crucial role in biological tissue growth, notably in the context of organogenesis, which is the process by which certain cells of an embryo develop into specific internal organs. This finding is instrumental in solving a particular mystery of biology. The human genome contains between 20,000 and 25,000 protein-coding genes. What makes this strange is that there exist many relatively simpler organisms on Earth that possess the same or even a greater amount of genes as humans. And furthermore, the approximately 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, if translated into terms of digital data, would equal only about 700 megabytes of data – that is the approximate amount of digital storage found on a typical compact disc. There simply isn’t enough genetic material in human DNA to encode instructions to produce every tiny fragment of body tissue. How is it that a complex being such as a human, made up of approximately 37 trillion cells which produce millions of different chemical reactions, can be constructed from such a scant amount of data?

The answer, at least in part, appears to be the usage of simple fractal algorithms which, through iterative processes reminiscent of those used to create computer-generated fractals, allow tissue growth patterns of great complexity to be encoded with only a small amount of genetic information. It is believed that tissues often develop by applying a simple iterative rule and allowing natural, nonlinear, chaotic processes to do the rest of the work of laying out the tissue structure. Hence, a simple order plus chaos can equal great complexity. In addition, there also exist feedback relationships that induce self-organization amongst randomly-growing tissues. As we can see, the meager amount of genetic data in the human genome is not a testament to the simplicity of the human form so much as a testament to the capabilities of entasy.

[+ CHAPTER FIVE:+]

ENTASY IN PHYSICAL SCIENCES

 

CHAOS AROUND US

Chaotic motion surrounds us; it saturates the microscopic world. Atoms and molecules are constantly subject to thermal motion: they jiggle randomly, violently clashing into each other at high speeds and bouncing apart like billiard balls. This chaos is more pronounced in gases, where atoms have more space in which to move. According to Boyle’s Law, the random slamming of gas atoms against the interior walls of a gas-filled container is what creates the air pressure within the container. If you take a balloon, the gas atoms inside slam against its interior walls at different speeds and in different directions. Yet there are so many atoms that the overall effect of the impacts averages out such that, on the macroscopic scale, the balloon is perfectly spherical and smooth. Here random, undirected actions operate in tandem with even-ness and regularity.

Brownian motion is the random motion that small particles exhibit when suspended in a gas or liquid. This phenomenon is most readily observable with dust particles in the air in the room of a building. Even when the air is still, dust particles still continue to dance around erratically. This is because the dust particles are constantly being knocked around by the chaotic thermal motion of gas atoms in the air. Though we as macroscopic beings are largely oblivious to it, we are being constantly bombarded by this chaotic storm of atoms in the air. Interestingly though, this same thermal noise has proven to be a hindrance in some areas of nanoscience, as it tends to impede the accuracy in the readings of sensitive nanoscale machines.

Solids are not exempt from this chaos, either; even the atoms of things like rocks, bone, and metals are constantly, randomly jiggling around.

ENTASY IN PHYSICS

 

Heat, as we know it, is essentially the energy that infuses this chaotic jiggling potential into matter, making atoms jiggle faster and move further apart. Contrarily, when matter gets colder, atoms and molecules gather and arrange into orderly patterns and structures.

The phases of matter could be interpreted as a kind of metaphor for the entasy spectrum. A solid is the most stable, orderly, and predictable form of matter. As a solid is increasingly heated, it will encounter the next phase, liquid, which is somewhat less stable, orderly, and predictable. The next phase, gas, is even less so. The last phase, plasma, is extremely chaotic.

Also, the behavior of liquids can be interpreted as a locus for the entasy spectrum. When a liquid freezes, it exhibits order, stability, pattern; when a liquid boils, it exhibits chaos, flux, randomness.

One could interpret entasy in the mass-energy equivalence formula (E=mc2). The formula says that mass and energy are essentially different forms of the same thing. Energy itself is something diffuse and formless, like chaos; yet energy is inseparably intertwined with matter, which is compact and possesses form, like order. So hence the formula is like a symbol of entasy. In accordance with the formula, there is always some energy associated with matter, and some matter associated with energy. Likewise, there is always some chaos in order and some order in chaos.

One might interpret an entasy-like relationship in the relationship between entropy and free energy. Entropy is a state in which energy is spread out throughout a system, exhausting all possible space within the system. Entropy implies futility and disorder. Like chaos, entropy favors equilibrium and equality. Free energy, on the other hand, is like order; it involves the potential for useful work. It is energy that is compact and focused and functional. Like order, free energy favors bias. One can see chaos in the second law of thermodynamics, as it implies the inexorable drive of every system towards maximum entropy.

In physics, there is a concept known as “far-from-equilibrium.” This phenomenon tends to involve relatively rare systems and structures which have a notably low-entropy character; they tend to emerge spontaneously and can almost appear to be a violation of the second law of thermodynamics. They often possess a conspicuous sense of form and structure relative to the surrounding forces from which they emerge. I understand these systems to be manifestations of the force of order. Some examples of these include fluid convection cells, hurricanes, stars, galaxies, and – most notably of all – living organisms. Some of these far-from-equilibrium systems can further be described as “dissipative systems.” These are systems which can maintain their structural integrity by incorporating nearby low-entropy (more ordered and useful) sources of energy and then dissipating them as high-entropy (less ordered and less useful) energy. Hurricanes are one example of dissipative systems; they are structured cyclones of air which feed upon the low-entropy energy of the temperature gradient between the warm ocean air and the cooler air of the upper atmosphere; the hurricane then dissipates this energy away in the form of its characteristic winds. Stars are dissipative systems which use up the free energy supplied by their nuclear potential energy gradient and then dissipate it as less concentrated forms of energy, such as heat and light. Life forms are dissipative systems which metabolize the free energy in the chemical bonds of the food they eat and then dissipate it as heat and other forms of energy which they use to survive. The balancing of order and chaos is quite evident in far-from-equilibrium dissipative systems.

QUANTUM ENTASY

The world of quantum mechanics is a particularly illustrative example of the dynamics of entasy, particularly of the force of chaos.

The electron is commonly depicted as a simple, spherical particle; but actually the electron does not take the form of a solid particle with definite volume and structure. Rather it is more accurately described as a structureless “standing wave.” It is in constant flux, vibrating at a certain frequency like a vibrating string.

Chaos also manifests itself in the movement of electrons around an atomic nucleus. Electrons do not actually move in orderly, predictable orbits like a planet around a sun, as depicted in the old Bohr model of the atom; electrons actually move around the nucleus in mysterious, unpredictable ways. It is impossible to know precisely where a particular electron is located in the atom; as a matter of fact, a given electron can, technically speaking, be located anywhere in the universe at a given point in time. Rather than locating the electron definitively, scientists locate it probabilistically, using what is called a "probability cloud." A probability cloud is a finite space around an atomic nucleus in which an electron has an approximately 90% chance of being located at a given time. What is interesting is that, even though the movement of a particular electron is random and unpredictable, the probability cloud that an electron forms is quite orderly. There are different kinds of probability clouds – called orbitals – which each have a distinct shape or set of shapes, including spheres, double-lobed ellipsoids, and toruses (pictured below). The double-lobed orbitals tend to gravitate towards perfect symmetry. The atom's electron cloud is a locus of tension between structure and randomness, between compactness and diffuseness, between being somewhere and being everywhere. That is to say, the electron cloud is a locus of entasy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protons and neutrons, which are collectively called nucleons, are loci of the stability-flux relationship. Each nucleon is made up of three quarks; however the quarks themselves actually only make up 1% of the nucleon's mass. The majority of nucleon mass is composed of a field of particles called gluons. Gluons are referred to as "virtual particles," since they are strange, unstable particles that randomly pop in and out of existence, surviving for only a tiny fraction of a second. Furthermore, there are pairs of other particles – quarks and antiquarks – which also contribute to the nucleon's mass. According to an article in NewScientist, Quark-antiquark pairs can pop up and momentarily transform a proton into a different, more exotic particle. In fact, the true proton is the sum of all these possibilities going on at once.“1 Hence, on the quantum level, all matter is largely “virtual matter,” in a constant state of flux yet statistically stable. The solid, reliable, macroscopic world that we are so familiar with is built on the foundation of microscopic chaos and unpredictability. Variety and flux condense into unity and stability.

We can very clearly see the influence of chaos in the phenomenon of radioactive decay. Scientists have found that it is not possible to predict at what time a particular radioactive nucleus will decay – when the unstable nucleus will reduce some of its mass in the form of radiation. For any given radioactive nucleus, the instance of decay could occur, say, a minute from now, a year from now, a million years from now. There simply exists no physical law or logic or causal explanation for why a nucleus decays when it decays. It is completely random. If there is anything that can refute the deterministic view of the universe, it is the phenomenon of radioactive decay.

However, this kind of randomness also coincides with a certain kind of order. For any given sample of a radioactive substance, it always takes the same amount of time for half of the sample to decay – a measurement known as a “half-life.” The half-life for a radioactive isotope is so predictable that it can be used as a kind of clock; the process known as “carbon dating,” particularly useful in archaeology, uses this principle.

The “Heisenberg uncertainty principle” is a fundamental feature of quantum mechanics. This is a scientific equation that states that because of the wave-like mechanics of quantum particles, there is an inverse relationship between knowledge of the particle’s position and knowledge of its momentum. The more precisely you learn the position the less precisely you know the momentum, and vice versa. This source of uncertainty is not a result of the dynamics being too complicated or of the instruments or techniques being inadequate, rather it is a fundamental, mathematical property of the particle itself. This is a manifestation of the uncertainty representative of chaos.

In quantum mechanics, there exists an idea known as “quantum superposition.” It is extrapolated from “Schrodinger’s equation,” which is used to determine the state of a quantum particle. According to this equation, quantum particles, such as an electron or photon for example, can actually exist in all possible quantum states simultaneously; and they can even exist simultaneously in a fraction of each possible state. However, when the particle’s state is actually observed or measured it undergoes an event called “quantum collapse” where all of the various possibilities collapse into only one of the possibilities. This principle is often illustrated in a thought experiment called “Schrodinger’s cat.” Hypothetically, a cat is placed in a box that contains a capsule of cyanide gas and a device that is rigged to break the capsule if a certain radioactive isotope happens to emit an electron. The mathematics predicts that, given the parameters of the scenario, the cat inside will be both alive and dead, as well as various fractional combinations of aliveness and deadness. However, if you open the box and look inside you will see only one cat in one specific state, either alive or dead.

We can also see the implications of Schrodinger’s equation in the double-slit experiment discussed earlier. As we know, in the experiment a solid plate with two slits perforated in it is situated in front of a screen, and a stream of quantum particles is shot through the slits, which creates the interference pattern on the screen. However, in accordance with Schrodinger’s equation, each particle shot at the slits exhausts all possibilities: mathematically speaking, each one goes through both slits, and through neither slit, and through only the left slit, and through only the right slit, all simultaneously. Yet ultimately, all of these possibilities collapse into one, which leads to a given particle actually ending up in only one specific location of the screen.

I believe these phenomena – quantum superposition and quantum collapse – can be interpreted through the entasy model. In the quantum realm, chaos appears to be the rule, in that there is a drive to exhaust all possibilities. However, we notice that as we look to the macroscopic realm this chaos transmutes into cohesion and unity.

In a way, you can see something similar to this within the phenomenon of light. Shining light into a glass prism causes the light to be refracted, splitting the light up into all of its constituent colors, the colors of the rainbow. Thus one might interpret light itself to be a collapse of sorts. The unified phenomenon of normal white light shares a dual identity with the diversity that is the spectrum of all possible colors.

As a side note, you can see a semblance of entasy in the frequencies of sound, such as in the notes played on a musical instrument. A musical scale consists of seven notes (excluding accidentals). Going up or down the scale, each note sounds different from one to the next. Yet at the eighth note, the octave, the same notes begin to repeat themselves. A note “F” played at one octave sounds different from an “F” played at a higher or lower octave. Yet strangely, every “F” sounds, in essence, the same at any octave. It is interesting how sameness and different-ness coincide.

As previously mentioned, all quantum particles are known to have a distinctive jiggling motion. Even at absolute zero – the coldest temperature possible – matter is still vibrating, and this vibrating motion produces energy that is always present at any temperature. This energy is called the “zero-point energy.” Zero-point energy is found in the presence of all particles and electromagnetic fields. Some scientists theorize that the zero-point energy in the universe is created by the sum of all particle motions throughout the universe, and that in turn this zero-point energy field induces the distinctive jiggling motion of all quantum particles, resulting in a sort of cosmic, self-sustaining feedback loop.

As it happens, the very existence of matter is believed to depend upon this zero-point energy field. A curious observation in physics is that atoms as we know them should not actually exist. The relevant mathematics predicts that electrons should radiate away their energy and then spiral into the nucleus.2 However, the decaying electron is actually sustained by a compensating amount of energy from the zero-point energy field. The electron’s existence is essentially an equilibrium between the electron’s energy loss and the infinite supply of energy provided by the zero-point field. So in summary, stable matter as we know it is sustained by flux.

There is a strongly-held theory that the zero-point energy field is actually what is responsible for the existence of gravitational fields. The theory maintains that the force of gravity is related to a phenomenon in quantum mechanics called the Casimir effect. This phenomenon is revealed in an experiment where two thin, metallic plates are placed a few nanometers apart. In this arrangement, the metal plates will spontaneously stick together. This is because with there being so little space between them, the zero-point energy between the plates is sufficiently less than zero-point energy outside the plates such that a pressure differential exists that is strong enough to push the plates together. The theory suggests that the force of gravity is essentially a large-scale version of this Casimir effect. Hence, gravity is another product of quantum chaos. Interestingly, the chaos-born force of gravity produces various kinds of order that we can see in space. It produces the distinctive sphericality of celestial bodies and drives the formation of stars and the nuclear fusion that gives them life. It maintains the regular orbits of planets and moons, and causes the planets in solar systems to carry on their revolutions along the same spatial plane, going in the same direction – an orderly phenomenon in itself. Gravity is yet another way in which randomness gives rise to order.

There is yet another curious phenomenon in quantum mechanics known as the “quantum foam.” This concept essentially implies that outer space is not the truly empty and smooth void that we commonly understand it to be. In fact, the fabric of space itself is a chaotic field of virtual particles that are randomly appearing and annihilating at scales of space and time that are too small to observe. Thus not only does chaos abound in the realm of matter, but even the stillness of the vacuum of space rests upon an underlying foundation of flux.

This balance between the stability of the macroscopic world and the flux of the quantum world is an enigma: Is it that the flux is the real substance of reality, hidden by the illusion of stability? Or is the stability the fundamental infrastructure of reality to which the flux is attached? Between stability and flux, which is the true substance of reality? It is a mystery.

SUMMARY

 

As we have seen, the microscopic and quantum realms are, to a large extent, the jurisdiction of chaos, and the macroscopic realm is relatively a realm of order. However, the macroscopic world is, of course, not purely orderly. As we have discussed previously and will discuss again later on, chaos regularly exercises its influence in our macroscopic world also.

[+ CHAPTER SIX:+]

ENTASY IN BIOLOGY

 

NATURAL SELECTION

 

Order and chaos are often enemies. Yet just as often, the two can be friends. The realm of biology contains numerous cases where we can observe a cooperation between the two forces.

Possibly the best example of all is natural selection. Natural selection is one of the primary mechanisms that drive biological evolution. And at the core of that mechanism is the incidence of random shuffling of genes – mutations – in the genomes of organisms. Mutations are basically genetic “mistakes.” They occur for reasons that include errors in the DNA replication process, errors during DNA repair, or because of environmental mutagens. These unexpected anomalies modify an organism’s genome in various ways. Some of those mutations may help the organism to survive in its habitat or to reproduce, and such mutations may go on to spread throughout a species, possibly leading to a permanent modification to the species or even the production of a new species altogether.

Some organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, can mutate at unusually fast rates. Such expedited mutation allows these micro-organisms to evolve and adapt to a broad range of conditions and challenges. They can obtain immunity to pharmaceutical drugs and antibiotics, counteract immune system responses, and attain new methods of transmission and distribution. One can assume that chaos plays an even bigger role in the lives of viruses and bacteria than in most other organisms.

It is worthy of mention that in all cases of evolution no species ever intends to evolve. And there is no overarching plan or goal to the process. It is a wholly passive process that happens on its own, relying upon unintended, chaotic events. Evolution does not do anything for a purpose, yet despite this fact evolution still creates things that oddly appear to have a purpose: eyes, hands, wings, stomachs, etc. Evolution is driven by randomness, yet it tends to produce organisms that possess a strong sense of structure, such as the fractal structure of trees, ferns, and snail shells, and symmetrical structure such as the radial symmetry of jellyfish and starfish, and the bilateral symmetry found in many life forms from insects to humans. Further examples of structure include the intricate design of a butterfly’s wings, a peacock’s tail, and the orderly arrangement of petals on a flower – all of them products of randomness and aimlessness.

Natural selection is not a perfect system, though. The vast majority of mutations have no effect at all, tending to occur in non-coding regions of DNA. And many mutations are known to have a harmful effect on organisms, often leading to debilitating diseases, disorders, and defects. And there is also a process alongside natural selection called genetic drift in which species evolution is driven by environmental accidents instead of by genetic fitness. Partly for these reasons, some people dismiss natural selection as an unremarkable, mechanical process – a mere statistical inevitability given sufficient time. But why should mutations – a phenomenon that turns out to be futile in the vast majority of cases – ever become useful at all? Why doesn’t it just keep being futile all the time? Now someone might counter by suggesting that if enough mutations happen, eventually by chance some of them are going to become useful.1 But this is faulty reasoning, which I believe involves a certain logic fallacy called “begging the question,” an argument where one implants their conclusion into the very premises that lead to it (which I will discuss more later in the book). It’s easy to say, after the fact, that the process of evolution up until now was “mere statistics.” But why should evolution happen at all? What is the ultimate logic from which it follows and which drives it into being? A biologist could go to great detail explaining how natural selection works, but it’s doubtful if he could explain why it works.

I could ask a person learned in biology, “Why does evolution happen?” and there’s a good chance he will say, “Evolution happens because mutations happen.” But then I could also ask him, “Why do mutations happen?” He might speculate that these events are just nature’s way of allowing species to evolve. But wouldn’t that be a kind of circular reasoning: “Evolution happens because of mutations which happen because of evolution”? A circular answer is no answer at all. The truth is, science is not equipped to answer the “why” behind evolution, nor the “why” behind mutations – only the “how.” But that should not lead us to assume that there is no why.

So why do mutations happen? From the perspective of the entasy model, the answer would seem clear: mutations happen because of chaos. So when we address the question “Why does evolution happen?” the answer now seems more forthcoming. I think we could re-phrase the question to say, “Why do random biological events sometimes lead to orderly biological results?” The answer, I believe, lies in the creative power of entasy, of which evolution is a superlative example. In evolution, we can clearly see the paradoxical harmony of order and chaos: a random DNA error or a chance exposure to cosmic radiation could mean a debilitating deformity, or it could mean a pivotal step towards higher biological complexity. Evolution is growth, functionality, and complexity arising from accidents and nonsense. The futile mutations and aimless genetic drift that accompany natural selection do not take away from its impressiveness; they can perhaps be viewed as just a symptom of the same chaos that engenders the natural selection process itself.

One can interpret evolution as an embodiment of that paradoxical marriage of entasy: the chaos of genetic variation coupled with the order of the natural selection process gives rise to the fascinating phenomenon that is biological life.

Furthermore, natural selection boldly represents the order-attribute of usefulness. As mutations act upon the genome of a species, the species’ phenotypes are made to vary. As mutation shuffles through various phenotypes, it is the useful ones that tend to be retained, and the less useful ones tend to be discarded. Thus, natural selection is a kind of sieve which strains out the utility from a stream of futility.

One thing I have noticed is that scientists often refer to evolution as if it were a kind of creator-god. They will say things like “Evolution created this” or “Evolution designed that.” It is almost as if scientists are subconsciously using evolution as a kind of proxy for the biblical God which so many of them disbelieve in. But the truth is that evolution is in fact not a god in any sense, nor does it by itself possess any kind of creative power that a deity might be said to possess. Instead, we should look at evolution by natural selection as merely a tool, the user of which is entasy. What truly deserves the credit for the wonders of the biosphere is not the process itself but the cosmic force the process represents.

Evolution demonstrates the strange harmony between purpose and arbitrariness. Take mother grizzly bears, for example. Female grizzly bears are fiercely protective of their cubs, and will viciously attack anyone who comes near them. Why do they do this? Is it for a reason? The answer, I think, is yes and no. In one way, mother grizzlies do this in order to prevent their cubs from being harmed. In another way, they do this because, presumably, in generations past, the cubs of grizzly mothers that did not aggressively defend them would tend to get killed by predators, and naturally those mothers would not pass on their genes. However, some grizzly mothers would possess an arbitrary inclination to aggressively attack any creature that got too close to her young. The cubs of those mothers would be more likely to survive to adulthood, and subsequently they would pass on the genes of their bellicose mother. As a result, the grizzly bear species today is saturated with mother bears who inherited the genes from their bellicose ancestors corresponding to their readiness to fight for their cubs.

Ultimately, this explanation for mother bear behavior does not really imply an intelligent reason, per se, only a mechanical cause. There is a certain counterintuitive logic to evolution that many people find difficult to understand, that of intelligent animal behavior being established by mindless causes instead of overarching, intelligent reasons. But this strange logic makes perfect sense from the perspective of the entasy model. In evolution, we can see the intertwining of chance and necessity, arbitrariness and purpose. We can see entasy-like paradoxes. There is no point to evolution, yet evolution is not without a sense of order and function. Evolution is aimless, yet not without a sense of drive and direction. Evolution has no motives, yet it creates life forms that have motives. Evolution produces biological mechanisms of brilliant design that leave little to chance, yet the mechanisms themselves were forged by chance. The mother bear fights for her cubs for a reason (presumably her concern for the cubs’ well-being), yet from a larger perspective she fights for no reason at all. The paradox of evolution is a manifestation of the paradox that is entasy.

 

Some people believe that because life emerged through random events and because life is so unlikely and rare in the cosmos, that therefore life is essentially an accident and is of no value. However, I think such people are missing the point and are looking at this matter in the wrong way; they view the glass as half-empty, so to speak, whereas it ought to be seen as half-full. I think life can be viewed as something like the highly structured diamonds that are created by the high-pressure conditions deep inside the Earth. Would one say that because diamonds are generated by random phenomena and are rare and unlikely, that therefore diamonds are of no value? I would not agree with that logic. The fact that we are the spawn of random accident is not reason to despair but reason to marvel. The question to ask is: By what logic does random accident result in something so orderly, so well-defined, so full of shape, functionality, and complexity? Evolution is not a fluke; rather it implies something bigger than itself, it allows us to extrapolate something about the universe as a whole. Evolution shows us how the universe works at its deepest level.

Many scientists propose theories as to how life began; some suggest a meteor crashed to the Earth carrying complex molecules; others suggest that a lightning bolt struck a pool of inorganic compounds, spontaneously producing the first organic compounds and precursors to life. When we add to these the other “accidents”: the genetic replication errors, the chance exposure to ultraviolet radiation, the incidence of solar flares – all the other influential factors to evolution – we begin to see a pattern emerge. Evolution is more than just a long series of accidents and mistakes – those events are indicative of a larger underlying logic to reality. There is more to nature than what meets the eye; what we see as mere happenstance is only one part of a greater whole. Looking at the driving forces of evolution, what some people may see as meaningless happenstance I see as the creative power of entasy at work.

 

POPULATION BIMODALITY

 

There exists a phenomenon in biology called population bimodality. It is observed in populations of cells or unicellular organisms, and has the effect that subsequent generations of cells from a common ancestor can divide into two groups, where one group may show expression of a certain gene while in the other group the gene may remain inactive.2 This population bimodality occurs even when all the cells in the population possess the same DNA – and are basically clones of each other – and have been kept under identical conditions and no mutations have occurred. This phenomenon occurs because during DNA transcription in a cell, random thermal motion occurring inside the cell causes the daughter cells to possess different numbers of molecules called transcription factors. Transcription factors can either be “activators,” which activate genes, or “repressors,” which repress genes. Different numbers of activators and repressors lead to the appearance of more of a certain protein in some daughter cells than in others, or even no protein at all.3 Because of this phenomenon, genetically identical cells can still possess some genetic variation. This process is also the reason that monozygotic twins and even cloned animals still possess small genetic differences and never look exactly identical. Most likely the primary evolutionary function of population bimodality is to help ensure that even in the absence of mutations there may still be enough variation in a population such that an environmental factor that has a negative effect on one group in the population may have a different, possibly less deleterious effect on the other group with a different gene expression. Thus the chaos of thermal motion contributes to the survival capabilities of unicellular populations, and it also ensures that there is variety present even amongst essentially identical organisms.

 

STOCHASTIC RESONANCE

 

In science, there is an interesting phenomenon known as “stochastic resonance.” This refers to a counterintuitive process in which random background noise can actually enhance a system’s function. One notable application of this is in signal transmission and detection. Although random noise is typically understood to be a nuisance in organized systems, in some systems in which a certain signal is being transmitted, the signal strength can, counterintuitively, be enhanced by the addition of random “white noise.” This phenomenon occurs only in nonlinear systems, and it typically only occurs when the signal of interest is periodic and is relatively weak, below the threshold of detection for the mechanism. In addition, stochastic resonance typically does not occur at just any noise intensity but only in particular ranges of noise intensity.

In a 1993 study published in the scientific journal Nature, evidence was found that stochastic resonance may play a role in enhancing the detection of water pressure waves in the sensory receptors of a crayfish’s tail fan.4 The scientists subjected the receptors to certain pressure signals and then added background noise to the signal; they then recorded the signal spikes along the nerve root of the receptors. They found that the neural signal strength would peak at certain ranges of noise intensity, and those peaks were significantly higher than the signal strength with no noise added. This study initiated interest in other possible uses of stochastic resonance in biology. Another study extracted skin mechanoreceptors from rats and subjected the receptors to pressure signals with added random noise, and found that the encoding of the pressure stimulus in the neural signal was maximized by a particular level of noise.5 Another study with crickets found similar results with the mechanoreceptors in the insect’s cerci,6 which are appendages on the rear of the abdomen which sense air pressure. Yet another study involved the method by which the paddlefish forages for microscopic plankton in the water. The paddlefish possesses a long snout, called a “rostrum,” which houses thousands of electroreceptors which detect electrical fields. It uses its rostrum to detect the tiny electrical fields given off by the plankton. The study found that a certain low level of random electrical noise added to the water increased the hunting success of the paddlefish. In nature, the overall electrical signals from large swarms of plankton create a kind of electrical background noise, and scientists believe that as the paddlefish hunts for plankton in the wild, it uses this random noise in accordance with stochastic resonance to help it home in on specific targets.

Stochastic resonance in biology is a relatively new scientific discovery, and scientists foresee the potential for many more applications of this phenomenon in biological systems. Stochastic resonance is one fascinating process in which chaos, via the logic of entasy, can give rise to clarity and utility.

 

PROCREATION METHODS

 

In nature, some life forms rely upon chaos for procreation. One common example is the dandelion. In its matured phase, a dandelion forms a seed head that looks like a sphere made up of fluffy seeds. Random gusts of wind release the parachute-like seeds from the head, after which the seeds aimlessly float over long distances. Many of these seeds will settle down in favorable soil and germinate; however, many of them will not. The entire process has no overarching guidance; it is all based on chance. Thus the dandelion’s ability to procreate relies largely upon the chaos of the wind. As a side note, one could say that the spider, much like the dandelion, also relies on chance when he spins his web to acquire a meal. He is never certain when or if a flying insect will happen by: he depends entirely upon the random and the unpredictable.

Another procreation method that involves chance is the common phenomenon of bird droppings. Though it is often an inconvenience to humans, bird poop is actually an important factor in the environment. When birds eat the fruit of various plants, they will often consume the seeds as well. As the birds fly around, they will eventually defecate those seeds far away from their point of origin. This allows for the seeds to germinate, and often to do so in new environments. These distantly distributed seeds have a higher likelihood of survival, as they will tend to end up in locations with fewer plant pathogens and fewer plant-consuming predators.7 The plants themselves have no control over the birds or where they will fly or when they will defecate; it is all a matter of chance.

Another interesting case of chance-based reproduction is in the case of pyriscent plants. These are plants that have evolved such that their seeds only germinate when exposed to fire, extreme heat, or smoke. Pyriscent plants generally take the form of certain angiosperm species in the southern hemisphere or of certain conifer species in the northern hemisphere. These plants typically rely on the chance occurrence of lightning storms triggering a forest fire. After such a fire, the pyriscent fruit is triggered to releases its seeds.

Furthermore, chance forest fires can sometimes be a necessary factor in the replenishing of a forest. Regular fires can serve to burn up common forest litter such as branches and leaves, preventing them from accumulating and drying up to such a point that they could eventually trigger a much more massive and devastating fire. Fires can wipe out soil-based pests and diseases that threaten plant-life, and they cut down on overgrown tree canopies that block out sunlight, adversely affecting life on the forest floor.8 Although the public tends to understand forest fires as being unnatural and harmful, occasional forest fires, counter-intuitively, are actually a completely normal and healthy part of the function of a forest. For these reasons, some firefighters have recently begun policies of reducing their suppression of natural forest fires, and sometimes even purposefully setting the fires themselves. Here we can see the mysterious intertwining of chance and utility, as well as destruction and constructiveness.

 

RETROSPECTIVE

 

One thing that the preceding examples indicate is that in nature there is often an unclear barrier between intended and unintended, or the purposeful and the accidental. Nature has no intentions; this may seem like a weakness of nature, but is actually a strength in a way. Because there are no discrete intentions, there are also no discrete accidents. Something that, to the rational human mind, may seem accidental or pointless may in fact be a helpful, even crucial measure. This relates to natural selection. We tend to assume that mutations are accidental phenomena, yet that implicitly suggests that DNA strands are intentionally trying to replicate perfectly. I think this is an unwarranted presumption. How do we know that chance environmental mutagens, such as cosmic radiation or solar flares, are not to DNA what forest fires are to pyriscent plants? In nature there is neither intention nor accident. There is only the intermingling soup of order and disorder.

[+ CHAPTER SEVEN:+]

ENTASY IN PHYSIOLOGY

 

The function of the body is maintained by many different complex processes and biological machines on the cellular and molecular levels. How do they work? One might think of these mechanisms as purely purposeful entities, devoid of chaos. One might assume that because they are so good at their jobs, they must have a mind of their own and some kind of internal sense of purpose.

However, we should disabuse ourselves of this anthropomorphic understanding; this is not how the body works, with a direct sense of intention. Biological processes and biological machines do not typically have a mind of their own, but rather tend to function by siphoning random motion into useful work. Our bodies’ faculties typically consist of mindless, aimless structures, which depend upon a tight and intricate coupling of necessity and chance. As a result, these mechanisms often do not function with a human-like sense of deliberateness demonstrative of an entity that has a mind of its own; bodily functions often move with a fitful and wavering, yet ultimately effective, momentum.

One common example of this is molecular diffusion. Many processes — such as oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria, oxygen transfer in the lungs’ alveoli, action potentials in the neurons, and transmission of neurotransmitters, to name a few – depend upon the random, mindless flow of molecules across a concentration gradient. Also, the undirected, mindless behavior of lipid molecules is used within a cell to emulsify oils and to spontaneously form orderly-shaped micelles and vesicles.

The body frequently uses feedback loops. Feedback loops are clever arrangements of components which take aimless forces and corral them into constructive activity. A positive feedback loop is a self-reinforcing process that serves to sustain or intensify a certain action; it tends to create “vicious cycles” in which a behavior feeds back into itself. Examples are found in the conduction of action potentials in neurons and the contractions during childbirth. Alternatively, negative feedback loops serve to keep physiological processes under control and in balance. It works like a thermostat: values within the system may drift aimlessly between certain maximum and minimum values and then forces may kick in at the appropriate levels to keep the values within that range. Negative feedback loops are often vital to homeostasis, such as in the case of temperature regulation, blood sugar regulation, and red blood cell production. The body and its structures do not actually “know” details like what temperature to keep the body at or how much sugar should be in the blood stream. These kinds of things are regulated mindlessly by simple rules imposed upon random behavior.

Neither an embryo nor its constituent cells know how to form themselves into a baby while in the womb. Nature uses simple feedback mechanisms, spatial and temporal cues among the cells, and an arsenal of other clever techniques in order to essentially “trick” mindless cells into organizing themselves into a baby.

Hemostasis (blood clotting) is a vital function that prevents hemorrhaging when a blood vessel has been cut, and it depends upon the random aggregation of the platelets that are constantly passing through the blood stream. During the metaphase stage of mitosis, chromosomes can align along the metaphase plate because some of the constantly growing yet structurally unstable microtubules in the cell will collide, by blind chance, with microtubule binding sites on the chromosomes which stabilize the microtubules, which in turn hold the chromosomes in place. The adaptive immune system facilitates specialized immune responses to a potentially vast number of pathogens, and in a manner that surpasses what is possible through the pre-existing genetic instructions in T cells; this process depends upon the random shuffling of T cell genes.

As we can see, randomness, chance, aimlessness, and uncertainty are – counterintuitively – integral components of the orderly processes of the body.

THE HEART

 

The heart is undeniably one of the most important organs in the body. It has to beat constantly and on cue every second of one’s lifetime; and it does its job very well. But how does it work? Does the heart somehow know what it is doing? Is it intelligent? Well, the simple answer is no. The beating of the heart is produced by an electrical system facilitated by mindless “pacemaker cells.” This electrical system (although modulated by the brain stem) is essentially independent from the body’s nervous system. While the pacemaker cells extend all around the heart, the pacing of the heartbeat is primarily governed by a structure in the right atrium called the sinoatrial node. This node is composed of a cluster of about 10,000 cells. These cells are much like the neurons of the brain, able to produce electrical impulses called action potentials; but what makes them different is that, while neurons can only fire when fired upon by an adjacent neuron, each cell of the sinoatrial node actually possesses the ability to fire of its own accord.

Each cell starts at a certain baseline voltage and then steadily the voltage increases until it reaches a certain threshold voltage, at which point the cell fires. However, the interesting thing is that these cells are not naturally inclined to fire in sync with each other. Rather, they are all inclined to fire at random times: some cells fire at a fast pace, some at a slower pace, while some pairs of cells may fire at the same pace but out of phase with each other. Yet all of the cells are coupled together in a clever way that ensures that they will eventually drift together into synchrony. When any one of the cells reaches threshold voltage and fires, the voltage of the rest of them is kicked up slightly; and this voltage-kicking has a more dramatic effect on cells closer to threshold than those closer to baseline.1 By way of a precise set of nonlinear dynamics, this process has the effect of ensuring that all of the cells in the sinoatrial node will eventually gravitate to synchrony regardless of their initial conditions. The cells that are firing too slowly will speed up and the cells firing too fast will slow down, and thus the set of random oscillators will naturally reach a consensus at a certain frequency. Thus the regular beating of the heart is set through the wrangling together of thousands of randomly oscillating cells.

 

NEUROLOGY

 

In neurology, different states of cognitive awareness often correspond to different brain waves. Brain waves are built upon neural oscillations: regular rhythms created by synchronized firing of large groups of neurons. In addition to consciousness states, neural oscillations are believed to contribute to functions such as memory encoding, memory consolidation, and communication between brain areas.

However, this synchrony among neurons is only found at the scale of neural networks, consisting of millions of neurons. The individual neurons within those networks do not oscillate at regular intervals, but rather fire their action potentials at apparently random intervals and at frequencies often much slower than that of the neural oscillation. The neural oscillation is an emergent property that originates from an averaging of the action potentials within the network. Although the individual neurons within the network appear to be firing at random, their firing is actually probabilistically modulated to fire in synchrony and at a regular frequency. Thus if you were to look at a graph of the firing of individual neurons in a network (picture below), you would see what initially looks like a random smattering of points, but on closer inspection there are periodic places where the points are bunched up, corresponding to an overall synchronized firing rate. The mechanism behind this neural synchronization is similar to the method of synchrony employed in the heart’s sinoatrial node: neurons of disparate firing rates pulling on each other’s frequencies until they find synchrony. This is yet another example of how the body extracts order from random activity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are other noteworthy mechanisms involved in neural activity. Another is stochastic resonance, which was discussed in the previous chapter. Individual neurons in the brain are known to often transmit random synaptic input uncorrelated with any particular signal, including the random release of neurotransmitters.2 The totality of this random input creates a synaptic background noise in the brain. Scientists have found that, in accordance with stochastic resonance, this background noise can enhance the detection of neural signals. Neural signals that are too weak to be detected without noise may detectable at certain levels of noise intensity.

In addition to stochastic resonance, there also exists another phenomenon known as “coherence resonance.” This refers to the phenomenon in which a network of coupled detectors can produce coherent, periodic output when exposed to random noise input.3 It so happens that coherence resonance has been shown to play a role in the creation of coherent, periodic oscillations within neural networks in the brain. When a network of neurons are coupled together in a feedback relationship, such that the activity of one neuron has an effect on other neurons in the network, the introduction of random synaptic noise to the network can spontaneously generate periodic oscillations, even in the absence of an initial, distinct neural signal. As with stochastic resonance, this process only works at certain, finite levels of noise intensity. The brain’s use of coherence resonance is one example of how the body can literally create order from chaos.

KINESIN-1

 

In eukaryotic cells there is a rather fascinating biological machine called kinesin. Kinesin molecules are tiny cellular machines that serve to transport vesicles that are too large too diffuse through the cell’s cytosol, and they also play a role in cell division. A particular type of kinesin, kinesin-1, has an interesting method of mobility. The molecule has the appearance of a long vertical shaft terminating with two small “legs” which terminate with large globular “feet” (though they are scientifically referred to as “heads”). The vesicle is carried on a binding site on top of the shaft. The kinesin-1 molecule moves by using its “legs” to walk, one foot in front of another, along a cellular microtubule, which serves as its track. Now an important question here is: Where does the kinesin-1 molecule get the energy to walk? As it turns out, the energy doesn’t come from within the molecule, but rather comes from all around it. The kinesin-1 molecule, as with all cellular components, is surrounded by a molecular storm, a blizzard of fast-moving water molecules whizzing around randomly inside the cell. Here’s how it works: The molecular storm is bombarding the kinesin-1 equally on all sides. In the midst of this, the kinesin-1 has one “foot” bound to the microtubule track, while the trailing leg is left dangling. As an ATP molecule passes by, it can bind to the lead foot, which causes its corresponding leg to lean forward. Because of this lean, the molecular storm will now tend to push the trailing leg forward in front of the leading leg where it binds to the microtubule. Thus the kinesin-1 has taken a single step. The now-trailing foot hydrolyzes its ATP to ADP, causing it to detach from the microtubule and allowing the now lead foot to bind with ATP, causing another step to take place – and thus the cycle continues. Through this chemical cycle, the kinesin-1 molecule waddles along the microtubule while carrying its cargo. What is fascinating is that this orderly and purposeful motion is made possible by the chaotic, aimless motion that exists within the cell.

PROTEIN FOLDING

Another interesting example of chaos producing order in the body is the process of protein folding. A protein consists of a long sequence of amino acids. For any given protein in the body, that protein can only perform its function if it possesses a specific three-dimensional shape. The amino acid sequence of a protein is predetermined by one’s genes, however the protein’s specific three-dimensional shape is not encoded in the genes. Proteins do not naturally “know” what shape to assume. They get their shape by being bombarded by the previously-mentioned molecular storm, which causes the long chain of amino acids to aimlessly wiggle around into various shape configurations. Different configurations have different chemical energy states, and as the protein changes, the energy states randomly rise and fall. Abstractly speaking, the molecule aimlessly wanders the uneven terrain of a sort of “energy landscape,” eventually coming to rest at the lowest point in the landscape: its lowest possible energy state, which corresponds to the optimal, final shape for the protein. Without the flux provided by the random molecular storm, the protein would have just been stuck in a fixed shape, unable to reduce its free energy.4

 

RETROSPECTIVE

 

In summary, the body’s physiology is a fascinating locus for entasy, with the existence of many interactions between randomness and utility, and chance and necessity. In many ways, the body is designed to harness the raw power of chaos to drive its functions.

Some people appear disappointed at the seemingly mechanical nature of the human body. They are disappointed by the notion that every thought, emotion, and sensation we experience can simply be reduced to neurotransmitters and electrical signals. To some, the idea that we are nothing more than an assemblage of biochemical processes lacks the appeal of the alternative idea that there is some mysterious ghost in the machine. But personally, I have never understood this reaction. People are looking for the sense of magic and wonder in the wrong place. The magic is not in what we are but in why we are. We should focus less on the fact that we are machines, and focus more on the marvel of where the machines came from. I am not dismayed by the lack of a singular Creator; on the contrary, I find it all the more fascinating that the brilliantly crafted machines that we are emerged without any Creator at all. Rather than lamenting that there is no God, one should instead be in awe of what can be accomplished in the absence of one. The magic behind our existence is not found in some elusive Creator – the magic is all around us, in the very fabric of reality.

 

 

SUMMARY OF THE SCIENCES

 

The previous several sections have discussed how entasy manifests in a broad range of the sciences. Entasy can be observed in the invisible quantum world, the distant astronomical realm, in nature, in our own bodies, and even in the abstract realm of mathematics. I have provided these examples to give the reader an idea of the tremendous prevalence of entasy in the universe, as well as to help paint a detailed picture in the reader’s mind of what entasy is and how it works.

The scientifically-inclined reader may already be aware of many of these scientific facts, and may very well understand them better than I do. However, what I am proposing that is new is the possibility for these facts to be viewed in a different light: I propose a certain wholeness to the sciences, a common thread which connects them all and hence pervades reality.

 

[+ CHAPTER EIGHT:+]

SOME THOUGHTS ON ENTASY

 

The purpose of the following chapter is to help put in perspective the ideas that have been discussed so far as well as those that will be discussed later.

METAPHORS OF ENTASY

 

Entasy is mysterious and complex, with different facets and different ways of looking at it. Some analogies and metaphors may be helpful here to illustrate the idea.

 

The mixture of order and chaos in entasy is like a certain mixture of two fluids. It is a strange kind of mixture which seems to fluctuate erratically between homogeneity and heterogeneity. In some parts of the mixture, the fluids appear homogeneous, while in other places one or the other seems to assert itself distinctly in pure form. The ways in which the fluids interact is diverse and infinitely complex. As you look at the mixture, you see various manners in which the fluids are coupled together: you see a multitude of various swirls and spinning vortices, you see bits of both fluids dancing around each other in spontaneous paths and circuits. Sometimes there may be an isolated portion of one fluid encompassed within a larger portion of the other which may lie within an even larger portion of the first, and so on for multiple levels. Sometimes one fluid may spontaneously materialize within a pure portion of the other. This complex mixing-together of order and chaos is what you might call the “entasy soup.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entasy is like the image above. Is this an image of a rabbit or a duck? I would say that the image is both. You can see both animals independently of each other, yet their identities are inseparable from each other. You cannot remove the duck from the rabbit nor the rabbit from the duck; the one does not exist without the other. They are two different images, yet they are the same image. They are disconnected, yet they are connected. The two animals contradict each other but they do not obstruct each other; the image’s rabbit-ness does not interfere with its duck-ness, and vice versa. The rabbit does not exist for the sake of the duck nor the duck for the sake of the rabbit; they are equals and they are equally co-dependent. Order and chaos have this relationship to each other.

 

Entasy is like a pair of conjoined twins; one of them I will call “Jim” and the other I will call “Joe.” Jim and Joe are both professional painters; Jim paints with the right hand and Joe with the left.

Jim, despite being an artist, is relatively unimaginative; he likes to play it safe and not take creative risks. He has obsessive compulsive disorder. He is meticulous, obsessed with rigid adherence to predetermined patterns, and with doing everything perfectly: when he paints, every shape, every line, every curve must be flawless. And he is obsessed with repetition; this trait influences his art in that certain forms and motifs are continually reiterated, often to an obsessive degree. His art, although technically flawless, is relatively boring, repetitive, and uninspired.

Joe, on the other hand, has a personality that is impulsive, inquisitive, curious, and adventurous. He has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; he is easily distracted, bores easily, and finds it difficult to focus on any one task for any length of time. Various ideas flow uncontrollably into his imagination, so much so that he can’t seem to put the ideas on canvas fast enough. His characteristics influence his art. He may start off following one artistic idea, and then forget what he was doing or become bored and start on some other idea, constantly and randomly skipping around from one idea to the next. His forms are carelessly drawn, coarse and jagged, yet his visual aesthetic feels strangely liberating and innovative.

As conjoined twins, Jim and Joe possess a kind of unconscious telepathy between each other: they are aware of each other’s thoughts and feelings and are able to unconsciously influence one another. So as Jim paints, his brother’s carelessness and impulsiveness sometimes comes off subconsciously in his predominately immaculate art; and when Joe paints, glimpses of his brother’s obsessive style comes off in his predominately messy aesthetic.

When the brothers paint a piece together, they tend to bicker between one another, as their artistic vision often conflicts. There is a constant tension between them. Jim may want to repeat the same patterns over and over, but Joe will usually object. When Joe proposes that they try something different, Jim asks, “Why?” And then Joe simply answers, “Why not?” Jim again asks, “Why?” and so the argument continues as they paint.

Despite their often contentious relationship, there is a very productive synergy that occurs between the brothers. Individually, both of the painters’ artwork are somewhat mediocre, but somehow when they combine their creative energies, artistic magic happens. They complete each other; they complement each other’s style perfectly, with their paintings exhibiting a pleasing fusion of both painter’s styles. Cooperatively, they produce much-lauded works of artistic genius. Such is the relationship between order and chaos.

 

ONTOLOGICAL EQUILIBRIUM

It has previously been established that things in the universe tend to possess within themselves a tug-of-war between order and chaos. This dynamic could also be extended to involve the cosmos as a whole. Reality is a back-and-forth game of tug-of-war in which there is never a winner or loser, nor is there a standstill. Chaos pulls, order pulls back, chaos pulls again, then order pulls, and so it goes. This cosmic tension is a constant oscillation and flux, but at the same time this tension embodies a kind of balance or equality between the two forces. As this tug-of-war continues, some things change while others stay the same. Some things are destroyed while other things are created. One endeavor turns out flawlessly, while another is an unmitigated failure. Somewhere order dissolves into chaos, elsewhere chaos coalesces into order. This fluctuation of possibilities – this tug-of-war – is the foundation upon which reality sits. There exists no stable, rigid bedrock of reality. As a result, there is nothing that reality itself is meant to be or meant to not be. There is nothing within reality that is meant to exist or meant to not exist. For that which exists, there is nothing that it is meant to do or meant to not do. There is no firmly established sensibility to things, and there is no firmly established nonsense to things – the sense and nonsense tend to overlap or intermingle.

This is a concept I call “ontological equilibrium.” To reiterate, there is nothing that is meant to be and nothing that is meant to not be. According to this principle, for any question you could ask, the opposite, objecting question is equally valid: Why does the universe exist? – why shouldn’t it? Why do human beings exist? – why shouldn’t they exist? Why do people tend to have moles and birthmarks on their skin? – why shouldn’t they? Why don’t fire-breathing dragons or flying horses exist? – why would they? Why does the Earth spin on a tilt? – why shouldn’t it? Why can’t human beings communicate telepathically? – why should they? Why is life so difficult? – why wouldn’t it be? Why does life contain happiness and pleasure? – why wouldn’t it? In the course of life, you may find yourself in a situation in which you are compelled to ask, “Why did this happen?” But an equally valid question is, “Why shouldn’t this have happened?” You may find yourself in a situation in which you ask, “Why me?” But an equally valid question to ask is, “Why not me?” For every “why?” there is a “why not?”; for every “why not?” there is a “why?” Are there logical explanations, involving chains of cause and effect, that can explain all of the aforementioned conditions and realities? Yes. But every reason only provokes the need for another reason, leading to an infinite regress of reasons. The reality is that these conditions, just like everything else, are simply manifestations of entasy, the lack of existential/ontological bias and the oscillating of possibility. There is no ultimate reason for why things are the way they are, and there is no ultimate nonsense to why things are the way they are.

The ontological equilibrium principle suggests that there is no normal “ground state” of reality. Reality has no primal nature or instinct as we do; it has no stable set of primal desires or inclinations. At the deepest level of reality, nothing is assumed, nothing taken for granted. There are no preferences or predispositions. At the deepest level of reality, there is a profound state of equanimity where there is neither necessary nor unnecessary, neither important nor inconsequential. Reality is free of constraint or obligation.

We are not supposed to do anything in particular in life; we are not obligated to be wise or foolish, good or evil, happy or unhappy, striving to survive or destroying ourselves. At the deepest level of reality, there are no rules or imperatives, save for the primal back-and-forth tugging of entasy.

The universe, in regards to its disposition toward us, is neither sympathetic nor apathetic nor malicious. The universe is entasy – the tension between the why and why not. Why is the universe sometimes brutal and cruel? Why not? Why does the universe sometimes give us good fortune? Why not? Why doesn’t the universe provide for us, protect us, and grant our every desire, as a loving parent to a child? Why?

 

We exist. Our existence is not necessary, nor is it unjustified. One could ask why we should exist while another could ask why we should not, and both inquiries would be equally valid. Very often, people try to seek the explanation of life through the paradigm of reasons, as manifested in science and religion. However, I feel that to understand the explanation of life one must think “outside the box” of reasons, and accept the paradigm of the reason-less fluctuation of possibilities. Entasy is the tug-of-war between the why and the why not. It is the confluence in which that which should happen and that which could happen are indistinguishable.

The cosmic tension of entasy trickles down and pervades every corner and crevice of reality. It occurs at every scale of reality, both large and small, in contexts both physical and mental.

Why does this entasy phenomenon exist? You might say that it’s because there is no God. There is no supreme being or cosmic captain that is making all the intelligent decisions and giving the orders. There is ontological equilibrium because in the absence of a cosmic central authority there is no bias for matters to flow one way over another. If the universe was nothing but randomness and incoherence, that would be biased; if the universe was nothing but perfect order and beauty, that would be biased. Without bias there is equality, and entasy is the epitome of equality. What, on a cosmic level, could be more fair and balanced than for purpose and futility to both co-exist on an equal playing field? As a result, the universe is exactly what it naturally “ought” to be, even if it is not what we would like it to be.

You might find the idea of entasy strange, and consider all this to be a wacky way of looking at reality. But the problem is that, while trying to understand the universe, you are thinking like a person. The universe is not a person; you will never understand the universe with such a mentality. Hunters often say that to hunt an animal you must think like the animal. Likewise, if you want to understand the universe you must think like the universe “thinks.” The universe created us, so if you want to know why the universe did this, you have to stop thinking like a human and start thinking like the universe.

Humans are very biased; we have strict preferences. We prefer satiety to hunger, we prefer pleasure to agony, beauty to ugliness, health to infirmity, function to malfunction, etc. The universe, on the other hand, is un-biased and has no such preferences. A person might wonder: Why can’t the universe simply choose to make everyone in the world healthy and happy? Why can’t the universe just choose to make life perfect for everyone? Of course, we think this because we are humans and we think the way humans think. But the universe doesn’t think the way we think. In order to understand the universe, we have to think the way the universe thinks; we have to get on its level. The only way to understand how the universe works is to assume a mentality devoid of bias. With this mentality, the “mentality” of the cosmos, you will understand what I mean when I refer to “the tension between the why and the why not.”

When we ask the meaning of life we are not asking a question to man; we are asking a question to the cosmos, for it was the cosmos that created us and thus it is the cosmos which holds the answer to the inquiry. A question directed to the cosmos is unlike any question proposed to man; this question is a cosmic question, and a cosmic question deserves a cosmic answer. Often the reason why people do not find a satisfactory answer to the question of existence is that they are asking a cosmic question but demanding a human answer to it – an answer that appeals to human sensibilities and satisfies human desires. Acquiring happiness in an afterlife, or happiness in this life, or finding love, or finding success – these are some proposed human answers but they are not necessarily cosmic answers. When people suggest such answers, they are thinking in small, human terms and not in cosmic terms.

In the introduction, I suggested that in order to find the right answers we must first find the right questions. This is a crucial step in any inquiry. We must clarify to ourselves what specific kind of answer we are looking for; quite often we fail to see important things for the simple reason that we are not looking for them. Do we want to find out how to enjoy life or do we want to find out how to understand life? They are not the same question: it is possible to understand life without enjoying it and to enjoy life without understanding it. The two are not mutually inclusive, nor are they mutually exclusive.

A PROBABILISTIC UNIVERSE

 

Because of entasy we live in a probabilistic universe. That is to say, nothing is strictly impossible and nothing is strictly certain. Everything is probabilistic. Weather forecasting is probabilistic. The behavior of quantum particles is probabilistic. The second law of thermodynamics is probabilistic: It is possible that a cold cup of water could spontaneously start to boil1; a rock could possibly extract energy from the ground and spontaneously pop up into the air2 – it is all a matter of probability. Scientific laws are but statistical truths, statements that describe certain patterns and regularities in the cosmos that appear in large quantities, rather than being “laws” in the judicial sense, which would imply certain inviolable principles that objects must follow.

DNA profiling and DNA paternity testing are probabilistic; the highest certainty a DNA match can get is 99.99%, never 100%. Conception following sexual intercourse is uncertain: there is no guarantee that the sperm will even reach the egg, and even if the egg is fertilized, there is only about a 50% chance that the egg will divide to form an embryo. There is no certainty that you will live to see tomorrow, or that you will not. There is no certainty that your good ideas will succeed or that your bad ideas will fail. Everything is just a matter of probability; therefore there is no such thing as "certain" or "impossible"; there is, at most, only extremely high probability or abysmally low probability. Every assertion that one can make is just a statement of probability. There is no such thing as "proof," only "a high degree of confidence"; there is no such thing as "must," only "should."

GOD IN THE CHAOS

Religious people are known to use the watchmaker analogy to deny the idea that life could have been made purely from naturalistic, non-teleological forces. They also use the old argument that the chance of higher life forms evolving from random phenomena is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might spontaneously assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein. What the proponents of these arguments must understand is that what they see as blind, aimless, random forces is a facade. We are familiar with the superficial face of the cosmos, which is the face of randomness: the mindless domain where objects are just drifting, falling, crashing, bumping, without direction, without rhyme or reason. But there is more to the cosmos than what meets the eye – pure randomness is an illusion. Dissolved within this domain is structure, direction, and intelligence. Hidden behind the randomness is a force of order, which designed us and gave birth to us.

In the Bible, God created the heavens and the earth by imposing order upon the primordial chaos. However, I would propose a different scenario for how the universe was created. Say you take a giant cosmic hammer and smash God into countless tiny pieces, yet being divine he is still alive, and then you scatter those pieces across the primordial chaos. God becomes inextricably dissolved within the chaos so that the two become one, a homogeneous mixture. This gives you an idea of what entasy is. It is a paradox: an intelligence without intelligence, a plan without a plan. It is the mysterious coexistence between randomness on one hand and creativity, intelligence, and purpose on the other. It is the mysterious coexistence of ugliness and beauty, idleness and diligence. Imagine God creating the universe, but not through deliberate, unilateral action; rather through gradual, fitful and indirect means, performing acts of creation and design under the guise of aimless phenomena. You might say that the entasy model is a kind of fusion between theism and nihilism.

IMPLICATIONS OF ENTASY

 

Some people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of a universe that is based on impersonal forces and which lacks an intelligent, benevolent factor, such as a God, that cares about their well-being. However, technically, the entasy model does not necessarily obviate such a benevolent being. It may yet exist in some sense, but such a thing cannot be at the root of reality as we know it. An intelligent, meaningful factor such as a God, as with all meaningful things, implies an explanation, leading to an infinite regress of explanations. The idea of a benevolent God who is also the prime mover is a fallacy and a product of wishful thinking. If a God exists, he can only be a child of entasy just as we are. Furthermore, I believe that life and the universe can be explained well enough by the entasy model so as to render the God postulate superfluous.

In the past, I have discussed the “Why are we here?” question and the entasy model with others. Many of them were disappointed by this answer to the meaning of life, and they felt that it rendered life pointless. Some of them would comment gloomily, “I guess this life is all there is. There is nothing else.” That made me wonder: what exactly were they expecting? What explanation were they looking for? I presume entasy was not comforting or sensational enough for them. Perhaps they were hoping for something like eternal life in some higher realm, an exploration of distant worlds, or infinite knowledge of the mysteries of the cosmos. But I think the kind of ultimate purpose they are looking for is an illusion. Were they to find an answer that was to their liking, hidden behind it would inevitably be questions like: “But what is the purpose of that purpose?” or “But what is the destiny behind that destiny?” Whatever ideal world or life they are looking for is ultimately no more meaningful than this world/life. Try to picture the final destination you are looking for that would satisfy you: once you get there, how do you know you won’t then ask, “OK, so what’s next?” Maybe people are just looking to find perfect happiness somewhere. But as mentioned in the introduction, happiness is pleasant, but there is nothing intrinsically meaningful about being happy.

However, just as the entasy model does not necessarily preclude the existence of God, neither does it preclude some other ideal world or frontier beyond this life that possesses the happiness and satisfaction people are looking for. But whatever the case may be, the question will remain: What is the purpose of that? Where does that come from? The source and beginning of it all is, unavoidably, entasy; the regress inevitably leads back to order and chaos. But this book is not saying that all that exists is this world and the realm of entasy. I have no argument against the idea that there may be some ideal intermediary world between those two realms, between this complex world that we live in and the simple, primal realm of entasy.

People tend to conflate “the meaning of life” with “the pursuit of happiness.” They think the meaning of life should serve a dual purpose: to make sense of life and to make them happy. But you must adjust your expectations and rid yourself of the belief that the two should coincide. They are two different and unrelated things that must be pursued separately.

What good is the entasy model? The entasy model is meant to be an honest and objective analysis of why we exist. It is about what life is, not what we would like life to be. I simply see it as a fact. If you don’t like this explanation, that has no bearing on whether it is valid or not. You are not supposed to like the entasy model, though I won’t complain if you do. The entasy model is not supposed to make you happy, any more than learning that the Earth is round is supposed to make you happy – a fact is just a fact. Although knowing the true shape of the Earth is probably not going to make you happy, it can allay some of the confusion and mystery surrounding certain observed phenomena that happen to be related to Earth’s shape and curvature (such as the horizon, Coriolis force, seasons, etc.). Likewise, knowing the true explanation of life might allay some of the confusion and mystery that we experience in life which originates from its underlying nature.

The entasy model helps me to make sense of things in life that in themselves make no sense. The entasy model may not seem like the most optimistic ideology, but I feel it is one that lines up with reality. Personally, I prefer a view that will explain the cold hardships of life rather than some naive, rosy ideology that merely attempts to anesthetize me to them. There are absurdities, tragedies and horrors in this world whose existence is incongruous with a more palatable ideology (such as mainstream Christianity, for example), but fit perfectly within the context of the entasy model.

Furthermore, sometimes when a person has a problem, he does not only suffer from the problem itself but from the fact that he doesn’t understand why the problem exists in the first place. The ignorance concerning the problem can intensify the problem. I think the entasy model can possibly explain the cause behind many of our troubles, and thus possibly mitigate this issue.

As I’ve said before, the meaning of life has nothing to do with finding happiness. If you want to know the explanation of life, I think you will find it in this book. If you want to learn how to find happiness, there is plenty of other literature available that addresses that topic.

[+ CHAPTER NINE:+]

THE RANDOMNESS PARADOX

 

One particular concept that is integral to the entasy model is a logical hypothesis which I call the “randomness paradox.” The randomness paradox is essentially the idea that for any random sequence (be it of events, numbers, etc.), in order for that sequence to truly be random, it must at some point produce something that is not random. If you happen to be observing or sifting through any given sequence that is purported to be random, you will naturally encounter a series where it is impossible to consistently predict any next unit in the series. After doing this for a while, though, you will actually begin to predict the unpredictable, and you might say the series is consistently inconsistent. But of course, things like predictability and consistency are antithetical to randomness; the whole idea of randomness is to be unpredictable, inconsistent, and patternless. However, a sequence of immaculate randomness is really a kind of pattern in itself. The way I see it, the most random thing that a random sequence can do is to do the exact opposite of what it has consistently been doing – that is, something non-random. Put another way, in order for something random to be truly random it must eventually do something that’s not random – i.e., order. Any purportedly random sequence that, extended to infinity, never produces order is not truly random, but must have been somehow intelligently set up to maintain constant unpredictability (such as the algorithm for a random number generator), which itself would imply order. In short, there is no such thing as “pure” randomness.

One example I use to corroborate the randomness paradox is a certain phenomenon that occurs in some irrational numbers. An irrational number is a mathematical quantity that, unlike a rational number, cannot be represented by a fraction or ratio, nor can it be represented by a finite decimal number. Also, an irrational number cannot be represented by an infinitely repeating decimal number. For example, the fraction 1/3 can be represented as the infinite repeating decimal “0.33333333…” and thus is not an irrational number; also the fraction 226/333 would yield the infinite repeating sequence “0.678678678…” and so is rational rather than irrational. The decimal form of an irrational number is an infinite series of numbers that has no regularly repeated numbers or sequences.

Interestingly though, some irrational numbers have been known to produce small glimpses of repetition. One example is in the mathematical constant e. If you look at e on a calculator, you might see “2.718281828459”. Within that number, you may immediately notice the repeating sequence “18281828”. Another example of this phenomenon is in the well-known mathematical constant pi. Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius (It’s ironic that a sequence of random numbers is used to calculate what is perhaps the most orderly of forms, the circle). Looking at the first several digits of pi, “3.14159265359”, we don’t immediately see any repeating numbers here. However, if we keep going, we eventually find a repeating sequence at the 762nd decimal place which goes “999999” – a sequence commonly known as the Feynman point. Another sequence occurs at the 1,589th position: “7777”. Yet another repeating sequence happens at the 193,034th decimal place: “999999”. At the 222,299th decimal place is “888888”. At the 1,699,927th decimal place is “000000”. At the 45,681,781st decimal place is “666666666”. So as you can see, some irrational numbers appear to express manifestations of the randomness paradox. I think another way in which we can interpret the paradox is that randomness itself is, ironically, not sufficient to produce a truly random infinite sequence: order is required to complete it. The small sequences of ordered numbers are the exception that intensifies and consummates the rule.

Now many people would consider these instances of repetition within the decimal of pi to be unremarkable, merely inevitable acts of randomness accidentally “stumbling upon” order. But this is merely a superficial way of looking at this phenomenon; I propose that it is instead a symptom of an underlying connection between randomness and order.

If you could somehow look at a panoramic view of all the infinite digits of pi, what you would see is a vast, seemingly immaculate field of non-repeating numbers; and sparsely, randomly interspersed within that field are small “mistakes” in the form of repetitive sequences. What we seem to have is one layer of randomness (consisting of non-repeating numbers) that has sitting on top of it another layer of randomness (consisting of randomly distributed ordered mistakes). One could almost say that this double-layer of randomness is like a kind of structure in itself; it’s as if randomness has intelligently devised a method to intensify its own randomness. But considering that randomness is supposed to be a purely mindless, aimless force, isn’t it contradictory to speak of randomness having a “method”? I believe that this is one more example of entasy, the inextricable interweaving of order with chaos. There is a kind of symbiotic relationship between them: it is order that keeps chaos chaotic, and it is chaos that gives order its raison d’etre. Without chaos, order would have no reason to exist (at least outside of some infinite regress of reasons); remember that order always requires a reason, necessity, function, etc. Meanwhile, chaos itself neither possesses nor requires any reason to exist.

There are a few corollaries which I have extrapolated from the randomness paradox. One of them is the logic behind the existence of the universe itself.

PRECOSMIC CHAOS

Well-known physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, reflecting upon the complexity of the cosmos, once asked, “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?” Many other people ask questions like this, like “Why is there something as opposed to nothing?” In response to Dr. Hawking, I would counter with the question, “Why shouldn’t the universe bother existing?” Would it make more sense if there were nothing at all? Why? What’s so logical about nothingness? Why should we assume that what reality ought to be is any different from what it is?

Even many cosmologists have suggested that before the universe existed, there was nothingness. However, I have always found the notion of “nothingness” to be absurd. It is an idea that defies both empirical science and logic. No one has ever seen nothingness; no scientists, to my knowledge, have studied nothingness or developed mathematical equations implicating the existence of nothingness. Science has even discovered that the vacuum of space itself is not an area of nothingness, as one would intuitively think, but is actually filled with quantum activity.

Scientists excel at studying things based on a posteriori knowledge involving observation and experimentation, but it seems that in their adoption of the concept of nothingness, they have shown a weakness in their a priori reasoning skills.

I think nothingness can be refuted logically by simply affirming that “something” exists now, and “something” cannot emerge from, or have anything to do with, “nothing”; “nothing” must be absolutely sterile, inert, and useless, else it is absurd to call it “nothing.” In other words, if nothing produced something, then the nothing was never really nothing to begin with.

I believe the idea of nothing is an obstacle that must be overcome if we are to understand the true origins of the universe. People often invoke logic when they claim that before the universe existed, there must have been nothingness. However such people are merely confusing logic with linguistics. The idea of “nothing” is nothing more than an abstract linguistic construct. For example, let’s say you are hungry, so you go to the refrigerator to get something to eat. You see that there is no food in the fridge and all the shelves are bare. You then might say, “There is nothing in the fridge.” However, that assertion is technically untrue. There are many things in the fridge: shelves, compartments, light, air, dust particles, water vapor, food odor molecules, mold spores, etc. The word “nothing” in this context doesn’t really mean there is nothing in the fridge; it is understood to mean that there is nothing of consequence or relevance in the fridge. Someone might ask you what you plan to do this weekend, to which you may answer, “Nothing.” But naturally this is not technically true; you probably plan to live, to breathe, eat food, drink fluids, sleep, bathe, enjoy leisure activities, etc. In this context, “nothing” really means nothing worth mentioning. In essence, any time the word “nothing” is used in everyday language, there is always some implicit something involved. “Nothing” is an abstract noun that only has meaning within a specified context; yet when people claim that there was nothing before the universe began, they are using such a word to refer to a scientific reality. They have mistakenly promoted the abstract to concreteness. We must take care to not blur the lines between language and reality.

There is nothing scientific about the concept of primordial nothingness; the idea is purely a philosophical one, and an ill-conceived one at that. I am no scientist and would not attempt to compete with a scientist on scientific matters, but a scientist’s philosophical ideas are no more authoritative than my own.

So where did the universe come from? Well, there are two general possibilities: either the universe has always existed or the universe emerged from something else. If we are to assume the former possibility, then we needn’t ask where the universe came from. If we are to assume the latter possibility, I think we can conclude that the universe didn’t come from nothing. Anywhere you go, there is something there. The fabric of reality is an unbroken, eternal “somethingness.” There always has and always will be something. The only question is whether that something is something ordered or something chaotic. The reason I say this is that everything that we know of is ultimately defined by its order: its structure, properties and function. The tiniest insect is a complex aggregate of little machines like organs, cells and proteins. The universe is filled with intricate, microscopic contraptions called atoms and molecules, which are the building blocks of all matter. Light itself is made up of discrete packets of energy called photons, travels at a constant speed which no other object can exceed, and is composed of a variety of wavelengths, frequencies and colors. Hence “something” is nothing more than the embodiment of the qualities of structure and property. So if we define the universe as simply the totality of all “somethings,” and “something” equals structure and property, then it stands to reason that what existed before the universe was “non-structure” and “non-property.”

Thus, the question we should be asking is not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but instead we should ask “Why is there order rather than chaos?” The universe was not a something that emerged from nothingness, rather the universe was a thing of order that emerged from chaos. There exists no cosmic dichotomy of “something versus nothing,” as some would suggest; instead what exists is the cosmic dichotomy of entasy.

My hypothesis is that our cosmos was birthed in a place I call the “precosmic chaos”: this is a realm existing beyond our cosmos that consists of some larger scale of chaos. It is a place where logic, scientific principles and mathematics do not exist. There are no macroscopic structures or molecules or atoms — nothing that possesses structure or property. There is no time or space; no rules, laws, or limits. One might ask: “What are the properties of the precosmic chaos?” or “What does it look like?” The fact is, the precosmic chaos has no properties or appearance. For a thing to possess intelligible, regular properties or a discernable appearance is demonstrative of order, and order is of course antithetical to chaos. You cannot understand the precosmic chaos in terms of scientific laws because the precosmic chaos predates scientific laws.

It is a place that is full of “something,” but that something is unimaginable. It is a complete absence of intelligibility. It is a place of “supreme simplicity,” where nonsense reigns. In essence, our orderly universe is a deformed, mutated anomaly of this greater status quo of reality. Our universe emerged like a bubble of order in an ocean of chaos. Our sensible cosmos came from a matrix of nonsense.

Now, you might be wondering how a place full of chaos with no established rules or structures could possibly generate a place as orderly as our universe. But remember, the precosmic chaos is full of nonsense; it makes no sense for the precosmic chaos to generate the universe, thus it makes perfect sense for the precosmic chaos to generate the universe. In my view, this is a simpler explanation than the idea of the universe emerging from nothingness. For if we assume that this universe emerged from nothingness, we have to explain how something can emerge from nothing. But if we assume that there existed a state of primordial nonsense then, technically, no further explanation is really needed.

Furthermore, we can think of our universe as being to the precosmic chaos what the Feynman point (and other such sequences) is to pi: our universe is the exception that reinforces and completes the rule of the precosmic chaos. In effect, the emergence of our universe was a sort of mistake — a primally necessary mistake.

Now, one might ask the question, “Why did the precosmic chaos produce our universe?” However, the problem with this question is that it is a catch-22. The initial emergence of the universe from chaos was the “first cause” of our reality; so when someone asks why the precosmic chaos produced the universe, they are essentially asking, “What was the cause of the first cause?” But that question is absurd, because if the first cause had a cause then it would not really be the first cause, but would merely be the effect of the previous cause. The precosmic chaos is a place where the usual rules of causation do not apply. The precosmic chaos is devoid of cause-effect relationships; there are no causes, only effects. To understand the beginning of the universe, one must think “outside the box” of causation and logic. Logic reigns within this universe, but when we are talking about events happening outside the universe or before the universe, logic does not necessarily have jurisdiction.

The precosmic chaos is a purely a priori concept. I have no observational proof to corroborate this hypothesis. However, the entasy model itself is largely based upon empirical observation, and the precosmic chaos concept is basically a corollary or logical extension of the entasy model. Furthermore, the precosmic chaos concept only addresses why the universe began, not how. I understand the why and the how to be two separate dimensions of the same phenomenon; the how-aspect of the subject is something more appropriate for conventional science, specifically cosmology. I am not well-read about the Big Bang theory, but assuming that the Big Bang really happened, I could only speculate as to how the precosmic chaos relates to it.

MURPHY’S LAW

Another corollary to the randomness paradox concerns what is known as Murphy’s law. Now technically speaking, this is not really a “law” in the scientific sense, really more of an adage. However, I don’t think this adage really gets enough credit. As far as the entasy model is concerned, I actually do consider Murphy’s law to be a law. The adage goes: Anything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong. Translating the idea into a more formal definition, we might word it something like: “For any orderly sequence (be it of events, processes, etc.), that sequence will eventually produce something that is not orderly.” If we translated Murphy’s law into a numerical form, using for example an infinite repeating sequence of the number one, we might see an error at, say, a few hundred decimal places, like:

“. . . 11111111110548111111111111111111 . . .”

and perhaps a thousand or so decimal places later we might see something like:

“. . . 11111111111129611111111111111111 . . .”

As you can see, this depiction of Murphy’s law looks strangely similar to the randomness paradox as manifested through the decimal of pi, similar in that they are like mirror images of each other: while sequences of randomness tend to produce orderly mistakes, sequences of order tend to produce chaotic mistakes. The numerical sequence above is not any kind of real mathematical constant or quantity, but it is meant to illustrate the underlying nature of what we know as “mistakes.” Mistakes such as these do not really occur in the idealized, abstract world of mathematics, but they are an undeniable reality in the real world. In contrast to the randomness paradox, which is determined a priori, Murphy’s law is something that cannot be verified a priori, but can only be determined a posteriori through empirical observation of ordered phenomena in the world and by observing how they break down from time to time.

 

One important note: these two principles – the randomness paradox and Murphy’s law – and the mirror-like relationship between them are the most important principles to the entasy model. They are the linchpin that holds the entire model together. These two principles establish irrefutably that there is in fact, on a fundamental level, a real connection between order and chaos.

I consider Murphy’s law to be a fundamental law of the universe. It is chaos’s imprint upon order, just as the randomness paradox is order’s imprint upon chaos. Murphy’s law means that mistakes are inevitable. But what are mistakes? I suppose we can define a mistake as when an intentional, orderly event unintentionally does something that is disorderly or counterproductive. Mistakes are a common phenomenon in the universe: People make typos when typing. Belongings can get lost, broken, ripped, stained, ruined, etc. Computers crash and software programs suffer unforeseen bugs and glitches. Contracts have unforeseen loopholes. People stammer or lose their train of thought when talking, they stumble over their own feet when walking, they make embarrassing faux pas in public. A miscalculated joke causes insult. Musicians hit the wrong notes; singers sing off-key or forget the lyrics. Companies announce recalls because of dangerously defective products. Animals escape the zoo. TV shows get interrupted for technical difficulties. Microphones screech with feedback. Units on a conveyor belt get stuck and hold up the line. Verbal communication is prone to break down, people equivocate, contradict themselves, speak in non sequiturs, and commit all manner of other unintended fallacies.

Mistakes happen; it’s something that you have grown accustomed to ever since you were a baby and, say, broke your favorite toy or unwittingly knocked down your castle of building blocks. It is something so familiar to us that we don’t give it much thought. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Why do mistakes happen?” Why don’t we live in a perfect world where everything happens exactly as intended, where all of our endeavors succeed, and nothing ever goes wrong? One might assume that mistakes are invariably the direct result of simple cause and effect. Someone isn’t focusing enough on what they’re doing, or a machine’s calibration is off by some degree, or a screw isn’t screwed on quite tightly enough. A minor event tips a balance to eventually cause something major to happen.

But here is a situation where we must differentiate between the “how” and the “why.” While the “how” of mistakes can be explained by cause and effect, I believe the “why” of mistakes is another matter entirely, one that can be explained by entasy, or perhaps more precisely, chaos. A way of understanding mistakes is to consider the numerical diagrams of Murphy’s law given above. The emergence of random mistakes within an orderly sequence is just the mirror image of the emergence of orderly patterns within the random sequence of an irrational number. But one difference here is that the orderly patterns within the random sequence emerge for a reason, as per the randomness paradox: the rare occurrence of order consummates the randomness of randomness. But what is the purpose of the random mistakes within the clean, orderly sequence? My answer is this: there is none. For it is the very absence of purpose that establishes the chaos. Just as it is necessity that establishes the need for order within chaos via the randomness paradox, it is absurdity or superfluity that establishes the presence of chaotic mistakes via Murphy’s law. Mistakes happen precisely because they don’t need to happen. There is no rationale behind the incidence of mistakes, which in itself is the rationale behind the incidence of mistakes – chaos is the rationale of no rationale.

Our efforts and designs are like the infinite repeating number series; they are specimens of order with which chaos is inseparably intertwined. The utility embodied in our intentions cannot be unwound from futility. Just as the disorderly anomalies pop up spontaneously in the repeating series, mistakes spontaneously pop up in our orderly intentions. When mistakes happen, they happen because of simple causality, yet entasy is something that underlies causality, therefore causality is effectively little more than a medium or carrier through which chaos asserts itself, manifesting itself through the phenomenon which we know as “mistakes.” Mistakes are something so familiar and mundane, yet they have cosmic implications.

Because mistakes are a cosmic phenomenon, they will happen eventually no matter what. Through focus and diligence, we can minimize them but we can never exorcise them completely. They are a part of the very fabric of reality. It is no mistake that we make mistakes: mistakes are not really mistakes in the sense of things that ought not to be, a disruption or invader of destiny; they do not misrepresent the true “intent” of the cosmos but fully represent an integral aspect of it.

We don’t make mistakes because we are flawed creatures; we make mistakes because we are children of entasy.

 

DISEASE

Some people propose that the meaning of life centers on things like finding happiness, finding success, falling in love, enjoying friendship, and the like. At the same time, such people will ignore matters like disease, genetic abnormalities, and birth defects – things which are often completely natural and unprovoked by human error. Such an outlook is a cop-out.  You cannot simply showcase the pleasant side of life and sweep the unpleasant, ugly side of life under the rug, but rather to honestly and fully understand the meaning of life we must take the good with the bad.  We must take the full spectrum of the human experience and tie it all together into an organic whole. Exploring the phenomenon of infirmity can help to achieve that perspective.

Sometimes our bodies make mistakes. For example, genetic mutations occur because of mistakes made by our own biochemical machinery. Sometimes cells in our bodies can be misshapen and dysfunctional. Our physiology is not wholly unlike ourselves; it is fallible.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 12,420 different diseases and health problems that can plague humankind. Infirmities can have various effects. They can burden people’s lives with pain, such as with arthritis or migraine; they can incapacitate us, as with stroke; and, of course, many can simply kill us. The body involves many different systems and many complicated processes, and the failure of each can lead to some particular infirmity. There are diseases of the mind, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, or Alzheimer’s disease, and there are various behavioral and personality disorders. The nervous system can falter, leading to epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease; the skeletal system can falter, causing something like osteoporosis or rickets; the circulatory system may suffer heart attack or high blood pressure; the respiratory system can be plagued by something like asthma; the digestive system can have issues like colitis or irritable bowel syndrome; the integumentary system can have issues such as acne, psoriasis, or vitiligo; cellular functions can have issues like cancer or leukemia; speech functions can have problems such as stuttering, lisp, or aphasia. The list goes on. It would seem that every system, every organ, every gland, every tissue is susceptible to failure, initiating diseases and disorders. This is something that we are all familiar with and we have learned to unquestioningly accept. But I dare to ask the question: why is there disease at all?

Medical scientists devote much effort and resources to figuring out how certain diseases occur. However, what they do not address is why certain diseases occur, or even why disease occurs, period. But I believe the entasy model offers an explanation. The tissues, processes, and systems that constitute the body’s physiology are specimens of order, just like our own efforts and designs. And just like our efforts and designs, bodily physiology is subject to ordinary causality: every disease can be logically explained by some reason or other. However, also like our own efforts, physiology is subject to Murphy’s law; disease is an example of chaos manifesting itself spontaneously through the order that is the body.

As we saw in the randomness paradox, it is in the midst of intense incoherence and randomness that order necessarily emerges. As light shines more brightly in the darkness, so does order shine through chaos, and likewise does chaos shine through intense complexity and functionality. The human body is one such locus of complexity and functionality. In disease, our complexity is assailed by simplicity, and our functionality by futility. In a sense, diseases and disorders, or at least the possibility of acquiring them, is a part of what is means to be alive in this world of entasy. The order of our physiology and the chaos of infirmity go hand in hand. As with human error, diseases are not disruptions of how things are supposed to happen, but are fully integrated into the nature of the cosmos. We may not like disease, yet nonetheless it is no “mistake” that disease exists.

I find it quite interesting that both people and nature make “mistakes.” We tend to think of the dynamics of nature and the dynamics of human behavior as being two completely separate realms that follow two completely separate sets of rules. But disease seems to indicate that the human realm and the realm of nature share a common ground, are subject to the same set of dynamics. The forces that administer our physiological processes are not god-like or all-knowing; they are much like us, descendants of entasy. Disease indicates that mistakes are not just a unique peculiarity of human behavior but are a function of larger cosmic dynamics.

In addition, infirmity sheds light on the tension of entasy as it is represented in our bodies. It would seem that everyone has something wrong with their bodies, even if the problems are not considered medically significant; everyone has some kind of bodily issues: aches and pains, cricks and cramps, fatigue, constipation, itching, bad breath, etc. It is curious that we have these highly ordered bodies, but somehow they never seem to work quite the way they are supposed to: herein lies that tension. The body is in essence an “embodiment” of entasy in that it is a curious fusion of function and malfunction.

PSEUDOMISTAKES

Disease is one example of Murphy’s law in nature. However we largely accept disease as the norm. As a result, common disease does not tend to evoke in us thoughts of cosmic implications. However there are some more bizarre examples of how Murphy’s law affects the human body, and I will take the liberty of discussing some of them here.

I consider severe and unusual medical conditions to be a particularly important means of understanding the entasy model. Why is this? Well, there is an underlying assumption to asking for the purpose of life. One does not ask for the purpose of a puddle of vomit on the floor or the purpose of the litter left after a parade. We see ourselves as something altogether different – as something purposeful, as specimens of meticulous design. It’s funny how even the staunchest nihilistic atheist would be taken aback if he saw a person with three eyes or four arms. Even those who do not believe in a Creator who individually fashions each person’s body in the womb, still maintain fairly strict expectations about the form and function of the human body. People expect a certain amount of predictability and uniformity to what the body looks like and how it works; some variation is expected, but only within a conservative range. When people ask about the meaning of life, they tend to ask the question from a certain frame of reference, that of having encountered mostly “normal” people with “normal” physiology. It’s as if we have a kind of equation that we use to evaluate what life is all about, yet we only include a certain range of people into that equation. (We often confuse what tends to be with what ought to be.) Yet when we consider people that we normally leave out of that equation – the rare, severe, or bizarre cases of infirmity or defect – the question of life’s meaning takes on a different character. Exploring such cases can help one to see matters from a different perspective and they can tell us things about the nature of life that normal conditions can’t.

 

When I was a kid, I can remember attending schools that offered special classes for mentally retarded children. Most of them were severely retarded. On occasion, I would spend significant amounts of time around them. I would observe them moaning, uttering gibberish, drooling, convulsing themselves in strange, random ways. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What is the point of this? Is this how a person ought to behave? What is the logic behind a person being born like this?” Mental retardation seems to be a phenomenon we all just accept as a fact of reality. It’s just something that happens sometimes. There are some scientific explanations as to how retardation occurs, such as heredity, genetic mutation, malnutrition or complication during pregnancy, etc. But these explanations only seem to address the layer of the problem pertaining to the “how.” They still don’t seem to delve deeply enough to elucidate the “why” of the problem – why does mental retardation happen?

Sometimes the orderly patterns of symmetry and geometry in the human face which we associate with beauty can be disrupted to an extreme degree. Some years ago I knew a little boy who was born with a severe facial deformity. I heard one of his parents once remark that when they first saw him after he was born, they weren’t sure what to make of it. In the time I spent around him, nearly every person who saw him was immediately taken aback; many women would scream in horror at the sight of him. The parents were clearly embarrassed by him, and saw him as an inconvenience. At one point, they actually gave him for up adoption, merely to be relieved of him, although they later had a change of heart and reluctantly took him back. Not long after this, the boy committed suicide. Though they tried to hide it, the parents seemed visibly relieved at the outcome, and were determined to try for a normal child next time. What was the point of all this? Why was this boy even born in the first place? Was his existence a mistake?

Some people think the meaning of life is to find one’s calling. I think one particular anecdote can help us evaluate this idea. There was a news story that aired some years ago about a baby named Nickolas Coke. Nickolas suffered from a rare birth defect called anencephaly. Essentially, he never formed a brain. In Nickolas’s case, he happened to possess a brain stem, which enabled the rudiments of life such as breathing, sleeping and heart rate, but he had no cerebral cortex, which is the large, outer portion of the brain that controls higher functions. Nickolas was, in effect, unconscious, blind and deaf. It is assumed that he had no thoughts, no memories, no sensations and no emotions. Most anencephalic babies don’t survive for more than a few hours, but Nickolas miraculously survived to the age of three before he died. What, would you say, was Nickolas’s calling in life? What kind of meaning in life can be attained by a person who has no brain and, presumably, no mind? What kind of afterlife do you think Nickolas experienced after he died, assuming that a mindless person can experience an afterlife?

Childbirth is unpredictable. Not too infrequently, women simply have miscarriages and their baby is born dead. What is the point of that? What is the point of a woman carrying a child inside her for months only to give birth to a corpse? This seems like nonsense. Babies can be born with all manner of physical complications that considerably affect the kind of lives they will live, or whether they will live at all. Nickolas Coke was fortunate enough to at least have had a fully closed cranium. Most anencephalic babies will actually have an open cranium revealing the empty cranial cavity where the brain should be. Spina bifida is a birth disorder where a baby’s vertebrae are unfused at a certain point, causing the spinal cord to protrude through the baby’s back. Omphalocele and gastroschisis are defects in which a baby’s visceral organs such as intestines or liver protrude through the navel, making the baby potentially vulnerable to lethal infection. Some babies are born as conjoined twins, bodies fused together at various locations, such as at the hip, shoulder, or even at the skull. There is a similar birth defect called “fetus in fetu,” in which a growing fetus has its twin growing inside of its own body. When the baby is born, the child may then possess somewhere on his body a large, parasitic growth that looks like a deformed, underdeveloped person attached to his own body; sometimes the underdeveloped fetus may be smaller and be mistaken for a tumor.

As the fetus forms in the womb, some parts of the body can be omitted. Some people are born with a cleft lip, meaning the person is missing a significant portion of the upper lip; this birth defect occurs because the facial tissues do not fuse together properly during fetal development. Some are born with ectrodactyly, a birth defect that affects the digits of the hands or feet, resulting in some of them being missing or fused together; people with polydactyly are the opposite, born with an extra number of fingers or toes. Some people are born without limbs, or without eyes, or a nose, or a fully-formed face, or with legs fused together to form a mermaid-like lower extremity, or without certain vital organs such as lungs, kidneys or esophagus. Some people are blind or deaf, or both. What is the point of someone having eyes but cannot see, or having ears but cannot hear? Isn’t this nonsense?

Sometimes a seemingly healthy baby will succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), simply dying for no apparent reason. With Tay-Sachs disease, a seemingly normal baby can suddenly undergo total physiological breakdown, rapidly becoming blind, deaf, unable to breathe or swallow, and paralyzed, usually ending in death. There is a rare genetic disorder called Progeria which causes its victim to undergo physical aging at an expedited rate. People with this disorder tend not to survive past their teens or early twenties, and throughout their brief lifespans they have the appearance of an elderly person, having wrinkled skin, and they suffer from common geriatric conditions such as loss of eyesight, atherosclerosis, heart problems, and joint problems. There is an even rarer condition known as “Syndrome X” which is essentially the opposite of Progeria. The most well-known sufferer of this disorder was Brooke Greenberg, a girl who died at the age of twenty never having grown physically or mentally beyond the stage of a toddler.

There is a particularly rare and bizarre genetic defect called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), also called “Stone Man Syndrome.” FOP is the result of a mutation that causes the gene responsible for ossification, which is normally deactivated after a fetus’s bones are formed, to continue functioning. As a result, the individual continues forming bone tissue, but forming it on skeletal muscle. The syndrome causes the normal process of muscle tissue repair to be replaced by ossification. So when a particular muscle becomes damaged, as through mechanical injury, surgery or infection, instead of the damaged muscle being replaced my muscle tissue, as is the norm, it is instead replaced by bone tissue. As the person’s body gradually ossifies throughout his life, his flesh becomes hard and rigid and is unable to move limbs, joints, sometimes even the jaws. FOP is a progressive disease; it has no known cure and its severity does not diminish with time. If the victim lives long enough, he or she will inevitably become completely ossified, essentially becoming a living statue (such as in the case of Harry Eastlack).

Many people may look at the aforementioned examples and consider them to be merely “mistakes of nature.” However I look at them in a very different way. These cases are quite useful in illustrating the spirit of Murphy’s law, and they are an asset to an understanding of the entasy model in general. There are several things we can learn from these cases.

First, the entasy model compels us to re-evaluate the very idea of a biological mistake. If we assume that nature can make mistakes, it seems that we are suggesting that nature is intelligent or has some kind of preconceived plan in mind, and mistakes are deviations from that intelligence or plan. But the idea of nature being intelligent is untenable to many. On the other hand, if we assume that nature does not make mistakes, then, when faced with the reality of the aforementioned ailments, this assumption would seem to imply a denial of the order in nature. Nature creates complex biological life forms by way of well-organized processes; but to deny nature’s occasional mistakes seems to belittle the grandeur of this phenomenon by blurring the line between order and chaos within nature. How do we resolve this dilemma? I would propose that, rather than thinking of nature’s apparent mistakes as passive deviations from order (as would appear the case with a man-made mistake), we might instead look at them as active products of the force of chaos. In light of this, I would like to introduce the term “pseudomistake.” The prefix “pseudo-” means “false”; therefore a pseudomistake is a “false mistake.” A “pseudomistake” is something that occurs in nature that appears to be a mistake of nature but, as we may conclude from the entasy model, is not truly so.

When we categorize bizarre medical cases as mistakes of nature, we are guilty of an anthropomorphic interpretation of nature. Just as we assume that a virtuoso musician will eventually play a wrong note given enough performances, we also assume that because nature performs such a huge amount of individual functions and processes, that it is only a matter of time before nature “screws up.” But nature is not a person, and does not make mistakes in the same sense that a person makes mistakes. Nature must be understood through a different paradigm.

From a cosmic perspective, there are no mistakes because nothing is ever meant to be or meant to not be. What is the point of a baby being born dead? – what’s the point of a baby born alive? What is the point of a baby being born without a brain? – what’s the point of a baby being born with a brain? Brainless babies, living statues, the deformed, blind, retarded – they are no less “intended” than any normal, healthy person. From our anthropomorphic paradigm, we see these things simply as mistakes, but the universe does not see them that way. Instead, the entire spectrum of biological possibilities forms one dissonant yet harmonious whole. Reality is, at its core, a fluctuation of possibilities where, again, nothing is meant to be or meant to not be.

We see pseudomistakes as mistakes because we think of our bodies as machines, but they are not machines. Machines are entities created by man. They are made with a specific purpose in mind and they are meant to function along a narrowly defined regime, and anything that diverges from that regime or range of functionality is deemed a “mistake.” In the context of the designs of man, if we see something crooked we say, “That thing is supposed to be straight. It is a mistake.” Subsequently, we turn this outlook around at ourselves. We look at ourselves as machines. When someone possesses physical attributes outside a certain regime, it is considered a mistake. But nature does not make mistakes. One cannot look at something in nature that is crooked and say, “That thing is a mistake because it was supposed to be straight.” In nature, what is crooked is crooked, what is straight is straight.

To call something a mistake means it is something not meant to be, but in the context of pseudomistakes this idea is negated by the ontological equilibrium principle. There is no mistake because there is no intent; there is only entasy. Thus, the universe does not create a dichotomy between “correct” forms and “mistaken” forms, as is the common belief; rather the universe only makes a dichotomy between orderly forms and chaotic forms, between orderly function and chaotic function. What is crooked is crooked, what is straight is straight. The universe does not make mistakes, nor is the universe perfect: this sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. The universe is entasy, a dissonant harmony.

A second thing we can learn from pseudomistakes is that it illustrates what you might think of as the two-facedness of chaos. Long ago, when there was only the precosmic chaos, the universe didn’t need to come into being, but chaos said “Why not?” and so the universe emerged. Back when the universe was a lifeless wasteland, life and humanity did not need to come into being, but chaos said “Why not?” and so here we are. Now that we are here, chaos is still asking “Why not?”: it is still doing things that don’t need to happen, even if we think they shouldn’t happen; it is still endeavoring to disrupt the current establishment, even if that establishment happens to be our own health and well-being.

These pseudomistakes occur because the chaos that disrupts life is fundamentally inextricable from the order that makes it possible in the first place. Pseudomistakes are examples of chaos emerging from order, which is simply the mirror image of order emerging from chaos. The nonsense that exists in this world is the chaotic counterpart to the orderly phenomenon that there is a world at all. By extension, we might conclude that the troubles we may encounter in life are inescapable byproducts of life itself.

 

Third, we look at the universe around us and we see aimless, mindless phenomena and chaos. But as said previously, our search for the meaning of life emanates from the fact that we see ourselves as a qualitative exception to these forces, as specimens of meticulous, intensive design. And thus we see a fundamental absurdity to a design without a designer or a complex machine without a specific role to fulfill. But what happens when we look at life from the perspective of the aforementioned examples of diseases and pseudomistakes? We see that the extraordinary design that we thought made us so special is actually imbued with the same chaos that characterizes the rest of the cosmos. I can think of no more poignant example of chaos than that which occurs within our own bodies. It is not always easy to discern nonsense in the non-biological sector of the cosmos; more so than “chaos,” “nonsense” is a concept that must be discerned from a specific frame of reference. But the extreme order of biological life creates a contrasting backdrop against which we can more clearly see the force of nonsense at work. Pseudomistakes make the existence of the force of chaos irrefutable, just as the existence of life on this planet makes the existence of the force of order irrefutable.

Fourth, I mention these extreme ailments because when we are considering the meaning of life, we must keep in mind that the rare, the dismal, and the bizarre are also a part of the equation. We sometimes contemplate the meaning of life in terms of what activities we are supposed to engage in, but how can we look at life in this way when there are people who are themselves impeded or prevented by nature from engaging in those same endeavors that we thought were so supremely meaningful? Some might say that the meaning of life is to find happiness, but how can this be the case when there was someone like Nickolas Coke: he was unable to feel happiness, nor could he feel sadness, nor any other emotion, for that matter. Some people say that the meaning of life is to reproduce, but how can this be, when some people are sterile? Someone may suggest that the meaning of life is to simply look around and savor the beauty in nature and in the world around us; but what if a person is blind? If you are lucky enough to not be afflicted by any such prohibitive problems, do you feel that you are entitled to a life-meaning that someone else cannot possibly enjoy? The meaning of life can’t be something that merely applies to the majority. The meaning of life must be absolute and all-inclusive; it can’t be valid if some people, through no fault of their own, are forbidden by nature to partake in it.

If one is looking at a range of data, such as a set of numbers or a set of points on a two-dimensional plane, one cannot understand the scope of the data by looking at the median or the average – the “center” of the data. You can only understand the scope of the data by looking at the margins of the data. The extremes, the outliers, the weird cases – these are what truly define the set, not the average range. By looking at the rare and bizarre cases of human life, you can begin to see the full scope of what life is and what life means. The meaning of life cannot apply only to the average range. It must be something that is compatible with even the most unfortunate soul, rather than catering to the biological elite. Searching for the meaning of life is a bit like adding fractions: one must start by looking for the lowest common denominator. One must find what set of conditions applies to every person.

When contemplating the meaning of life, one might be inclined to ignore pseudomistakes. These events are so rare and hence, one might assume, they are of no consequence. We would like to look at pseudomistakes as mere background noise, a nuisance that distracts from the real issue at hand, like an annoying but insignificant fly disrupting the enjoyment of one’s meal. But we must understand that these cases are not distractions from the subject but rather, albeit counter-intuitively, are deeply interwoven into the subject and necessary to a true understanding of it. You might say, the meal and the fly are one. A philosophical model that tries to understand reality but while ignoring the more dirty, unpleasant aspects of reality is an incomplete model. All the things nature does that we don’t like or don’t understand are in fact part of the equation that we must solve in order to understand reality. Rare pseudomistakes teach us something about the nature of everyone’s existence just as rare repeating sequences in pi teach us something about the nature of randomness.

Fifth, earlier in the book, I suggested the idea that there are two possibilities for the origin of all things: that reality emanated from chaos or that reality emanates from an infinite regress of reasons. They are both equally plausible on their own, so why does the entasy model prefer the former option to the latter? One major reason why I lean towards the former option is the existence of diseases and pseudomistakes. If our reality emanates from some infinite, unbroken chain of reasons, then there would appear to be no room for randomness or nonsense in such a chain. The world ought to be perfect. But the existence of disease, deformity, and defects stands as a conspicuous, undeniable indication that the natural world is far from perfect. If chaos is not a factor in the grand scheme of things, then whence comes infirmity? What is the point of the universe creating living beings, creating these cleverly engineered bodies, and then subjecting those bodies to all manner of aches, pains, disease, defect and deterioration? Rather than being an unbroken chain of reasons, the universe is instead a paradoxical, swirling soup of reason and nonsense.

 

Sixth, bizarre conditions serve as a reference frame from which to look at our reality. We may become blinded by the familiarity of normalcy; we do not see the mystery that the world embodies right in front of us. But when we see something blatantly abnormal, it puts reality in a different perspective; it makes us step back and wonder why “normal” even exists at all.

In regards to the integrity of human form and function, we tend to judge normality based on the people whom we encounter in our everyday lives. But this may be an inaccurate picture of normality. For the only people that we encounter are the people who “made it,” so to speak, the people who were fortunate to be healthy and strong enough to survive so that you might encounter them. The people you have met in life does not represent those that died in miscarriages or other birth complications, or those that died as infants shortly after birth because of infirmity. Normality may not be quite as normal as personal experience may lead us to believe.

 

One last thing that is worth noting about pseudomistakes is the fact that they appear to not be without a sense of cohesion. Different people from various places across the globe may be struck with the same ailment. Even the rarest of ailments tend not to be one-of-a-kind and unprecedented; usually multiple people have suffered from the same ailment denoted by the same symptoms. Rather than having completely random characteristics, infirmities tend to fall into distinct categories. What this seems to indicate is that even though chaos may attack certain functions of the body, which causes the emergence of disease, that chaos is not without some semblance of order. Even rare infirmities possess sameness, structure, and intelligibility.

THE ENTASY PATTERN

 

There is yet more that I extrapolate from the randomness paradox and Murphy’s law. Out of curiosity, what do you think would happen if, hypothetically speaking, we took both of these tendencies – the randomness paradox and Murphy’s law – and fused them together? In other words, what would happen if we could mix together an infinite random sequence, such as the decimal number of pi, with an infinite repeating sequence? It is a rather fanciful idea, and I don’t know if this is possible to do mathematically, but I would imagine that we might get an infinite series of numbers that is broken up into distinct, finite sequences, with each characterized by a unique, predictable pattern. The varied quality of the original random sequence would be what breaks the infinite series into varying groups, and the repetitive quality of the original repeating sequence would be what causes each group to exhibit a predictable pattern. Now, each group in the whole series is a kind of microcosm of the whole series in that each group does not consist of the repetition of a single number but instead consists of a repetition of a small sequence of different numbers. For example, a sequence of the groups might look like: 123123123123 . . . , 584584584584 . . . , 369369369369 . . . , and so on to infinity. Thus there is some degree of variation within each group but that variation is balanced by an equal degree of sameness and repetition; so too is the series as a whole marked by this balance of variation and repetition, being filled with a variety of groups but which all follow a general pattern.

Now, as previously discussed, both the random number sequence and the infinitely repeating number sequence contain errors, with the random sequence containing orderly errors and the repeating sequence containing chaotic errors. Hence, after we fuse together the random sequence and repeating sequence, we should see some kind of errors manifested in this new series somehow. One might imagine the errors could manifest in different ways: for example, there could be a rare occurrence of groups randomly disseminated throughout the series that are somehow dramatically different from most of the other groups in the series; another possibility is that within each group would be a rare, randomly disseminated occurrence of numbers that break the pattern that characterizes each group. If we could look at this hypothetical series, it might look something like this: 123123123128 . . . , 584984584584 . . . , 369369769369 . . . , and so on until eventually we perhaps run into something like 42424232 . . . . You might notice that the majority of the groups that we find in the series are a repeating sequence of three numbers and which happens to contain at least one anomalous number, but the group designated “42424232 . . . “ is notably different: it is a repeating sequence of two numbers. And somewhere else in the series we may eventually find another group that is also anomalous in some way. The picture I have described of this hypothetical infinite series of numbers is, of course, very simplistic; a more complete display of it would presumably involve longer and more complex groups, and would exhibit infinite scales and venues of variety within variety, anomaly within anomaly, variety within anomaly, and anomaly within variety.

So what exactly does this pattern mean? I think what we have here is a kind of simplified, numerical diagram of causality. Things in the universe tend to vary because of chaos, but order pulls things together into families sharing common characteristics, but then chaos comes along again and produces anomalous and rare instances within each family. This pattern is something I call the “entasy pattern.” The entasy pattern can be understood as, abstractly speaking, part of the “skeleton” of causality. As natural cause-and-effect goes about its business, it does not do so in a wholly nondescript, featureless sort of way, but instead there is a kind of distinct character to causality that can be seen when we look at it in a certain way. As the entasy pattern is applied in reality, it is not concerned only with numbers, as the numerical diagram was, but with all manner of circumstances and phenomena that occur in reality. For a deeper understanding of this concept, I derive two main principles from the entasy pattern: the “variety principle” and the “anomaly principle.”

VARIETY PRINCIPLE

 

What the variety principle basically says is that everything tends to vary, to produce variety. There are innumerable examples of this. Events vary. The weather today is different from what it was yesterday. We have our ups and downs, our good days and our bad days. The perception of the passage of time seems to vary; some days or weeks go by fast, some slow. The amount in which you enjoy your favorite food varies from one instance to the next. You never sign your name exactly the same way twice; even if you try to do it identically, there will always be minute differences. A joke or story you tell tends not to get exactly the same reaction from every person you tell it to. Opinions on a given topic will tend to vary from one person to the next.

You’ll notice there isn’t just one language spoken on Earth; there is estimated to be between 6,000 and 7,000 spoken languages. Often within those languages are various dialects and accents, and different languages tend to have various rules of grammar and syntax. There are various styles of writing and calligraphy. Culture varies from place to place; different cultures have their idiosyncratic customs and etiquette. You may have noticed that there is not just one religion – there are many. There are many different art forms, which may themselves contain many different genres and styles.

There is variety in outer space. For example, there is no one type of galaxy: there are spiral galaxies, elliptical galaxies, dwarf, ring, lenticular, etc. There is variety in the stars: yellow dwarfs, red dwarfs, red giants, neutron stars, pulsars, etc.

There is a variety of chemical elements, a variety of types of rocks and gems. Among clouds there is cumulus, stratus, cirrus, altostratus, cumulonimbus, etc.

Possibly the most illustrative example of the variety principle is in biological life. You’ll notice that there isn’t just one form of life on Earth. There are various kingdoms such as plants and algae, animals, fungi, bacteria, protista, and within those kingdoms are a variety of phyla, followed by a number of other taxonomic ranks ending with a variety of individual species. Among known species, there is estimated to be 5,500 species of mammals, over 10,000 species of birds, 10,000 reptile species, 40,000 fish species, and around a million insect species. In spite of all this variety, each organism within an individual species will have an overall morphology characteristic of its species; yet each organism will have a unique appearance. Amongst more intelligent animal species, you might observe a variety of individual personalities. In the biosphere, we can see variety housed within sameness housed within variety.

It is particularly interesting to note all of the different ways in which life forms vary. Animals have varied kinds of locomotion: they walk, crawl, slither, swim, hop, gallop, waddle, flutter, and soar. Some animals are furry, some wooly, some feathery, scaly, slimy. They have varying forms of communication: they bark, chirp, sing, squeak, hiss, click, grunt, roar, howl, and moan. Animals fight differently: birds peck, camels spit, dogs bite, kangaroos kick-box, elk charge each other with their antlers, giraffes swing their long necks at each other, etc. Body parts can be located in different places; for example, some animals have eyes on the front of its head, some on the side of its head, some situated in stalks raised above its head. There is the simple eye found in vertebrates, and the compound eye as seen in insects; there are eyes with the optic nerve routed in front of the retina and, as with cephalopods, eyes with the optic nerve routed behind the retina; there are eyes with round pupils, vertically slitted pupils (as with snakes and small cats), and horizontally slitted pupils (as with horses and goats). There is a variety of mouth types: the toothy mouth of a crocodile, the baleen mouth of a whale, the tube-like mouth of an anteater, the beak of a bird, the coiled-up proboscis of a butterfly, the chelicerae of spiders, the sucking mouth of the lamprey or leach. Some animals have their skeleton on the inside of its body, and some have it on the outside. Most familiar animals have opaque bodies, but some animals have transparent bodies through which their internal organs can be easily seen. Eukaryotes have linear chromosomes, while prokaryotes tend to have circular chromosomes. Snakes smell with their tongues, butterflies taste with their feet. Fish breathe through the sides of their heads, dolphins breathe through the top of their heads, turtles can breathe through their butts. There are various methods of catching prey: the silent stalking of the cat, the sticky tongue of the frog, the web of the spider, the tight entwining of the anaconda, the venomous sting of the scorpion, the swooping dive of the eagle, the lure of the anglerfish. There are different forms of reproduction: mitosis, as with many microbes; cellular invasion, as with viruses; the dissemination of pollen or spores, as with flowers; the bearing of fruit, as with many trees; sexual intercourse, as with mammals; external egg fertilization, as with many fish and amphibians. Organisms come in a variety of sizes, from the microscopic to the size of a blue whale. It seems that animal life varies in every capacity in which it could vary: eating habits, courtship rituals, body structure, metabolic mechanisms, and all manner of anatomical and physiological variations. The biosphere is a particularly illustrative demonstration of chaos’s desire to exhaust possibilities.

 

Variety in the universe is something that we see all the time, yet we tend to take it for granted. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself: why isn’t there just one of everything? For example, why isn’t there just one kind of bird? Why is there instead a variety of them? Why isn’t there just one kind of plant life or one kind of precious stone? Why a variety? The variety principle emanates from chaos’s desire to diverge – to ask “Why not?” The variety comes from the push to oppose sameness and to exhaust all possibilities.

Although chaos prevents the “one-ness” of everything, order prevents the opposite extreme, keeping variety from going unchecked. Thus natural phenomena, life forms, and all other items in the universe tend to be consolidated into distinct families or categories of common characteristics, rather than the universe being filled with just a random assortment of “stuff.” Because of order, the members of a particular species all look generally similar. There are many species of animals, for example, with which the casual observer may have difficulty telling the members apart. But variety is always there, nonetheless.

As previously mentioned, there is an interesting kind of back and forth exchange between order and chaos in regards to the variety in species. Chaos makes life forms diverge in appearance amongst different species, while order makes life forms look alike within each species, while chaos prevents them from looking exactly alike within each species. Animals within a given species all have the same organs and systems which all function in the same way, yet those organs and systems never function in exactly the same way.

Fates vary. Some people will thrive and see prosperity and happiness in their lives; others will see poverty, pain, and misery. Some will die peacefully in old age; others may meet a premature or cruel end.

There is variety within institutions. Sciences and philosophies have varying theories, paradigms or schools of thought. Religions tend to contain various sects and denominations. Often even when the practitioners of a discipline are all in accord, chaos will eventually intervene to breed disagreement, giving rise to diversity of thought. Often in social situations, people tend to coalesce into cliques, clubs, and tribes. All the people within each group are alike in some way, yet each person is still a unique individual with his own personality – sameness and differentness.

If one is observant, one can find the variety principle manifesting in the human population in subtle ways. Some of these ways may not even seem important; things can vary that don’t even seem like they really need to vary. People vary in the way they smell, the way they walk, in the way their mouth moves when they talk, in the pitch and timbre of their voice, in the way they smile and laugh, cough and sneeze. They vary in body types, the distinctive shape of their facial features, the shape of the head or the ears, the curvature of the cheeks, the outline of the waist and legs, the shape of the knuckles or knees. People vary in the particular ways in which their body distributes fat, in their pain tolerance, their reaction to certain pharmaceutical drugs, in minute quirks in personality, in reaction to being tickled, or in the way a person fidgets when idle or bored. Some people require less sleep than others. All of these details tend to vary, to deviate from uniformity. However, order corrals this variation into distinct groups. Whatever trait a person may have, other people are likely to have something similar. For example, people tend to have different faces, yet often there can be resemblances; sometimes two or more unrelated people may look almost identical.

Variety breeds variety. We live in a universe that is largely based on nonlinear dynamics, in which small differences in input can lead to dramatic differences in results. Based on this fact, it seems intuitive that variety on a fundamental level of a system will give rise to variety in subsequent levels. Variety in one set of initial conditions gives rise to another variety of conditions that precipitates further variety. Thus, variety would appear to be a self-reinforcing quality in the universe. For example, there exists a variety of different habitats on the Earth: oceans, plains, savannahs, mountains, tundras, jungles, deserts, etc. Thus it would seem inevitable that life forms would evolve in these different areas in drastically different ways appropriate to that respective area. And then within each habitat, there would exist a variety of factors such as terrain, water supply, or sun exposure, which may then engender a subsequent level of variety in basic plant life. Subsequently, herbivores will respond to the variety of plant life, probably giving rise to variety in herbivores, which might then lead to variety in carnivores who prey on them, and so on.

As we saw earlier in the book, there is much flux in the universe. There is the flux of the quantum foam and the zero-point energy field. There is the flux of Brownian motion in the air. As we saw, it is the flux of thermal motion inside a cell that leads to population bimodality, which creates variation in the characteristics of otherwise identical offspring. There is an abundance of flux on fundamental levels of the physical world, and so it may be reasonable to assume that fundamental levels of flux are responsible for subsequent manifestations of flux or variation. No two events ever happen the same way, and this is likely the case because no matter how hard one may try to control the conditions, there is always chaos present to disrupt things. The chaos at the bottom level of reality spreads its influence all the way to the top.

 

One lesson that I think can be learned from the variety principle is that, in life, one ought to expect the unexpected. One should never expect lightning to strike twice, so to speak. If you achieve one effect from an endeavor, you should prepare for and anticipate a different effect at the next attempt. Just as with Murphy’s law anything that can go wrong will go wrong, with the variety principle anything that can vary will vary.

 

ANOMALY PRINCIPLE

 

In the variety principle, we saw that order causes varying items to coalesce into distinct groups with uniform characteristics. It is this sense of uniformity that forms the framework for the “anomaly principle.” The anomaly principle indicates that, generally speaking, distinct classes of things will tend to produce at least one member that possesses characteristics significantly different from the other members of the class. The anomalous members of a class will make up a small percentage of the overall population (usually no more than 10%) and will often appear unpredictably. I would presume that there is a positive correlation between the number of members in the class and the probability of the incidence of anomalies within the class. An anomaly is a spike of chaos emerging through the frame of order. The anomaly principle is reminiscent of Murphy’s law, in that an anomaly is a sort of “mistake” of differentness in the midst of sameness.

With any class wherein an anomaly occurs, there are necessarily two sectors of the class: the norm sector and the anomaly sector. The norm sector is simply the totality of all members of the class that are not anomalous with respect to a particular detail; and the anomaly sector is the totality of members in the class that are anomalous with respect to the same detail. The norm sector will constitute the overwhelming majority of the class. Furthermore, an anomaly is defined relative to some specific detail of the thing in question, and is not an absolute designation describing the thing as a whole; hence something considered to be an anomaly in one respect may be normal or average in other respects.

We often don’t give much thought to natural anomalies and why they exist, though we come across them with some regularity. Some anomalies can be relatively mundane, such as a straggler in a moving herd of cattle. You may notice, say, in a bowl of rice that one of the grains is discolored, or in a pack of candy one or a few of the candies are misshapen. There are social anomalies; sometimes certain people within a social group or community are considered particularly odd or offbeat – they “march to the beat of a different drum,” so to speak.

There is a certain phenomenon that I have experienced personally that I think is relevant here. Sometimes when I pour myself a glass of water, or otherwise pour any liquid into any container, I will pay attention to the stream of liquid as it strikes the container or the surface of the water. What I have noticed is that it seems that no matter how carefully I pour or how gentle the stream of water is, there is always a tiny drop or two of water that spontaneously bounces away from the rest of the stream. Sometimes the drop bounces so violently it flies out of the container altogether. This phenomenon may not happen every time, but if one pours long enough it is bound to happen eventually. This may seem mundane to some, but I personally find it fascinating. Why is it that out of so many thousands of drops of water, does only that tiny outlier bounce away? I assume there may be some kind of physics equation, or something similar, that could explain this phenomenon. But I think in the end it’s just the anomaly principle at work.

Other anomalies can be more conspicuous. Here are some examples I’ve found (in no particular order):

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most animals on earth possess bodily symmetry, whether bilateral or radial; however, marine animals known as sponges possess no symmetry at all.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most flowers have a sweet, pleasant scent. Contrarily, there exist rare genuses of what are known as “carrion flowers,” such as Titan Arum, Rafflesia, and Stapelia, which give off the repulsive stench of rotting flesh.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Virtually all cells in the body possess nuclei which contain the body’s DNA, however, red blood cells possess neither nuclei nor DNA.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most animals do not posses the ability to speak vocally; however, parrots do possess the ability to speak.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Giant panda is an anomaly among bears because it possesses an unusual diet consisting of 99% bamboo which is incongruous with its carnivorous physiology, and it is the only temperate climate bear species that does not hibernate.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most people are attracted to members of the opposite gender; however, homosexuals are anomalous people who are attracted to members of the same gender.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. About 1% of the human population possesses a condition called “heterochromia iridis,” which causes the irises of each of an individual’s eyes to be a different color.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. There is a rare condition called “uterus didelphys” in which a woman is born with two separate birth canals, often including two separate vaginas. A comparable condition in men is called “diphallia,” in which a man is born with two separate penises.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. There exists a condition occurring in 0.01% of the population called "situs inversus," in which the body's internal organs are located on the opposite side of the body as normal. For example, the heart will be located in the right of the chest rather than the normal left side, the stomach and spleen will be on the right side of the abdomen, the liver and gall bladder are on the left side, and the windings of the intestines are also switched. Such is also the case with the blood vessels, nerves, and lymphatic tissue.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Almost all life forms on Earth ultimately survive off of energy from the sun. However, certain communities of life forms living in deep caves and in the mid-ocean ridges of the ocean floor are exceptions. Such communities may survive with no contribution at all from the sun.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. There exists a rarely seen variant of the octopus called the “hexapus,” which is basically an octopus naturally born with six tentacles instead of the usual eight.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most siblings with the same parents have a different appearance. However, identical siblings (such as twins) are an exception; they look virtually the same.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most people possess a single set of DNA in their body. However, people with a disorder called chimerism possess two distinct sets of DNA, essentially having their unborn sibling’s DNA dwelling in their own body along with their own DNA.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most of the human population possesses hair color ranging from blonde to brown to black; however, a small percentage (about 1% to 2%) of the human population possesses a recessive trait which confers red hair, which is usually accompanied by freckles, pale skin, and sensitivity to sunlight.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most animals naturally undergo an aging process and have a predictable life expectancy; however, the Hydra (not the mythological monster) is a small, simple, underwater animal that, because of its body’s frequent cell turnover, is believed to be biologically immortal. It’s body does not deteriorate with age.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Some people are exceptionally tall (giants), and some people are exceptionally short (midgets/dwarves).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most human societies today are technologically progressive to some extent and traditionally wear clothes; however, there is still a small number of societies living today, typically found in secluded territories, that are socially and technologically primitive and traditionally go naked.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Most macroscopic animal species possess a male-female dichotomy; however, some species of whiptail lizards have an all-female population. They reproduce through “pseudocopulation.” In this reproductive activity, the whiptails employ an anomalous process called “parthenogenesis,” which is the development of a viable embryo from an unfertilized egg. (Most eggs require fertilization in order to develop into offspring.)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The monotremes, consisting of the platypus and the echidna, are the only mammals on Earth that lay eggs instead of giving live births. The platypus is also anomalous in that it is a mammal which possesses a duck-like beak, and in that it is a mammal which possesses natural venom.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Bats are anomalous as the only mammals capable of sustained flight. Mudskippers are strange fish that thrive on land instead of in the water.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The female spotted hyena is the only female of any mammal species that has no external vagina. It possesses an oversized clitoris that looks almost identical to a penis, and it has labia that are fused to form what looks like a scrotum. It uses this unusual “psuedo-penis” to urinate, mate, and give birth.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Viruses are anomalous life forms which possess no cellular structure, no internal metabolism, and no internal reproductive mechanism.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Helium is an anomalous element in that, while all other elements will freeze when cooled to absolute zero, helium, because of its high zero-point energy, will not freeze at absolute zero at normal pressures.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The black sheep is a well-known animal of anomalous pigmentation. On rare occasions, in about one every several million, lobsters can be born with blue or yellow shells instead of the typical red. Albinism is a rare condition found in various life forms which involves a lack of normal pigmentation, resulting in a pale or white appearance. Albino animals and humans will tend to lack melanin, while albino plants lack chlorophyll. There are also rare examples of animals with a similar condition known as leucism, such as the white tiger or the white alligator.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Hypertrichosis, also known as “wolf-man syndrome,” is a rare disorder that causes a person’s entire body to be covered in a thick coat of fur, giving the person the appearance of a “wolf-man.”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Savant syndrome is a rare case in which a person with a neurological disability possesses an almost superhuman ability in some cognitive area, such as memory, calculation, or artistic ability.

In this list, you may notice that there appear to be two major types of anomalies. There are the “individual” anomalies which appear as individual organisms and appear sporadically and rarely in time and space, such as twins, white tigers, and people with situs inversus. And then there are “group” anomalies which appear as groups and are established and constant but are rare relative to the norm sector, such as platypuses, carrion flowers, and red blood cells. Furthermore, one may find a similarity between certain anomalies, such as people with uterus didelphys or hypertrichosis, and certain pseudomistakes, such as blind people or conjoined twins. There is no clear-cut distinction between a pseudomistake and an “individual” anomaly; this is essentially a matter of subjective opinion. When something is considered to be a mistake, the assumption is usually that there is something wrong with it with respect to some particular ideal, whereas an anomaly is simply different.

The anomaly principle gives rise to the uncommon and the bizarre. It produces unusual things, unusual people, unusual circumstances. One general lesson we can learn from the anomaly principle is that things in general tend to have exceptions.

Sometimes in society, certain people come around who stand out from the rest. There are geniuses, inventors, pioneers, conquerors, revolutionaries, prophets, charismatic individuals. There are people who create ideas or technologies or accomplish great feats which ripple throughout society and steer the course of history. Sometimes single individuals can do things that affect the lives of multitudes. Such people could possibly be interpreted as products of the anomaly principle.

Anomalies such as the ones listed are not mistakes but are natural products of chaos. They are extreme examples of chaos’s desire to diverge from the norm and to exhaust all possibilities. Furthermore, there is a potential for overlap between the anomaly principle and the variety principle. There are various kinds of anomalies, and some anomalies may seem stranger or more “anomalous” than others. Alternatively, amongst varying classes, some classes may harbor significantly more or less variation than most others, constituting a certain kind of anomaly.

Discussing anomalies brings up some interesting ideas. The universe itself could be considered essentially an anomaly of the precosmic chaos. What if the existence of life on Earth is an anomaly? Few planets known to astronomy possess environmental conditions amenable to life; no other planet has been observed to actually contain life. So perhaps planet Earth is an anomaly in this regard. One might also speculate that the human species itself is a kind of anomaly. Amongst life forms in general, we possess an exceptional intellect. We are related to the apes, yet unlike them we walk upright, wear clothes, use language, have complex culture and technology, etc.

[+ CHAPTER TEN:+]

THE UNIVERSAL DUALITY

 

This book addresses the purpose of life, but perhaps to better understand this inquiry it is necessary to address the nature of purpose itself. We see purpose as something that is complete and final. For example, a man goes to a car dealership and does so for the purpose of buying a car – period. This is a clear purpose, unequivocal, without compromise or qualification. This is what we understand purpose to be, something pure, simple, and straightforward.

However, I find the reality to be more complicated. I believe that the very concept of purpose bears the mark of entasy, a tension between opposing forces. This leads me to another principle of the entasy model that I call the “universal duality.” This principle implies that everything in the universe, even purpose itself, is subject to the tension between order and chaos, meaning and nonsense. Everything is a microcosm of this tension.

What does this mean, exactly? The universal duality is a simple concept that has a diverse amount of implications. It implies that every purpose or inclination has some kind of opposing force working against it; every meaningful thing contains some absurdity, every design has some flaw, every instance of progress has some kind of regress. Though we may place resolute periods at the end of our statements, there are no periods in reality; that sense of finality is purely a man-made construct. Every statement or intention is open-ended, ambivalent, and uncertain. Nothing is ever completely certain or precise. As you can see, understanding the purpose of life is obscured in large part by the fact that purpose itself is a notion not without obscurity.

The universal duality implies that everything is like an old-fashioned shaving razor. A razor does something we want it to do, which is cut the hair off our skin. But at times, it is also known to do something we don’t want it to do, which is cut us. A razor is a great metaphor for the universal duality.

The universal duality implies that for any given thing you want, in obtaining that thing you will also receive something you don’t want. Within this phenomenon we can see the tension or tug-of-war that is entasy. The extent to which our designs manifest as we want them to is the influence of order, and the extent to which our designs deviate from our desire is the influence of chaos.

Our designs are never perfect because the universe does not bend itself to accommodate our designs. The universe is not amenable to perfection; perfection exists only in the imagination. Perfection implies bias, a bias toward one specific course of events over all other possible alternatives. So for perfection to occur, there would have to be a pre-existing reason to favor one given course of action, and to allow it to play out unencumbered. But this pre-existing reason would then demand its own pre-existing reason, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, rather than favoring bias, the universe favors ambivalence between conflicting possibilities.

One may notice that many things, such as designs or processes, possess a quality in which they are more than just prone to accidental failings but possess an inherent, systemic flaw or weakness. This is the result of the universal duality. According to this principle, everything is flawed. Flawedness is not a fluke but is, in essence, built into the very fabric of reality. If God exists, he is flawed. Flaw is a manifestation of the futility that dwells within all things which also have utility.

 

FLAWS

 

Even things that immediately appear perfect are not so. The Earth is a sphere but it is not a perfect sphere; it is slightly longer at the equator than at the poles, and uneven distribution of mass within the Earth slightly deforms the planet’s sphericity, even when eliminating surface topography. The Earth spins about an axis, but it is not a perfectly smooth spin; it spins with a slight wobble. Many animals have bilateral symmetry in their bodies, but that symmetry is never perfect – there are always slight differences between the left and right side; for example, one ear is always higher than the other, one eye is slightly larger than the other, feet are not exactly identical, etc. No natural gemstone ever has a perfect crystalline structure; there are always impurities in them. A glove is never a perfect fit for a hand, it’s always either a little too tight or too loose. A billiards table is never perfectly level. No two clocks are ever perfectly synchronized. No measurement is ever perfect; measurements are always off by some amount. Even identical mass-produced items from an assembly line are never measured in a perfectly uniform manner. Empty a container of a certain substance, say a powder or a liquid, and it will not be completely empty; clean a certain object and it will not be perfectly clean: there will still be a small amount of the undesired substance left, even if only a microscopic or molecular amount.

The universal duality is the signature of entasy on everything in the universe. Everything in the universe embodies both order and chaos, and thus everything will embody both sense and nonsense, utility and futility. Everything is an offspring of entasy, and thus the universal duality is like a cosmic “DNA” that is inherited in everything.

There are countless examples of the universal duality. One important one, I believe, is the second law of thermodynamics. The second law says, in summary, that all the useful energy within a closed system will eventually disintegrate into waste energy without some external energy source to perpetuate the system. With the second law, a perpetual motion machine – a perfect machine – is not possible. The useful energy will be whittled away by things like friction or waste heat; there will inevitably be some kind of “energy leak” somewhere in the machine. We cannot create a machine that either produces no waste energy or that recycles all of its waste energy back into useful energy: efficiency will always be less than 100%.

Modern gasoline engines only have a maximum thermal efficiency of about 25% to 30% when used to power a car. In other words, even when the engine is operating at its point of maximum thermal efficiency, of the total energy released by the gasoline   consumed, about 70-75% of it is wasted as heat without being turned into useful work, i.e. turning the crankshaft. 1 Some of the work generated is lost as friction, noise, or air turbulence.2 In addition, much of the energy in our electrical circuits is wasted in the form of heat due to impedance inherent in the circuit’s design. And often the heat created by machines, such as with computer processors and car engines, is itself deleterious to the machines that create it, necessitating extra components such as coolers and radiators.

PHYSIOLOGICAL FLAWS

 

No mechanism is ever perfect. This rule not only applies to man-made mechanisms but applies to biological ones as well. Our own bodies contain numerous design flaws:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. One example is the existence of the pharynx; this is the passage in the throat used for both swallowing and breathing, which presents us with the very real danger of choking while swallowing food or drink.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Our genetic material is what codes the instructions that allows our bodies to build and maintain itself. Yet this same genetic material is also susceptible to inherited genetic traits that can cause a variety of different diseases and bodily disorders.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. There is a spot on the retina that lacks photoreceptors in order to make way for the optic nerve. Because of this absence of photoreceptors, there is a small spot in our visual field (called the blind spot) where we are essentially blind (although the brain usually will interpolate around the spot in order to mask it from our awareness).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The human tendency to walk upright is one of the more notable traits that separate us from the other primates, and is one of the underpinnings of civilization. Yet this practice also contributes to numerous physiological problems that do not commonly affect quadrupedal primates, such as back injuries, back pain, slipped disks, fractured vertebrae, sprained ankles, arthritis of the knees and hips, collapsed foot arches, and aching feet. Furthermore, certain changes in the evolution of the human hips which were necessary to facilitate bipedalism also caused changes to the shape of the female birth canal, which results in childbirth that is significantly of longer duration and more difficult, painful, and dangerous, as compared to childbirth in other primates.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Ovulation in women is a necessary process to facilitate pregnancy. However, this same process also heavily contributes to the chances of getting ovarian cancer.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Oxidative phosphorylation is a complex process which occurs in cellular mitochondria and is the body’s primary producer of ATP, which is the body’s main energy source. However, this process is also simultaneously responsible for releasing various free radicals into the body, such as superoxide anion, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl free radical, which contribute to aging and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.3 (It is ironic that a function that is keeping us alive also seems to be slowly killing us.)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. There is yet another example of a process that is both sustaining us and killing us —DNA replication. Before cells undergo cell division, their DNA are first replicated. After the two strands of DNA are “unzipped” from each other, a protein called DNA polymerase travels along each strand using them as templates to make copy DNA strands. However, the two parent strands are not completely separated before this process; they are copied as they are being separated from each other. So while the DNA polymerase can copy one parent strand continuously, to avoid copying in the wrong direction it can only copy the other strand in fragments, and only after the fragments are preceded by a short nucleotide sequence called an RNA primer. The problem with this process is that when the DNA polymerase gets to the end of the DNA strand, there is nowhere for the RNA primer to attach to, thus the RNA polymerase cannot copy anymore DNA at this point. Technically, this should lead to gradual loss of DNA information with subsequent cell divisions. In reality, this design flaw is mitigated by redundant DNA sequences called telomeres, but this only delays DNA degradation rather than preventing it. Telomere shortening is an inevitable process that subsequently contributes to senescence and death.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Coagulation is an essential physiological process which forms a plug (blood clot) on the walls of a blood vessel that has been damaged, thus preventing lethal hemorrhaging. However, these same plugs also run the risk of accidentally detaching from their point of origin and becoming an “embolus” that can freely travel along the blood flow – an event which can likely impede blood flow and cause serious health problems or death.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The immune system is vital to the body, protecting it from pathogens and harmful irritants. However, the immune system can also itself injure the body. Inflammation, normally a helpful part of the immune system, can often lead to chronic inflammation, which can be a serious health problem. Autoimmune diseases (such as arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis) are diseases in which the immune system begins attacking the body’s own tissues, treating them as if they were an infectious pathogen. Allergies can produce unnecessary and troublesome immune responses to harmless stimulants such as pollen or cat hair.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Scientists have learned that cancer is actually a natural result of the normal cellular dynamics of the body. The disease is inevitable; everyone will eventually get it, provided they live long enough. A scientific article in Wired Magazine says that it is a misguided notion that cancer cells are fundamentally different from their normal counterparts.4 According to oncology researcher Jarle Breivik, “[Cancer is] the inevitable consequence of our multicellular composition.“5 He says that multicellular organisms are themselves evolutionary systems in which mutation and natural selection occur all the time. Furthermore he says, “The cells of your body are genetically programmed to collaborate, but as we age and new mutations appear, natural selection will favor those mutants that break away from the control mechanisms and proliferate.” Hence cancer is “an inescapable byproduct of multicellularity and long lifespans.” Ironically, the same multicellular structure that constitutes our bodies is also slowly tearing our bodies down.

As you can see, many of our body’s functions are strangely “two-faced.” On the one hand, they clearly seem to be working for the good of the body, yet at the same time they appear to be working against the good of the body. The body is imbued with a certain kind of internal tension. Not all of the body’s parts and functions will necessarily possess flaws as perceptible as the aforementioned, but every bodily function will possess a weakness to some extent.

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL FLAWS

 

In addition to the intrinsic physiological flaws in the body, you could also say there are certain design flaws in our emotional and psychological makeup. All of our emotions serve useful functions for us, both in intrapersonal and social capacities. Yet they all have their flaws. Excitement is flawed, confidence is flawed, anger is flawed, fear is flawed, lust is flawed, jealousy is flawed, guilt is flawed. All of our emotions and impulses possess the same two-facedness that we can see in many of our physiological components; they all work for us yet they also can work against us. Our emotions can jolt us to our senses or they can make us lose our senses. They can be our ally or they can be our overlord. They can save us and they can destroy us. The impulses of the ego help guide us towards securing our self-interest, yet the ego is also a conduit for every kind of vice imaginable. The internal tension exists within the mind as much as in the physical body.

 

FLAWS IN SCIENCE

 

The universal duality not only applies to physical mechanisms but abstract mechanisms as well. It burdens the very principles behind science. Empirical science seeks to understand phenomena through direct observation, however, frequently plaguing this endeavor is what is generally called the “observer effect.” This refers to how the act of observation itself will often influence the very phenomenon being observed and thus, to some degree, spoil the results of the observation. Zoologists studying animals must assume the risk that the act of watching and following their subjects may disturb the natural behavior patterns that they are trying to study. Anthropologists studying a secretive primitive society may somewhat influence the society’s behavior with the presence of an outsider. Inspectors of worker productivity in a company may cause a temporary increase in worker productivity by their presence alone, and such influence interferes with the accuracy of the observation.

A similar problem also plagues particle physics. If a scientist wanted to detect the position and speed of a particle, such as an electron, he would need to probe that particle by shooting it with a photon. However, the collision of the photon with the electron will then change the position and speed of the electron, spoiling the accuracy of the results.

If a doctor wants to know the efficacy of a particular medicine on a patient, this may be encumbered by a psychological phenomenon known as the “placebo effect.” The patient’s own expectation about the medication’s influence may itself interfere with the patient’s objectivity in reporting its effects.

Measuring things, whether in theory or in practice, is never perfect. If a scientist tries to measure the temperature of a liquid, he may pour the liquid into a container and then measure the liquid with a thermometer. However, the temperature of the container itself will affect the liquid’s temperature, as will the temperature of the thermometer that he places in the liquid. He could take the temperature of the container and thermometer using another thermometer, but the problem would only be pushed further, as then he would have to know the temperature of the second thermometer, which extends the problem ad infinitum.

How can one definitively measure the speed of an object? Say I want to measure how fast I am moving; and say I am sitting in a car that is traveling at fifty miles per hour. Even with an accurate speedometer, I still don’t know exactly how fast I am going. I could also take into account the speed of Earth’s rotation, which is about 1,000 miles per hour at the equator; the speed of Earth’s orbit around the sun, which is 66,667 mph; and the speed of the solar system’s movement through the galaxy, which is about 550,000 mph. Though the initial measurement of fifty miles per hour may be considered practically sufficient, it is still technically not a flawless measurement.

If someone wanted to measure the area of a solid object, such as a plank of wood, the measurements involved would seem fairly straightforward. However, technically one could also include the area of the wood’s rough, irregular contour, with its bumps and splinters, or even its rough texture at the microscopic level. One might also even include the infinitely granular structure of the atoms that make up the surface of the wood.

Say you wanted to measure the length of a country’s coastline. The measurement that you get will vary depending upon the size of the measuring unit you use. The coastline will get longer as your measuring unit gets smaller, including finer and finer details of the perimeter. Precise measurement will become practically impossible if you include small details of the perimeter such as rocks, grains of sand, or even molecules.

Say you wanted to measure the density of the air. Because of the constant Brownian motion of the air molecules, a perfectly precise measurement will be impossible for any given volume of air.

SOCIAL FLAWS

 

The universal duality also applies to social mechanisms as well. Many people donate money to charitable organizations with the purpose of helping less fortunate individuals; however, often a significant share of these donations are claimed by administrative costs instead of being applied to the actual cause for which they were donated. Government tax dollars are frequently misappropriated to unworthy, un-lucrative causes or even lost altogether. Teachers work to teach students educational material, but most students will end up forgetting the majority of what they learn. Doctors fight to save the lives of people who will eventually die someday anyway. Military campaigns are typically plagued by eventualities such as collateral damage and friendly fire.

There are flaws in the legal system. Guilty defendants can be acquitted through legal loopholes; innocent defendants can be convicted by circumstantial evidence. Technicalities of the legal system can impede justice as well as promote it. Laws designed to protect innocent suspects, such as double jeopardy, can also protect the guilty. Innocent parties can be subjected to frivolous lawsuits.

The prison system seeks to be an institution that protects law-abiding citizens and rehabilitates criminals, however this endeavor frequently attains imperfect results. In the US, 60% of released convicts will be re-incarcerated within three years. 6 Often prisons merely teach criminals how to become better, tougher criminals; many inmates actually continue committing crimes while in prison and will spend their plentiful free time contemplating how they will commit more crimes after they are released.

Capitalism is a robust economic system which allows a free market without government intrusion. But it is also flawed. Through capitalism, a disproportionate amount – 46% – of global wealth is in the hands of the wealthy 1% of the world population. 7 Developed nations, which make up about 15% of the world population, consume more than 85% of the world's total resources. 8 Capitalism is often associated with imperialism, foreign sweatshops and other forms of labor exploitation. The convenience of the mass-production of meat products, which one may enjoy on a trip to the grocery store, often comes with the usage of cruel and unsanitary factory farms.

The universal duality implies that everything we do in life, however meaningful it may be to us, is always to some extent flawed, futile and pointless. We devote our time and energies to certain things, but we will never find 100% satisfaction and fulfillment in them. There will always be some extent or some capacity in which we are wasting our time and effort.

TRADE-OFFS

 

The universal duality implies that everything has compromises and trade-offs; in order to get one thing, we lose something else. This can often be seen in the biological world. For example, the human brain is a powerful biological tool, yet it is also metabolically expensive. It makes up 2% of our body weight yet consumes 20% of the body's energy at rest.

As mammals, we are warm-blooded animals, meaning that our bodies are capable of producing its own body heat; while cold-blooded animals such as reptiles cannot do this and must regulate their body heat externally, largely through solar heat. This is largely an advantage for us; however one disadvantage of our warm-bloodedness is our frequent need to eat food to acquire more fuel for this heat-producing process. Cold-blooded animals possess a slow metabolism which enables them to go without food for periods of time that would starve a warm-blooded animal. As you can see, both metabolic systems have their pros and cons, which is consistent with the universal duality.

There are pros and cons to being a carnivore and to being an herbivore. Carnivores, particularly top-level ones, generally don’t have to worry as much about getting eaten, yet they must deal with the stress of having to find and catch prey, and also to avoid having their caught prey stolen by rival predators. Conversely, herbivores often live in constant fear of predation, but often have a relatively plentiful and easy supply of food.

Animals without fur are susceptible to the cold, while animals with fur are susceptible to fleas and parasites.

There are pros and cons to living in a clean, wealthy country versus a poor country with lower sanitation standards. The “hygiene hypothesis” is a concept in medicine that suggests that growing up in an area with clean, sterile living standards can lead to many people not being exposed to as many harmful pathogens. Although this seems like a good thing, this lack of exposure can cause one’s immune system to not develop proper regulatory mechanisms, which can cause the immune system to produce an excessive immune response to harmless stimulants. Studies have shown that foreign-born Americans, many of whom come from poorer countries, are usually at a lower risk than Americans born in the US of having allergic diseases including asthma, eczema, food allergies, hay fever, and others.9 Another study has shown that children from affluent families are at a much higher risk of developing peanut allergies than poorer children.10 Hence, less affluent people living in less sterile conditions with inferior healthcare may suffer more infections but will tend to have fewer allergies. As it happens, there are advantages to staying well and there are advantages to getting sick, advantages to being rich and to being poor.

The slight build of the cheetah contributes to its being the fastest land animal, but it also makes it relatively weak compared to other big cats. The slender shape of a horses legs contribute to the horse’s speed but also make it susceptible to leg fracture. The shell of a turtle protects it from the jaws of predators; yet if the turtle is flipped over, the shape of its shell can make it impossible for the turtle to flip back over onto its feet, rendering it helpless.

The pleasure of sex comes with the threat of venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Friendships and romantic relationships are a double-edged sword: they can be a tremendous source of emotional satisfaction and comfort, but also a tremendous source of emotional pain.

Superior healthcare capabilities lead to fewer preventable deaths, but which also leads to overpopulation problems. Longer lifespans lead to an increased number of geriatric health problems in society.

The sun is an essential source of light and energy, and also stimulates the release of vitamin D in human skin; however it is also a notorious source of harmful cosmic radiation and contributes to skin cancer. Running a marathon is good for the cardiovascular system but can deplete muscle mass; weight lifting increases strength but produces toxic lactic acid. When we bathe, we kill much of the harmful microbes on our skin but we also kill many beneficial microbes as well. Earth’s gravity keeps us from aimlessly floating around, but also causes deaths from falls and contributes to aging, back problems, and numerous other health issues. Eating food raw can make the eater subject to harmful microbes; cooking food decreases its nutritional value and releases various harmful toxins and carcinogens.

Technological progress tends to involve some kind of regress. More computers and electrical systems make our lives more efficient and productive, but it can also lead to us becoming dependent upon technologies such that we are unable to function normally without them. Machines and computers make businesses more efficient, yet these same technologies may also obviate the need for human workers, and thus jobs may become less plentiful. The modern way of life is more opulent and convenient than any era before, yet it is largely founded upon the depletion of nonrenewable resources, such as petroleum and natural gas. The expansion of infrastructure promotes economic growth but encroaches upon wildlife habitats and disrupts ecosystems. Helpful scientific discoveries relevant to the physiology and health of the human body is often attained through destructive or cruel experiments on animals.

In general, the Industrial Revolution was very much like a razor. Urbanization, consumerism, and dependence on corporations, electronics, and mass media has caused many changes in the cultural, social, and moral makeup of society, not all of them good. Convenience can make us lazy, instant gratification can make us impatient, technologies disconnect us from nature. The media can inform the public as well as propagandize or brainwash them; journalism can reveal truths in the world as well as obscure them. Plentiful entertainments can help to pass the time but can also make people stupid, shallow, and deprived of exercise.

Automobiles are essential to transportation in modern life; yet car accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the developed world. Automobile safety measures, such as seat belts and air bags, can save lives and mitigate injuries during car accidents, but the resulting feeling of security has been shown to increase the incidence of reckless driving, which itself tends to cause accidents; also, children and short-statured adults have been known to be killed by airbag deployments. Plastic proves to be convenient and durable material for a wide variety of applications, yet the same attributes that make it so useful also make plastic products non-biodegradable, leading to pollution issues. Plastics have also been known to release potentially toxic chemicals such as BPA and phthalates. X-ray machines and CT scans can present helpful medical information about the body, yet they are also sources of harmful radiation. The burning of fossil fuels from factories and car emissions pollute our air, though these things are embedded within modern life. We are exposed to potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation from the very power lines that bring power to our electronic devices, and radiation also emanates from common sources such as cell phone towers, cell phones, microwave ovens, wi-fi routers, and bluetooth devices. Pasteurization kills harmful pathogens in food but also degrades its nutritional attributes. There is frequently pesticides and preservatives in our food and chlorine in our water – simultaneously helpful and harmful.

Everything is flawed, everything is ambivalent, everything is compromised. Perfection is never an option. Everything is a microcosm of entasy, an intrinsic struggle between opposing forces.

 

WHAT MAKES SENSE?

The universal duality suggests that every idea, every belief, every assumption we may hold is flawed in some way. Every idea contains a measure of sensibility and a measure of absurdity. Everything foolish is in some way wise, and everything wise is in some way foolish.

This may seem counterintuitive. The way we normally understand things is that an idea either makes sense or it doesn’t. Our perceptions and preconceptions cause us to see only sense or nonsense in people’s actions. But in reality there is both, there is entasy. With respect to sense and nonsense, an idea is not a simple either-or situation. The realm of thought is like a microcosm of the entasy realm; waves of sense and nonsense flow and intermingle capriciously in the mind. It’s as if the mind is a kind of two-dimensional plane consisting of the axes of sense and nonsense, and every thought, idea or plan that we conceive is represented by a point somewhere on that plane (picture below). Some ideas will have a higher value on the sense axis, some will have a higher value on the nonsense axis, but wherever there is a value on one axis there is always some amount on the other. The one naturally implies the other. To walk the path of wisdom in one axis is to wallow in foolishness in the other axis, and vice versa. Every idea possesses such a “two-dimensional” structure. A good idea is not a solid unit composed of pure sensibility and utility. It embodies a duality. Just as wherever there is magnetism there is also electricity, and wherever there is a quantum particle there is also a quantum wave, so also wherever there is a good idea there is nonsense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes sense to one person may to another be nothing short of madness, yet there exists no objective means to arbitrate between the two. There is no objective way to judge the sensibility of an idea, such as an opinion, a goal or a set of values. Ideas are not subject to empirical analysis through science. One may think logic determines the sensibility of ideas, but it does not. Logic only judges the validity of arguments that one may create to support an idea, but it cannot judge the validity of the idea itself. (It is actually possible for there to be two different arguments that completely contradict each other yet they can both be perfectly logical in their own right.) The idea itself cannot be judged in any absolute way. It would seem that in the absence of an absolute, deductive standard, all we can do to judge an idea’s sensibility is – in a rather imperfect, inductive way – to simply observe if some people accept it. For example, on a certain issue involving responding to government oppression, there may be some people who favor a passive resistance response while other people favor a terrorist response. The simple fact that there exist people on both sides of the issue indicates that there is a case to be made for both sides and that simultaneously there is a case that can be made against either side. Thus, in a manner of speaking, there is wisdom and foolishness in both.

Whenever a cogent case can be made against an idea, this is an indication of a flaw in the idea. And even if no one has yet come up with a good reason to oppose an idea, this can be chalked up to a mere shortcoming in people’s imagination; if one looks hard enough, a flaw will eventually be discovered in any idea, and conversely a case can potentially be made for even the most absurd idea.

Consider the practice of maintaining a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly as well as eating a healthy diet and cutting out unhealthy foods. One may do these things for various reasons: to feel better, to avoid disease or injury, to enhance one’s physical attractiveness, to live longer, etc. But I could also make a case against this healthy lifestyle: What is the purpose of doing these things considering our bodies are inexorably aging and deteriorating, and we will eventually die someday regardless? Life is short, so why not forego the uncomfortable exercising and the dull-tasting healthy foods? One should instead spend one’s free time in sedentary leisure and enjoying copious amounts of alcohol, recreational drugs, and junk foods. No one can definitively prove such a viewpoint wrong, and the extent to which this viewpoint is sensible is the same extent to which the opposing viewpoint – of living healthy – is folly. But conversely, the viewpoint of living healthy establishes the way in which the indulgent lifestyle is folly. This can be applied to the sense/nonsense graph above: the nonsense axis of one idea is essentially the sense axis of its opposing idea. Hence, the two opposing sides of the issue are just two sides of the same coin.

In today’s society, certain entertainers are held in high esteem. There is an elite circle of individuals, such as athletes, singers, actors, models, and so on, who are lavished with fame, fortune, and praise. One may argue for the sensibleness of this system by saying that, for example, it is simply a product of economics. There is competition amongst the employers in teams, firms or studios, and celebrities can sell themselves to the highest bidder. Popularity is a factor; the celebrities who are more in demand by the public will get paid more because more people are willing to pay more money to see them entertain. And also the pool of celebrity jobs is much smaller than the pool of jobs in more common fields, and so the celebrity pool has relatively more money to go around.

Conversely, one could also argue against this system. Why should celebrities be allowed to make more money in a week than people with more important jobs make in a year? Why should an athlete get paid more to throw a ball, or a movie star get paid more to play make-believe than doctors get paid to save lives healing diseases and injuries, or police officers and fire-fighters get paid to save people from criminals and fires, or soldiers get paid to put their lives on the line for their country’s interests? Why should people with expendable jobs be rewarded more than people with indispensable jobs? Shouldn’t these more important workers get paid as much as the celebrities? Both arguments are reasonable in their own right, but the opposite viewpoint of one embodies the absurdity that exists in the other. The system of lavishly paying celebrities is neither sensible nor foolish – it is both.

One person may encourage others to perform acts of kindness and compassion to others, and may claim that doing so will help propagate a spirit of goodwill across society. Another more cynical person may say that kindness is pointless because the world is full of people who are ungrateful, selfish, self-centered, who care only about themselves, and will merely interpret kindness as weakness, and thus people don’t deserve kindness and it is naive and folly to give it to them. Both viewpoints are wise and foolish in their own way.

What if someone tries to rob or mug you? Should you give the criminal your money or should you fight back? Is it sensible to just give away your hard-earned money to someone who doesn’t deserve it? Aren’t you just emboldening the criminal world by capitulating to their demands? Conversely, is it sensible to risk your life over money and possessions, which can be re-earned and re-purchased?

Every issue works this way; every issue embodies the fusion of order and chaos, as represented by sensibility and absurdity. Whether it is gun control versus gun rights, capitalism versus socialism, permissive parenting style versus authoritarian, optimism or pessimism, or whatever the case may be, the existence of opposing viewpoints within an issue is evidence for the existence of the universal duality at work in that issue. The extent to which one view is wise or useful is the extent to which the opposite is foolish or futile.

It is interesting to notice the conflicting aphorisms that exist in the English language: “He who hesitates is lost” versus “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” “Better safe than sorry” versus “No guts, no glory.” “Silence is golden” versus “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” “Looks can be deceiving” versus “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” “Knowledge is power” versus “Ignorance is bliss.” Which aphorism is right, which is wrong? The answer is: each aphorism is right to some degree and wrong to some degree.

Everything that is right is in some way wrong, and everything that is wrong is in some way right. Everything rational is in some way irrational, and within the irrational there is some rationality. A wise person in one mode of thinking is a deluded fool in another; the two are but opposite faces of the same card.

On a personal level, I often experience that when I am in an argument with someone about something, even when I have strong feelings about my viewpoint, I find myself secretly admitting to at least a faint glimmer of sympathy or respect for my opponent’s side, and at least a minuscule twinge of uncertainty about my own. This can happen even if my opponent’s view is something I find outrageous or offensive.

Sometimes people exhibit behavior that we perceive as particularly absurd or outrageous. Even further, some people are severely mentally insane and are subject to do things demonstrative of this condition. When these things happen, what we are seeing is a kind of purer, outward glimpse of the nonsense that lies hidden within all our actions. A sense of madness glimmers in even little, “normal” things that we take for granted. For example, everyday many people drive to and from work, hitting high speeds on the freeway, oblivious to the fact that they may be one miscalculation or unexpected obstacle away from a violent death in a crash. Many people will habitually and knowingly poison their own bodies: their lungs with cigarettes or their liver with alcohol or their arteries with greasy foods, and so on. There is madness all around us.

The lunatic is not the only one prone to delusions. We are all delusional in some way. In one way or another, we all fail to see things as they really are. We can infer things that aren’t really there and we can deny things that are right in front of us. We can kid ourselves and believe our own B.S. People are often unwitting hypocrites, truly believing themselves to be a certain thing, but with their actions indicating the opposite.

There is madness in the heated conflicts and violence that has arisen from differences in religious doctrine throughout history. Social turmoil, wars, massacres, suicide bombings, etc. – for people to fight and kill each other over details of abstractions that have no basis in reality echoes the delusions characteristic of the lunatic. I once saw a video of a Buddhist monk who doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire in order to protest the slaughter of cattle, which are deemed sacred in his religion. I thought to myself, what does it take for a man to do this to himself? Is it courage and dedication that drives a person to do such a thing, or is it stupidity and madness? Is there a difference? When a prophet attains a prophecy from the divine or when a shaman flails around wildly as he is possessed by the spirits during a ritual, are these examples of the power of belief or examples of delusion? Is there a difference?

How many different things do people believe across cultures and nations? How many different beliefs exist across human history? How many traditions, practices, rituals were upheld in the past but are shunned now? Slavery, child marriage, vaginal mutilation, human sacrifice, polygamy, cannibalism, etc. – how do we know that our own feelings toward such things are sensible and the opposition is wrong? What makes us so much wiser than they are? Were they insane to uphold such things, or are we insane not to? What things do we resolutely uphold now that, in the far future, will be considered folly or madness? This can be applied on a personal level: How many things have you done in the past that you regret now, even though it made sense at the time? And how many things are you doing now that in the future you may come to regret or consider foolishness? It seems like the distinction between sense and nonsense is never really clear, just as the distinction between structure and randomness is not completely clear. How do we reconcile all of this? Every idea or action is like the rabbit-duck image. Some people will look at an act and see sense while another will look and see nonsense; but in reality there exists both.

 

The universal duality includes morality and ethics as well: every moral stance is flawed. An honest person may suffer for not lying when expedient to do so; a liar may erode his credibility with his habitual lying. When one person wrongs another in typical human interaction, it is often considered virtuous for the person to show some amount of remorse or regret for the offense and to apologize. But what about people such as serial killers, warlords, and terrorists? These people are often wholeheartedly unrepentant, causing catastrophic destruction and unfathomable physical and emotional suffering without a twinge of remorse, without apology, without a moment’s reflection. Why should a normal person feel guilty about some relatively minor transgression, when others enjoy a clear conscience while having done things exponentially worse? There are good reasons to be stubborn and there are good reasons to be submissive, good reasons to follow the rules and good reasons to be unruly, good reasons to cheat on one’s spouse and good reasons to be faithful. There are good reasons to be courageous and to be cowardly, to be merciful and to be cruel, selfish and generous, arrogant and humble, diligent and lazy. Because good reasons are present on both sides of these issues, this indicates that both sides are flawed.

Compassionateness is flawed, malevolence is flawed. Hatred is flawed, love is flawed. Being tolerant or xenophobic. Being forgiving or holding grudges. Every stance is flawed.

Everything that we do that is morally just is in some way unjust, and everything we do that is overall immoral is in some way just.

The universal duality indicates that there are no perfect ideas, sentiments, or plans of action. There are no perfect solutions or resolutions. They all have their own flaws. There is no “right way.” A way is only as right as the best reasoning that one can provide to justify it. But that reasoning, whatever it is, will be flawed.

When I say that every idea and moral principle is flawed, that is not to say that rationality and ethics don’t matter. It is not to say that, practically speaking, every sentiment is the same as any other, that you should just do whatever you fancy and it is of no consequence. What I am saying is that every principle is flawed but a principle does not need to be perfect for it to be worthwhile. We choose our ideas and principles not because of any “absolute merit” they may contain but because of how they resonate with our nature, our goals and our sense of reason. Although every idea is flawed, it is up to the individual to determine whether the degree of flawedness is acceptable or not.

Sometimes we must choose on which side of error we will err. For example, will a pioneering scientist err on the side of caution or on the side of discovery? Will a legislature passing laws for citizens err on the side of the safety of the people or the liberty of the people? In addition to accepting our imperfection, we may also have to choose how we will express that imperfection. All of our actions make fools of us in some way, but it is up to the individual to determine what manner of fool he will be.

Not only are our ideas intrinsically flawed but there is also flaw in our own understanding of them. Do we really know why we believe what we believe and feel the way we feel? The human mind is composed of a strange mixture of sensational desires, urges of the ego, primal instincts and all different kinds of forces and drives. Our decisions are influenced by a jumble of psychological factors which may include cultural conditioning, family upbringing, fragments of memories, classically conditioned responses, and so on. The things we do are often confusing and confused. Sometimes we find ourselves asking questions like “Why did I do that?” or “Why did I say that?” unable to conjure up an answer. When we do things, there is an extent to which we know what we are doing and why we’re doing it, and an extent to which we don’t. Our ability to think clearly and rationally is inherently compromised. The intellect itself is systemically flawed.

KNOWLEDGE

 

The universal duality implies that omniscience is impossible. It implies that truth, rather than being a destination, is a journey, a continual searching. Whatever you believe will be wrong to some extent. I acknowledge that the ideas of this book are wrong to some – hopefully negligible – extent. We can never have perfect understanding of anything. The light of truth is always accompanied by the shadow of confusion and uncertainty. In life, all we can really do is make assumptions about things; we don’t really know anything. Everything we do, we do under the looming shadow of ignorance and uncertainty.

Often we look at confusion and ignorance as just a product of our intellectual shortcomings. But I would suggest that our ignorance is in a sense part of the “design,” if you will, of reality. Recall the Heisenberg uncertainty principle from quantum mechanics, which was previously discussed. In this example, there is a limitation of our knowledge of a particle’s position and momentum. As was stated, this limitation of knowledge is not a result of the dynamics being too complicated or of the instruments or techniques being inadequate, rather it is a fundamental, mathematical property of the particle itself. So here, at the quantum level, it is essentially hardwired into the universe for us to be ignorant of things, for there to be questions and uncertainty. Of course, not everything is uncertain in the same way that a quantum particle is uncertain, but the same spirit of uncertainty present at the quantum scale flows throughout the universe at the macroscopic scale. We can never have the entire picture of truth in view at any one time. When we increase our understanding in one area, some understanding may be lost elsewhere. Details that can be clearly seen from one reference frame are missing from another, and vice versa. Details that can be seen when zooming in on a picture can be missing when the picture is zoomed out, and vice versa. Ignorance can only be displaced, never completely exorcised.

The science fiction movie The Matrix is well-known for having proposed a fascinating albeit unsettling idea: What if the world as we know it is really an illusion? All we know about reality is what is fed into the mind by electrical impulses in the brain. But how do we know those impulses represent the truth, and our world is not merely a simulation being transmitted into our brains by a machine? The nasty truth is that we don’t know; we could very well be living in “the Matrix.” When you wake up from a dream, how do you know that the experience you awoke from was not the reality and that the “awake experience” is really the dream? You really don’t know for sure. You cannot be certain that the people around you are real, thinking beings and not mindless automatons without free will. We cannot really be completely sure of anything. Perhaps the knowledge of one’s own existence and consciousness – Cogito ergo sum – is the only thing about which one can have any semblance of certainty.

We can only know the world insomuch as our brains can analyze and compute it, and those computations can be flawed and prone to misinterpretation. Our minds and perceptions can play tricks on us; we can see things that aren’t there, hear sounds that weren’t sounded, feel things that didn’t touch us. There are times when I see something in a momentary glance and I perceive it as a certain thing, but if I turn and look at it again more intently, it proves to be something else entirely. The mind can be fooled by simple optical illusions because the brain does not perceive the world so much as it interprets and extrapolates it. Our perception of the world is not necessarily an accurate understanding of it. We cannot know what the world is really like because we cannot perceive beyond our own flawed senses.

Our senses are products of evolution. Therefore our perceptive faculties are merely products of utility; we perceive only that which is useful for us to perceive, and in the way it is useful to perceive it, with respect to what statistically enhances survival chances. Therefore there may be many other features and details existing in the world around us that we may not be aware of simply because it is not evolutionarily useful for us to be aware of them. The very evolution which gave us senses also limits them and renders them imperfect. So too, in this regard, is our knowledge restricted.

 

Even the knowledge of our own past experiences is flawed. Neurologists tend to understand memory as more of a constructive function rather than a reproductive one. That is to say, one’s memory of a past event is not a literal copy of an event, but is a process of pattern completion in which the person pieces together various features that comprise a particular past experience, including abstract interpretations and conceptual elements involved in the event.11 We do not so much re-call as re-construct memories, and these reconstructions are prone to error. Furthermore, the memories are not encoded in any particular location or neuron of the brain but are embedded within a shifting web of neural connections spanning large regions of the brain. Because of the dynamic rather than static nature of memory storage and retrieval, memories are prone to changes, gaps, and inaccuracies. Recollection of certain details of a memory is subject to change over time. Thus knowledge of our past, as well as our present, is systemically compromised.

Knowledge is a bit like the story of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in that none of us can understand anything in its entirety, we can only understand a piece of the subject at a time. We all look at this world from a unique perspective, and thus we each can see things others cannot and we each are oblivious to things other’s aren’t.

This aspect of the universe is no less than one would expect from a universe that is essentially half order and half chaos; all things are partially clear and partially obscure. The only way for one to fully understand the universe is to understand that one cannot fully understand the universe.

This universal duality is the reason we are unclear about the meaning of life. We don’t know who we are, what we are, where we came from, why we are here, or what we are supposed to be doing. There are ethical quandaries; it is often difficult to discern right from wrong. Analogous with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, this is not merely a product of our intellectual shortcomings; it is a part of our “destiny,” an integral part of the order of things. In a sense, we are supposed to be uncertain. We think that our confusion and ignorance is a testament to our lack of understanding of the universe; but I think that in our confusion and ignorance we, in a strange way, are actually understanding the universe accurately.

In life we will sometimes find ourselves faced with certain difficult situations or dilemmas in which we don’t know what to do or where to turn, what to say, whom to trust. We all wrestle with personal burdens and we struggle to find a solution, and we may be unsure if there even is a solution. Sometimes in our confusion we can make devastating mistakes. All of this is natural. Uncertainty, confusion, and fallibility are natural, integral components of life in this universe of entasy. You might say, we have a right to be wrong. We are not supposed to be perfect or all-knowing. We are all the children of entasy: we all trace our ancestry back to the tension between order and chaos. Thus fallibility is our cosmic inheritance. It is our inheritance to live lives that fluctuate between moments of clarity and moments of bewilderment, moments of resolve and moments of doubt.

ILLUSIONS

 

Chaos often produces discrepancies between the way things are and the way things appear to be. If you stick a pencil through the surface of water, the submerged portion of the pencil may appear bent. The light hitting the pencil through the water is being refracted at a different angle from the light hitting the dry portion of the pencil. The surface of the water is an imperfect lens through which you seek to know the pencil’s location. As it happens, all of our perceptions are likewise imperfect lenses. Because of chaos, there will always be a deviation or disconnect between the subject and the object; the channel that exists between them will always lean towards some amount of obscurity rather than perfect transparency. Nothing is ever exactly what it appears to be.

The extent to which things are as they appear to be is the contribution of order, and the extent to which the truth is different from what it appears to be is the contribution of chaos.

We are surrounded by illusions. As one stands outside and looks around, the world appears flat, but it is not; if I am traveling forward in a straight line, I am actually traveling in a circle. As I sit still, I feel like I am motionless, but I am actually spinning around while shooting through space at high speed, in accordance with the Earth’s spin and its orbit around the sun. When you look up at the sky, everything you see is an illusion. The sun appears to orbit the Earth, but it’s actually the other way around. The sun that you see is really the sun as it appeared eight minutes ago. The moon does not appear to rotate, but that is only because it is rotating at the same rate as Earth’s rotation. The sky often looks blue at midday, with hues of red and yellow at sunrise and sunset; but the sky itself actually has no color. Rainbows appear to have physical substance and a fixed location in space, but they do not. The stars appear to be gentle, little, twinkling lights, smaller than the moon and no further away; but they are actually gigantic, violent, and unfathomably remote. And when you look at the stars, because of their great remoteness and the finite speed of light, you are not really seeing what they look like now, but what they looked like thousands of years ago.

A surface that appears smooth to the naked eye may appear rough and jagged under a microscope. When we look at an object, we see its color and assume that color to be an intrinsic property of the object. But it is not; the color is merely our mind’s perception of the wavelength of light that is reflected rather than absorbed by the object. The object itself has no color. Animals in their habitats appear to have been designed for their respective niches in the ecosystem, and so do the anatomical structures and physiological processes in their bodies also appear designed by some ingenious designer. But in fact, these features are all just mindless evolutionary products of, what Richard Dawkins would call, “pseudo-design.” The feeling of solidity when you touch a solid object, such as a wall, is merely an illusion created by the mutual repulsion of the electrical fields in the wall and your body, rather than the substance of the object itself.

Neuroscientists are coming to the conclusion that the sense of self is an illusion. The concept of a continuous, coherent stream of experience going on inside the brain is not corroborated by analysis of actual brain activity. In reality, there is an assortment of fragmented perceptions and conceptualizations which the brain weaves together into the intelligible representation of the world that we perceive. The impression we feel of a unilateral mental impetus is contradicted by the reality of multiple neural pathways performing disparate functions in parallel. Neurological experiments have indicated that a person’s unconscious brain activity can make the decision to perform an action sometimes a few hundred milliseconds before the conscious mind is aware of its own perception of making the decision, which some commentators have interpreted to mean that the conscious will is but a fabrication of unconscious brain activity. One’s consciousness is not a permanent thing which survives unchanged from one moment to the next but is a process which is subject to activate, dissipate, and then reactivate at various times, with us being unaware of the gaps. The sense of an irreducible “I,” of a kind of pilot sitting at the cockpit of the mind or a spectator watching the show of life, is an illusion.

We live in a world of illusions. This is because everything is a contradiction. Everything is one thing, yet is simultaneously something else. Many things which are stable are also in flux. Many things are simple yet complex, random yet orderly. Nature is mindless, yet somehow intelligent. A quantum is a particle yet it is also a wave. Matter is substantial stuff, yet matter is also immaterial energy. The vacuum of space is empty, yet is full of quantum activity. One’s conscious self seems like a stable thing but is actually in constant flux. When you look at a person, you see a single organism, yet each person is actually billions of organisms – cells. A person has one mind, yet that mind is, in fact, a synergy shared amongst billions of mindless neurons: we possess mind, yet we are mindless; the mind is one thing, yet it is also many things.

As mentioned earlier in the book, people sometimes ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Why is the cosmos biased in this way? I think one possible answer to the question is that, in a manner of speaking, there is actually both: the universe is something and at the same time is nothing. The reason is that there clearly exists something, but the things that we perceive are never quite what we think they are. We are surrounded by things, but those things are all illusions. Everything is made up of atoms, yet atoms are about 99% empty space. Solid objects seem unmoving but are really a jumble of atomic activity. Order and disorder live together in dissonant harmony. If you could, hypothetically, take pure "somethingness" and pure "nothingness" and fuse them together you would get something like our universe. In a manner of speaking, reality as we know it is a something that is nothing and a nothing that is something. When the universe came to a crossroads of be-ing, it went both ways.

 

THE POSITIVE SIDE

 

So far I have focused on what might be viewed as the negative side of the universal duality and its negative implications towards all things. However, there is also a more positive side. Truly, even the most orderly of things has a modicum of flaw, yet the complementary fact is that even the most chaotic things, theoretically, have some kind of order. Things that seem random, irrelevant, or useless can betray hidden meaning or function. This fact completes the import of the universal duality: that whatever is orderly is not infinitely and perfectly so, and that which is chaotic is not infinitely and perfectly so. Even the most perfect-seeming thing possesses some kind of blemish; the mirror image of this fact is that every instance of nonsense or futility also possesses an orderly “blemish.”

Numerous examples of this have already been mentioned in this book, including the order that emerges from chaotic events such as magma flow in the Earth’s core, the chaos associated with snowflake and gemstone formation, supernovas, black holes, and hurricanes, to name a few. Another example of this “positive side” can be found in sickle-cell anemia, a disease which is often grievous to its victim, but which in some areas, particularly in Africa, has been known to lower the incidence and mitigate the symptoms of malaria. Something normally harmful can show glimpses of being helpful. For example, snake venom is a potentially lethal substance; it is transferred intravenously and uses a complex cocktail of biological products which have various effects on the body which altogether are resolutely harmful. However, scientists are finding out that when some of the individual proteins and peptides are isolated, they can yield various medicinal uses, some of which include antibiotics and treatments for cancer, blood pressure and heart attacks.

Usefulness can be found in unexpected places. Scientists have found that pig hearts are anatomically similar to human hearts, and subsequently they have found promise in the idea of using pig hearts for human heart transplant surgery. It has been estimated that there are thousands of obscure plants and herbs in rainforests that could potentially be used for the production of medicines and cures for diseases. Animal feces is something we consider unpleasant and potentially a carrier of disease, but it is also commonly instrumental in adding important nutrients and organic matter to the soil to increase its fertility. Also volcanic eruptions, although destructive, have been known to release ash rich in minerals beneficial to the surrounding soil. Hidden within everything is the potential for utility.

However, one need not expect the sense hidden within nonsense to always be something spectacular and significant to us. Just as the blemishes of beautiful, orderly things may sometimes be imperceptible or negligible to us, likewise the hidden sense within all nonsense may or may not be perceptible or relevant to us.

 

INSIGNIFICANT TO SIGNIFICANT

Futility and utility are inseparable, and as a result things we dismiss as negligibly small or irrelevant may have some unforeseen relevance or may be a part of a greater, much more influential whole. Just as there is no clear barrier between order and chaos, there is also no clear barrier between significance and insignificance. To put it simply, nothing is every strictly “unimportant.”

NONLINEAR DYNAMICS

One example of this has already been discussed in the chaos theory section: the butterfly effect. Because of the nonlinear mathematics prevalent in the universe, all manner of small phenomena or events are subject to multiply or feed back on themselves, eventually leading to exponentially more significant outcomes. In nonlinear systems, such as atmospheric weather, oceanic conditions, or even in the gravitational attractions amongst celestial bodies, the behavior of the whole is connected to the behavior of each of its interconnected parts. A small difference could be all the difference between clear skies and a storm, or even a normal solar system and a planet flying out of orbit.

The development of the human mind is a nonlinear system. Attributes such as intelligence, personality, and social behavior are not entirely determined genetically but can depend upon a complex interaction between genes and experiences that a person has during the formative years. Everyone’s mind is shaped by a number of “small” factors which may include observations, exposures, intellectual stimuli, attributes of one’s environment, and so on, and nonlinear dynamics makes it impossible to set clearly-defined limits on the effect that each has on a child’s mental development, how it will shape a child’s personality and character going into adulthood. An event that seems trivial could in fact be pivotal. And even as adults, the nonlinearity does not end. Every experience, stimulus or social interaction we encounter has the possibility of having a significant effect on one’s psyche. A seemingly minor event can trigger a certain critical pressure point in the “phase space” of the psyche, leading to a “bifurcation” – a significant, qualitative change – in one’s psychology and behavior. There is no such thing as an “insignificant” or “futile” experience.

Although there may be no mathematical equations to prove it, there could very well be nonlinear dynamics involved in the effect that an individual has on society. One might think that only people in positions of fame or power can significantly influence the world, but nonlinear dynamics opens up the possibility that even “insignificant” individuals have the potential to change the world. Some think that the lives of common folk don’t matter in the end, that they are like small pebbles thrown into an ocean, causing a momentary stir and then the ripples fade off to nothingness. Whether history will remember us is one thing, but the actual impact that one’s life, and the individual deeds one performs in it, could have on history has no predetermined limit.

Human beings may, for practical reasons, conceptualize different things as being “important” or “unimportant,” but such distinctions do not exist in reality. A minor mutation in one creature could lead to the evolution of a whole new species. The death of a certain organism in ancient times could lead to it, through a sequence of natural events, becoming fossilized; an insect could become trapped in tree sap or an animal could fall into arctic waters and become frozen; such seemingly insignificant events could lead to these creatures’ remains being preserved for eons, such that paleontologists can discover them and inform the world of their species’ previously unknown existence. A bird pooping while flying through the air may be distributing plant seeds to some new location that could significantly impact that ecosystem in the future. A particular ecosystem can be so tightly interconnected that the crumbs that fall to the ground as one animal messily eats may be the crucial staple of another species’ diet; the leftovers from a predator’s kill can be the sustenance of scavengers, the leftovers of which is the sustenance of bacteria. A small puddle of rainwater on the ground could become a life-saving oasis to some thirsty animal. Some small event in a person’s life – a skill or lesson learned, an experience or encounter had, a conversation overheard or something one read in a book or saw in a TV show – may unexpectedly become remarkably useful in some pivotal situation in the future.

The positive side of the universal duality brings to mind a scene from the movie The Karate Kid. In the movie, the character Daniel sought karate lessons from Mr. Miyagi. But instead of training him, Mr. Miyagi merely gave him menial chores to do, such as painting a fence and waxing cars. Daniel eventually became frustrated with these pointless and irrelevant chores and complained to Mr. Miyagi. However, Mr. Miyagi then reveals that the repetitive motions of the chores he had Daniel to do were actually teaching him certain movements that were important to his karate technique. Sometimes life can have a similar kind of effect on us. Certain routines or repeated experiences that we have gone through in life which seem meaningless at the time may counterintuitively bear fruit later; they may instill certain skills in us and prepare us for some specific, future task.

DUST

 

Another example of this “positive” side of the universal duality is the phenomenon of dust. Dust is the aggregate of tiny particles of diverse origin: hair, animal fur, pollen, textile fibers, dead skin cells, insect moltings, etc. One may either see it floating in the air or forming a dusty layer on solid surfaces. Dust is the kind of thing that we give little thought to in our daily lives; precious few discussions have centered on it or books written about it. However, I think dust is actually a fascinating phenomenon. It is interesting how the particles of dust emanate from diverse origins but mysteriously convene together through random paths, as if by some call, in order to join into one unified, fluid body. When you look at the dust floating around in a room, you are seeing particles from various places which came there for various reasons, yet they all behave as one coherent whole. Dust is one common embodiment of the interplay between the variety of chaos and the unity of order. From disparateness comes togetherness.

Dust has significant influence on the world in various ways; one prime example is in the phenomenon of clouds. Clouds are an indispensable tool for the Earth’s biosphere; they help regulate the Earth’s temperature by reflecting sunlight, and they provide needed rainfall. Yet clouds are actually made possible by a kind of dust called “condensation nuclei.” Clouds arise from the condensation of water vapor in the air; but water vapor cannot condense on air itself: it can only condense on solid objects, which is where the particles of condensation nuclei contribute. This kind of dust is formed primarily from sources such as sea salt, clay, soot, smoke, and sulfates given off by oceanic phytoplankton, as well as the more familiar sources of dust. Hence, something as influential as the colossal cloud layers that hover above us are the result of “insignificant” phenomena – the random accumulation of dust particles.

In a manner similar to the formation of clouds, dust is also instrumental in the formation of fog and mist. These weather phenomena can also serve as an atmospheric source of water, which is particularly useful for life in deserts and other areas that have little rainfall.

Dust also plays a direct role in global temperature control. Dust in the atmosphere reflects and scatters sunlight and thus is thought to have an overall cooling effect on global climate. Furthermore, the same dust phenomenon that pervades the Earth could also be said to affect outer space as well. Tiny particles of cosmic dust originating largely from supernovas, as well as from other sources such as comets and asteroids, may amass together to eventually form nebulae, stars, and planets.

BOILING WATER

 

We are all familiar with what happens to water when it is boiled on a stovetop in a metal pan: it begins to fizz and bubble violently. But what is interesting is the reason why water does this. The turmoil that arises when water reaches its boiling point is a result of the microscopic and randomly appearing imperfections on the surface of the metal container. Those small imperfections cause air to get trapped and create tiny bubbles. The bubbles get increasingly bigger as the surrounding water turns into a gas. Eventually the bubbles rise to the surface of the water and disperse into the atmosphere. During this process, the water evaporates from the container gradually.

However, if you heat water up in a container that is very smooth and virtually free of imperfections, such as a glass container, something different happens. The small bubbles do not begin to form and the water does not boil, even after the water has been heated well beyond the boiling point. The water has become “superheated.” Because the water isn’t evaporating, a large amount of energy is built up in the water. Even though the water may seem peaceful, it is unstable; the slightest disturbance of the water will cause a violent and potentially dangerous explosion as the superheated water rapidly turns into a gas. So as it happens, the tiny and seemingly insignificant imperfections are actually vital to the orderly evaporation process. Here tiny details make all the difference between a stable boil and volatile calm.

GEOLOGICAL BENEFITS

 

Limestone is a form of sedimentary rock very useful to humans. It is a main ingredient in cement and has many other industrial uses. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built from limestone blocks. Yet, it is interesting that such an important material arises from seemingly insignificant events. Limestone is mostly made up of skeleton or shell fragments from small, “insignificant” marine organisms such as coral, clams, and plankton. When these animals die, their skeletal fragments (composed of calcium carbonate) sink to the bottom of the ocean. But over time, the fragments amass into large piles of debris, and they can mix with other sediments such as sand and silt, and they are slowly, gradually cemented together to form what will become limestone rock. Sand is another important material. Often formed from eroded limestone, sand has many uses such as in glass-making and the manufacture of integrated circuits. Thus seemingly insignificant, disparate events can convene together, as if by some united call, to produce a single, unified product that possesses a particular composition that makes it of potential use.

It is fascinating how seemingly inconsequential events can produce things of extraordinary consequence. Take petroleum. Modern society is very much reliant upon petroleum. It fuels our vehicles, provides motor oil for them, drives our generators, and provides raw material for the manufacture of plastics and other goods. Yet it is important to remember where petroleum comes from. Many thousands of years ago, marine microorganisms such as zooplankton and algae died and their corpses sank to the ocean floor. In time, the organic matter decays through anaerobic bacterial decomposition, and over time becomes buried underneath layers of rock. There, large amounts of heat and pressure slowly transform the organic matter into crude oil, which is rich with chemical energy stored in the organisms through photosynthesis. This crude oil can then be refined into petroleum. Natural gas is another product which comes from this process. A similar process also transforms woody plants such as trees into coal. From our limited points of view, and in our limited lifespans, we may not see importance in some mundane event such as a tree or specimen of algae dying and sinking to the ocean floor, yet fossil fuels are evidence that “insignificance” is largely an illusory concept.

SUMMARY

 

The world is full of little, random things happening around us all the time that seem trivial now but may have momentous consequences in the future. There is no hard distinction between the important and the unimportant; everything is interconnected. There is no hard distinction between that which is “random” and that which demonstrates a sense of purpose and direction. Things like rainfall, petroleum, and natural gas are things that we may benefit from every day of our lives, and yet take for granted. However, we should remember that these things were not simply put in place intentionally by someone, nor did they just appear out of nowhere magically. Rather they were made possible by the kinds of things which we tend to deem trivial, negligible, and useless. We can understand these useful items as being the fruit of entasy’s constructive capability.

 

RETROSPECTIVE

 

I have established earlier that life has no inherent, overall purpose or meaning. But even if it did have one, the universal duality would suggest that the purpose would be an imperfect one, and would in some capacity be futile; and if life did have a specific meaning, it would be in some way absurd or meaningless.

[+ CHAPTER ELEVEN:+]

WEIRD EVENTS

 

SERENDIPITY

 

Sometimes mistakes or accidents can occur where subsequently something very useful or meaningful can emerge from it. History contains some noteworthy cases of this. The following is one that immediately comes to mind:

In 1798, the French army was at war with the British. In a strategic move, the French general Napoleon Bonaparte led his army to invade Egypt in an attempt to control trade between Asia and Europe. He was successful in his conquest of the Egyptians, but the British navy destroyed the French fleet that was anchored off the Egyptian coast and laid a blockade against the French. As a result, the French army was stranded in Egypt. Although Napoleon himself managed to sneak past the blockade and return to France, his army was left behind. It so happened that Napoleon had brought along a group of scientists and scholars to accompany his army as they invaded Egypt, intending to gain useful knowledge about the ancient country.

In July of 1799, as the French army continued to fight the British, they decided to bolster their defenses by rebuilding the walls of an old Arabic fort situated in the Egyptian town of Rosetta. It had been common for Arabs to construct their buildings by using materials taken from ancient temples. While the French army was working on the fort walls, the soldiers accidentally came upon a large stone tablet that was built into the walls. They noticed there were inscriptions on it. Suspecting that this find may be of some value, the soldiers sent it to their team of scholars. In time, it was realized that the stone tablet contained a message written into three different languages: Greek, Egyptian demotic, and hieroglyphs. At the time, the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs was a mystery; it had not been used in Egypt for many centuries. However, ancient Greek was understood well. It was discovered that all three languages conveyed the same message, a decree concerning the first anniversary of the coronation of the Egyptian king Ptolemy V; therefore it was possible to use the Greek text as a kind of template to unlock the meaning of the hieroglyphs. The French named the artifact after the town in which they found it, calling it “La Pierre de Rosette” – The Rosetta Stone. In the end, the discovery of this artifact enabled the understanding of ancient Egyptian language and birthed the modern study of ancient Egyptian culture and history. And it all began with an accident.

This story has always fascinated me. The French were not specifically looking for the artifact, yet through a series of misfortunes and accidents, a monumental discovery practically just fell into their laps.

There are many similar stories in history of how an accident or mistake led to something useful. The modern method of vaccination was discovered by Louis Pasteur in the late 1800s. Pasteur was involved in an experiment involving chicken cholera bacteria. Before going on vacation, he had instructed his assistant to inject chickens with a sample of the bacteria, however the assistant went on vacation himself and accidentally left the sample to spoil instead. Later on when the spoiled sample was injected into the chickens, the weakened bacteria made the chickens moderately sick, but after they recovered they were shown to be immune to fresh samples of the disease. This discovery, which happened by random accident, led to vaccinations against diseases such as cholera, anthrax, and rabies, and led to the ability to produce vaccines in the laboratory – developments which have saved many lives.

The antibiotic Penicillin was discovered by accident in 1928 when Dr. Alexander Fleming returned from a vacation to see that petri dishes of Staphylococcus aureus that he had previously prepared had been accidentally contaminated by a mold, later identified as Penicillium notatum. He noticed that the area of the petri dish that was close to the mold was devoid of the bacteria. The mold had secreted a substance that killed it. This discovery led to the mass production of the drug Penicillin, which revolutionized medicine and has saved countless lives.

What is also interesting to note is the improbable circumstances surrounding the discovery. As author Joseph Cambray explains:

 

The mold that destroyed the bacteria was extremely rare . . . . The spores entered Fleming’s petri dish at a critical moment, just as he was implanting the staphylococci bacteria – any later time and the bacteria would have been able to overwhelm the spores. In addition, the mold only works on colonies that are just beginning to multiply. There had been a heat wave in London that broke the day Fleming inoculated the petri dish – had this not happened the higher heat would have suppressed the mold relative to the bacteria – then the weather warmed up again. As Fleming’s colleague Ronald Hare found, these were the only conditions and sequence of conditions that would have allowed the discovery to be made.1

 

Here is another example. In 1945, an engineer named Percy Spencer, employed by an electronics manufacturing company, was working on an active radar set that produced microwaves. He suddenly became aware that a candy bar in his pocket began to melt as a result of the radiation. This accident led to the invention of the microwave oven.

Such stories can be considered examples of “serendipity.” Serendipity is the name for an accident or unexpected eventuality that proves improbably useful in some particular way. I consider serendipity to be a manifestation of entasy. It is the spontaneous emergence of utility from futility. It is a symptom of the fact that, in accordance with the entasy model, there exists no discrete distinction between futility and utility or cataclysm and mechanism.

The list of notable examples goes on. For example, an important discovery about animal muscles was discovered accidentally by scientist Luigi Galvani in the 1700s. He was performing an experiment that involved suspending disembodied frog legs with copper wires and hanging them from an iron railing, when a random gust of wind caused the two metals to touch together and inadvertently induce an electric spark, causing the legs to twitch violently. This established that there was an association between muscle movement and electrical activity. The discovery of insulin came about after an experiment involving the removal of a dog’s pancreas: The scientists happened to notice a swarm of flies feeding on a puddle of the dog’s urine; they later realized that the urine contained sugar, which led to the connection between the pancreatic hormone insulin and the disease diabetes.

In the late 1800s, the physicist Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity. He was conducting an experiment in which he placed uranium salt on a wrapped photographic plate, and intended to leave the uranium to absorb sunlight for several hours and then subsequently develop the plate to reveal photographed images on it. The images would indicate that the sunlight caused the uranium to glow radiation that penetrated the paper surrounding the plate. However, the experiment was impeded on account of the sky being persistently cloudy at the time, so he set the materials aside into a dark drawer for several days. He later decided to develop the photographic plate anyway even though it had absorbed no sunlight, but in doing so he discovered that the photograph that was produced was unexpectedly intense, indicating that the uranium was actually emitting radiation on its own, hence the uranium was radioactive.

Inventions like Velcro, pacemakers, gunpowder, vulcanized rubber, and others are also products of this same phenomenon. And don’t forget the accidental observation by Edward Lorenz which led to the creation of chaos theory. One might also suggest that the formation of certain fossils – improbably well-preserved remains of long-extinct organisms such as dinosaurs or trilobites – is a kind of serendipitous phenomenon.

When serendipity occurs, it often does so when an individual is searching for something and, it seems, the universe finds it, or when a person asks a question and the universe answers. Other times, serendipity can manage to find something useful that we weren’t even looking for, or answer a question that we didn’t ask. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish manuscripts which included copies of the Hebrew Bible, were discovered accidentally by teenage Bedouin shepherds after one of them tossed a rock into an opening in the side of a cliff and they subsequently heard a shattering noise. After going to the cave to investigate, they found that the rock had hit one of a collection of long-hidden ceramic jars containing the ancient scrolls.

The association of behavioral traits such as rationality and personality with particular locations of the brain was revealed through an accidental injury incurred by a railroad construction worker named Phineas Gage. While Gage was working at the railroad, a charge that had been laid in the ground accidentally detonated, causing a metal rod to shoot out upwards, piercing through his left cheek, passing through the back of his left eye, and exiting out the top of his skull. He miraculously survived the incident, but subsequently exhibited such drastic changes in his personality and behavior that he no longer seemed like the same person. The changes were understood to stem from neurological damage from the injury itself rather than from any psychological trauma.

Serendipity is not some freakish miracle but is a natural part of how the universe works. Those events we call serendipities are merely practical manifestations of order arising from chaos. With this established, it could be said that the emergence of our universe from the precosmic chaos was serendipity. The formation of planet Earth at a distance from the sun and with an orbital path conducive to life was serendipity. The meteor or lightning flash or whatever it was that seeded the Earth with life could be considered a serendipity. Evolution by natural selection is serendipity – you might say mankind was created by serendipity. Serendipities can occur on scales both large and small, cosmic and practical.

In addition to the examples of this phenomenon that have led to landmark discoveries and inventions, serendipity can also have an influential effect on the lives of regular individuals. Accidents and mistakes are not always deleterious; if one has an open mind, they can sometimes be useful. As in the Rosetta Stone story, sometimes when our plans are foiled it can open up new, unforeseen opportunities. Chaos can sometimes help us solve practical problems or give us new ideas. Artists have been known to find inspiration for their art through sudden, unexpected events. The idea of “thinking outside the box” – of breaking free of conventional thought patterns in order to find unconventional solutions to otherwise intractable problems – is often considered an admirable ability, but what can think “outside the box” more readily than chaos itself?

I look at serendipity as an anomalous example of a larger body of dynamics in which utility and futility interact. As a person goes about his life, useful or illuminating experiences are actually happening with more frequency than those particular events we would deem serendipitous. Useful random events may be going on around us multiple times a day, but we may not always have the insight to recognize them and avail ourselves of them. Life experiences can be a treasure chest of knowledge and utility, but only if one is wise and perceptive enough to learn the lessons they yield. Accidents and mistakes can, counterintuitively, be hidden opportunities; through insight, they can teach us important lessons and reveal secret knowledge that we would never otherwise learn. They can show us alternate perspectives of reality and thus enable us to see things we would never otherwise see. They can shed light on problems we didn’t know existed, and can give us information we didn’t know we needed. In addition, mistakes themselves are learning tools. They serve no purpose themselves, yet they often are instrumental in building wisdom and character and yield useful lessons for the future. I believe this too is an occurrence in the spirit of serendipity.

Put another way, serendipity is not necessarily a qualitative, all-or-nothing phenomenon, but rather a conspicuous serendipitous event can be thought of as a quantitative extreme of order on the entasy spectrum. What separates a true serendipity from other more common forms of accidental usefulness is the element of improbability. In serendipity, the solution to the problem or answer to the question more or less falls into one’s lap, often in a manner that is unlikely to happen ever again. The occurrence of a serendipitous event may require the incidence of a number of conditions converging together within a narrow time frame and in a particular location in space. Such conditions represent low probability. However it is probably not possible to establish a definitive statistical figure to serve as the criterion determining whether a given event is serendipitous. Apparently we will have to just depend on an event’s general sense of impressiveness to recognize this phenomenon.

 

There is one more thing that is worth noting about the phenomenon of serendipity. One might think that the chaos of serendipity – the mistake or accident – is somehow logically and purposively connected to the event’s order – its utility. In other words, one might think that the moment of misfortune occurs in order to bring about the moment of fortune. But this is not the case. The order of the serendipity does not follow logically from the chaos, but rather it follows from a different kind of process.

To illustrate this idea, I find it useful to consider the phenomena of supernovas and black holes. I mentioned these phenomena in the “Destruction and Creation” section of the book. I discussed how they are curious in that they are both hugely destructive cosmic phenomena, yet at the same time they are both creative as well. You might say that both phenomena possess a destructive dimension and a creative dimension. These two dimensions function much like the rabbit and duck in the rabbit-duck image: both dimensions, although very different, occur in the same time and occupy the same space. One dimension does not occur in order to effect the other, but they are equals in this regard; the destruction and creation are separate yet connected. The dimensions do not impinge upon each other’s territory: the creation does not nullify the destruction or restore what was lost. Conversely, the destruction does not unmake the creation.

As demonstrated by supernovas and black holes, it is possible that two events – one destructive and the other constructive – can occur in such a way that the occurrence of one is contingent upon the occurrence of the other but there exists no logical relationship between them. A supernova does not occur in order to create new matter, nor does a black hole exist in order to produce stars. The logic involved here is not the logic of normal causality but is only the logic of entasy. This is the same logic that is employed in any and all transitions from chaos to order: magma flow within the Earth does not occur in order to create Earth’s magnetic field, mutations do not happen in order to facilitate evolution, thermal motion does not happen in order to facilitate kinesin-1 locomotion, zero-point energy does not occur in order to produce gravity, synaptic noise does not occur in order to facilitate brain function, random geological activity does not happen in order to produce gemstones. The orderly outcome is neither the purpose nor the end product of the chaos that coincides with it. Chaotic events never happen in service of order, nor do orderly events ever happen in service of chaos.

Likewise, the French army did not become stranded in Egypt in order to find the Rosetta Stone, Dr. Fleming’s bacteria sample did not become contaminated in order for him to discover Penicillin, Phineas Gage was not severely injured so that neurologists could study his behavior changes. There was no logic or purpose mediating between the accident and the benefit; there was only entasy at work in these situations.

CALAMITY

 

Sometimes people can be stricken with grave misfortune, disaster, or even tragedy. When misfortune befalls someone, it can do so with an air of randomness, nonsense, pointlessness, meaninglessness. During such dark times, people often tend to ask a strange sort of question: “Why is this happening to me?” When people ask this, they are not just looking for an explanation of the effective cause of the calamity; they are looking for something deeper – a cosmic reason of some sort. This tendency appears to be a natural extension of a popular philosophy which one might refer to as the “Everything happens for a reason” philosophy. This is an outlook which suggests that everything happens according to some cosmic master plan. But this approach does not appear to be supported by the entasy model. It seems to be a mistake to assume that all calamities serve a specific purpose, because that would imply an infrastructure of reality that is based purely upon order, rather than an infrastructure of entasy. Calamity is not a component of some overarching cosmic design, or something accounted for according to such a design. It is simply a futile event, without purpose or reason. But according to the logic of entasy – the same logic that we can see at work in supernovas and black holes – there exists the potential for there to be something useful within that futility and destruction. In some cases, senseless calamity can counterintuitively yield useful opportunities, benefits and lessons.

Calamity itself can be a strange, dark sort of serendipity. It can be, in its own way, a useful event; perhaps still an unwanted event, but useful nonetheless. Sudden disaster can lead to self-knowledge. None of us fully understands ourselves; we don’t fully know who we are and what we are. We are largely creatures of habit and routine, and the circuit of this routine provides us with only a limited tour of the scope of our soul. Yet when calamity occurs, it has a way of testing us in ways that we would never otherwise be tested. It has a way of stripping us naked, of removing the disguises that we wear. It can show us who we really are – our strengths, our weaknesses, what we truly believe, what is truly important to us, what we are capable of. Calamity can be a mirror in which we can see our bare soul.

Calamity can cause us to see things from a new perspective, and new perspectives can open up new possibilities. It can open our eyes to problems or injustices in the world that we were oblivious to and never would have seen otherwise. It can be an opportunity to create positive change. Sometimes confusing or nonsensical situations can throw our minds into turmoil as we struggle to make sense of things. Sometimes through this mental upheaval, we can come to a valuable realization or an illuminating epiphany. Through dark times, we can gain wisdom and insight. The forces of necessity and desperation that disaster may set into motion can perforate the illusions cast by the formalities and routine of life. Calamity can be a solemn moment of discovery; it can be a sudden, unwelcome detour into darkness which can reveal hidden truths.

There is no “good” or “bad” in cosmic terms. Good and bad are merely subjective constructs that we impose upon the world, but they have no objective substance. They are merely human terms designed to suit the needs of human affairs, but outside of this purpose they have no cosmic legitimacy. The accuracy of these terms in describing the world is hamstrung by the limitations of our knowledge and our perspective on the world. We are not subject to forces of good or evil, but to forces of order and chaos. With this in mind, there is no basis for us to limit serendipity to the narrow confines of that which we consider “good,” nor must we necessarily limit calamity to the narrow confines of that which we consider “bad.” Entasy does not respect these artificial demarcations, and cannot be contained or tamed by them. We should be mindful of the difference between these two dichotomies, and should acknowledge the possibilities and complexity of entasy which are in excess of our conceptualizations.

When misfortune strikes, we should acknowledge that there is no meaning to it, yet we should leave ourselves open to the possibility that there is meaning in it. However, even when one accepts such meaning, one may still prefer to not have gone through the misfortune at all. That meaning may not necessarily undo whatever damage has been done, or even be worth the damage, but it also ought not be ignored on account of the damage.

 

SYNCHRONICITY

We tend to assume that the undirected events that happen to us in life just happen without rhyme or reason, without meaning or pattern. Outside of the actions performed by intelligent beings, everything is just chance. Now, we know from science that over long periods of time, structure can emerge from random phenomena, some examples being the formation of stars from gas clouds, or biological evolution. Also we know that some things can appear random on a small scale but be orderly at a larger scale, such as the chaotic, thermal motion of atoms or the self-organizing processes in ecosystems. But normal, everyday events by themselves are, for all intents and purposes, random and have no overarching order or meaning to them, and the sequence of events in our lives that are outside of human control produce no meaningful pattern. This is what we naturally take for granted.

But is this assumption true? Personally, I don’t think so. I believe that sometimes events that happen to us, events that no one has initiated or orchestrated, can have meaning – meaning that is actually intelligible and relevant to the individual. I can say from my personal experience that I have had numerous such events happen to me. There have been times when, after having been thinking about a specific and uncommon topic, I will turn on the TV and hear someone discussing the very same topic, or improbably come across the topic in a book. Sometimes a song on the radio contains lyrics that are exactly what I need to hear at that moment; the lyrics relieve a certain anxiety or answer a certain question I had been mulling over. There have been occasions when I had been thinking about a particular person I haven’t seen in a while, and then promptly I will run into that person on a visit to the grocery store or some other place. There have been situations where I have been wronged by a certain person and later, under unforeseeable circumstances, an improbable kind of poetic justice is doled out on my behalf. Experiences of this type can sometimes be so orderly that they can be surreal and unsettling. 
I can remember one specific event that happened to me when I was at work one day.  While walking around, I was thinking about how, many years ago when I was in school, there was a certain boy in my class, and people would sometimes say that he and I looked alike.  At nearly the exact moment I was thinking this, a man I had never met before walks up to me and mentions that I reminded of him of someone bearing the same name as the classmate I was thinking of. I presume the odds of that happening by chance are quite small. Another incident that happened to me was that one day I realized I had forgotten the year of the last Summer Olympics that took place in China. Later that very day, I by chance happened to come across something I had never seen before or since: a DVD for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony. It was an improbable coincidence that answered my question exactly.

Sometimes I have had what appeared to be moments of extrasensory perception, where through a fleeting thought or feeling or through a dream I see some unforeseeable event happen, and then later that very thing happens in real life. Furthermore, these strange occurrences sometimes manifest themselves through a series of events rather than a single event. Sometimes something strangely relevant or helpful may occur and then recur with a frequency that would seem to surpass what is statistically allowable. Other times, I may encounter some specific concept or scene which appears to have no underlying relevance, but then it improbably repeats itself multiple times in a row on the same day. I have noticed certain patterns emerging over longer periods of time, sometimes over the course of years; an event happens and then, after much time has passed, a strangely and improbably similar incident occurs, and this pattern continues at irregular intervals throughout my life.

I know that I am not just crazy – I am not the only person to have had such experiences. I have heard and read reports of similar experiences happening to others. People often describe them by saying, “The universe was speaking to me.” Some people will describe them in religious or spiritualistic terms, referring to them as “miracles” or “signs from God.”

Some of these experiences appear to have relatively trivial meaning, such as the two specific accounts I mentioned earlier; however many of them have had much more significance to me. That significance is often of a very personal nature that only I could understand or appreciate. Sometimes the experiences occur in a seemingly capricious, gratuitous manner; other times they can appear in some very crucial or pivotal moment. I have observed in my life one very particular kind of improbable event, and what is most fascinating about it is that it tends to happen most frequently during a time of emotional desperation or distress in which such an event would prove the most useful to me. In other words, I find that the unlikely event occurs more often when I need it to than when I don’t, as if it is being deliberately held in store for just the right occasion. In addition to seemingly responding to my psychological state, this particular event has a way of occurring with immaculate timing, as if happening right on cue, and this improbable event tends to efficiently and specifically address the nature of my need or distress.

 

Recently (well after I had started writing this book), I discovered that there is actually a name for strange events such as these: the phenomenon is called “synchronicity.” Synchronicities are succinctly defined as “meaningful coincidences.” They are experiences that are strangely relevant to something a person is, or recently has been, thinking, saying, doing or has dreamt about, and they occur in a way that seems to blatantly defy statistical probability. They appear as if they were orchestrated by some invisible intelligence, and they appear to have a certain meaning.

Some might say that synchronicities are nothing more than coincidence. But something one should ponder is: what is coincidence, exactly? Where does one draw the line between some unlikely event that happens by chance and an event that has to mean something? As a fictitious example, say you are carrying a bag of small tiles on which are imprinted letters and numbers and are randomly scrambled, and then you accidentally drop the bag and all the letters fall out onto the floor. Some of the tiles are clumped together in such a way that they spell out your full name and indicate your full street address – is it possible that this is a “coincidence”? At what point can a so-called “coincidence” no longer be a coincidence, but it must be something more? 
At one time, I thought everything that happened was just a matter of cause and effect within a purely materialistic, mechanical cosmos. I assumed there was no underlying meaning to the events that happened in the world, that the only meaning that exists is what intelligent beings create or project onto things. But I have since learned better. It appears that the universe itself is not merely some kind of mute and mindless machine, simply churning out effects from causes – it sometimes appears that the universe itself has a voice and an intellect of sorts.

It so happens that the phenomenon of synchronicity is probably my main inspiration for developing the entasy model of existence; I feel it was this jolt of weirdness that I needed to wake me up and lure me to a deeper understanding of the world. These experiences made clear to me that there was more to reality than what could be explained by scientific laws or preexisting human knowledge. Synchronicities implicated hidden, mysterious forces that underlied the “normal” landscape of reality.

All things considered, I have had some uncertainties about this phenomenon. When a synchronicity “says” something to me, such as suggesting a future course of action, is it a confirmation or a reiteration? In other words, is it telling me what I ought to do or is it merely a kind of external echo of my internal thoughts, simply reiterating that which I already consciously or subconsciously want to do? If it is the former, if it is an external message, then whom or what is the message from? If it is the latter, if it is a mere reflection or echoing of meaning which embodies none of its own, then this would imply that there exists some kind of cosmic interface between mind and matter, between the subjective realm and the objective realm. But how does this interface work? Perhaps we can learn something from the leading authority on the phenomenon of synchronicity. 

 

CARL JUNG

 

The term “synchronicity” was first coined by the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung some time in the 1930s. He fully expounds on this concept in his book Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, which was published in 1952. Jung explains that synchronicities fall under three general categories:

 

1. The coincidence of a psychic state in the observer with a simultaneous, objective, external event that corresponds to the psychic state or content . . . where there is no evidence of a causal connection between the psychic state and the external event . . . .

2. The coincidence of a psychic state with a corresponding (more or less simultaneous) external event taking place outside the observer’s field of perception, i.e., at a distance, and only verifiable afterward . . . .

3. The coincidence of a psychic state with a corresponding, not yet existent future event that is distant in time and can likewise only be verified afterward.2

 

In the book, he mentions a number of fascinating synchronistic events from his own experience and from people close to him. I shall quote some of them here. The first is the most well-known and iconic example:

 

My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably “geometrical” idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself. Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab— a costly piece of jewellery. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results.3

 

This account seems to conform to Jung’s first classification of synchronicity. Personally, I have many times experienced the equivalent of Jung’s scarab, something or someone that comes along at just the right moment to resolve some conflict or problem I was facing.

The following is another account given in the book:

 

J. W. Dunne mentions a particularly instructive dream he had in the spring of 1902, when serving in the Boer War. He seemed to be standing on a volcanic mountain. It was an island, which he had dreamed about before and knew was threatened by a catastrophic volcanic eruption (like Krakatoa). Terrified, he wanted to save the four thousand inhabitants. He tried to get the French officials on the neighbouring island to mobilize all available shipping for the rescue work. Here the dream began to develop the typical nightmare motifs of hurrying, chasing, and not arriving on time, and all the while there hovered before his mind the words: “Four thousand people will be killed unless – “ A few days later Dunne received with his mail a copy of the Daily Telegraph, and his eye fell on the following headlines:

 

VOLCANO DISASTER IN MARTINIQUE

 

Town Swept Away

 

an avalanche of flame

 

Probable Loss of Over 40,000 Lives

 

The dream did not take place at the moment of the actual catastrophe, but only when the paper was already on its way to him with the news. While reading it, he misread 40,000 as 4,000. The mistake became fixed as a paramnesia, so that whenever he told the dream he invariably said 4,000 instead of 40,000. Not until fifteen years later, when he copied out the article, did he discover his mistake. His unconscious knowledge had made the same mistake in reading as himself.4

 

This example seems to conform to Jung’s second type of synchronicity, the case of a premonition of a spatially distant event. The following example conforms to the third type:

 

I remember the story of a student friend whose father had promised him a trip to Spain if he passed his final examinations satisfactorily. My friend thereupon dreamed that he was walking through a Spanish city. The street led to a square, where there was a Gothic cathedral. He then turned right, around a corner, into another street. There he was met by an elegant carriage drawn by two cream-coloured horses. Then he woke up. He told us about the dream as we were sitting round a table drinking beer. Shortly afterward, having successfully passed his examinations, he went to Spain, and there, in one of the streets, he recognized the city of his dream. He found the square and the cathedral, which exactly corresponded to the dream-image. He wanted to go straight to the cathedral, but then remembered that in the dream he had turned right, at the corner, into another street. He was curious to find out whether his dream would be corroborated further. Hardly had he turned the corner when he saw in reality the carriage with the two cream-coloured horses.5

 

This kind of synchronicity implies a foreknowledge of things yet to come. I don’t believe one should necessarily understand this type as demonstrative of some kind of innate psychic power, but rather is something more spontaneous and exists outside of one’s ability to consciously control.

I am no stranger to stories about extra-sensory perception. I have heard reports of people having dreams about an unforeseeable event which soon after comes to pass, or someone having a spontaneous feeling that something bad has happened to a loved one and the person later finds out that the loved one has been hurt or killed. Conventional science scoffs at these kinds of reports, and probably with good reason, as they are completely incommensurable with the scientific method. But my own experience with synchronicities forces me to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Throughout history, various cultures have had practices of using certain specialists such as prophets, wizards, soothsayers or shamans to provide visions, oracles and omens of the future. Moreover, some cultures have been known to put great value in dreams and in the meaning of dreams, believing them to be important messages from beyond. Is it possible that synchronicity was somehow involved in these kinds of things?

 

In one example from his book, Jung recalls a curious chance series of events related to the topic of fish, a phenomenon similar to experiences which, as stated earlier, I myself have had:

 

On April 1, 1949, I made a note in the morning of an inscription containing a figure that was half man and half fish. There was fish for lunch. Somebody mentioned the custom of making an “April fish” of someone. In the afternoon, a former patient of mine, whom I had not seen for months, showed me some impressive pictures of fish. In the evening, I was shown a piece of embroidery with sea monsters and fishes in it. The next morning, I saw a former patient, who was visiting me for the first time in ten years. She had dreamed of a large fish the night before. A few months later, when I was using this series for a larger work and had just finished writing it down, I walked over to a spot by the lake in front of the house, where I had already been several times that morning. This time a fish a foot long lay on the sea-wall. Since no one else was present, I have no idea how the fish could have got there.6

 

Interestingly, Jung did not consider the preceding example to be a synchronicity, but only a “fortuitous” incident. A synchronicity, in his definition, is not just a coincidence but a meaningful one. The fish theme could presumably have been substituted by any number of themes and there would have been no difference in the meaning of the series of events, since there existed no correlation with the mental state of the experiencer. A true synchronicity implies a unique moment of harmony between the mind and the outside, physical world.

LITTLEWOOD’S LAW

 

The subject of meaning in particular seems to mitigate some of the criticisms of the idea of synchronicity. Some people have proposed that there is nothing extraordinary about synchronicities, that while improbable they nonetheless can be explained by statistics. There is one statistical concept known as “Littlewood’s law” which suggests that because we are experiencing separate events all the time, approximately a million per month, that therefore it is statistically not at all extraordinary but actually rather ordinary that we might experience what one might call a “miracle” every so often. If a certain miracle has a one in a million chance of happening, and we experience a million events per month, then one would expect to experience approximately one “miracle” per month. However, meaning seems to be the parameter of synchronicity that wrests it away from such a mundane interpretation. Synchronicities are not merely unlikely but are meaningful and relevant. Meaning is something that seems incommensurable with statistics; it is not something that can easily be explained away by mere numbers. Either an event is meaningful or it’s not. For example, recall the fictitious example made earlier about the scrambled tiles that are dropped on the floor and then spell out specific personal data. Though such an occurrence may be statistically possible, it ought to leave such an impression on a person that to still deny its meaningfulness would seem to indicate nothing more than a stubborn adherence to a nihilistic inclination.

One problem here is that it is not immediately clear what would constitute “impossible” in the context of statistics. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a particular synchronicity occurs that, hypothetically speaking, has been verified to be the result of some paranormal dynamic that is beyond the scope of science and mathematics. This synchronicity is verified to have some objective, cosmic meaning. Statistically speaking, how would the incidence of this event differ from another so-called “synchronicity” that is merely a result of Littlewood’s law? Statistics doesn’t seem to offer any basis for comparison for separating a true paranormal event from a phony one. This seems to render the statistical objection unfalsifiable and thus useless as a legitimate critique.

Furthermore, it is my belief that there are some fundamental errors in Littlewood’s law, which are that it is an abuse of statistics and that it commits the “begging the question” fallacy. I might demonstrate this with an analogy. Say you visit a friend one afternoon and complain to him that you’ve just had a terrible day at work. Your friend responds by saying that there is nothing at all unusual about your bad day at work. You will go to work approximately 15,000 times during your lifetime, and there is a certain probability that any given day will classify as a “bad day.” Therefore, a bad day at work is actually quite normal and not even worth complaining about. It should be clear in this analogy that the proposed statistical explanation doesn’t really explain anything. It does not explain why the bad day occurred, it does not explain the dynamics or series of events that brought it about, nor does it explain the bad day’s significance to you. It is an empty and imaginary kind of explanation. It abuses statistics because statistics is meant to look at the final sum of events of a certain system and then it uses that sum to convey the likelihood of a certain event occurring at a given instance; however, statistics is not meant to explain the actual dynamics or causes that bring about any of the given instances which contribute to that final sum of events. To use statistics in this way is tantamount to making an argument where one inserts the argument’s conclusion into the premises of the argument, i.e., begging the question. (This is similar to the fallacy that many people make in regards to natural selection.) The same is true with regards to the question of synchronicity’s validity. To say that experiential equivalences – synchronicities – are statistically destined to occur does not actually explain why those equivalences occur, any more than saying that the fact that bad work days are statistically destined to occur explains why they occur. You cannot use the final sum of events to explain the dynamics that lead to the final sum of events. Statistics is meant to determine the “how often,” not the “why”; in other words, statistics might be able to estimate how often one should expect meaningful coincidences to happen given a certain amount of time but not why they happen when they do happen. Calculating the probability of a synchronicity does not explain the underlying dynamics that led to the synchronicity nor what significance it has for the experiencer.

To use such a blatantly illogical argument to try to debunk synchronicity seems to indicate a desperation to prove something. There seems to exist among many science-minded people a kind of faith that you might call “anti-faith.” It is a faith against faith. Anti-faith hails science as supreme – like a god, in a sense. Its practitioners consider science to be omniscient and omnipotent, perfect, without flaw, weakness, or limit. According to this faith, any phenomenon that cannot be detected, analyzed, or understood through science cannot really exist and must be a fiction or hoax. Believers in anti-faith are against such scientifically-incompatible things as magic, telepathy, extrasensory perception, out-of-body experiences, ghosts, gods, prayer, faith healing, the afterlife, and – without discrimination – synchronicity. Anti-faith is a nihilistic faith. Its practitioners are firmly convinced that everything in the universe is without meaning and purpose, and so they seek to debunk anything that proposes to impute meaning or purpose to the universe. They will often seek to proselytize others to this view – Littlewood’s law appears to be one of the methods which they use to accomplish this.

However, the statistical argument embodied in Littlewood’s law says nothing about our world, only our conceptualization of it. The world of statistics is a world in which every event is reduced to a mathematical figure, and thus every event is stripped of its natural substance and vigor. They create a certain concept of reality and then force all phenomena within reality to align with that concept. However, that concept, at its core, states that everything is meaningless and hence, by association, synchronicity is meaningless. By robbing the natural world of all meaning, the critic has established in his premises the very conclusion that he is trying to prove, thus never giving synchronicity a chance.

There is a certain sense of magic to a specific set of conditions occurring at a specific point in time which simply cannot be dissected by mathematics. The authenticity of this phenomenon cannot be confirmed or denied by way of statistics. I suppose, like serendipity, one can only judge synchronicity based on the strength of the subjective impression it makes on the individual.

ACAUSAL ORDER

 

Jung asserts that natural laws are only statistical truths, and they are only valid when dealing with large quantities, whereas with small quantities or small scales of space or time, such as in quantum mechanics, behavior is uncertain. Time itself is not absolute but is relative to the observer; and “since experience has shown that under certain conditions space and time can be reduced almost to zero, causality disappears along with them, because causality is bound up with the existence of space and time and physical changes.“7 For reasons such as these, “the causal principle is only of relative use for explaining natural processes and therefore presupposes the existence of one or more other factors which would be necessary for an explanation.“8

Here it is important to note the subtitle of Jung’s book: “An Acausal Connecting Principle.” Jung makes clear that synchronicity is not a phenomenon that follows from the normal framework of causality, but is “acausal.” In normal causality, effects follow directly from causes, without regard to any other factors. Yet in the acausal phenomenon of synchronicity, events happen without regard for direct cause-and-effect relationships, but occur by way of a separate framework – that of meaning. In Jung’s theory, normal causality is understood not as the sole framework through which events occur but as only one part of a pair of opposites. On the one hand, we have causality, described as “constant connection through effect,” while on the other hand we have synchronicity, described as “inconstant connection through contingence, equivalence, or ‘meaning.’ “ Subsequently, Jung envisions a model of the universe in which synchronicity is one elementary principle along with the principles of causality, conservation of energy, and the space-time continuum.

Now if synchronicity is more than just some pointless fluke of nature but is rather a fundamental principle of the universe, and if synchronicity specifically concerns itself with mental constructs, then this would imply that mental constructs are somehow interwoven with the basic principles of the universe. But how does such a confluence between mind and matter work?

Jung proposes the concept of a sort of universal order – an “acausal order” or “meaningful orderedness” – to explain synchronicity. He suggests that, for example, the “final causes” demonstrated by the “teleological processes in biology” are indicative of this phenomenon, in that they represent a kind of foreknowledge. He refers to biological morphogenesis – the apparent understanding possessed by mindless matter enabling it to impute form into an organism – as a further example of this order. He also uses terms such as “absolute knowledge” or “self-subsistent meaning” in reference to this phenomenon. Jung understands synchronicity to be a manifestation of this acausal order, and the knowledge and meaning he speaks of are exemplified in synchronicity, most notably through the ones that foresee a future event or perceive a spatially distant event, where one becomes privy to knowledge that transcends the senses.

More directly, Jung says a synchronicity is “a special instance of general acausal orderedness.” He mentions other examples of acausal orderedness, one of which is the properties of natural numbers. He considers natural numbers to be acausal because number is an irreducible, a priori property of all objects. “Number,” he says, “helps more than anything to bring order into the chaos of appearances. It is the predestined instrument for creating order . . . .“9 Another example of this acausal orderedness is radioactive decay. This is a phenomenon which possesses no explanation within the realm of causality – essentially an effect without a cause – but yet there still remains a certain reliability to the half-life value of a large quantity of a given isotope. Thus, according to Jung, radioactive decay is a part of this acausal order. An instance of acausal orderedness is considered to be an a priori factor in the universe, which underlies even basic scientific laws.

Also relevant to the subject at hand is that in Jung’s psychology, he postulates a concept called “archetypes,” a rather abstract concept which involves multiple functions. Archetypes are forces which create what Jung calls the “collective unconscious,” a kind of shared psyche that is found in all members of a given species which fosters distinct patterns of behavior within the species. In addition, the archetypes can manifest themselves as instinctive factors in the individual’s unconscious psyche. They are a mentally “formless substance” but can reveal themselves, through mental introspection, to the conscious mind as certain images or themes. But interestingly, Jung says that these archetypes are not exclusive to the psyche but are also primal, organizing forces existing objectively in the universe. Not only do they serve an organizing function in the realm of thought but they organize the fundamental principles of the natural world itself. Therefore the archetype may be considered to be a common platform on which mind and matter lie on an equal plane.

With this established, Jung says, “The archetype is the introspectively recognized form of a priori psychic orderedness. If an external synchronistic process now associates itself with it, it falls into the same basic pattern – in other words, it too is ‘ordered.’ “10 Since Jung understands the archetype to exist both inside the mind and in the physical world, an external event may therefore form a “chance equivalence” with an archetype as manifested through an individual’s consciousness. If I am interpreting correctly, an external event is subject to being “ordered” by the acausal order existing within the individual’s mind, namely the archetype. This phenomenon is comparable to the acausal order implied in phenomena such as natural numbers and quantum mechanics, yet is different because while the other examples are timeless and eternal, a chance equivalence between mind and matter – a synchronicity – occurs within time.

MY HYPOTHESIS

 

I find it interesting how Jung relates the concept of “meaning” with the concept of “orderedness.” The implication seems to be that the two words are not merely related semantically but also ontologically: they are different forms of the same cosmic phenomenon. This kind of rationale eerily seems to converge upon the concept of the “force of order” which I have discussed in this book. It seems that he and I have simply found different ways of explaining the same concept: we both propose the idea of an a priori force of order at work in the universe, one which underlies natural causality and is not merely a property of the world as we know it but is a pre-existing prerequisite to it. It seems that the only significant difference between Jung’s thesis and the entasy model is that Jung’s thesis leaves out the additional force which is the polar opposite of the acausal order, that being chaos. Hence it would appear that this concept of “acausal orderedness” can be thought of, more or less, as one-half of the entasy model.

To be clear, my purpose in discussing Jung’s hypothesis is not to confirm or deny its validity so much as to simply show that we have both unearthed the same basic truth, but through somewhat different paths.

Using the entasy model as a framework, I have formed my own hypothesis to explain synchronicity. I believe that synchronicity is essentially a product of the randomness paradox. Synchronicities surprise us because they are so atypical of the usual experience of life. The bulk of our individual experience consists of an array of events which possess no intrinsic coherence, pattern, or meaning. In a way, there is randomness and futility all around us, things happening without rhyme or reason. Things are happening without any relevance or connection; there is dissonance all around, with respect to what we are thinking, doing, and saying. We are surrounded by a sort of cacophony comparable to the dissonant chitchat in a large crowd or an orchestra tuning up before a concert; but the cacophony is one of experience rather than sound. Events are happening in dissonance with respect to each other as well as with one’s actions. The seamless stream of incoherent events that constitutes one’s experience of life could itself be considered a form of chaos not unlike a turbulent stream or some other chaotic fluid motion. With this said, synchronicities can be compared to the coherent structures found in turbulent flow, a soliton emerging from incoherent waves, or Benard cells forming out of tumultuous convection activity. That is to say, synchronicities are instances of coherence, pattern, and meaning emerging spontaneously from the stream of incoherent, patternless, and meaningless events in one’s experience, in accordance with the randomness paradox.

From this viewpoint, that which we perceive as normal, average, probable circumstances is itself a form of chaos, and that which we perceive as a “miracle” or highly improbable coincidence is a manifestation of order. This is similar to how in physics there is a common and highly probable gravitation towards entropy and disorder in how circumstances play out, yet there also exists the relatively rare phenomenon of far-from-equilibrium processes which stand in opposition to this tendency towards entropy. You could probably think of a synchronicity as a “far-from-equilibrium experience.” It appears that both experiential circumstances and physics are based upon the same underlying mechanics.

It would appear that the role that we attribute to probability is in reality occupied by entasy. As far as synchronicity is concerned, there is really no such thing as “likely circumstances” or “unlikely circumstances”; there are only “chaotic circumstances” or “orderly circumstances.”

I don’t think we should view synchronicity as something obligatory, like a command from some higher power. It does not speak as a person speaks, giving specific information with a specific meaning. In my interpretation, synchronicity exists to present material to the individual that he would find meaningful, useful, or relevant, or to present something that will inspire him to do something useful. It does not carry or contain information, per se, but is useful in kindling a certain understanding within the mind. Hence, unlike Jung, I don’t believe that synchronicity is demonstrative of any pre-existing “absolute knowledge,” as such. Synchronicity does not tap into some cosmic reservoir of absolute truth.

I don’t believe we should look at meaning as being a thing in itself; meaning is merely an instance of the mind being inspired or stimulated in a certain way. Just as beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder, meaning exists only in the mind of the interpreter. I can demonstrate the idea with an analogy. If someone were to give me a copy of, say, the Koran written in Arabic, I would not be able to make heads or tails of its contents. I do not know how to read Arabic, so as a result the contents of this book would be, as far as I am concerned, meaningless; when I look at the characters on the page, they tell me nothing at all. However, if I learned to read in Arabic I would then be able to make sense of the Koran. Nothing has changed about the book itself; the only thing that has changed is my ability to extract meaning from the book. This book, as with any other book for that matter, has no objective meaning. “Objective meaning” – meaning that exists outside the mind – does not exist. (Our assumption that written or spoken words have objective meaning is merely an illusion created by our familiarity with the rules of language. But spoken or written words are nothing more than meaningless noises and scribbles outside of our learned decryption of them. One might counter that language although arbitrary is not random, since it possesses certain regularities or patterns that correspond to a codified set of characters and a finite vocabulary; however, synchronicity obviously possesses a certain order about it as well. With this in mind, to say that a synchronicity means nothing objectively is an empty argument.) The book, as with most books, is full of unintuitive markings that represent arbitrary metaphors; therefore the book is not a meaningful thing in itself but it is something that a person might consider meaningful if he is properly equipped mentally. Likewise, a synchronistic event – as is the case with everything else – has no objective meaning, but subjective meaning can be extracted from it, if one possesses the right mental abilities. Therefore a synchronicity does not have nor need to have an intrinsic meaning so long as it can successfully evoke that perception of meaning in a person, as language also does. Synchronicity does not force any particular idea down our throats, rather it provides us with “food for thought,” raw material to spark our reasoning faculties, and then leaves us to process it on our own.

In addition, if we are made privy to information that is beyond the senses, such as in a premonition or ESP event, I interpret this as not so much a conveyance of information but more as a kind of surge of utility which manifests itself to us in the form of curiously relevant and useful thoughts or mental images which we interpret as “knowledge.” The synchronicity is a mindless force which simply allows us to see what is useful for us to see within an appropriate context. The reach of this sense of usefulness is evidently not limited by time or space. In doing these things, the forces involved in synchronicity do not in any way defy or manipulate probability because those forces essentially are probability. The influence of entasy lies deeper than the man-made models of probability.

Synchronicity can be compared to a gust of wind that knocks an apple from an apple tree. The gust of wind is not itself an apple; an apple exists only where an apple tree creates it. But the wind can trigger the release of an apple. Likewise, a synchronicity is not itself meaning, for meaning exists only where an intelligent mind creates it. Rather, the synchronicity triggers the release of meaning from the mind.

Synchronicity is a kind of paradox: it is a sort of meaning without meaning. Thus when people criticize the phenomenon by saying that it doesn’t really mean anything, their point is actually quite moot. Synchronicity is an inciting, inspiring force upon the mind; as such it has no substance in the external world that can be objectively and systematically analyzed; rather, it’s substance exists purely in the impression it makes upon the mind. From the statistical point of view, one might be inclined to assume that the impressiveness of a certain synchronicity depends on whether it is genuine, but instead it is the opposite: the genuineness of the synchronicity depends upon whether it is impressive.

If synchronicity possesses meaning only in this sense, does this mean that there is no intellectual rigor to the meaning of the phenomenon, that a given synchronicity just means whatever the given experiencer wants it to mean? This issue may arise if, for example, multiple people observe the same coincidence happening at the same time. Each person may attribute a different meaning to the same experience. Well, since the event only triggers the release of meaning and is not itself meaningful, it may release a different meaning for different people depending on their frame of mind. Someone with more insight may be better at extracting meaning from the synchronicity than others; some interpretations may be more useful than others, but that doesn’t mean that any one interpretation is ever right or wrong, per se. Sometimes there might be a situation in which multiple people witness the same synchronicity, and one of them – perhaps a proponent of Littlewood’s law – vehemently claims that it means nothing and is just chance. However, in doing so, the skeptic may ironically be proving the concept of synchronicity correct, for in that person’s skepticism and eagerness to deny its meaning, he may in fact be meaningfully betraying some hidden aspect of his own thought process.

To some, the supposed meaningfulness of synchronicity is merely an example of “apophenia,” the human compulsion to project meaning or patterns onto what are actually just random, meaningless things. It is true that one should not be too quick to attribute experiences to the paranormal. But one should also not hold so strictly to rules of probability and science as to make oneself blind to life’s hidden messages. One should remember that the laws of probability are only man’s attempt at predicting the unpredictable and shoehorning the ineffable mysteries of the cosmos into intelligible constructs. And the laws of science only seek to organize cosmic forces into generalized patterns. The sciences are not designed to interpret unique, unrepeatable phenomena, such as synchronicity. Man-made scientific laws are merely man’s way of trying to understand cosmic forces, but the laws are not the forces themselves. More than a world of scientific laws, our world is a world of entasy, and as there is no clear line between order and chaos, there is also no clear line between the meaningless and the meaningful, the irrelevant and the relevant.

Regarding probability, consider this. If the weather forecaster says that tomorrow there will be an 85% chance of rain, what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that tomorrow it will 85% rain and 15% not rain? If you purchase a lottery ticket and simultaneously are told by someone that you have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of winning, what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that you are going to 1 in 1,000,000 win and 999,999 in 1,000,000 not win? Probability is merely an abstraction; in reality, either something will happen or it won't. The universe does not really contain such things as "probability" or "odds."

What is “chance,” exactly? This is a word that people use often but, when pressed, most people couldn’t really say what it is. “Chance” is a strange sort of word; it is what one could call a “placeholder word,” a word used to encapsulate an idea that is beyond the speaker’s understanding so that the idea can be talked about in normal conversation. However, the ability to use the word in conversation should not be misconstrued to be an understanding of what the word represents. As it happens, the reality that underlies this nebulous concept we call “chance” is really just the ebb and flow of the entasy realm, the primal interplay of forces which comprises patternlessness and pattern, meaninglessness and meaning. Hence, when people talk about something useful happening “by chance,” they are unwittingly referring to the productive capabilities of entasy.

 

Synchronicities are events that are highly improbable but not statistically impossible. Impossible, “supernatural” events do not occur because of the restrictive pull of order which gravitates all things towards normalcy. This balance of entasy is presumably why these meaningful coincidences may surprise us but not to such an earth-shaking extent that they intrude violently upon the status quo of one’s life. Some people experience synchronicities and project fantastical interpretations onto them, but subsequently may become disappointed when their lives simply return to normal. Presumably, they expect the subversive weirdness of synchronicity to maintain its momentum through their lives in some capacity. It is possible that such people attribute synchronicity to obscure, cosmic forces that do not accurately represent the phenomenon. Synchronicity will often take the form of a small blip in the course of the likely, an ephemeral excursion into the unlikely, which may not sway the skepticism of the steadfast statistician; it is a nudge, but sometimes all it takes is a nudge to steer the mind into a new path.

 

Even though Jung had dismissed the sequence of chance events involving the fish theme, I think it deserves some attention as well. Though the sequence had no personal meaning to Jung, nonetheless I believe it is still in the same “family” as synchronicity in that it too is a kind of spiking of order in the midst of incoherence. One might speculate that the fish-themed chance series that Jung encountered, and situations like them, could be compared to the instances in turbulence where a certain shape may appear and then can be observed to re-emerge in a quasi-periodic series. Furthermore, it is possible that meaningless coincidences and meaningful coincidences are different only in regards to the order-attributes involved. With a meaningless coincidence – such as the fish sequence – the attribute of pattern or repetition is represented; but with a true synchronicity the attribute of meaningfulness is represented.

Synchronicity appears to be in a similar category of phenomena to serendipity. The dynamics which bring about synchronicity can generally be attributed to serendipity as well. I can’t say whether they should be considered as wholly separate phenomena or as different aspects of the same phenomenon. It would appear that, comparatively speaking, synchronicity favors an expression of the order-attribute of “meaningfulness” while serendipity favors an expression of the order-attribute of “usefulness.” (In a nutshell, synchronicity is meaning from meaninglessness while serendipity is utility from futility.) However, I suppose there could be some overlap between the two phenomena; after all, serendipities often do have meaning, and synchronicities often have utility. Jung’s rose chafer was useful in breaking his patient’s intellectual resistance, and the areas devoid of bacteria in Dr. Fleming’s petri dish had meaning in relation to the contaminating mold. The difference between the phenomena may very well be only subjective. Because of the similarity between these phenomena, I have come to not think of them separately but rather I tend to collectively refer to them as “weird events.”

Interestingly, it would appear that weird events are essentially the opposite of mistakes. These two phenomena are utility and meaning emerging out of futility/nonsense, whereas mistakes are futility/nonsense emerging out of utility and meaning. Another thing that also may be worth mentioning is that though the weird events themselves are orderly, they often occur at unpredictable times and aperiodic intervals characteristic of chaos.

 

OTHER MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES

 

I don’t believe Jung’s relatively narrow definition of synchronicity represents the full extent of order’s ability to convey meaning through life-events. Apart from synchronicities in the strict sense of the word, I have noticed certain semblances of order in the sequence of events of my life. There is sometimes a meaning, a pattern, a connection, a logic to how things occur; it often seems like there is a certain storyline unfolding in a logical, coherent manner. At times, I can look back on my life and isolate uncannily coherent patterns from the “random noise” of my experiences. I may reflect on past experiences and will discover messages hidden in them that I was oblivious to at the time. If one reflects on one’s life carefully, it can be reminiscent of playing a crossword puzzle, as one tries to find meaning amongst the incoherence. On occasion, entasy will simply cause me to meet someone who makes a helpful impact on me or tells me something I need to hear at the time. Such things may not be as spectacular as a strict synchronicity, yet they are still just as meaningful to me. There is meaning happening all around us. One possible interpretation of synchronicity is that it is not a wholly unique and isolated instance of meaning but is just the meaning that we readily understand. If we take the time to stop and reflect, life itself can teach us lessons, if we are receptive and clever enough to infer them. At times, certain life-events can be interpreted as one would interpret an enigmatic dream; one may decipher meanings hidden behind symbolism and allegory. These kinds of meanings are more subtle and not as obvious as synchronicities; they require insight, introspection, and an aptitude for interpreting the abstract.

The underlying meaning of some experiences may be relatively obvious while with others it may be unclear whether it means anything or not. We could interpret synchronicity as not being qualitatively separate from non-synchronistic experiences but as an orderly extreme on the entasy spectrum. Hence, just as there is no discrete difference between structure and randomness, there is no discrete difference between synchronicity and not-synchronicity, only continuous, quantitative distinctions. There is no discrete barrier between meaning that throws itself at us and meaning that we must carefully extract through logical inference. As an orderly extreme, true synchronicity possesses a characteristic coherence, clarity, and sense of form and structure not seen in less orderly, more likely experiences.

 

STRANGE COINCIDENCES

 

In recorded history, there have been many strange coincidences that defy rational explanation. One particularly interesting one happened in 1983, when a woman named Patricia Kern was sent a notice from the IRS that she owed $3,000 in taxes for a job she had in Oregon. However, Kern was from Colorado and had never been in Oregon or held that job. The IRS further investigated and found out that it was a Patricia DiBiasi of Oregon who actually owed the taxes. When the two women were subsequently brought together to rectify the mistake, they discovered a staggering number of similarities between them. Though unrelated to each other by blood, they both had the maiden name Patricia Ann Campbell and were both born on March 13, 1941. Both of their fathers’ names was Robert Campbell. They both married military men in 1959 and within eleven days of each other. They both had two children and both children were ages 19 and 21. In addition, they both worked as book-keepers, they both had studied cosmetics in school, and they both practiced oil painting as a hobby. Is it possible for one to argue that it was merely a fluke of chance that these women were brought together?

There is another noteworthy case which occurred in the mid 1800s. Robert Lincoln, son of American president Abraham Lincoln, was one day standing on a crowded platform at a train station. Standing near the edge of the platform, he lost his footing as the train began to move and subsequently he began to fall into the gap between the platform and the train, which could have killed him. However, he was grabbed by his coat collar and pulled back up to safety by a certain man on the platform. That man was the actor Edwin Booth, older brother of John Wilkes Booth, who less than a year later was to assassinate the president. Can it be merely chance that the son of a man who is to be murdered is saved from death by the brother of the murderer? Or is it something more?

Cases like these would appear to indicate nothing less than an ordering force at work in the universe. If spectacular examples of order and meaning can occur in such a “lump sum” as exemplified in the above cases, then one is led to wonder how many morsels of meaning might be more subtly sprinkled throughout the course of one’s life. The above cases represent meanings that can be readily identified and understood by the human mind; how many more meaningful events happen in life that we fail to notice or are beyond our ability to comprehend?

THE FLAW OF STATISTICS

 

The scientific, statistical way of looking at the world may be an obstacle to some in regards to believing in the existence of synchronicity. A single synchronistic event is not something that can be tied to any general law or principle; it is a rare, unpredictable, irreproducible, unique, “freak” phenomenon. As such, the individual may conclude that synchronicity is an irrelevant event, something that tells us nothing of consequence about the universe and how it works. But I disagree, and so does Jung. He sees the statistical outlook of the world as largely fallacious, as it is a mere abstraction that excludes the total picture of the world. He says:

 

The statistically significant statement only concerns regularly occurring events, and if considered as axiomatic, it simply abolishes all exceptions to the rule. It produces a merely average picture of natural events, but not a true picture of the world as it is. Yet the exceptions . . . are just as important as the rules. . . . Because the statistical method shows only the average aspects, it creates an artificial and predominantly conceptual picture of reality. That is why we need a complementary principle for a complete description and explanation of nature.11

 

Many skeptics of synchronicity may view statistics as a more accurate way of looking at the world, but to a large extent the opposite is true. Statistics is merely an attempt to leave the real world and enter into a world of abstractions, a world of “coulds” and “shoulds” and mathematical formulations. It simply re-defines the world in a way that makes the person perceive everything around him in terms of abstractions, and causes the person to become so occupied with the abstractions that he ignores the scene as it is actually unfolding before him. Statistics, when used improperly, can actually obscure the truth rather than elucidate it.

 

Jung also indicates a systemic flaw inherent to scientific analysis:

 

[The] grasping of the whole is obviously the aim of science . . . , but it is a goal that necessarily lies very far off because science, whenever possible, proceeds experimentally and in all cases statistically. Experiment, however, consists in asking a definite question which excludes as far as possible anything disturbing and irrelevant. It makes conditions, imposes them on Nature, and in this way forces her to give an answer to a question devised by man. She is prevented from answering out of the fullness of her possibilities since these possibilities are restricted as far as practicable. For this purpose there is created in the laboratory a situation which is artificially restricted to the question and which compels Nature to give an unequivocal answer. The workings of Nature in her unrestricted wholeness are completely excluded. If we want to know what these workings are, we need a method of inquiry which imposes the fewest possible conditions, or if possible no conditions at all, and then leaves Nature to answer out of her fullness.12

 

Here Jung describes the reason why synchronicity’s incompatibility with science is, in fact, not reason to dismiss the phenomenon. We must acknowledge that the scientific method and statistics are not omnipotent or omniscient or without limitations. Not all events in our cosmos will necessarily fall within their “epistemological jurisdiction”; in other words, not everything can be known through science. Science excels at analyzing empirical evidence. That is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. In its focus on the empirical it is also limited by it. It is powerless to process situations or phenomena that cannot be objectively observed, quantified, dissected, or experimented on. The fact remains that there are aspects of the universe that are indeed relevant and meaningful to an understanding of it, but which simply demand an alternative method of investigation. In this regard, synchronicity is similar in a way to the phenomena of psuedomistakes and anomalies. These things may be interpreted as irrelevant and meaningless within science, but in reality they tell us something meaningful about the universe that science simply lacks the tools to process. It is my hope that the entasy model provides the tools to make sense of all of these phenomena and to incorporate them into a more holistic understanding of our reality.

 

SUMMARY

 

In summary, many individuals, myself included, have encountered various markedly improbable experiences in their lives, some which could be classified as serendipitous and some as synchronistic. Many such experiences one could very well call “miracles.” I believe one thing these experiences indicate is that the experience of life is itself a playing field for the dynamics of entasy. Furthermore, the concept of probability does not itself exercise any actual influence or power over one’s life experiences, but is merely a useful tool for making predictions about them, nothing more.

[+ CHAPTER TWELVE:+]

ENTASY IN RELIGION

Many religions have endured for thousands of years. During the course of that time, I believe, individual and shared observations have yielded certain intuited revelations about the nature of reality. Pieces of true insight about the cosmos can be found in many ancient religions, often despite some being steeped in the mire of arbitrary belief, ignorance, and superstition. It is interesting to note how some religions of the world betray glimpses of an understanding of the entasy concept.

YIN AND YANG

 

What is probably the most striking example of a religious understanding of entasy is the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. In this philosophy, a part of Taoist belief, the universe itself is an interplay between two opposite yet interconnected forces, namely yin and yang. This duality is commonly represented graphically by the symbol known as the “taijitu,” pictured here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yin and yang represent two general sides of reality, which are represented in the taijitu. The black side of the symbol represents yin: yin represents qualities which include femininity, passivity, darkness, cold, soft, etc. The white side is yang, the qualities of which include masculinity, aggressiveness, light, hot, hard, etc. As you can see in the symbol, there is a white dot in the black side, and a black dot in the white side. This indicates that nothing is ever completely yin or completely yang; there is always a little yin in yang, and there is always a little yang in yin. They tend to indirectly imply each other, much as order and chaos do. The shining of sunlight on an object is yang, but the shadow is yin. The crest of a wave is yang, the trough of the wave is yin. Though they are opposites, they are in harmony, as with order and chaos. Together they are more than the sum of their parts, as are order and chaos.

As we can see, though entasy is a different duality from yin and yang, the two dualities do share some striking similarities. An additional example is that, looking at the taijitu, the yin dot in the yang side and the yang dot in the yin side are illustrative of the unity that exists between the randomness paradox and Murphy’s law, with the orderly mistakes that emerge from chaos and the chaotic mistakes that emerge from order. In reality, the taijitu could just as easily be used as a symbol for the entasy model as a symbol for Taoism.

DIVINATION

 

Another relevant subject in religion is that of divination. Divination is essentially the usage of apparently mundane, random events in order to obtain guidance or communication from the divine. Various divination methods can be found in religious systems across the globe and throughout history.

The well-known Taoist book the I Ching contains certain divination methods, the most traditional being a technique involving stalks of the yarrow plant. While contemplating a specific question, the practitioner divides forty-nine of the stalks into two groups at random and then counts the stalks in each group by fours until obtaining a remainder of four or less. The total number of remainders from both groups corresponds to a certain line. After the process is performed a total of six times, the lines form what is called a “hexagram,” which can be interpreted in the I Ching. Methods may also involve the throwing of coins or dice. The results of the divinations are believed to foretell one’s future or fortune.

The Bible involves a particular divination method known as “casting lots.” Little information is known about the details of this practice, but some think it may have involved throwing certain paraphernalia into a small area and then interpreting how they are arranged. There are multiple mentions of this practice in the Bible. For example in Joshua 18:6, Joshua casts lots to determine the will of God as to how to distribute the newly conquered lands among the tribes of Israel. In 1 Samuel 14:42, lots were cast in order to determine who between Saul and his son Jonathan had broken a certain oath. In Jonah 1:7, the practice is used by sailors during a storm to determine who among them was responsible for the divine wrath that the storm represented; the lot correctly fell upon Jonah. I have previously stated that there is no such thing as chance but rather there is only the dynamics – the “will” – of the entasy realm; interestingly, Proverbs 16:33 appears to maintain a similar attitude: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” This would seem to imply that the author does not believe in some abstract force called “chance,” but rather the results of “chance” occurrences, such as those found in lot-casting, are instead determined directly by the will of God himself.

Methods of divination may include a wide range of paraphernalia. Many involve common items such as shells, sand, cards, bones, etc. One method involves drinking a cup of unstrained tea and then divining one’s fortune based on the specific shapes made by the dregs at the bottom of the cup. In the method of alomancy, the diviner throws salt into the air and interprets the patterns it makes as it falls to the ground. Pyromancy involves throwing certain items into a flame and interpreting the way they burn. Some divination methods involve the passive observation of the behavior of certain animals, such as the eating behavior of ants or the flight of a flock of birds. Sometimes omens are interpreted through an accidental encounter with a certain animal (well-known examples of this are a black cat, or a groundhog on Groundhog Day). Some methods involve the inspection of a certain animal’s excrement. Haruspicy is a divination method found in many ancient religions which involves the killing and eviscerating of an animal, and the subsequent inspection of its entrails, notably the liver and intestines, in order to consult the will of the gods.

Science looks at the world in a statistical way: the overall behaviors of the many or the whole are meaningful, and the behavior of single instances or small details is dismissed as irrelevant; accidents and coincidences are meaningless. Divination, on the other hand, respects the role of the individual details. With divination, there is really no such thing as “chance,” “accident” or “coincidence,” and there can be meaning in the lone instance that becomes lost in the statistical perspective of things. This outlook is fully consistent with the entasy model, which also suggests that randomness and meaning are intermixed. Divination seems to be a practice that tries to provoke a response from the phenomenon of synchronicity; it is a sort of organized language and forum through which synchronicity might provide an answer to the question in one’s mind.1

TRIMURTI

 

Another notable example is a concept in Hinduism known as the “Trimurti.” This is a trinity where there are three separate gods – Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer – and these gods are essentially separate manifestations of the one Supreme Being, Brahman. Through this trinity, the universe is created, preserved, destroyed, and then created again in an eternal loop, like a cosmic reincarnation cycle. Although labeled as the destroyer, Shiva is not considered to be evil, per se, but is merely considered an integral part of the cycle. Destruction and creation go hand in hand, two distinct parts of an organic whole – just as in the entasy model.

MAYA

 

Also in Hinduism is the concept of “maya.” This word is usually translated as words like “illusion,” “unreality” and “deceit.” This concept suggests that the world around us is an illusion; not in the sense that the world does not really exist, but that the world and all the things in it are never what they appear to be. The word is also translated by some as the phrase “not-that.” This indicates that whatever you perceive, what you think you perceived is “not that.” Maya represents the human tendency to regard appearance as reality and reality as appearance.2 We may perceive oneness and permanence when there is actually manifoldness and ephemerality. We see stability around us, but in reality everything is in flux. Maya affects our daily lives, as we can be deceived by a superficial understanding of society, of the people we interact with, and of ourselves; we can become deluded by the lure of material possessions and petty desires, mistaking them for true, enduring satisfaction. Some believe maya can be overcome by such things as discipline, meditation, and emotional detachment. The concept of maya corresponds perfectly to how the universal duality creates a world of illusions.

 

PRIMORDIAL CHAOS

 

The concept of the precosmic chaos is not an entirely new idea. Many ancient mythologies possess a concept of a primordial chaos: a formless mass, tumultuous ocean, or watery abyss from which the world emerges. This chaos is typically understood to be a muddled state of the cosmos, consisting of an undifferentiated earth and sky. The presence of this chaos is typically followed by the gods using it as raw material for creating an organized cosmos, often beginning by separating the sky from the earth. This theme can be found in myths from many different peoples across the globe, from great civilizations to small tribes. Some peoples even had a distinct name for it, for example the Egyptians called it “Nu,” the Sumerians called it “Nammu,” the Canaanites called it “Yam,” the Babylonians called it “Tiamat,” the Hebrews called it “Tehom,” the Chinese called it “Hundun,” the Greeks called it “Chaos.” It’s my belief that, in this regard, ancient peoples possessed remarkable intuition that appears to be lost on modern scientists who insist on pushing the absurd idea that our universe came out of nothing.

 

DESTRUCTION AND CREATION

 

In many ancient religions, there is a common mythical theme of a primeval battle between the gods and a monster that symbolizes chaos. This monster frequently takes the form of a dragon. According to religion historian Mircea Eliade, “the dragon is the paradigmatic figure of the marine monster, of darkness, night, and death – in short, of the amorphous and virtual, of everything that has not yet acquired a ‘form.’ “3 Probably the prime example of this is the account given in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish, concerning the victory of the god Marduk over the marine chaos-dragon Tiamat. After engaging in battle with Tiamat, Marduk defeats and kills her. This victory symbolizes the victory of order over chaos. However, this victory alone was not sufficient to create the cosmos. Marduk subsequently proceeds to cut Tiamat in half; with one half he fashions the sky and with the other half he fashions the earth. He pierces her eyes and makes them into the sources of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and from her tail he creates the Milky Way. He uses two of her ribs to create the east and west, he uses her crotch to support the sky, from her liver is created the pole star, and from her spit is created the clouds, rain and fog. Marduk later defeats Tiamat’s son Kingu, then takes his blood and mixes it with earth to make clay with which he creates humankind. Interestingly, it was not the defeat of chaos alone which gave rise to the cosmos as we know it, but ultimately it was the utilization of chaos which established the cosmos. In addition, it was, counterintuitively, an act of destruction which served as the basis for creation. The chaos-monster’s disassembled body served as the medium through which the cosmos could be assembled. These things appear to indicate an understanding by the Babylonians that chaos and order are not purely antagonistic to each other, but that there exists a measure of intermingling between them.

Some similar examples of enmity between a god and a chaos-monster include the battle between the Egyptian sun god Ra and the chaos-snake Apophis, between the Canaanite god Ba’al and the sea-dragon Yam, and the Hebrew god Yahweh and the sea-dragon Rahab. One thing that is clear through these kinds of stories is that ancient peoples possessed a clear concept of the dichotomy of chaos and order and the enmity that exists between them. This dichotomy should not be construed as synonymous with the good-versus-evil dichotomy common to modern thought, but as something more similar to the dichotomy delineated in the entasy model.

The creation of the cosmos achieved through the death and dismemberment of Tiamat represents a certain theme – that of destruction or disassembly followed by re-distribution – which is echoed in myths from multiple other ancient peoples. The hymn 10.90 of the Hindu Rigveda scriptures tells the story of a giant cosmic being known as Purusha. Purusha gives himself as a sacrifice, and from his body the gods create the animals, and from his mind they created the moon, the sun from his eye, the air from his breath, the gods Indra and Agni from his mouth, the firmament from his navel, the heavens from his head, and the earth from his feet. In ancient Chinese mythology, a primordial man named P’an Ku hatches from the cosmic egg. The top half of the egg is the sky and the lower half is the earth. For 18,000 years he gradually grows taller until the sky and earth reach their appropriate positions, after which P’an Ku dies and falls to pieces. His breathe becomes the wind, his voice the thunder, his limbs the mountains, his blood the rivers, his eyes become the sun and moon, and the parasites on his body become people and animals. Interestingly, this theme is not exclusive to Eastern peoples but can also be found in the West. In Norse mythology, the primordial giant Ymir is killed by the gods, and he too is dismembered. From his flesh they fashion the earth, from his blood the sea, from his bones the hills, from his hair the trees, from his skull the sky, from his brains the clouds, and from his brows the world of mankind. Mythical stories such as these symbolize and illustrate the primal connection that exists between destruction and creation/orderedness.

 

BIBLICAL CREATION STORY

 

There is a widespread misunderstanding concerning the Biblical creation story. The traditional interpretation is that God created the world ex nihilo – out of nothingness. But this is not what the Bible indicates. More accurately, God created order from chaos. If one reads the creation account carefully, God does not so much create the world as organize it, imposing distinct separations and classes where before there was only incoherent intermingling. As he moves upon the chaotic, disorganized waters of Tehom (which is traditionally translated as “the deep”), first he separates the light from the darkness, then he created a firmament (a solid partition) in the midst of the waters to separate the water above it from the water below it. Then the water below he gathered together, causing the dry land to appear, and the now-consolidated waters he called seas and the dry land he called earth. And after creating lights in the firmament, he assigns them a distinct purpose; and he appoints the sun to “rule” the day and the moon to “rule” the night, as if appointing government officials to oversee certain districts. And later he creates the plant life and then other forms of life, where here the Bible makes a point of saying that the life forms were created “according to their own kind”: this indicates God organizing life forms into distinct families or species, rather than there being an incoherent jumble of creatures. Thus, from the raw material of chaos God fashions the cosmic order. The Biblical “creation story” is equally an “organization story.”

ECCLESIASTES

 

The biblical book of Ecclesiastes appears to have an understanding of the intermingled nature of utility and futility, and sense and nonsense. Throughout its contents, the book expresses a tension between the utility and futility of life itself and of everything that we do within it. For example, some verses praise wisdom, such as Ecclesiastes 7:12 – “For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it,” and 7:19 – “Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city.” However, some verses take a contrary view, such as 1:18 – “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” The book also expresses the “negative” side of the universal duality, in that everything is flawed and our undertakings in life will never give us complete satisfaction. Consider these examples:

 

2:15-16 – So I said in my heart, “As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise?” Then I said in my heart, “This also is vanity.” For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!

 

7:15-17 – I have seen everything in my days of vanity: There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?

 

9:11 – I returned and saw under the sun that – The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.

 

TWO-FACED DEITIES

 

The concept of the gods being one-sidedly all-benevolent seems to be a fairly modern notion in the history of religion. Ancient gods were often known to be fairly impulsive and two-faced, alternating between benevolence and malevolence by whim. The same deity responsible for giving people victory in battle or plentiful harvests was the same deity who would inflict them with plague or natural disasters. Some gods would make morbid demands of their subjects, such as commanding them to sacrifice their slaves, their virgins, or even their own children; yet the worshipers of these gods still strangely considered them worthy of their devotion. They evidently found no conflict or contradiction between these two aspects of the gods’ nature. It would appear they did not merely seek to invent and worship a god who was amenable to their desires and comfort, but they instead conceptualized a god who reflected the two-sided nature of reality itself, which was both contradictory and harmonious.

It seems that the overall history of religion has transitioned from a two-faced, vaguely entasy-like paradigm to one where theology is marked by a well-defined dichotomy of good versus evil. The ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism seemed to be one of the pioneers of this movement, establishing the dichotomy between the perfectly benevolent Ahura Mazda and the fully evil Angra Mainyu.

A contrast between these two paradigms can be found in the Bible. In the New Testament, God is viewed as purely good while Satan is viewed as the enemy of God and the epitome of evil; here there is a resemblance to the Zoroastrian dichotomy. (Jewish theology was likely influenced by this religion after the Persians liberated the Jews from Babylonian rule in the 6th century BC.) On the other hand, in the Old Testament, Satan is God’s accusing angel, whom God uses to sometimes accuse and test mankind, or to bring calamity and destruction. It is Satan who, with God’s authorization, brings great calamity and disease upon Job, as a test of his faith. Interestingly, Job never curses or admonishes God for doing this. In Job 2:10, he says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”; in Job 1:21 he says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”; and in Job 13:15 he makes a strange, arguably masochistic assertion: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job appears to acknowledge and accept the two-sided nature of God; he accepts that strongly conflicting temperaments can emerge from the same divine source, yet there is no contradiction. This type of God was a dissonant harmony, much like entasy. In the Old Testament, God was known to send his angels to rescue and defend, as well as to bring death and destruction, sometimes against the children of Israel themselves. God’s two-sided nature is described plainly in a verse like Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things”; and also in Amos 3:6 – “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”

Personally, in my readings of the Bible I have always liked the Old Testament conception of God better than that of the New Testament. It is, I feel, a conception of God more in tune with nature and the entasy-character thereof. New Testament theism posits a “tamed” God, a God who slavishly submits to human conceptions of goodness and sound judgment. Contrarily, the Old Testament God is a God who is more divinely “wild,” who freely exercises his prerogatives as God and simply does as he sees fit. In regards to the Old Testament God, we may not always understand what he does and we may not always like what he does, but it is not our place to question his ways, as his ways are mysterious and beyond what our little human minds can comprehend. As it says in Isaiah 55:8, “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord.” Much the same can be said about the entasy realm. The entasy realm is like “God in the chaos”; it is a power that brings about creation and organization but in mysterious ways that are beyond our ability to comprehend. The same force that destroys also creates, that which brings calamity also brings peace.

 

[+ CHAPTER THIRTEEN:+]

THE SCIENCE OF WHY

 

While writing this book, I have been investigating other proposed answers to the question of why the universe exists. I wanted to get an understanding of what other people were saying on the subject and how their views compared with mine. I’ve found that most of them fall under two groups: the religious approach and the scientific approach. The religious approach tends to offer the usual unfalsifiable claims about God, requiring little logic and much faith.

The scientific approach I found more intriguing. This approach tries to explain the existence of the universe purely through hard scientific data, typically involving the fields of cosmology, physics, and quantum mechanics. They explain existence through terms such as the Big Bang, the Higgs boson, matter/anti-matter relationships, and so on. While investigating these scientific explanations, it became clear to me that the answers these people provided didn’t really answer “why” the universe came to exist but “how” it came to exist. Strangely, it seemed that, as intelligent as they were, they were still oblivious to the difference in meaning between two simple words: “how” and “why.” It seems to me that explaining the complicated principles and mathematical equations that lie at the foundation of reality doesn’t itself address where these laws came from or why they should exist in the first place. You simply can’t explain science in terms of science. All science does is explain how things work and how things happen. Investigating scientific observations by way of scientific explanations merely results in an endless regress of hows. A “how” is ultimately meaningless unless it exists within the larger context of a “why.” For example, say I am making plans for how I will travel to Egypt. I am saving up my money, looking up the cheapest airline flights, researching Egyptian hotels, etc. But no matter how thorough and forward-looking I am in my preparations, my efforts are ultimately meaningless unless I can answer one simple yet vital question: Why am I traveling to Egypt? The same is true for any other phenomenon in reality. Any how must invariably occur within the context of a greater why from which the how derives its raison d’etre. Wherever there is a how there is a why; a how is invalid without a why.

We cannot use science to fully make sense of the things that science studies. Science can explain how the universe began, which presumably involves the Big Bang and the expansion of the singularity, but science cannot answer why the universe began. Science can show how quantum particles behave in a probabilistic manner, or how nonlinear systems behave erratically, but it can’t explain why. Science can show that biological functions are frequently “two-faced,” but it can’t explain why this is the case; science can determine at what temperature a liquid boils but not why it boils. How life began, how species evolve and diversify, how mutations and diseases occur, how stars and planets form – all these things science may be able to answer, but it cannot answer why. In order to fully understand reality, we must place modern science – the science of how – into a larger context: the science of why.

I like to think of the entasy model as the “science of why.” This science is concerned with reasons, whereas conventional science is concerned with causes. (The difference between how and why is the difference between a cause and a reason.) The entasy model gives us a framework through which we can begin to conceive of reasons for the various phenomena in the world around us, where otherwise there would only be causes. For example, the entasy model does not address how mistakes happen but it addresses why they happen. It doesn’t explain how through evolution organisms diverged from a common ancestor, but it may explain why they diverged. It doesn’t explain how weird events occur but it proposes a reason for why they occur.

Science would have us think that there is no why, only a how; while religion would have us believe that the why (e.g., divine powers) is the how. But the entasy model proposes that the why and the how can be two separate dimensions or axes of the same phenomenon.

When confronted with the question of why certain phenomena happen, science-minded people will often say things like “That’s just the way it is” or “It’s just cause and effect.” But these answers are not really answers but are merely variants of the phrase “I don’t know.” As we saw in the chaos theory section, events in a system may happen for one reason or other (such as movements of sleds on the slope) but from a larger perspective, they may perhaps be acting under the influence of a deeper set of dynamics. The science of why proposes to shed light on that deeper set of dynamics that underlies “the way things are.”

Science-minded people may think that to believe there is a why is to believe in theism, or some comparable view thereof. Some think that to believe in a why is to assume a desire or urge existing out there somewhere in the cosmos, and that urge must belong to somebody – a person. But I disagree. The impersonal forces of order and chaos both could be said to possess an urge; or perhaps it is more accurate to say that both of these forces are themselves urges. Primeval, disembodied urges. These urges provided the reasons that gave birth to causality itself.

In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking reflects:

 

Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.1

 

It is my belief that entasy is that which “breathes fire into the equations.”

 

Scientists like to think that all that exists at the ground state of reality are laws and nothing more. As philosopher Jim Holt has commented, some scientists mistakenly look at scientific laws as gods, possessing some kind of “ontological power” that enables them to call a universe into being out of nothingness. But he says that this is a primitive understanding of what physical laws are; they are really nothing more than “generalized descriptions of patterns and regularities in the world.“2 Scientists must understand that though these laws have influence within this universe, one shouldn’t assume they necessarily have influence outside of it. They cannot stand apart and create a universe from the outside. (Scientists make their livelihood studying laws, so it is no surprise that they may, from time to time, overestimate their explanatory power. There is a saying: “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.”)

Furthermore, those laws are subject to a deeper set of laws. The law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the phases of matter, the dualities of electromagnetism, spacetime, the wave-particle duality, and mass-energy equivalence are all subject to, or products of, entasy. Scientists want desperately to understand the origin of reality in technical, quantitative terms, but I think this is impossible. If we are to assume that all things naturally flow from the simple to the complex, then it seems more likely that reality’s origin can ultimately only be understood in simpler, qualitative terms. It may be that though the meat of reality is of a quantitative nature, the skeleton of reality – the underlying infrastructure which holds everything together – is qualitative. Laws, formulas, and quantities when stripped away reveal qualities. Causes when stripped away reveal reasons.

Religion and science both have their pros and cons. Religion explains “why,” but it does so in a way that has no basis in reality but rather imposes certain unproven postulates on reality from the top-down, from a priori generalizations to specifics. Science is based in reality and builds knowledge from the bottom-up, from a posteriori specifics to generalizations, but as a result it only answers “how” and neglects the “why.” It would be ideal if we could somehow blend the empirical and evidence-based nature of science with the why-answering ability of religion. I think the entasy model accomplishes this. It explains the why, but in a way that is derived from reality rather than bypassing it.

Science tends to be quantitative – dealing with specific quantities and increments, whereas religions tend to be qualitative – dealing with qualities and generalizations. Science attributes events to natural causes, whereas religion attributes things to supernatural causality. In his book on synchronicity, Carl Jung remarked on how in the last few centuries the scientific view involving natural causality has overshadowed the more primitive, metaphysical view of the world. He comments that to the primitive, metaphysical mind “no accident, no illness, no death is ever fortuitous or attributable to ‘natural’ causes. Everything is somehow due to magical influence. The crocodile that catches a man while he is bathing has been sent by a magician; illness is caused by some spirit or other; the snake that was seen by the grave of somebody’s mother is obviously her soul; etc.“3 This description is reminiscent of my experience with Christianity; it sometimes seemed like mere causality didn’t even exist: every stroke of good fortune was the grace of God, every misfortune was the work of the devil or demons, a narrow escape from danger was the intervention of angels. But this way of thinking has more recently been relegated to nonsense by science. Ironically, the entasy model infuses an air of religiosity to science, in that it returns our understanding of causality back to a more qualitative paradigm; it shows that this quantitative world actually dwells within a larger, qualitative world.

In religion, people have traditionally sought for some kind of transcendent force from beyond that connects with the real world, such as spirits or divine power; people have sought for something that would bridge the qualitative world of religious belief with the quantitative, practical reality of everyday life. But so many of these methods, such as magic, faith healing, séances, divinations and so on, have brought disappointment, failing to break free from the abstract, qualitative realm and to make an impact on the practical realm. The more science-minded people keep telling them that reality is just dry, old reality, with no metaphysical component. But I think, in a way, the entasy model may succeed where so many religious and spiritualistic methods have failed. This is because order and chaos are these broad, qualitative forces that we can understand a priori, but we can also see the evidence or symptoms of them in the real, practical world. Thus, the entasy model is a sort of bridge between the qualitative and the quantitative, the metaphysical and the physical.

The religious worldview may seem irrational and stupid to the scientific mind, but I have found that there is method in the madness. I have already shown (in the “Entasy in Religion” chapter) how glimpses of the entasy model have manifested themselves in various religious ideas. At some time in humanity’s past, it became clear to many people that there was more to reality than what could be perceived through the senses. And unfortunately that’s all science really does; it is limited to what we can perceive through the senses. This is one more thing that the entasy model has in common with religion: it suggests that there is more to the world than what meets the eye. But instead of fostering overly-subjective postulates as is often the case with religion, the postulates of the entasy model are derived from generalizations about the world itself. Religious practitioners feel the need for some higher reality – a spiritual realm – to explain and validate our reality; however what they fail to realize is that the real explanation and validation of our reality is implied in our reality.

Science and religion are two very different paths to the same destination: that of understanding our world. But the two are unaware that they are actually, in a sense, two parts of a single whole; they embody the two parts of a single human drive for understanding. They are like some object that had long ago been broken into two halves, and the halves have been apart for so long that they have each grown accustomed to being without the other. Yet, having forgotten their previous union, each half is plagued with the odd feeling of being incomplete. In seeking knowledge, science is a fragment which possesses senses but lacks “mind” – an ability to reflect upon that which it perceives and discern its underlying meaning and implications. Thus the fragment perceives everything around it, but can only register them at face value. Religion is a fragment which possesses this mind which science lacks, but lacks “senses” – an ability to empirically deduce effects from causes. Thus though it can reflect upon things, lacking senses it does so only according to the reference of the figments of its own mind.

A fault of religion is that it can be too subjective; a fault of science is that it can be too objective. The religious mindset too often poses facile answers to complex, difficult questions; the science mentality can sometimes look for complex, technical answers when there may actually be a simple explanation.

I believe there is more to man’s predilection towards religious belief than what meets the eye; my conjecture is that it is actually an expression of man’s nonrational yet nonetheless accurate intuition that there is a reality beyond the physical realm. I believe the entasy model is the intermediary that can bring the estranged fragments back together into a more complete epistemological union. It can reconcile the urge to understand with the “senses” with the urge to understand with the “mind”; in other words, it reconciles the a posteriori with the a priori.

Like religion, the entasy model is not afraid to attribute events to the influence of a mysterious, unseen realm. However, there is often an inverse correlation between scientific knowledge and the structural integrity of one’s religious faith. An understanding of natural causality tends to dissolve one’s faith in religious postulates. Yet like science (and unlike religion), the entasy model is strengthened and affirmed (rather than weakened) by an empirical understanding of the natural world. The entasy model is in some ways like religion but is not a religion; it is in some ways like science but is not strictly a science. What it is, in essence, is an intermediary between two mutually incomplete epistemological systems.

[+ CHAPTER FOURTEEN:+]

LIFE FORMS

 

When addressing the question “What is the meaning/purpose of life?” there is a yet unexplored interpretation of that question. We could also interpret the question as asking “What is the meaning/purpose of life forms?” What about Earth’s biosphere as a whole – why does it exist? This book so far has attempted to explain the fundamental dynamics of reality, and the understanding of those dynamics has helped to make sense of many of the structures and phenomena that we see in the universe. But the entasy model does not profess to dictate what necessarily must exist or occur, it only professes to explain the existence of those things that are already observed. One cannot, through the entasy model, deduce what exactly the entasy realm will do and how it will do it. It is conceivable that if we could rewind the history of the universe and start all over, life forms as we know them might have never emerged.

We might intuitively extrapolate, using the entasy model, that life forms are, generally speaking, an example of order from chaos. But there is an infinite number of forms that order can take. Those forms don’t necessarily have to involve things like metabolism, cellular structure, reproduction, etc. As an analogy, I could infer why a man goes to a restaurant and orders a meal: because he is hungry. However, it is less obvious why the man would order, say, pork chops when he could just as easily order a steak or a hamburger. The still-pressing question is: why life? Why the constant struggle for survival? Why consciousness? Why emotion, happiness, sadness, fear, desire? Why this in particular?

Life is all around us. It carpets the ground and sprawls across entire continents in the form of grasses, trees tower over us sometimes by hundreds of feet, there is life crawling and slithering around amongst the grass, and on floors, on our skin, in our hair, in our mouths, in our intestines, nesting in rain gutters, living in the walls in your house and between your shower tiles, on spoiled food in your refrigerator, in your dog’s or cat’s fur, floating in the air around us, soaring at high altitudes, living on mountains, in valleys, remote uncharted islands, pitch black caves, lush rainforests, arid deserts, frigid arctic regions, under rocks, on feces, rotting corpses, inside of trees and in forest canopies, burrowing underground in subsurface tunnels, in puddles, in oceans, in dark and high-pressure depths of the ocean floor, in midocean ridges near bubbling magma vents. This planet does not merely contain life but is saturated with it like a sponge, filled with life in every possible habitat. But again: why? What’s the point of this?

The existence of life forms is curious because life forms are uncommon in the universe. Imagine if this were different: complex life forms were discovered on other habitable planets; little space creatures saturated the void of outer space. Would we still be asking why life exists? It’s possible we may just accept life as a given and thus inquire no further. But, of course, this is not the case. As far as we know, we and the other life forms we share this planet with are the only ones of our kind in the entire cosmos.

It can be easy to look at the phenomenon of life purely through the perspective of human life and human experience. But I find it useful, when asking questions about one’s own life, to consider nonhuman life forms. Some years ago an inquisitive child once asked me, “Why do animals exist?” I thought it a strange question at first, as I felt that, whatever the logic was behind our existence, animals had no less a right to exist than we do. But on second thought, it is an understandable question. In our civilized, industrial society, we have largely removed ourselves from nature. We have cooped ourselves up in our little human bubble, and we see ourselves as wholly separate from the other animals. From our perspective, the existence of life forms, particularly the ones that we don’t eat or keep as pets or otherwise have use for, does seem superfluous. Their existence is just an amusing curiosity. Traditional Christianity would have us believe that though we may live among the animals, we are not of them. So it goes, we are not ourselves just another species of animal, but rather we are the children of a god; we possess an element of divinity that makes us altogether qualitatively different from the animals, who themselves are but flesh and instinct. This mindset even seems to have worked its way into secular circles, with many thinking that we are in a completely separate class, rather than the animals being our brothers and sisters in a biological family. Because of this mindset, it is commonly assumed that there is nothing that we can learn about our own existence by observing the animals. But I do not agree with this view.

I sometimes watch nature TV shows focusing on different animals. I am often fascinated by these creatures, some of which I never knew existed. Different species display their own peculiar physiology, predation techniques, courtship rituals, breeding methods, and so on. I was intrigued by a particular species of fish called the capelin which live in the Atlantic. What was interesting about them was that their breeding ritual consists of migrating over long distances to amass together by the millions in sync with the tide and then allowing themselves to get washed up on the shores of Newfoundland. There the females lay their eggs and the males scramble to fertilize them. There stranded on the shore, many of the capelin are effortlessly snatched up by opportunistic predators, and for the ones who are not eaten, unable to get back into the water virtually all of them suffocate to death. Essentially, the fish live their lives swimming around and grazing on plankton, and then when they reach maturity they embark on a long journey to their breeding grounds, so that they can breed and then commit suicide. And after their offspring hatch, the cycle repeats: the fish grow up and strive to survive long enough so that they may kill themselves. Watching this, I thought to myself, “What is the point of this?”

The mayfly is a winged insect which has a typical lifespan of about 24 hours. Mayflies do not eat; they have a useless, vestigial mouth and they have no digestive tract. All a mayfly does during its short life is reproduce, after which it dies, leaving behind a new generation which will also live for a day, reproduce, die, and so on. Alternatively, consider trees. Trees can live for hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of years. During this time, they reproduce and metabolize nutrients. Yet during their life they just sit in one spot and never move; and they have no nervous system, and presumably have no thoughts, emotions, desires, or capacity for pleasure or satisfaction. So what’s the point? These aforementioned life forms are very different from us, yet could we still share the same basic reason for existing?

It is interesting that in the Biblical creation story, God gives no specific reason for why he created the animals. After creating all the living creatures according to their kind, the account merely says, “God saw that it was good.” But how so? What was so good about it? Later in the story, God tells man to take dominion over the animals. One might assume that the purpose of animals, from this perspective, is to serve and be ruled by humankind. But this is not always the case. Many life forms go about their business completely outside of our influence, having never seen or been seen by a single human. Many live in remote regions inhospitable to and out of the reach of humans. Many life forms are tiny microbes that we can’t even see or touch. There are bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that not only can we not take dominion over, but in many cases they can infect and dominate us. So I would surmise that being ruled by humans is not really what nonhuman life forms are here for.

 

I do not believe that the existence of humans should be understood separately from the existence of all other forms of life. To ask why one exists is to ask the same of the other. As much as we would like to deny it, we are all one big biological family. Thus, whatever logic for existence applies to the simplest or most bizarre life form also applies to us. Early in this book, I said that the best way of solving a problem is to break the problem down to its simplest components. Observing nonhuman organisms gives one a frame of reference through which one can look for the least common denominator that applies to and underlies all life forms. I think it is only by looking at the biosphere as a whole, and not just human life, that one can speculate why entasy saw fit to create this particular phenomenon called “life.”

 

SPECULATIONS

 

There isn’t necessarily only one reason why the entasy realm chose to create life. There may well be a constellation of reasons. I have come up with five possible reasons which may have factored into why entasy created life forms. What follows is not strictly part of the entasy model, per se, but it is my own suggestions as extrapolated from the entasy model:

 

1) ORDER OUT OF CHAOS

 

The first reason (which should be obvious to the reader by now) is that life forms are an example of order out of chaos. A particularly extreme example, at that. We are order made flesh. Our bodies are form and function, pattern and rhythm, as manifested in our outward physique as well as in our internal organs and systems. We are symmetry and proportion, structure and design against formlessness.

Life represents stability, multiple forms of it simultaneously. We are internal stability facilitated by our physiological mechanisms of homeostasis. We are stability with respect to our environment achieved by our drive to stay alive: to find means of nutrition, to seek optimal conditions of temperature and pH, to avoid dangers both mechanical and chemical, to avoid being eaten by predators, etc. We seek collective stability through reproduction and the drive to maintain the species against extinction – we actively prefer wholeness to destruction.

Life forms also embody order on the broader level of environmental ecology. There is an impressively complex order to the web of interactions and influences that can occur within a single habitat.

Life forms are ordered fixtures of the universe just as any other. Just as there are galaxies, stars, planets, solar systems, etc., there are also flowers, ants, pigs, and people. It would appear that we, life forms, are the highest expression of order. And when we look at the scope and diversity of the biosphere, we are seeing in action the richness of the creative power of entasy.

 

2) ANOMALY

 

The second reason is that life forms are an anomaly. Life is uncommon; most things in the universe, as far as it seems, are not alive. We are anomalies even amongst other ordered things, such as snowflakes or gemstones. Where otherwise there would be apathy, life implies concern – life forms care what happens to them; snowflakes and gemstones do not. Life forms typically are unequivocally opposed to being cut or burned or broken, etc.; thus life forms meticulously look after their own orderedness and wholeness. Where otherwise there would be obliviousness, life often implies awareness/consciousness. As an anomaly, we are like the universe itself in that we are the exception that completes and intensifies the rule. We are the ultimate order, and as such we are the ultimate defiance (and simultaneously the ultimate completion) of chaos.

 

3) A STAGE FOR ENTASY

 

The Earth’s biosphere is a stage on which the play of entasy is performed. Life manifests the overall dynamics, the ebb and flow, of entasy. One notable characteristic of terrestrial life is that life forms are habitually eating each other or getting eaten by each other; they are constantly feasting on each other’s flesh, dissolving, absorbing, or phagocytizing each other. Life forms take ordered living tissue which is far from thermodynamic equilibrium and break it down to a simpler, more disordered, closer to equilibrium state. Life forms maintain the structure and function of their own bodies by deconstructing those of others. Life forms are dissipative systems, decreasing entropy (which is a form of chaos) within by increasing entropy without. In this way also does life embody the dynamics of entasy.

A life form’s body is itself a platform for entasy. From one perspective the body is an embodiment of order, yet on closer inspection it is really more of an intricate interweaving of order and chaos, with its many physiological processes and biological machines which hinge upon random motion or random noise.

Also, life manifests the primary features of entasy. It exhibits the entasy pattern. The variety principle manifests in the various taxonomical categories of life, such as kingdoms and species, as well as with the various habitats and the fanciful array of behaviors and morphologies that life forms assume. The variety of the biosphere captures chaos’s spirit of exploration. The simple life forms and the complex, the hyperactive life forms and the immobile ones, the beautiful and the eerie, the colorful and the drab, the sturdily built and the delicate, the fearsome and the harmless, the graceful and the ungainly – the biosphere portrays a rich diversity of flavors and moods. The anomaly principle manifests in the various biological anomalies that exist (such as viruses, the white tiger, the hexapus, and others). The universal duality is manifested through the various systemic flaws that inhere in the anatomy, physiology and behavior of organisms. Murphy’s law is manifested in behavioral mistakes made by organisms and in medical problems such as diseases, mutations, disorders and defects. We represent entasy in the sense/nonsense character of our thoughts and actions. The sense of awe and fascination that the biosphere inspires, as well as the sense of futility and nonsense that it suggests, are both manifestations of entasy. The life cycles of capelin and mayflies may seem absurd – and they are, in their own way – but the human life cycle has its own absurdities as well. There are many aspects of human existence about which one could wonder, “What’s the point of this?” Absurdity is embodied in all life, in one form or another, but that absurdity does not take away from the aspects of the biosphere that command our respect and admiration in their orderedness. Entasy is embodied in us and flows through us.

 

4) MEANING

 

Life forms represent meaning. One universal trait of life is the possession of genetic material in the form of RNA or DNA which direct the formation of proteins. This genetic material means something; it represents something.

As a comparison, the case could be made that life forms share many of their characteristics with stars. Both stars and life are far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures. Both stars and life have an intelligible since of form, which is variable amongst life forms and typically spherical amongst stars. Stars possess a reaction pathway, involving the nuclear fusion of hydrogen, which is roughly analogous to biological metabolic pathways such as the Krebs cycle in animals or the Calvin cycle in plants. They maintain a simple form of homeostasis by maintaining a balance between gravitational pressure and nuclear fusion. They reproduce indirectly by giving off gases that coalesce into nebulae which eventually form new stars. However, possibly the main thing that sets organic life apart from stars is the existence of instructions. Stars may do many of the things that we do, but they do them by way of only physics and chance. Life forms, on the other hand, possess meaningful instructions in the form of genetic material. Genetics does not rely on chance or basic physical laws; there is a sense of necessity and predictability inherent to genetics that is not found in stellar mechanics. Genes tell an organism’s body how to obtain energy and how to maintain internal balance. Genes tell an organism’s offspring how to coalesce into its final form. Instructions, which are found within life forms, are unique in the universe.

Furthermore, for those life forms which are conscious and intelligent, it could be argued that the capacity for thought is itself a form of meaning. Our thoughts mean something, if only to ourselves. Our abilities to think, to dream, to reason, to calculate, to plan, are all forms of meaning that stand apart in a mindless, thoughtless universe.

 

5) INTENTION

 

Life forms exhibit something that no other specimen of order can boast: purpose. Life forms can exhibit more than mere function or inclination towards a particular activity, but can actually harbor intention and deliberation. These qualities possess a sense of consistency and urgency that is in stark contrast to the non-teleological inclinations exhibited by such things as rain or natural selection. Intention is the greatest expression of necessity over chance.

Perhaps one of the most telling aspects of organisms’ behavior is not in what organisms do but in what they don’t do; they do not behave randomly. Sometimes arbitrarily, perhaps, but not randomly. Life forms have ultimate purposes and reasons underlying their behavior. Whether a life form is behaving on instinct or intelligent thought, the behavior exemplified is completely antithetical to randomness.

CONTRIBUTION OF CHAOS

 

In addition, it would not be fair to give all the credit for the creation of life to the force of order. One might consider chaos to be the pioneer that discovered the possibility to create life. Chaos possessed the desire to try something new, something different, and to exhaust the possibilities that ordered forms could assume.

[+ CHAPTER FIFTEEN:+]

THE NATURE OF PURPOSE

 

PURPOSE VS. UTILITY

 

A child once asked me, “What is the purpose of stars?” I felt that this question emerged from a flawed assumption about the universe. She was looking at the universe as if it were a house. A house is a place where people reside in. It is made by humans. There are many features of a house: doors, light fixtures, kitchen sink, the insulation in the walls, the gas furnace, the toilet, etc. There is nothing random in a man-made house; everything that is there serves a purpose.

The universe is similar to a house in that it is a place where people reside in. But unlike a house, a universe was not made by humans, nor anyone else for that matter. It was not designed. The universe contains various features, such as the clouds, the grass, planet Earth, the moon, the sun, the stars, Jupiter, Halley’s comet, the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, etc. But these features do not serve any purpose. The truth is, purpose is a man-made invention; it does not exist in nature. The universe does not possess purpose as a whole nor in any part therein. By purpose, I am referring to the sense of the word that transcends mere “function” and refers to a preordained role that something is meant to fulfill.

This fact becomes relevant when we consider the question, “What is the purpose of life?” In asking this question we are basically looking for something that is not there. Asking “What is the purpose of life?” is like asking “What is the color of happiness?” That question is invalid. Happiness is an emotion; emotions do not have color. Likewise, the question about the purpose of life is invalid: Life does not have a purpose because life was made by nature and, as previously mentioned, purpose does not exist in nature. (Since purpose does not exist in nature, the pessimist’s assertion that life is without purpose is moot.) One’s life has no end goal, no predetermined destiny; it does not play a role in some cosmic plan.

However, just because life has no purpose should not be construed to mean that life is “pointless” in the sense of being utterly futile. Lacking a purpose and being pointless may seem synonymous, but there is a slight difference in connotation that makes them quite different in this context. “Pointless” seems to imply that something is useless, trivial, absurd, and unimportant, while lacking a purpose does not necessarily imply these things, as we shall see later.

Purpose is something that exists only in the mind; it is merely a concept. As human beings it is in our nature to think in terms of purpose. Our trademark as a species is our ability to plan, design, invent – faculties which liberally involve attributing purposes to things. This purpose-giving tendency probably emanates from our aptitude for conceptualizing and for thinking in the abstract. Humans have a sense of imagination that is, presumably, far beyond that of other animals. Small children may sometimes have imaginary friends, play make-believe, impute life and personality to their dolls or action figures, or perhaps fear fantastical monsters lurking in the darkness of their room. I have never observed, for example, puppies or kittens to do such things. People create religions which may involve many things that have no basis in everyday reality: spirits, demons, gods, heaven, hell, and various kinds of mysticism. People fabricate myths and legends and fictional stories. They talk of dragons and fairies and monsters. People can fabricate colorful metaphors and fanciful poetic statements. We can come up with mathematical ideas which have no basis in empirical reality, such as numbers or lines which are infinite, points in space which are infinitely small, spatial forms in excess of three dimensions, or some M.C. Escher-like spatial paradoxes.

This vivid imagination of ours is integral to our ability to invent new means of solving problems and thus is vital to our survival as a species. But this ability also has a bit of a downside. Sometimes in our conceptualizations we can lose touch with reality. We forget that just because we can conceive of a word or concept does not necessarily mean that there is something in the real world that corresponds to it. This fact applies to the concept of purpose. Just because we can conceive of purpose as a concept and attribute purposes to things doesn’t mean that purpose is something that is any more real than a leprechaun or a child’s imaginary friend. It is merely a concept that we project onto things but there is no substance in the projection itself.

A purpose is a kind of order, an order that is directive in nature, which guides the function and behavior of something. Yet as previously stated, purpose exists only in the mind. However, there is another kind of directive order that does happen to exist in the real world – that is utility. What is the difference between purpose and utility? I can explain it as follows. Directive order is much like verbs. There are two kinds of verbs: transitive verbs and intransitive verbs. A transitive verb represents an action that can be transmitted from a subject to an object, such as “Bob drove the car” or “the chicken laid an egg.” Alternatively, an intransitive verb is one where the object is also the subject, such as “the sun shines” or “the baby cries”; here the verb is an expression of the object rather than an imposition upon it.

Purpose is like a transitive verb; it is a directive order that travels from subject to object. The order is imputed to the object from outside of itself, and the object possesses no more of this order than was inherent in the subject’s design for the object. If the object possessing purpose is not able to fulfill its specified purpose, then the object is futile, its existence superfluous. Things which notably possess purpose may include, for example, a piano, a gun, or a television set. On the other hand, utility is like an intransitive verb. The subject and the object are essentially one and the same. With utility, the directive order is not established extraneously but rather is bound up within the object, is implied by it, an innate property of the object. While purpose is specific and limited, utility is nonspecific and potentially infinite. With purpose, the object’s order lies in its ability to perform a limited number of predetermined functions; with utility, the order lies simply in any and all orderly functions in which the object proves useful. Utility is like purpose but inside out: with purpose, the uses of the object are a function of its design; with utility, the “design” of the object is a function of its uses. Things like rainfall, trees, iron ore, potatoes, gemstones, crude oil – there is no particular purpose or reason for why these things exist, but they all possess or exude utility in some way. These things each have various uses; the uses do not constitute what the things were designed to do, but are simply what the things happen to do. Purpose is an a priori and de jure property of a thing, while utility is a purely a posteriori and de facto property of a thing. Utility is the kind of directive order that is most common in the universe, with purpose existing only where an intelligent being creates it.

Utility is a quality of an object, but appears to also have a sort of quantitative property. The amount of utility in an object can be measured by, for example, how readily the object can be used, how many different uses it lends itself to, and how instrumental it is in those uses.

People should not bemoan the fact that existence does not have a purpose. What is much more important, I believe, is to have utility. It is far better to have utility yet have no specific purpose, than to have a specific purpose yet have no utility. Thus whether one possesses a purpose or not, the true substance of one’s existence is found in possessing utility.

I can illustrate this concept with an imaginary example. Imagine you have been marooned on a remote, deserted island. The weather is very cold, and so after you have found shelter you decide to build a fire. You manage to gather some dry branches and leaves and you put them in a pile for firewood. Looking among the belongings that you managed to bring with you to the island, you find a lighter. You pick it up and press the lighter’s button but unfortunately it is malfunctioning and refuses to spark. Repeated attempts prove futile. You set the lighter aside and subsequently you manage to find a couple of quartz rocks lying around. You pick them up and strike them together over your pile of firewood. Eventually you make sparks and manage to start a fire that will keep you warm in the cold island climate.

Now first we started out with the lighter. A lighter has a specific purpose for which it was intelligently designed and built. Yet in this situation, despite its claim to a purpose, it proved to have little utility when you needed it. However, consider the rocks. The rocks were not intelligently designed or built nor have any particular purpose. Yet in this instance, they had utility. Utility is the substance of purpose; purpose without utility is nothing more than an empty shell, a meaningless designation. Something that only possesses utility and no purpose can be every bit as good as something that does have an appointed purpose.

Utility in nature often manifests itself as a kind of bias, an inclination.  It is a leaning in certain directions of behavior versus all other possible behaviors.  Bias itself is a common characteristic of order, for to seek to do everything is to be effective at nothing.  Some things in nature have a particularly strong bias towards particular behaviors. A good example of this is the human hand. We often think of the human hand as being something that has a purpose – namely, to grasp things. But this is an illusion. As a product of nature it has no purpose. The hand is merely an appendage that has evolved over many thousands of years because our ancient ancestors found it useful and it contributed to their survival and reproductive success. Evolution does not create things for a purpose; it merely rifles through a number of genetic traits, retains the ones that are useful, and discards the ones that are not. What the hand does have is a biased utility for grasping things; it has a strong inclination towards that particular function. Human hands are not terribly good at holding down live prey like the clawed paws of a lion or for generating lift like the wings of a bird, but what the hands do, they do it very well.

Take the heart for another example. We typically think that the heart exists for the purpose of pumping blood through our circulatory system – but that is an illusion. The heart has no purpose; it merely emerged as a useful adaptation. The heart creates the illusion of purpose because it is a very orderly and very biased thing. The force of order can produce things with so much utility and with such strong bias that they are practically indistinguishable from something intelligently built for a purpose.

 

However, there are some things in the universe which do not even appear to have a purpose. There are some aspects of the world around us which inspire a sense of mystery as to why they exist at all. Yet even such things as these may harbor hidden utility.

The Earth orbits the sun while spinning on an axis that is tilted relative to the plane of its orbit. Why does it do this? What is the purpose of this tilt? The tilt of the Earth has no purpose; it’s just a result of the way the Earth started spinning when it was formed eons ago. But the Earth’s tilt does appear to have some utility. The most direct rays of light from the sun can be visualized as a straight line that stretches from the sun to the Earth. Because of the Earth’s tilt, as the planet circles around the sun the line of direct sunlight varies in what latitude it is aimed at on the Earth. Throughout the year, that line will shift gradually between a northernmost point at 23 degrees above the equator (the Tropic of Cancer) and a southernmost point at 23 degrees below the equator (the Tropic of Capricorn). The effect that this process has is that it produces four distinct modes of weather – i.e., seasons – that can be felt across most of the globe. The Earth’s axis has no purpose but its utility, at least in part, is expressed through its creation of the seasons.

Now this naturally raises the question: What is the purpose of the seasons? Are the seasons just arbitrary quirks of the Earth or do they do something? Now we often notice nature reacting to the changes in the seasons: flowers and crops bloom in the spring, the leaves fall from the trees in autumn, the snow falls and plants become dormant in the winter, etc. But these activities could be interpreted as merely responses to arbitrary weather conditions rather than meaningful events on their own. The seasons do, however, do certain things that could be considered useful. For one, the seasons lead to a more even distribution of light and heat across the globe, which may positively affect life forms and ecosystems and make life possible in a broader span of the Earth. There is another example. Seasons have the effect of modulating the atmosphere so that large, migratory storms or weather patterns will move along different paths from year to year, rather than regular paths if seasons didn’t exist and weather were constant throughout the year. According to Edward Lorenz, “In the course of a year, a considerable portion of the earth’s surface might then receive abundant rain, sufficient for agriculture, falling at each location on a particular set of dates. Without the seasons, rainfall would perhaps be confined to a few narrow belts.“1 Hence the change in seasons has the result of randomizing the weather and thus more evenly distributing crucial rainfall across the globe. There is no purpose to the cycling of the seasons but there is utility in it.

What is the purpose of the moon? Like the Earth’s tilt, the moon also serves no purpose. Nonetheless, it still provides a useful modicum of illumination at night. And its gravitational force tugs gently on the Earth, causing tidal effects on the waters, which helps keep the ocean currents circulating and has various uses for marine life. The tug of the moon’s gravity also helps to stabilize Earth’s tilt, which in turn helps to prevent dramatic climate shifts. Incidentally, the other planets in the solar system, most notably Jupiter, also have a similar stabilizing effect on Earth. Despite a lack of purpose for the moon and the planets, there exists utility in them.

 

The utility of the Earth’s tilt, the seasons, the moon, and the planets may not be as easy to discern as the utility of the hand or the heart but it is still very real. Sometimes there are things that might ostensibly seem arbitrary or meaningless, but there can be function hidden within apparently arbitrary or meaningless conditions. The force of order expresses itself in many ways; sometimes through form or symmetry, sometimes through repetition, stability, or coherence. But these astronomical examples represent another manifestation of order in nature – utility. Even though purpose does not exist in nature, it is an intrinsic quality of many things in nature to exude utility, to make themselves useful somehow. Things such as the hand and the heart are only extreme examples of this phenomenon.

In a manner of speaking, there are no purposes for things in nature but there can be purpose in things in nature; there is no reason for things in nature but there can be reason in those things. For example, when rain falls from the clouds and showers the earth, it doesn’t happen for a purpose; it is just a sporadic, natural event. But there is a sense of purpose in it. As the seasons change, there is no purpose for this but there is a sense of purpose in it. Utility is like purpose shattered and dissolved into natural phenomena, reminiscent of God being shattered and dissolved in the primordial chaos.

One common attribute of life forms is that they will often, in various ways, make themselves useful to other animals or to the ecosystem at large. Bees prove useful to flowers as means of reproduction, while flowers prove useful to bees as sources of nectar. Photosynthesizing life forms such as plants and algae prove useful to oxygen-breathing life forms, while carbon dioxide-exhaling life forms prove useful to the photosynthesizers. Bacteria and scavengers prove useful by removing corpses; predators tend to help the ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check. Phytoplankton prove useful by releasing sulfates into the atmosphere which contribute to the condensation nuclei needed to produce clouds. Trees are life forms that serve as a home to a wide variety of other organisms; corals are life forms that create the coral reefs which also provide a home for many animals. There are numerous kinds of symbiotic – mutually beneficial – relationships between life forms. For example, birds in the African savanna will often perch on top of large animals such as elephants or rhinoceroses and feed on lice, ticks, and other parasites living on the large mammal; the birds receive a source of food while the large mammal is relieved of its parasites. A similar relationship can also be seen between whales or sharks and small fish such as remora and pilot fish. There is a mutually beneficial bond between us and our intestinal flora, and every person’s body – reminiscent of trees and coral reefs – serves as a home to a vast and varied microbiome. The biosphere can be viewed as a large, interconnected network of utility.

What do these matters mean for those who inquire as to the purpose of their existence? First of all, it would appear that these people are asking the wrong question, an invalid question. The thing they are searching for – purpose – doesn’t really exist, and even if it did, it is overrated. As the analogy of the lighter and the rocks expresses, the substance of purpose is usefulness, and it is much better to be useful and yet have no purpose than to have a purpose and not be useful. In making oneself useful – contributing meaningfully to something beyond oneself – one exercises the full range of one’s cosmic potential, as does any of so many other ordered structures and processes in the universe.

Early in the book, I said that if one wants to find the right answer he must first ask the right question. For the current topic, it is especially important that we ask a question that is appropriate to the answer we are looking for. There are many people who ask for the purpose of life but do not genuinely care about it. What they want is happiness and gratification, things which, while not necessarily antagonistic to purpose, themselves have nothing to do with purpose. If we understand the essence of purpose to be usefulness, then it would seem that people who associate the purpose of life with happiness and other such things are in error. These people seem to have found an answer that is to their liking, but they ask the wrong question.

I have previously stated that when a thing possesses utility without purpose, its “design,” in effect, is essentially a function of the ways in which it makes itself useful. In other words, its “design” is not a predesignation but a “postdesignation” – a design after the fact. Normally when a person devises a purpose, he conceives of a certain function and then later he brings something into existence which is adept at performing that function. But with utility, a thing is brought into existence and then later that thing happens upon one or more functions at which it is adept. In other words, it is a sort of “inside-out” purpose. The sun, for example, was not designed to facilitate life on this planet with its light and heat, but nonetheless that is the station in which it has currently found itself. This is what applies in the universe and it applies also in our own lives. The sun which gives its life-giving light, the moon, the planets, they drift through the vacuum of space without purpose or end goal, and in their drifting they drift upon utility. Likewise in our own lives we drift through the vicissitudes of life without purpose or end goal, and through this drifting we may also drift upon utility. There is no one task or role that we were created to fulfill, and so as a result we are free to roam the infinite possibilities of ways that we can realize our innate potential.

Like some aspects of the universe, such as the Earth’s tilt or the presence of the moon and planets, there can be an appearance of arbitrariness and meaninglessness to life; but also like those aspects of the universe, one’s life can yield hidden function. We learned in the universal duality chapter that things are never exactly as they appear to be. Things that may appear pointless may actually harbor hidden utility. So it is with us. Sometimes it is easy to look at one’s own life or perhaps the lives of certain others and see something that is pointless and futile. But things are not necessarily as they seem.

In some way it may seem absurd that millions of babies are born each year, but with no specific purpose that they were brought into this world to fulfill. One may justifiably interpret an air of nonsense about this state of affairs. But I think in some way, the order that can emerge from this apparent chaos is embodied in the utility that those babies can wring out of the lives that they have been given. Those babies are like those rocks that we found on the island; they have no purpose, there is nothing in particular they were put here to do by some external force or intelligence. But the directive order of their lives is found in how they can allow themselves to be of use. The directive order of their lives is not something imposed on them extraneously but is an intrinsic potential and property of themselves, and something that emanates from them as they apply themselves. Those babies may be born with certain talents and drives, which themselves have no predetermined purpose, yet bestow those individuals with certain potential, just as the rocks had innate potential.

So instead of “What is the purpose of life?” the more pertinent questions ought to be: What is the utility of your life? How do you make yourself useful? What are you good at? What is important to you? What do you feel driven to do? These, I feel, are the only kinds of questions that matter, and their answers are the only answers you will ever attain with respect to the question of life’s purpose. A person has no business asking “What is my purpose in life?” if he does not have a mind to make himself useful and apply himself to something worthwhile, which themselves are the essence of purpose. Those who do not care about being useful do not care about their purpose in life.

It seems people would like to believe their lives are ordered by a certain destiny: an a priori or de jure kind of order; but in fact their lives can only have an a posteriori, de facto kind of order. Meaning and purpose is not something inherited but something created. One’s existence is not pointless a priori nor is it valuable a priori. One’s existence is only as pointless as one makes it, and one’s existence matters only inasmuch as one makes it matter.

 

UTILITY AND FUTILITY

Another truth about utility is that, in accordance with the entasy model, it is intertwined with futility. The utility that things in nature may possess is a product of bias or inclination, but not a dedicated resolve one way or another. Utility is a quantity as much as a quality. Wherever utility is found, that quantity does not saturate the volume in which it is contained – there is a quantity of futility mingled with the utility. This is one more area where utility differs from purpose. When a person designates a certain purpose for a thing, that purpose never stipulates, implies, or allows for any deviation from that purpose – it does not imply futility. A person who designs a chair never consciously intends for the chair to collapse at some point; for someone who designs a gun, a misfire or jam is never a part of the design. Yet anything that has utility, even if the utility is biased, also has some portion of futility. In regards to the hand, the mechanisms that form it may sometimes falter. Some people are born with hand malformations such as with Holt–Oram syndrome, in which a person may have a missing thumb or a long thumb that looks like another finger; some are born with ectrodactyly, which causes a large cleft to form in the middle of a person’s hands. Some people are born without hands at all. And as for the heart, it is prone to arrhythmia, heart attack, Long QT syndrome, and other complications. Some people may see these problems as merely mistakes coming from otherwise purposeful mechanisms, but the truth is that a mistake can only occur within the context of a purpose. If there is no purpose, there is no mistake. Our concept of a mistake is merely a side effect of the imaginary concept of purpose which we impose upon the world. When the hand is properly formed or when the heart is functioning properly, they are not doing what they are supposed to do but only what they are biased to do. There is no distinct reason why they can’t do something else.

It would seem that wherever utility is found it is suspended in a kind of surrounding fluid of futility or nonsense. Take rain for example. We tend to think of rain as being a purposeful atmospheric phenomenon. Rain is crucial to agriculture, the health of ecosystems, and keeps the ground moist and supple. However, the rain makes no distinction between which raindrops will fall in places where they will be of use and which will fall in places where they will do no good at all. Some raindrops will fall on thirsty plants or parched soil or help to wash a dirty car. On the other hand, some raindrops will fall on drowning plants or saturated soil or the waters of a flooded city. Such is the nature of rain: an inextricable fusion of utility and futility.

One interesting fact is that rain that falls doesn’t always hit the ground. There is a weather phenomenon called “virga” in which precipitation such as rain falls from a cloud but then evaporates before it hits the ground, the vapor floating back up into the cloud. One may wonder: what is the point of rain that doesn’t hit the ground? Well, the point is that there is no point. Rain has no purpose; it is only inclined to fall to the ground and water the plants and so on.

Natural selection is another good example of this. It is a useful process that helps a species adapt to its environment. Yet it is also naturally intermingled with the futility of things such as deleterious mutations, genetic drift, and extinctions.

 

Let’s look at another natural phenomenon that we might understandably consider to be very useful – sexual reproduction. It might even seem like an understatement to call this process “useful,” for without it we simply wouldn’t exist. Sexual reproduction is vital. This process appears quite orderly and seems to have a clear purpose: to make a baby.

But in spite of this sense of purpose, the process is riddled with numerous complications. Some women experience irregular ovulation cycles, and some pre-menopausal women don’t ovulate at all. During copulation, about 500 million sperm will enter the vagina; vaginal acid meant to fight off bacteria will kill off many of them within minutes. Within an hour, the vast majority of them will die. Some sperm accidentally get stuck in the folds of the cervix and die; some sperm will get stuck in the cilia of the fallopian tube and die. The woman’s immune system will mistake many of the sperm to be harmful invaders and kill thousands. Some of the sperm will be starved of nutrients and die. Often, some of the sperm will be deformed, having a misshapen head, or a crooked or double-tail, rendering them unable to swim at all. Of the 500 million or so sperm that were released during copulation, only a few dozen will actually make it to the egg. Of those, only one of them will fertilize the egg. Even after the egg is fertilized, one-third to one-half of all zygotes will never begin splitting to form an embryo. Sometimes certain cells of the growing embryo can be defective and subsequently sabotage the entire embryo. Miscarriages are a common reality. An ectopic pregnancy can occur when the embryo fails to make it to the uterus and begins developing in the fallopian tube, which can prove fatal for both the baby and the mother. Sometimes during childbirth, the mother can die from hemorrhage, infection, or other complications. Sometimes there is the problem of a baby being born butt-first instead of the normal head-first position. Sometimes a baby can be strangled by his own umbilical cord during birth.

To a large extent, sexual reproduction is an exercise in futility. Here is a process that has an obvious inclination towards making a baby, but at the same time there appears to be an inclination towards doing anything but making a baby. Why does sexual reproduction have so many complications? The reason is that it has no purpose – no telos. The process is another product of evolution; it is not actually supposed to produce a baby, it is merely useful to that effect. It is biased and inclined towards that end.

 

For ordered phenomena to be entangled with some kind of chaos is a natural feature of reality. Such also seems to be the case with the utility within our own lives. People’s lives can often be plagued by chaos of all kinds: futility, nonsense, confusion, mistakes, failure, turmoil. We may face unexpected disturbances or face situations that don’t make sense to us. So naturally as people seek ways to express their utility, they may do so in the midst of chaos. Sometimes they may do so by overcoming chaos. But sometimes utility can be found by way of chaos. At times, “weird events” may happen, situations where guidance or assistance can emerge from chaos itself and coax us down a certain path. In addition, for many people the relationship between the individual and the chaos of life is reminiscent of that between an unfolded protein molecule and thermal motion in a cell. A newly-formed protein molecule does not from the outset “know” what form to take or what functions to perform, but through bombardment by thermal motion and through its own show of aimlessness and confusion, it stumbles upon a certain shape and finds a suitable function. Life’s chaos can have a similar effect on us. The vicissitudes of life, the ups and downs, the unexpected developments, can take us through phases of confusion and aimlessness which may come to shape us and cause us to stumble upon something that gives us a sense of purpose. Though we may have no preordained destiny in life, life itself can awaken or activate something hidden within ourselves, a raw potential which has no predetermined form but only takes on form when subjected to the rigors of life. Nature shows us that meaningful, coherent things can happen but without a predetermined plan. In addition to protein-folding, there exist in nature many examples of self-organizing systems. As one’s life is itself a product of nature, one can imagine something “destiny-like” having the potential to assert itself in life as a kind of self-organizing or self-materializing phenomenon. One might say that, in a manner of speaking, a “destiny” or “calling” is not something determined from birth but is a kind of emergent property of life that can arise through the passage of life’s experiences.

Whatever the case, the utility of life and the futility of life are like the fluids of the entasy soup; they flow and roll about each other capriciously and in mysterious ways that no one can hope to understand. We are reminiscent of the force of order itself, locked into a mysterious interplay with chaos. The person who seeks a sense of purpose in his life should not be surprised if this endeavor involves a complex relationship, an intimate struggle with chaos.

The chaos we can encounter in life can sometimes make us feel that life as a whole is futile. But on the contrary, the futility and nonsense in life firmly establishes our lives as being commensurable with the rest of the ordered phenomena in the cosmos. The interplay between chaos and order is a recurring theme all throughout the natural world. You can see it in physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, geology, astronomy, mathematics, fluid dynamics, in nature, even in the function of our bodies. Considering the overwhelming ubiquity of this theme, it seems only fitting that it plays a role in our lives and in the way we live them.

 

[+ CHAPTER SIXTEEN:+]

IS LIFE WORTH LIVING?

 

This book has addressed the question of why we exist; but now we are left with another question: What reason is there to continue existing? Is the experience of life worth the effort we put into it? Perhaps this is part of the reason we ask about the meaning of life in the first place. There exists the weighty uncertainty in our minds as to whether what we do in life – our struggles, our accomplishments, our suffering – that it matters and counts for something in the end. We want to think that life is more than just some long, arduous endurance-race in which waiting for us at the finish line is the trophy of annihilation. As we live our lives, we learn, we better ourselves, acquire new skills, reveal hidden talents, gain knowledge, forge relationships, accumulate memories. We face challenges and we overcome them. We sow and we reap. Yet, it would appear, all that we are and have become and have accomplished will one day simply vanish to nothing. This seems rather stupid. What is the point of going through the trouble of making oneself, only for one to be unmade?

Is life a good thing? Does it make sense to procreate and bestow this experience upon others? Should we bring new life into an admittedly harsh world? Is the pleasure of life worth the pain? Are we the lucky beneficiaries of the miracle of life, or are we masochistic fools clinging to a curse?

Is life worth living even for those for whom it is particularly unpleasant? Some people live lives filled with misery and pain, and they continue to struggle through it. For them there is no respite in sight, nor final reward or recompense, nor shift in their fate that would make their suffering worth the trouble. For them it is merely years of suffering and toil . . . and then death. For them it seems life is a burden that they can simply drop anytime they please, yet they keep carrying it. Is this sensible? Is it noble to look for reasons to keep going, or is that merely an attempt to rationalize the absurd?

On the one hand, some people who choose to take their own lives may do so out of mental weakness, the inability to persevere, to cope with challenge and difficulty. On the other hand, what is the point of persevering limitlessly for the sake of an existence that is inherently limited? We are all going to die someday anyway, so why should we not expedite the process when it is convenient to do so? But at the same time, life is fleeting; this brief experience that we possess is, presumably, the only one of its kind that we will ever have. And on the other hand, we have the rest of eternity to be dead. So why rush things? There is ambivalence here. There is a tension.

It would seem there are certain advantages to being alive and there are certain advantages to being dead. In death, you lose all the memories you have acquired, but you also lose the memories of your bad experiences, mistakes, failures, and shame. In death, you lose the capacity for pain and despair, but you also lose the capacity for pleasure and fascination. Life represents opportunity, opportunity for the good as well as for the bad.

Is life worth living? The truth is, there exists no clear, discrete answer. In the universal duality chapter, I said that every idea is a fusion of sense and nonsense. Every idea has something good about it and every idea has flaws; every idea is in some way sensible and in some way nonsense. As it happens, the matter of whether life is worth living is no exception to this rule. Life itself is subject to the universal duality: the wisdom of living is inseparable from the foolishness of living. Life, in this regard, is simply a container for the paradoxical intermingling of sense and nonsense, utility and futility. Life is much like the rabbit-duck image: you can look at it and see something sensible and worthwhile, or you can look at it and see something absurd and not-worthwhile, and either way you will not strictly be wrong. In this way, life is a paradox; one cannot reduce or translate it to straightforward terms, one can only contemplate the paradox as it is.

The often difficult and painful endurance-race of life can seem absurd. And in a way, it is. I believe that is part of the point. We should not view the absurdity in life as some kind of extraneous plague that infects life but rather as an integral component to it, a part of the substance of it. Life is, after all, a product of entasy. We tend to look at the absurdity in life as a passive attribute of life, like the passive shadow that accompanies us as we go about our business. But contrarily, the “shadow” that is life’s absurdity is reminiscent of the shadow of Peter Pan. Rather than being passive, as we normally understand a shadow to be, Peter Pan’s shadow was actually active and alive. Likewise, this absurdity which we assume to be a merely passive property of our existence is actually something alive, dynamic, with a will of its own. It is a part of us; it helps to define and characterize us, much in the way that Peter Pan’s shadow was an integral aspect of that character. The nonsense of living is a part of what life is about.

There can be nonsense in the fate of individuals. There is nonsense where someone endures a life of hardship and unhappiness when that person deserves better. And there is nonsense where someone enjoys a life of luxury, ease, and contentment that is more than he deserves. There is nonsense where a baby is born only to die before having the chance to experience life or make a contribution to society. There is nonsense where someone possesses rare genius and remarkable talents, and lives a full life of contributing to society only for those precious, irreplaceable gifts to be lost forever in death.

There is nonsense to be found in certain paths of life. There is nonsense in the one who ends his life prematurely on account of some relatively minor failure or setback; and there is also nonsense in the one who sleepwalks through the entire course of life without aspiration, passion, or direction. There is nonsense in the one who lives a life having acquired a taste for defeat or subjugation, and lives without a sense of dignity or victory. There is nonsense to be found in the one who is resolved to merely exist rather than live.

The nonsense that we see in life is not merely a concept of the mind, but it is real. This abstract form of chaos shares a kinship with the more concrete forms of chaos that we can observe in the sciences.

On the other hand, life, as a product of entasy, also possesses an integral element of sensibility, and I believe much of that share of order is embodied in what we choose to do with this experience. Just as life has no inherent purpose, it also has no inherent value. The only value of life is that which one infuses it with. Life is a kind of platform, or a blank canvas, on which we can create value and meaning. Because life has no intrinsic value, there is therefore more reason, not less, to fill that void with something of value and meaning. Because life has no intrinsic value, mere existence alone cannot be of supreme importance. There are higher goals in life than staying alive and there are greater dangers in life than death. A person who has truly found a sense of meaning in life possesses something that may be worth dying for as well as possibly being worth living for.

There is nothing that we are cosmically mandated to do or not do. We are not obligated to seek survival nor are we supposed to seek death. Should we go on living? The answer is not a simple yes or no; it is the tug-of-war between “why?” and “why not?” In general, people tend to have an ambivalence between living and dying – between one’s attachment to life and the peace one can find in death. This ambivalence is itself a reflection of the ambivalence that is entasy.

[+ REVIEW+]

 

MAIN TERMS

 

I have previously explained certain primary principles of the entasy model. I will now review them for the sake of the reader’s understanding.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Chaos: A primal force of reality, comparable to the phenomenon of energy, which directly influences circumstances and the way they play out. It is not just a property but the force which the property represents. It manifests itself through a collection of forms which include flux, randomness, unpredictability, variation, irregularity, disparity, incoherence, futility, destruction, and nonsense. Chaos is the simplest and most insignificant thing possible in reality. It is the polar opposite of order.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Order: A primal force of reality, comparable to the phenomenon of energy, which directly influences circumstances and the way they play out. It is not just a property but the force which the property represents. It manifests itself through a collection of forms which include stability, structure, predictability, sameness, repetition, wholeness, coherence, utility, creation, and sensibility. It is the polar opposite of chaos.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Entasy: The dichotomy of order and chaos, the tension between them, and the paradoxical fusion of them.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Ontological equilibrium principle: The idea that, because of the entasy tension, the most basic level of reality possesses no bias towards one state or possibility over any other. Nothing is meant to be or meant to not be.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Randomness paradox: The idea that true randomness must at some point produce something that is not random. Randomness is by nature unpredictable, so in order to be what it is, it must occasionally be what it is not.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Murphy’s law: The opposite of the randomness paradox. Anything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong. Order, paradoxically, will occasionally fall into chaos.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Precosmic chaos: The idea that the universe emerged from a pre-existing matrix of chaos. The universe is not a something that emerged from nothingness, but is a thing of order that emerged from chaos.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The entasy pattern: A combination of the variety principle and the anomaly principle. It is a general pattern that causality tends to gravitate to.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Variety principle: A corollary of the entasy pattern. Chaos tends to cause things to vary and diversify. Additionally, as chaos causes things to vary, order pulls things together, thus forming distinct groups and categories that contain similar members.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Anomaly principle: A corollary of the entasy pattern that indicates that ordered groups or categories will tend to, spontaneously and infrequently, produce anomalous members.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Universal duality: The idea that all things are microcosms of the order-chaos tension. Therefore everything in some way possesses attributes of both order and chaos. Every ordered thing is flawed, and every chaotic thing possesses some order.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Serendipity: A strikingly useful, although improbable, accident. It is utility spontaneously arising from futility.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Synchronicity: A meaningful coincidence occurring in improbable circumstances. It is meaning spontaneously arising from meaninglessness.

 

RETROSPECTIVES

 

My thesis asserts that our cosmos began similarly to how each of us began; it began as the insignificant “seed” of chaos and from there developed into the great array of orderly structures and phenomena that we observe today.

The entasy model is predicated largely on the existence of various dualities that can be observed in nature. These dualities include flux and stability, futility and utility, randomness and structure, destruction and creation, and so on. We can observe in nature how the items within each duality appear distinctly separate from one another yet also, counterintuitively, can appear connected or intermingled. The existence of such dualities can be confirmed empirically. My thesis assumes that all of these individual dualities are actually derivatives of a kind of “super-duality” or “mother duality.” In coming to this conjecture, I acknowledge that it is perfectly plausible within the realm of logic that the similarity amongst these dualities is purely coincidental and the separate dualities are completely unrelated otherwise, yet I believe there is sufficient inductive grounds to interpret the similarity as indication of a literal, familial bond. The side of the dualities that includes observations such as randomness, flux, futility, and so on can be grouped under a single item which I call “chaos.” And the side of the dualities including such things as structure, stability, utility, and so on can be grouped under a single item that I call “order.” Chaos and order together constitute the super-duality/mother duality which I call “entasy.”

It is worth noting that throughout this book, a recurring theme has been the contrast between theism and nihilism, which are in essence diametrically opposed to each other. The entasy model reconciles these two views, fusing the purposefulness of theism with the meaninglessness of nihilism. In this reconciliation, the entasy model essentially dissolves away both extremes. It reveals the superfluity of divine powers or intelligent designers, and it also reveals the fallacy of nihilism. It shows that, instead of everything being meaningless and futile, there is in fact meaning and utility all around us. There is “God in the chaos.”

Another recurring theme has been the idea that there is more to causality than what meets the eye. When we talk about cause-and-effect, we talk about it as some kind of diffuse, featureless force, without bias and without overarching structure or direction. But the entasy model shows that causality itself actually has form and structure, much in the same way that some chaotic dynamical systems possess underlying form and structure, as can be seen in phase space. We can see this structure manifested in things such as the variety principle, in which causality seems to have an inclination to steer itself in such a direction as to always produce diversity. Through the anomaly principle, causality appears to possess a desire to create within groups something bizarre or special. Through Murphy’s law, causality appears to gravitate towards the creation of mistakes, no matter how much we try to avoid them. Through the universal duality, plans and systems tend to exhibit a two-faced nature. Through serendipity and synchronicity, causality can bring about orderly, meaningful experiences which appear to defy the very sense of incoherence and indifference which typically characterizes natural causality; sometimes it even appears that causality itself is lending us a helping hand. This coinciding between the apparent diffuseness and aimlessness of cause-and-effect and its hidden aspects of form and bias can itself be understood as one more example of entasy. One thing these observations indicate is that causality is not the most primal force in reality, but that causality is in fact subordinate to entasy.

In the “Lowest Common Denominator” section, I stated that the reason why the universe exists is something related to and represented in the universe’s nature. The details of our reality, reality’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, in some way echo its raison d’etre. The little things that we notice everyday, and the little things we do, they echo the reason why we exist; the world around us constantly whispers it to us. There is a saying that “the Devil is in the details”; but one might also say that “God is in the details,” in a manner of speaking. That is to say, the explanation that underlies creation is made manifest in the details of creation. If the explanation seems hidden from us, it is only hidden in the sense that it is hidden in plain sight. Accordingly, throughout the course of this book I have indicated that the universe’s nature is imbued with the tension of entasy, and that this tension is also the reason why the universe exists in the first place.

Another important thing to remember about the entasy model is that it is not about forming a humanity-centered way of looking at the world and then shoehorning reality into that mold. Rather it is the opposite: it’s about understanding the universe for what it is and then adapting our way of looking at things to that understanding.

 

Our existence is like the tornado; in order to understand a tornado’s existence, one must understand the dynamics that cause it. The preceding material in this book constitutes what to my understanding is an accurate explanation of the dynamics behind our existence, and hence the key to understanding our existence.

[+ CONCLUSION+]

 

Many people who seek the meaning of life are looking for a quick, brief answer. However, I feel that such an answer would, to a large extent, undersell the scope of this matter. The question of the meaning of life is a big question and deserves a big answer. I feel that everything I have said in this book is necessary towards achieving a complete and satisfactory answer to the question.

However, some people may still desire a bit more succinct and straightforward answer to the question. I will now attempt to provide one which is derived from the entasy model:

 

Life does not have a meaning nor does life exist for any particular purpose. When people ask for meaning and purpose, they must understand that meaning and purpose are attributes of order. If we look at life only from the standard of order, we are in effect excluding a significant aspect of reality and not considering the fullness of reality, and thus we will never receive a satisfactory answer. Reality being a fusion of order and chaos, questions concerning ultimate meaning and purpose are invalid questions.

Life is instead a manifestation, a representation, an indication. When you see craters on the moon, you do not assume the craters mean something or serve a purpose, but they do indicate something – namely that the moon has been bombarded by meteors. When you see thick, dark clouds in the sky, this has no meaning or purpose, per se, except that it indicates that it is about to rain. When you see footprints in the snow, this has no meaning or purpose, but it indicates that someone has walked by after it had begun snowing. Likewise, there is no meaning or purpose to human life, or to biological life, or to one’s individual life, or any other connotation of the word “life”; rather life is an indication. It indicates, represents, and is a manifestation of the mysterious, cosmic dance between order and chaos.

Our lives imply primal forces, forces that themselves underlie purpose and meaning. Our existence follows logically from forces that are fundamental to reality itself. The world as we know it was brought into being because of these fundamental forces, and these forces have certain quirks to them; they have a certain personality about them. These quirks and personality come through and manifest in the details of the world that the forces created.

We are products of the cosmic soup that consists of the intermingling of aimlessness and direction. Part of the reason we ask the meaning of life may be that we are plagued by feelings of confusion, frustration, ignorance, and aimlessness, but ironically it is our possession of these feelings which captures much of the essence of why we exist. The feeling inside of you that compels you to ask the question in the first place is itself part of the answer. There are many matters of life which we are uncertain about: our career path or other long-term goals, what immediate decisions to make, whom to trust, what cause to believe in, what is right and wrong. But this sense of uncertainty and aimlessness does not represent the hole in our understanding of life but is itself integral to that understanding.

The experience of life is itself a microcosm of entasy. There is an aspect to the universe in which things have no sense of direction, in which things are aimless and pointless, without rhyme or reason; and there is an aspect to the universe in which things have direction and shape and utility. This same tendency of the universe is also embodied in the events of life. There are periods and aspects of life which reflect that sense of futility and aimlessness, and there are aspects of life in which circumstances seem to be coalescing into something coherent or something with direction. The essence of what life is about is expressed not merely through those things which we find pleasant or eventful or meaningful, but is expressed through the fullness of life experience. We express it in our successes and strengths as well as in our failings and mistakes; we express it in our time of prosperity and in our dark times, in our time of confusion and in periods of clarity, in our wisdom and in our folly. The essence of life is expressed in life’s meandering vicissitudes and in the sense of order and direction that they can betray. Regardless of what condition you find yourself in during the course of life, you are in fact expressing a piece of the wholeness of what life is about. By simply living, we exercise the explanation of life.

[+ FINAL THOUGHTS+]

 

Anyone can acknowledge that there are mysterious forces at work in this universe; it is my hope that this book has dispelled some of that mysteriousness. The question of life’s purpose has many facets and brings up many issues, and I have tried to address the most important ones. This does not propose to be an exhaustive explanation of reality but more of a general outline of it. This book may not have addressed every question or concern that a person may have about life, but nor was it supposed to. What this book does is ask some specific questions and provides some specific answers. Although, I trust that many of the more common questions have been answered here. The universe still harbors much mystery; there are still many things that we don’t understand and will never understand.

In discussing the entasy model, I am actually trying to do something that is impossible: I am trying to explain a concept that, in actuality, is beyond words. The entasy model is a model, and a model is always simpler than the thing it models. The term “entasy” refers to forces that cannot be fully circumscribed by terms and conceptualizations of the human mind. Thus the concepts herein should be understood as more approximations to or metaphors of the truth rather than the whole truth itself. Being beyond words, the forces are presumably also beyond specific terminology. Perhaps a more talented wordsmith could explain the idea more eloquently than I could, and perhaps using a different model, different terms or different metaphors. But all I can do is explain the idea in my own words, according to how it revealed itself to me.

For me personally, the entasy model has changed my life. Because of it, I see things more clearly than I ever did before. Life makes more sense to me now; and even the things that don’t make sense, make sense. For me, the entasy model is more than just a concept; it is a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world, a way of living. I see evidence of it and find use for it nearly every day.

This book gives a general description of the phenomenon of entasy, but does not necessarily constitute everything there is to know about it. There is probably much more that can be extrapolated, more pieces of the puzzle left to be put into place. As I said in the preface, I wish for this book to inspire further discussion and further elucidation. In addition to providing answers, I wish to establish a basis on which we can begin to ask new, better questions.

[+ NOTES+]

[++]

Chapter 2: The Concept

 

1. In addition to this more temporal type of randomness found in dice-rolling, one may also see this emergence of order in spatial randomness. For example, if one had a plotting of many points scattered randomly on a two-dimensional plane, one might find that if one looks carefully enough and if the points are numerous enough, one will eventually be able to spot glimpses of order amongst the randomness. The points may gather in such a way so as to produce certain coherent lines, shapes, or patterns. The same question which arises in dice-rolling could apply here: if there happens to be a significant amount of these orderly shapes, at what point is the random arrangement of points no longer random?

 

Chapter 3: Observations

1. Klaus Mainzer, Thinking in Complexity: The Computational Dynamics of Matter, Mind, and Mankind (New York: Springer, 2007), 55.

 

Chapter 4: Entasy in Mathematics

1. R.K. Scott, “The structure of zonal jets in shallow water turbulence on the sphere,” IUTAM Symposium on Turbulence in the Atmosphere and Oceans (New York: Springer, 2010), 243.

 

2. John Briggs and F. David Peat, Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), 28.

3. “What Limits Forecast Accuracy?” The Weather Window, accessed October 31, 2015, http://weather.mailasail.com/Franks-Weather/Forecast-Accuracy-Limitations.

4. Natalie Wolchover, “Can a Butterfly in Brazil Really Cause a Tornado in Texas?” LiveScience, last modified December 13, 2011, http://www.livescience.com/17455-butterfly-effect-weather-prediction.html.

5. Robert W. Reeves, “Father of chaos theory explains why it is impossible to predict weather & climate beyond 3 weeks,” The Hockey Schtick (blog), October 9, 2013, http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2013/10/father-of-chaos-theory-explains-why-it.html.

6. John Scott Russell, “Report on waves,” Fourteenth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1844.

7. Esther Inglis-Arkell, “Can we explain Jupiter’s Red Spot using solitons?” io9.com, last modified January 10, 2012, http://io9.com/5874585/the-story-of-the-soliton.

8. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, 8.

9. Ross Institute, “The Lorenz Attractor by Dr. Bruce Stewart,” YouTube video, 54:08, August 26, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS_xtBMUrJg.

10. Lorenz, 71,74.

11. Ibid., 74

12. Ary L. Goldberger, David R. Rigney and Bruce J. West, “Chaos and Fractals in Human Physiology,” Scientific American, February 1990, 44.

 

Chapter 5: Entasy in Physical Sciences

1. Stephen Battersby, “It’s confirmed: Matter is merely vacuum fluctuations,” Newscientist, November 20, 2008, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16095-its-confirmed-matter-is-merely-vacuum-fluctuations/.

2. Dr. H. E. Puthoff, “Quantum Vacuum Fluctuations: A New Rosetta Stone of Physics?” accessed November 1, 2015, http://www.ldolphin.org/zpe.html.

 

Chapter 6: Entasy in Biology

1. In regards to evolution, some people tend to use statistics as an intellectual cop-out; they provide a completely illusory explanation for why evolution works. Someone might say, “Evolution happens through mutations, but why do mutations happen?” The abuser of statistics might respond with something like, “Mutation happens because there are so many genetic processes going on inside an organism’s body that it is only a matter of statistics that a mutation will occur at some point.” Then someone could ask, “Why do some mutations end up creating a constructive genetic trait when so many of them are destructive?” The abuser might then say something like, “There are so many mutations happening within a species that it is only a matter of statistics that some of them will eventually prove constructive rather than destructive.” Someone could ask, “Why did life on this planet begin in the first place?” and the abuser might respond, “There are so many habitable planets in the universe that it is only a matter of statistics that at least one of them will be seeded with life eventually.” Hence, every step of the way this abuser uses statistics as a facile mechanism to explain things that he doesn’t really have a true explanation for.

 

2. Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, “Why a cloned cat isn’t exactly like the original: New statistical law for cell differentiation,” ScienceDaily, last modified December 15, 2010, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101215082939.htm.

3. Institute of Physical Chemistry, “Why a cloned cat.”

 

4. John K. Douglass et al., “Noise enhancement of information
transfer in crayfish mechanoreceptors by stochastic resonance,” Nature, (1993), doi:10.1038/365337a0.

 

5. J. J. Collins, T.T. Imhoff and P. Grigg, “Noise-enhanced information transmission in rat SA1 cutaneous mechanoreceptors via aperiodic stochastic resonance,” Journal of Neurophysiology 76, no. 1 (1996), 642-645.

 

6. J. E. Levin and J. P. Miller, “Broadband neural encoding in the cricket cercal sensory system enhanced by stochastic resonance,” Nature, (1996), doi:10.1038/380165a0.

 

7. Dr. Hugh Ross, “Don’t Look Up, but Bird Poop Promotes Plant Health,” Reasons to Believe, January 1, 2014, http://www.reasons.org/articles/don%E2%80%99t-look-up-but-bird-poop-promotes-plant-health.

8. Glenn Swain, “Burning a Forest to Save It,” Green (blog), September 26, 2012, http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/burning-a-forest-to-save-it/?_r=0.

 

Chapter 7: Entasy in Physiology

1. Steven H. Strogatz, Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order (New York: Hyperion, 2003), 16.

 

2. William C. Stacey, Abba Krieger and Brian Litt, “Network recruitment to coherent oscillations in a hippocampal computer model,” Journal of Neurophysiology, (2011), doi: 10.1152/jn.00643.2010.

 

3. William C. Stacey, Maciej T. Lazarewicz and Brian Litt, “Synaptic Noise and Physiological Coupling Generate High-Frequency Oscillations in a Hippocampal Computational Model,” (2009), doi: 10.1152/jn.00397.2009.

 

4. Peter Hoffman, Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 114.

 

Chapter 8: Some Thoughts on Entasy

 

1. Hoffman, Life’s Ratchet, 130.

2. Ibid., 74.

 

Chapter 10: The Universal Duality

1. Melody L. Baglione, “Development of System Analysis Methodologies and Tools for Modeling and Optimizing Vehicle System Efficiency” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2007).

 

2. Wikipedia contributors, “Engine Efficiency,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engine_efficiency (accessed July 14, 2015).

 

3. Michael W. King, “Mitochondrial Functions and Biological Oxidations,” last modified October 29, 2015, http://themedicalbiochemistrypage.org/oxidative-phosphorylation.php.

 

4. Mark Wolverton, “The Way We Think about Cancer Must Evolve,” Wired, May 22, 2013, http://www.wired.com/2013/05/al_argcancer.

 

5. Wolverton, “The Way We Think.”

 

6. Wikipedia contributors, “Recidivism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recidivism#Recidivism_rates (accessed July 27, 2015).

 

7. David Lazarus, “Wealth inequality is only getting worse,” Los Angeles Times, last modified October 10, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus-20131011-column.html.

 

8. “Capitalist Myth #5: Capitalism Is Inherently Exploitative,” The Big Picture, last modified January 30, 2013, http://www.geopolitics.us/capitalism-is-exploitation.

 

9. Brian Krans, “Coming to America: Living in the U.S. Increases a Person’s Risk of Allergies,” HealthlineNews, last modified April 29 2013, http://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-living-in-us-increases-allergy-risk-042913#1.

 

10. “Socioeconomic Status Linked To Childhood Peanut Allergy,” acaai.org, last modified November 9, 2012, http://acaai.org/news/socioeconomic-status-linked-childhood-peanut-allergy.

 

11. Daniel L. Schacter and Donna Rose Addis, “The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: remembering the past and imagining the future,” The Royal Society Publishing, (2007), doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2087.

 

Chapter 11: Weird Events

1. Joseph Cambray, Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2009), 104.

 

2. Carl Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1960), 110.

 

3. Ibid., 109-110.

 

4. Ibid., 27-28.

 

5. Ibid., 106.

 

6. Ibid., 105.

 

7. Ibid., 29.

 

8. Ibid., 5.

 

9. Ibid., 40.

 

10. Ibid., 100-101.

 

11. Ibid., 61.

 

12. Ibid., 35.

 

Chapter 12: Entasy in Religion

 

1. Although I agree with – what I understand to be – the basic principle underlying divination, I personally do not actively practice or promote any particular divination techniques. I understand synchronicity to be a spontaneous, unpredictable phenomenon; hence I am skeptical of the idea that the diviner can somehow control synchronicity. Synchronicity can speak through a divination technique on occasion, just as it can speak through virtually any situation, but I have my doubts that the diviner can really do what he professes to be able to do – to consistently make synchronicity answer his every beck and call, like a sort of trained pet.

 

2. “Hinduism – Hindu Religion,” spaceandmotion.com, accessed September 26, 2015, http://www.spaceandmotion.com/Philosophy-Hinduism-Hindu.htm#Hindu.Maya.Illusion.

 

3. Mircea Eliade and William R. Trask, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), 48.

 

Chapter 13: The Science of Why

 

1. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989), 190.

 

2. TED, “Jim Holt: Why does the universe exist?” Youtube video, 17:21, September 2, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zORUUqJd81M.

 

3. Jung, 85.

 

Chapter 15: The Nature of Purpose

 

1. Lorenz, 109.

[+ ILLUSTRATION CREDITS+]

 

Chapter 1: Introduction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Matryoshka dolls image is from Microsoft Clip Art.

 

Chapter 3: Observations

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Snowflakes” by Wilson Bentley licensed under public domain.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Cirrus radiatus” by not on your nelly is licensed under CC by 2.0.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Fallstreak hole” by ozz13x is licensed under CC by 2.0.

 

Chapter 4: Entasy in Mathematics

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Laminar-turbulent transition” by Gary Settles is licensed under CC by SA 3.0.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Lorenz, Edward N. The Essence of Chaos. pp. 34, 44, 72, 75, 76 © 1993. Reprinted with permission of the University of Washington Press.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “HenonMapImage” was uploaded by XaosBits at en.wikipedia.org and is licensed under FAL.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Lorenz” by Unknown is licensed under public domain.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Romanesco Broccoli detail – (1)” by Jacopo Werther is licensed under CC by SA 3.0.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Fern (3777333021)” by Sam Fraser-Smith licensed under CC by 2.0.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Mandelbrot set image is from Microsoft Clip Art.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Miimcr” by Adam majewski licensed under CC by SA 3.0.

 

Chapter 5: Entasy in Physical Sciences

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Atomic-orbital-2s-3D-phaseless” by Benjah-bmm27 is licensed under public domain.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Atomic-orbital-2px-3D-phaseless” by Benjah-bmm27 is licensed under public domain.

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Atomic-orbital-3dz2-3D-phaseless” by Benjah-bmm27 is licensed under public domain.

 

Chapter 7: Entasy in Physiology

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p<>{color:#000;}. “SimulationNeuralOscillations” by TjeerdB is licensed under public domain. Part of the image was removed by the author.

 

Chapter 8: Some Thoughts on Entasy

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Kaninchen und Ente” by Unknown is licensed under public domain.

 

Chapter 10: The Universal Duality

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Sense/nonsense graph” was created by the author.

 

Chapter 12: Entasy in Religion

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p<>{color:#000;}. “Yin and Yang” image is licensed under public domain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Explanation of Life

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is all of this about? If you have ever contemplated these questions, "The Explanation of Life" may hold the answer that you are looking for. This book does not present the kind of facile, feel-good answer that you may have heard before. The answer is not something stylish, sexy, or trendy. It is straightforward, honest and real. Not everyone who asks why we exist really wants the answer. Many people are only concerned with the gratification of their senses, their feelings, and their ego, and apart from these things such people don’t really care why they exist. This book takes a different approach. It cuts right to the chase. It offers an original, comprehensive and unorthodox theory, drawing from science and logic, as to why we exist, why anything exists, and why things exist in the way they exist. This is not some self-indulgent philosophy book filled with groundless abstractions and speculations; whenever possible, it bases its ideas on examples and hard facts. This theory summarizes and explains the world as it is, rather than imagining it as we want it to be. This book presents thoughtful answers to deep and relevant questions, many of the questions you may never have thought to ask. Be warned: The Explanation of Life is probably unlike anything you have ever read before. It may forever change the way you look at your life and the world around you.

  • Author: Mysterio448
  • Published: 2016-09-25 03:50:41
  • Words: 99350
The Explanation of Life The Explanation of Life