The Technium

The Cosmic Genesis of Technology


[Translations: Japanese]

At the very start of creation, the universe, such as it was, was packed into a very very very small space. The entire cosmos began as a flash smaller than the smallest bit of the smallest particle in the smallest atom. It was equally hot and bright and dense within that dot. All parts of this too-tiny spot shared a uniform temperature. There was, in fact, no room for any differences.

But from the very start of its creation, this tiny spot expanded by a process we don’t understand. Every new point flew away from every other new point. As the universe ballooned to about the size of your head, coolness became possible. Before it expanded to that size, in its first three seconds, the universe was perfectly solid, with no emptiness for relief. It was so full, even light could not move. Indeed it was so uniform that the four fundamental forces we see at work in reality today  — gravity, electromagnetic, the strong and weak nuclear forces – were compressed into a single unified force. In that start-up phase there was one general energy, which differentiated into four distinct forces as the universe expanded.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that in the initial femo seconds of creation there was only one thing in the universe, one super dense power that ruled all, and  this solitary power expanded and cooled into thousands of variations of itself. The history of the cosmos thus proceeds from unity to diversity.

As the universe stretched out, it made nothingness. This expanded “nothingness” is what we call space. As emptiness increased, so did coolness.  Space permitted energy to cool into matter and matter to slow down, light to radiate, and gravity, nuclear energy and the other forces to unfold. Space made differences possible.

But the universe expanded faster than matter itself could cool and gel. This created increasing difference. The faster the universe expanded, the greater the differences in temperature and energy within its boundaries. From the genesis of a single cooling dot of ur-stuff — some primordial super something — the distinctions of current reality we call matter and energy are crystallized. All species of atomic elements, all varieties of gravity and energy are thus temporary congealed disguises of the same ur-stuff.

The escalating differential between expanding emptiness and the remnant hotness of the big bang is what drives evolution, life, intelligence and the acceleration of technology.

Energy is the potential – the difference — to cool. Energy, like water under gravity, will seep to the lowest, coolest level and not rest until all differential has been eliminated. In the first thousand years after the big bang the temperature difference within the universe was so small that would have reached equilibrium quickly. Had not the universe kept expanding very little interesting would have happened. But the expansion of the universe put a tilt into things. By expanding omni-directionally – every point receding from every point – space provided an empty bottom, a basement of sorts, down which energy could flow. The faster the cosmos enlarged, the bigger the basement it constructed.

At the very bottom of the basement lies the final end state known as heat death. It is absolutely still. There is no movement because here there is no difference. No potential. Picture it as lightless, silent, and identical in all directions. All distinctions – including the elemental distinction between this and that — have been spent. This hell of uniformity is called maximum entropy. As far as we know, this is the sole law of physics with no known exceptions in the universe: all creation is headed to the basement. Everything in the universe is steadily sliding down the slope towards the supreme equality of heat death and maximum entropy.

We see the slope all around us in many ways. Because of entropy, fast moving things slow down, order fizzles into chaos, and it costs something for any type of difference or individuality to remain unique. Each difference – whether of speed, structure, or behavior – becomes less different very quickly because every action leaks energy down the tilt. Difference is not free. It has to be maintained against the grain.

The effort to maintain difference on the slope of entropy creates the spectacle of nature. A predator, such as an eagle sits atop a pyramid of entropic waste: In one year one eagle eats one hundred trout which eat 10,000 grasshoppers, which eat 1 million blades of grass. This pile of 1 million blades of grass input far outweighs the eagle output. This excess bloat is due to entropy. Each movement in an animal’s life wastes a small bit of heat (entropy), which means every predator catches less energy that the total energy the prey consumed, and this shortfall is multiplied by each action for all time. The circle of life is kept going only by the constant replenishment of sunlight showering the grass with new energy.

As harsh as this inevitable waste is, it is astounding that material organization can persist anywhere without rapidly dissolving to cold equilibrium. Throughout most of the universe any random five kilos of atoms will clump into a cold lump of rock or drift away as a cool gas. That’s simple physics. But here and there we find five kilos of atoms ordered, heated, and assembled into structured difference as a warm blooded, perpetually active golden eagle. A flatworm, a galaxy, and a digital camera all have this same property – they maintain a state of difference far removed from thermal undifferentiation, which is the state that most of the atoms in the universe share. While the rest of the material cosmos slips down to the frozen basement, a few remarkable forms seem to rise up and dance. This rising flow of sustainable difference is syntropy, the inversion of entropy.

Syntropy is another word for negative entropy,  or negentropy (also extropy). I prefer syntropy because it is a positive term for an otherwise double negative phrase meaning the absence of an absence (or minus the minus of order). Syntropy might best be thought of as the “capacity for entropy,” and increased certainty and structure. A technological or living system acts as an efficient drain for entropy — the more organized, structured, and complex the organization, the faster the system can generate entropy. In other words the more syntropic it is, the more efficient it is in creating entropy. At the same time, the creation of entropy is what you get with the expideture of energy, so this “urge” to drain entropy becomes a pump for order!

Syntropy

Diagram of Syntropy: Energy into a system is built up into increased order and information by generation of entropy.

This can be restated in a more technical way: A syntropic system will take the most efficient route to maximize entropy. If you leave the door open in a heated cabin the heat will drain out faster though the door than random seepage through the walls. If you install an electric generator in the wall of the cabin, heat will flow to the outside even faster. That increased flow of entropy is in fact what is powering the generator. Instead of a generator  you could insert a elephant and it too would increase the flow of entropy while creating cellular order. The device that maximizes entropy is that device that also maximizes syntropy. And vice versa, the most syntropic device will generate the most entropy. This is what we see. Pound for pound the most complex apparatus we know of – the mammal brain and a laptop PC – are the most efficient producers of entropy we’ve seen. In the future, as we advance our technology, we will also increase the syntropy of our artificial systems and therefore the amount of entropy and waste heat emitted by these systems. Already the heat per kilo generated by a laptop is nearing the power density of gasoline. As computers become more dense, more complex, smart, and all-around syntropic, they are in danger of exploding.

The compact streams of information and entropy flowing through syntropic structures enable them to remain balanced far from equilibrium. Syntropic systems come in many sizes (bacterium to the milky way), many shapes (tornado to star fish), many densities (the internet to the sun), and in every material. Artificial systems and technological devices all share with living organisms a persistent state of difference, a permanent disequilibrium that neither explodes nor solidifies, but instead maintains a steady potential to fall into the hole.

What we call technology is created by syntropic forms (humans) and shares many syntropic qualities. Technological qualities such as flexibility, adaptation, and self-regulated power occur no where in the world of inert matter.  If we let a piece of engineered material  revert to rust and corrosion we can see the  “natural’ state of its matter: hard, inert, plain.

Some syntropic structures can persist for billions of years (stars), some can evolve from one form to another, some can even wonder about themselves and ask why? It seems almost miraculous (if not heroic!)  how these forms – spiral galaxies, atmospheric planets, underwater creatures, and inquiring minds – can sustain themselves in the face of constant entropic drain. Where do they gain their power  to run up against the run-down of the universe? In the past thinkers and even many scientists believed a vital spirit enlivened living organisms, a spirit that was distinct from the ordinary natural forces at work on matter. It is now clear from thousands of careful experiments that the animation of living beings and life-like technological systems is not supernatural, and that their uplifting syntropic force does not contradict the unbreakable laws of entropy. The eagle is able to lift his wings high not because his evolution subverts the inescapable waste of entropy, but because the uplift and the difference in the warmth of his wings is powered by entropy.

To be clearer, it is powered by the expansion of the universe. To be clearer yet, it is powered by the expansion of our particular universe. For our universe could have been outfitted differently, with a different set of fundamental parameters, and under a different regime these persistent far-from-equilibrial structures would not have been possible. Cosmologists have calculated the tight window in which life-like structures are possible and some have declare the target so narrow as to be improbable we are here at all. As Freemen Dyson remarked,  all the evidence suggests that “the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”

While the appearance of any particular form of technology or life is against all odds, the appearance of technology and life as a whole were ordained as soon as the universe began to expand, unpacking room for difference. Technology is the latest in a long line of structures that manifest the expanding potential of difference in the universe with actual differences. The expansion of space/time opened up the universe to the dissipation of entropy, and thus to the appearance of entropy-accelerating forms like life, mind, and mind-life (technology). The mammoth supercollider in CERN and the tiny Intel 8080 computer chip – the big and little of the technium — owe their ultimate origins not to the minds of human engineers, but to the fundamental laws of this existence. The genesis of technology began at the Big Bang. as Weakly syntropic but persistent structures like galaxies and stars exploited entropy to sustain order. In their orbits the first bacteria and later humans extended the ruse. Now the technium delivers differences that life – in all its amazing power – cannot manage. 

The technium is a difference engine. It is a machine, so to speak, that is manufacturing more and more extreme versions of structures: artifacts that burn hotter than any life, or run faster than any life, or stretch further than any life. The technium is exploiting the sink of entropy to build persistent disequilibrial clumps of matter and energy that have never before been seen in the universe. New potentials and differences. Different differences. And as long as the universe keeps expanding, technology is ordained to keep differentiating. What the technium creates is difference.




Comments
  • Naveen Bachwani

    Brilliant piece of writing!

    I must confess, when viewed in this light, the concept of renting (or “timesharing” or “shared access”) did have a lot of appeal. Especially, when I think of all the hours I have to spend each week, just to ensure that the ever-growing mass of digital content that I have to work with, is kept manageable. And, that includes every thing from the emails at work to the digital photos of my family. But, there’s a flip side to it, isn’t there?

    What happens when the content you wanted, simply disappears from the website, just because it didn’t see enough support from its “users”? What happens if the “original” article you read, was subsequently modified and re-published online without any trace of version history?

    As a published-author, I also have to ask myself what this means for intellectual-property creators like authors and musicians… If every one wants the “music” and not the CD, or wants the “story” and not the book, will it eventually mean that lesser and lesser folks will see it wise to invest their time producing their art, resulting in their ultimate disappearance?!

    I still think there are a few things about ownership that modern technology cannot easily substitute. The pleasure of jotting-down notes in the margins of your copy of the book… the joy of thumbing through poetry pages, sitting on a garden-bench… the happiness that comes with leafing through the leather-bound edition of a classic…

    While I do think the route you’ve taken is in the right direction, I don’t think we’re there yet.

  • John Johnson

    Whoooeeee! Stephen Hawking meets Gregory Bateson!
    This is what keeps me coming back to kk.org!

    You got me wondering if there can ever be “too much” syntropy. Any answer to the question is, of course, relative to one’s person and culture, but the word “pandemonium” comes to mind… diversity without an ecological balance & unity.

  • Arthur Smith

    Hi Kevin – thanks for your comments. But I don’t think sustained entropy production is the issue either. Instead of a bomb, how about an oil furnace (or a star!). If energy/mass/time is the metric, you can burn as much energy as you like for as long as you like with essentially very simple structures. There’s certainly something special about brains and laptops, but it’s not their raw energy use or rate of entropy production!

  • program indir

    Thank You Kevin Nice Post

  • stephanie gerson

    “Difference is not free. It has to be maintained against the grain.”

    agreed! and also against the grain of our own extreme post-modernism; what your recent friend Ken Wilber calls boomeritis.

    anyways. Loved this post and await your book.

  • film izle

    Thank you, Kevin Kelly. have a nice article.
    Film izle

  • AjmoT

    Kevin, even when you aren’t starting from very agreeable assumptions, you continue to bring up excellent topics — “productively wrong” indeed! The conclusions you bring up are often so tellingly ironic.
    You go astray very near the beginning, during yet another “summary of what is known about the cosmos”. You do this a lot! But don’t we experience paradigm shifts which radically reorganize and re-prioritize previous knowledge? We cast off or reformulate ideas which were once the height of knowledge. The “height of knowledge” is a good name for the “height of contorted thinking”. It’s not hard to spot the beam in your own eye: just find so-called “ironclad rules”, like your entropy.
    You say “the sole law of physics with no known exceptions in the universe: all creation is headed to the basement.” That’s some real poetry, both because you’re dooming this “law” by saying it has no exception, then going on to write an article about how there is such fantastic order in a supposedly random and entropic universe. That’s a pretty big exception, “and it’s getting _bigger_ all the time”! You also point out that this march of entropy sends things to “the basement”, which is so true but in a different way: As the physical universe is embodied at all orders of magnitude more completely and complexly, its locus of consciousness is always rising, leaving earlier fields of reality in the sub-conscious “basement” — and the “attic” too! The ground and sky against which we are given body along an infinite horizon.
    And you show your hand so slyly! You say: “As the universe stretched out, it made nothingness. This expanded ‘nothingness’ is what we call space. As emptiness increased, so did coolness.” You’ve done us a great favor here: because it is completely absurd to think that there can be “nothingness” — certainly no scientist has ever observed such a thing. Air? The sky? The sea? The medium between particles? “Space”? Interplanetary, intergalactic space? None of it is empty. It is all full, and fluid, and structured.
    The fact that we can’t “see” most of it yet is only a new Broadway showing of the classic human comedy: if we can’t see it, we think it’s not there. But all of us have known that what we think of as not there, actually is: and being sub-conscious, this can frighten and excite and propel us immensely.
    So just when you bring up this ridiculous notion of “emptiness”, you bring up the topic of entropy — our most terrifying fate of “heat death” — the cold hell awaiting our beautiful world.
    “Oh Entropy: A law which is unbroken throughout the cosmos?” What acrobatics! You’re trying to fit the order-creating richness of the ecological, technological, design-permeated world of ours into this mistaken notion of entropy. Entropy is a small idea applicable to a narrow set of physical questions, which you’ve inflated to include life processes which clearly are both the inversion and overcoming of entropy: the dialectic synthesis of chaos and order.
    Who pushes the rock back up the hill? You give the answer.
    How hilarious that you would choose an eagle, of all things, to be a the “crown jewel of entropy”, the king of a huge trash heap. We know the reverse is true, and more! An ecosystem REQUIRES the eagle — in many ways the eagle is the most basic organizing force for a system which would come apart at the seams without it. The system that sits “below” or “upstream” from the eagle has actually developed in co-dependency with its own highest flower — they come as a package, the code and compiler and platform. That “every predator catches less energy than the total energy the prey consumed” is quite false in an ecological setting, where the predator is the highest designer and shepherd of energy and nutrient, and the bridge between higher and lower orders of magnitude in ecological enrichment.
    The wolf in forestry is the classic example. Without the wolf, the deer and grazers become rampant. They multiply beyond the carrying capacity of the land, and they become sickly as they destroy the ability of the forest and range to provide for them. The forest and brush die, and all nutrients flood the rivers. The land becomes desert, and a recolonization must begin from the smallest footholds. Many eastern Native Americans considered the beavers to be the architects of the continent. Eagle, bear, and wolf: they are the ultimate geographic re-organizers of nutrient. Paul Stamets would take the same approach to fungi: they are the farmers of forests.
    Who’s cultivating who? Who’s advancing who’s agenda? The ecological principle (which you champion in the form of “the web” and “the one machine”) is one without a top or bottom. It’s a distributed design system, generated by patterns, inhabited by co-dependent consciousnesses, a growth within some more ancient scaffolding.
    And this is the secret which you keep bumping up against but never make the leap into. The web is not unique. Life is not precariously alone on this earth, with only the web to keep it company. The web is the rule, not the exception. Our prejudices about the exclusivity of life and consciousness keep us from seeing that they exist at all scales: these are more than emergent phenomena: information and its apprehension is an embedded drama, throughout the cosmos.
    You’ll find life within the surface of Mars: and simultaneously find life permeating the Earth as never before.
    The deepest, most joyful belly laugh you drew out of me was with that term, “waste heat”. Where in the biosphere is there waste? Is there such a thing as irretrievable waste, slip-sliding into entropic torpor? No. All waste is food. Because there is no empty place for waste to go and float around in. Anything moving through the world is moving as through a fluid, and it will displace the sea of stuff around it, because there are no “gaps in between”. Even the rudimentary idea of “heat leaking from the earth into empty space” is ridiculous: every time we study more closely the gradient between where we are and this numinous “outer space”, we find fully articulated systems of matter, energy, and force which are constantly engaged in the work of giving body to the awakening form of the cosmos.
    (It’s great poetry that New Scientist just put out an article yesterday on “thermal computing” — phononics — circuitry using heat as the energy medium. No small wonder that as we sample the language of “photonic computing”, light, the favorite son of human aspiration — we simultaneously grapple with heat, the least among energies in our estimation, and find that it is so endlessly useful. The role of glass — silicon — and ceramics in human endeavor is endlessly wonderful.)
    You are right to point out two things. There is chaos and “entropy” in the cosmos, and it is the “waste” which is the “food” for order. But you have mangled the equation: we don’t need life to generate info using energy, staving off entropy. Life is the film between chaos and order where embedded information takes shape anew. There is no single opportunity outside of the most abstract human affairs where we can actually observe chaos somehow separated out and existing in isolation from order: they are the Ouroboros and Caduceus, how they cling to eachother! Always curling about the staff of life.
    And here is where you’re notion of “emptiness” and “nothingness” is reasonable and real: in the abstract. We haven’t yet found emptiness in the cosmos, except perhaps within our own minds — and few of us have really even found it there if we are honest with ourselves. And to maintain that void, even for a moment, is a terrific achievement and a propulsive driving force. The “perceived” void has always driven scientists to wits end, but all proposed voids have been found to be brimming with fullness after all.
    In this sense, emptiness — the void — drives both “structure” and “entropy” into “syntropy”: the residue that is life brought into contact with info by the void. The _perceived gradient_ between emptiness and order gives direction to the colonizing force of life and consciousness (we lack the vocabulary to really distinguish these things). It draws the observer’s eye, always hunting new mountains, rich in information (imprisoned forms and formulas, archetypes, designs), on which to gnaw and grow strong and fertile.
    “There is a crack, a crack in everything: That’s how the light gets in.”

  • vt

    Fantastic post!!!

  • Tom Crowl

    An Amazing Article! No tush-kissing here. This one is not only a great overview of the whole damn universe but adds some great new ways to look at it all.

    Of course provokes a couple of things…

    First Re:
    “Artificial systems and technological devices all share with living organisms a persistent state of difference, a permanent disequilibrium that neither explodes nor solidifies, but instead maintains a steady potential to fall into the hole.”

    Of possible interest, brings to mind an article by Patrick Barry in Science News December 6th, 2008; Vol.174 #12 (p. 22)…
    http://www.sciencenews.org/index/feature/activity/view/id/38750/title/No_gene_is_an_island

    Which, amongst other things, discusses the issue of “criticality” (an essential need for the cell’s systems to balance on this point between order and chaos)

    and, I believe parallels the same need in other fundamentally complex, chaotic systems…

    like the developing Technium and Gaia altogether.

    And this makes me think of that old Drake Equation, an attempt to provide a framework for calculating the number of technological civilizations in a galaxy… let alone the universe.

    And that factor regarding the average lifetime of a technological civilization…

    It doesn’t really matter what answer one gives… my interest is the implicit assumption (which I tend to agree with) that these complex, chaotic systems certainly can and DO collapse.

    And since we have no other known cases for comparison

    The difficult but overlooked question is…

    What are the differences between a civilization that can persist as close to universal maximum entropy as possible (or even longer under other interesting scenarios) and the perhaps billions that fall by the wayside like trillions of wasted sperm and lost ecosystems?

  • john

    KK,

    Your articles are always very thought provoking which is always a good thing. Sometimes I wonder if you’re either on to something profound or whether you fall into the category which Orwell clearly defined below.

    “There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.” – George Orwell

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @john: I am most likely what Lynn Margulis calls “Productively Wrong.”

  • Tom Crowl

    Again, fantastic article but this aspect of the universe has always been a tough one to take:

    “This hell of uniformity is called maximum entropy. As far as we know, this is the sole law of physics with no known exceptions in the universe: all creation is headed to the basement. Everything in the universe is steadily sliding down the slope towards the supreme equality of heat death and maximum entropy.”

    I don’t suppose we can expect aesthetics from the universe but we can always hope that maximum entropy is as unstable as maximum order, which is certainly one way of looking at that first moment and the UR stuff it was made of!

    Yeah, yeah, I know… where’s the energy to push the rock back up the hill…

    Maybe there’s some clue in those virtual particles popping in and out of existence in vacuum…

    Or we get lucky and a local parallel universe (brane) bumps up against us and sort of re-juices things…

    Or, even weirder, maybe there’s some connection between consciousness and a solution.

    Can’t necessarily say there is… but looking for a solution should be fun.

  • john

    KK: “I am most likely what Lynn Margulis calls “Productively Wrong.”

    While you might consider yourself “productively wrong”, your ideas are intellectually stimulating to say the least.

    Regardless if I agree with you conclusions or not, I will be buying your book the first day it goes on sale.

  • Sacrednicity

    Thanks for bringing into conversation a very important concept lacking in public discourse, KK!

    two points of distinction..
    The Laws of Thermodynamics are flawed and as reliable for the Full Experience of Awareness/Potential as Newtonian Physics is at describing sub-atomic Quantum Mechanics is as flawed at describing What Is Real.
    Centropy is the self-ordering natural state of Life Maintenance. This is the basis of Consciousness _in__ Flesh. Syntropy is the self-sustaining, ever-increasing energy-potentia process that is the octace harmonic above Centropy. Centropy calms Extropy and Syntropy energizes Centropy. Physically usable energy is merely a transitional and transformative side-effect of what most call Dark Matter… which is also a flawed descriptive construct. Please, Google ‘Prime Matter’ and ‘Neal Adams’ start learning another very relevant to now process of Scientific Inquiry and Revealing.

  • RobertJ

    Suppose technological advances means a higher and accelerated syntropy, which leads to a higher entropy, but the input to earth, by solar radiation, stays constant. We’re then led to conclude that the part of earth that is not part of civilization, the environment that is, will suffer a drastic increase in entropy, environmental degradation.

    If increase in syntropy is equated with technological progress, it becomes clear from your writings that progress will halt as the environment degrades, since less of a entropy difference can be maintained.

    Just as previous empires tried to solve the problem of keeping up economical growth or handling population growth by colonies that increased the economy or exported the problem, we export entropy. And while this entropy has long been exported to the environment, a solar panel is actually exporting the problem to space. The black-body radiation from a solar panel means that the light reflected back into space has a higher entropy than had it been reflected off a roof. (Researchers have also shown that the entropy of light reflected from a forest is higher than that reflected from barren rock, fitting well with a continuum of syntropy/entropy)

    This ties together the state of the environment with technological progress and economic growth which may make the issue a lot more urgent to some people than the loss of biodiversity. It also gives a tantalizing hint that this process, must sooner or later start harvesting energy off-planet.

  • Arthur Smith

    Kevin,

    while eloquent, and perhaps productively wrong, there certainly are some wrong things about this post that perhaps you’d appreciate hearing about… Entropy is a notorious sink-hole for fuzzy thinking about the world we live in, but your opening here is actually excellent and physically correct, as far as I can tell. Things start to go downhill a bit when you get to living systems though.

    There is no fundamental necessity for the high mass ratio between green plants and the top of the food chain. In fact, the mass ratios are believed to be reversed in the pristine oceans. It is true that “every predator catches less energy that the total energy the prey consumed” but the final mass ratios depend on life expectancy ratios, which can make the numbers quite different.

    Next, I think your claim that “the more organized, structured, and complex the organization, the faster the system can generate entropy” and related conclusions is simply wrong. Or at least I can not think of a metric that makes this work. I know there’s a lot of theory out there about maximum entropy production etc. which I don’t claim to understand, but I am pretty sure it cannot be closely related to complexity, organization, or structure. For a given quantity of energy, creating the most entropy out of it quickly is simply a matter of equilibrating it at the lowest possible temperature. I don’t see how complexity, organization, or structure really help with that. Exploding a bomb with that amount of energy essentially thermalizes it in a matter of seconds, and it’s hard to get entropy production any faster than that. And a bomb hardly needs much organization or internal structure (a van full of fertilizer will do it).

    In this context your claim that “the mammal brain and a laptop PC – are the most efficient producers of entropy we’ve seen” and “Already the heat per kilo generated by a laptop is nearing the power density of gasoline.” ring false. Laptop power is constrained by battery technology which is still far below what hydrocarbons can do. And each generation of processors consumes far *less* energy per operation than its predecessor, there’s no inevitable rise in heat throughput there. The mainframes of yesteryear were far more efficient generators of heat per computation!

    But I think you are getting at something fundamental here, and it would be worth refining the argument a bit more to get at the real truth of all this. I think the essence is your point about the production of “difference”, or “information”, vs. production of entropy. I think your idea here is that creation of “difference” counters the downhill production of entropy trend of the universe, but maintaining “difference” requires its own entropy flows, which the pre-existing differences of this universe make available. That is, one level of “difference” (stars vs. void) begets another level of “difference” (life) which is here begetting another level of “difference” (minds and technology), each of these new levels interposing itself in the entropy flow created by the previous level.

    That is, a star, just sitting by itself, radiates its energy outwards, producing a flow of entropy from its high temperature (low entropy) surface out into the surrounding high-entropy (microwave background) space. A planet intercepts this flow bringing about temperature differences on the planetary surface, and in any atmosphere or oceans; the workings of the planet capture sunlight (low entropy), use the resulting energy, and then thermalize it, sending the resulting colder (high entropy) radiation off into empty space. Living creatures can interpose themselves into the planetary entropy flow. Etc.

    Is this what you’re driving at?

    • http://www.kk.org Kevin Kelly

      @Arthur Smith: You raise a bunch of points.

      1) About the mass ratios in ecological systems, I probably should point out the while the energy pyramid is always valid, the mass pyramid which I used as an illustration is not always valid. Though if you have a specific food web in mind, that would be useful to know.

      2) Entropy production is related to complexity in this way. A fire, or explosion, produces fierce and extreme entropy but it is not sustainable. It burns, or blows, itself out. Complexity in persistent disequalibrial systems are in essense sustained fires (like a sun) that can keep the entropy engine going. These systems require feedback loops and balance to keep from either going out or blowing up. So the “speed” of production is actually a matter of er/g/s (energy per gram per second) over the lifetime of the system. It is the sustained power density that makes a difference. Fires and explosions have trivially short lifespans. Stars, animals and laptops have significant long ones (comparatively).

      3) All the energy in a laptop comes from the battery of course, and the issue with increased performance is in keeping the chip from melting and the battery from exploding. The laptop is designed to be a sustained syntropic system (see 2 above) but if it collapses it becomes an explosion. BTW, this will be the dilemma of laptop designers. The amount of energy required to run a supercomputer in your pocket will be enough to kill you if it gets deranged.

  • Tom Buckner

    I sense your book is near completion; you’ve pulled the lens way, way back to take in everything. The view is awe-inspiring.

    Everything you say here seems correct to me regarding our visible universe. However, I don’t think it’s all there is, and that affects entropy/syntropy in a fundamental way. Here’s my current thinking on the Really Big Picture.

    I think we live in a cosmos which is a mathematical structure as in Tegmark’s multiverse schema. It seems to me some sort of mathematical structure. Consciousness exists in mathematical structures that can support complex information pocessing, which internal observers will interpret as physical domains. (I’m getting this line of thought from Tipler among others).

    Some feel that many-worlds models are not parsimonious; we explain fine-tning of constants by positing many other worlds with different constants? But that’s an error: assuming many worlds spun from a single mathematical algorithm is very parsimonious; look how little code it takes to generate the Mandelbrot set.

    It could, I suppose, all be as simple as pi. If each bit of matter and energy are isomorphic to information, then an infinite nonrepeating decimal (pi, for example) could encode all possible universes at all posible times, creating all possible people, places, and events according to certain rules of transformation. If we assume that mathematical objects would exist even if nothing else did, then their manifold relationships would exist, ultimately meaning we must exist. It is as if we were simulations in a vast computer, I suspect, but quite possibly there is no outside.

    Sounds daft, but our physics does display what’s been called “unreasonable explanatory effectiveness of mathematics.” I have long been comfortable with the idea that I am a pattern, like a standing wave over a rock in a stream. The wave is not the water; the water passes. The wave is not the rock; without water, there is no wave. But the standing wave is a persistent and identifiable thing, existing in the relationship between water and wave. We are all standing waves.

    Just for the heck of it, I asked an online I Ching oracle “Is Tegmark right?”
    http://www.psychicscience.org/ching3.aspx

    It gave the following answer: Hexagram 1, Active Force (The Creative)
    Changing line 5: Success is indicated. Your influence is great
    Changing to: Hexagram 14, Abundance.

    Let me tell you something: I haven’t consulted the oracle much in years, though I once did it almost daily. I can’t remember ever getting Hexagram 1.

  • Alex Tolley

    “And as long as the universe keeps expanding, technology is ordained to keep differentiating.”

    Not so. The universe can keep expanding without creating new pockets of low entropy. In a universe of static matter, all that happens is that the density declines. As teh stars run down, the universe would ultimately slow down to its high entropy “heat death” state.

    In fact as the universe expands, the number of low entropy pockets within the boundaries of our universe will decline as the edge of the universe expands past the light horizon. If the increasing expansion rate due to dark energy is correct, this will result in a universe whose matter will decline within any single point of view, with the boundaries contracting until we get the “big rip” as atoms ultimately break up.

  • Steve Weinberg (of course not THAT Steve Weinberg)

    I’m posting this as I originally wrote it in 1994 as a tribute to how much Kevin Kelly’s writings have expanded my ability to understand what life is all about. It is also my tribute to the fact that this post by Kelly, “The Cosmic Genesis of Technology” comes the closest to even dealing with what I was attempting to think and write about back then.

    I hope to live long enough to hear from him and many others what the implications are for humans in trying to emotionally, psychologically and spiritually cope with this new knowledge, even as we approach and survive the slip through the SIngularity.

    =====================================
    What Life Is All About

    • Matter (and anti-matter) is energy that is crystallized/trapped into atoms. It was produced as a byproduct of the Big Bang when some of The Primal Energy (God) transformed itself into the energy and matter of our physical “universe”.

    (Can we really believe that The Primal Energy (God) is mere electro-magnetic energy, unable to travel faster than the speed of light?)

    • Matter just keeps trying to synergize itself into forms that can become conscious of, harmonize with and, possibly, reunite with The Primal Energy from whence it sprang. Carbon-based “life” is just such an attempt at synergizing matter – at harmonizing with God’s energy.

    (Sort of like in the cartoons when a character is exploded into a zillion pieces and each piece assumes an independent identity and runs around trying to re-unify itself into the original harmonious totality.)

    • Human organisms, we think, are the most advanced versions of synergized life-matter on planet earth. “Recently” (over the last ±20,000 years of religious thought and practice), some of us even think we’ve discovered a variety of ways to tap back into The Primal Energy. Though only a minority of us is even remotely conscious of The Primal Energy, we’re getting there?

    (Tapping into The Primal Energy to increase love, individually and among members of communities, is the only available fuel for truly quantum advances in human civilization)

    • Teachers (more highly synergized forms of life-matter) from elsewhere in the Universe will, in due time, undoubtedly guide us through quantum leaps forward in this quest, just as we will seed other less-developed galaxies with “life” as we know it.

    Until then, what matters is to help nature increase synergy among life-matter on Earth by learning to love, becoming good friends with every life form that we can identify, promoting decentralized and sustainable cultural and economic evolution and continuing to seek God.

    Developing a universally accessible, worldwide information and communications superhighway is our most vital synergy tool.

  • RBrucePtolemy

    When one speculates what happened long before our universe became a universe it is a guess – nothing more. When hundreds or even thousands speculate what happened, even if each supports the other – they are still only guesses – nothing more. Scientific validation is not the result of a great number of speculations.

    Religions have resulted by self ordained validation of speculations – nothing more.

    How about we call an unknown – an unknown and wait until we can scientifically prove these speculations to be factual.