Hierarchies of Chaos and Order

There is a natural tension in everything. The forces of chaos and order are locked in a constant battle that lies at the heart of creation. We are surfing a wave at the interface of order and chaos.

The biological world provides a perfect example of this tension between order and chaos. If there were no order, life could not exist. The complex systems of chemicals, proteins, cells, organs and organisms that are life could not persist if our reality was too disordered. On the other hand, life would also be impossible if not for the some force of chaotic change pushing the world forward.

The careful balance of order and chaos necessary for the evolution of complex life is highly dependent on the amount of energy in a given system. Too much energy and chemical reactions would be too energetic and vigorous for delicate complex molecules to emerge. Too little energy and chemical reactions will be too slow to drive the evolution of new forms of life.

It is an interesting aside to consider what kind of life could potentially evolve (or perhaps be created) in such extreme conditions. Collections of self-aware plasma on the surface of a star; highly dense ice based creatures sluggishly evolving in the outer reaches of the solar system. Notwithstanding such fanciful notions however, the appearance of life seems to be restricted to a narrow ‘Goldilocks zone’ between order and chaos. We require a liquid cradle – one which is neither too hot nor too cold.

Still, even if a system does find itself with an appropriate balance of order and chaos which favours the emergence of self-replicating matter (aka Life) the question remains as to why such a system should produce complexity? Given that organisms which reproduce most efficiently would have a significant evolutionary edge, should the system not tend towards a simple, uniform state? Why are we not taken over by some naturally occurring form of grey-goo?

The simple answer is that a uniform population lacks the ability to respond to natural environmental changes. Take for example a bowl of soup containing a population of bacteria. Let’s say the bacteria are perfectly suited to feeding on one of the nutrients in the soup. These bacteria will continue to feed on the soup, multiplying and growing until they totally consume said favourite nutrient. At this point, a population of bacteria that is totally uniform would be unable to adapt and start feeding on different nutrients. However, if there is some chaotic variation in the population, then some of the bacteria might have some ability to start eating other nutrients.  If change from one nutrient epoch to the next is slow enough, then the bacteria with an ability to digest alternative nutrients can be selected for survival.

Fascinatingly, research has shown that biological organisms have even evolved the ability to tune their rate of evolution based on how well suited they are to their environment. If an organism is experiencing chronic stress, then it is a sign that it is poorly adapted to its environment. Through a number of recently discovered genetic mechanisms, stressed organisms can increase their rate of mutation in hopes that they can become better adapted to their environment. This type of effect has now been well documented in bacteria, plants and even insectsThus, biological chaos is able to ramp up if an organism is unsuited to a particular environmental change.

Rate of evolution

Whereas well adapted organisms show slow change in their populations, poorly adapted and stressed organisms show higher rates of mutation. 

In this way, biological systems have harnessed a chaotic process (mutation) to apply order to the chaotic natural world. Through iterative cycles of selection, biology has driven the evolution of all the wonderful forms of life we see around us. Biology “learns to understand” the world by continuously testing out randomly generated organisms for their adaptation to it.

Biological change is beautiful, but it is also subject to important limitations. Firstly, when viewed from the context of a human lifetime it occurs at an almost imperceptibly slow pace, over the course of generations. Take the soup of bacteria we referred to earlier and heat it up 20 or 30 degrees and you will kill all of the bacteria inside. You would need to heat the soup over weeks or months to even have a chance to allow the bacteria to evolve resistance to heat and hope for any survival.  Even more importantly, the potentiality of a biological system is also fundamentally limited by its nature. Biological systems can only accomplish what is inherently possible using the tools of DNA, RNA, protein and lipids.

From biology a new evolutionary paradigm of chaos and order has now emerged – that of ideas. Random shifting and mixing of ideas within and between individuals creates a chaotically varying population.  As Matt Ridley puts it, ideas can have sex. From this population of randomly generated ideas, ideas must compete for the limited resources of human brains. Just as a virus must jump from person to person to survive, ideas must also cross the gaps between us.

We are infected with thoughts.

Also just like biological systems, our ideas seem to respond to how well adapted they are to their respective environment, our minds. An idea which does not resonate with us will be subject to manipulation and modification. Ideas will mutate to fit into our understanding of the world, and we spit them back out to see how this newly modified idea will resonate in the minds of others.

Thought infectionpngSimilarly to biological systems it seems possible that our mind mutates ideas to make them resonate with our world view. 

In this new paradigm, a bewildering landscape of ideas is driving our man-made world forward ever faster. A new tension of chaos and order has been established in the world of ideas, and unlike biology, the potentiality of ideas seems not to be restricted by the limitations of reality. But, as we look forwards at an age where ideas may soon leave biology behind completely, an imponderable question does creep into mind. Will we one day reach the end of what is possible with ideas?

– Addendum –

So I have been thinking a little bit deeper about the relationship of systems of chaos. I am not sure about this part, but I wonder if in order for one chaotic system to harness another, whether it must have a wider ‘spectrum of potentiality’ then its underlying system. For example, for biological systems to harness or ‘understand’ a chaotic chemical system the possible permutations of biology must supersede what is possible within the simple chemical world (ie lacking biomolecules). In following, perhaps the spectrum of potentiality of the ideas within the mind must be wider then that of the biological world for us to be able to understand biology. Finally, a new paradigm may be emerging from electronic life wherein the spectrum of potentiality within the human mind will be inadequate to grasp the ‘post-ideas’ it will create. 

Possibility Spectrum

I can’t be sure if I am talking gibberish at this point but what really blows my mind, is that each of these ‘spectrums of potentiality’ may actually be infinite, they are just different sized infinities.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “Hierarchies of Chaos and Order

  1. Idea… What is the number one enemy for an idea? Doubt, disbelief. As with any enemy it can attack from any direction with no set tactical methods.we can defeat our own idea, if we doubt. Science, although it has contributed numerous ideas , has been the instigator of doubt. Science says in order for a theory to become law it must pass the test.

    Another large faction, the Church has ironically been the house of doubters. Here is where I must be given to theory as I can not give first hand account. I in vision the ancient world as a mystical place were magic was as common as science is today. Healers and foreseers were the norm, but maybe a bit odd compared to modern day standards.But if you think about it , what is so normal about putting a mask on some ones face with gas coming out of it. Rendering them unconsciousness.. Then taking knives and other tools , cutting into the person, and removing parts.. Or feeding someone a toxic chemo cocktail. to kill the cancer within.

    Personally I think I would feel a little more comfortable having some one crushing up some herbs and maybe throwing an eye of a neut. Then chanting over me.Better idea don’t you think?

    Anyway, along comes the Church to change this mystical place. Man’s idea was greed and control so he put all the scientist on the payroll. And then orchestrated a campaign to discredit the healers and the seers. Portraying them as evil and a counterfeit. Sadly the plan worked and doubt defeated the idea of pure magic..

    I know my rendition isn’t totally factual, but a bit of the fiction to complete the story. You have to admit it is much more entertaining than the high school history text.?

    If I may in closing relate a true story as close to accurate as I can remember. During the early 1970. young people where prone to “movements” . There where the hippies, the Jesus Freaks, and massive other Eastern movements. A series of events gave me the idea that Jesus was the way. So I sought out others of like mind. At the time that was not difficult . as there were Jesus Freaks every where..I attended many meetings were every one . Well maybe not everyone , but a significant majority agreed on one idea.Jesus was the way and every thing in the bible was truth. Night after night I witnessed miracles and healing. What scientist would call mass hysteria.. Call it what you may.. I see it as an age old principle in action. There is power in a group of people agreeing on a single IDEA.

  2. This is the most interesting, well-written and thought-provoking blog entry I have probably ever read. I will need some time to digest all the stuff that’s brought up here, but I feel there’s a valuable application of these principles to art=creation as well. Hmmm.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this, great post!

    “The biological world provides a perfect example of this tension between order and chaos. If there were no order, life could not exist. The complex systems of chemicals, proteins, cells, organs and organisms that are life could not persist if our reality was too disordered. On the other hand, life would also be impossible if not for the some force of chaotic change pushing the world forward. The careful balance of order and chaos necessary for the evolution of complex life is highly dependent on the amount of energy in a given system. Too much energy and chemical reactions would be too energetic and vigorous for delicate complex molecules to emerge. Too little energy and chemical reactions will be too slow to drive the evolution of new forms of life.”

    I guess I’d like to see your opinion- are organisms perfect balances between order and chaos as a whole? Or is the balance only at a molecular level.
    I’m one to believe that life is not right in the middle of order and chaos as a whole- we are only a tiny piece of order in this perhaps infinite universe of chaos, and here we are, ‘fighting’ against the chaos. Along this line, I’d also like to hear your opinion on the difference between one organism, and the whole population seen as one.

    Lastly, related to ideas: would your definition of life (the emergence of self-replicating matter) apply to an electronic system that can self-replicate?

    • I am not sure how we could define a ‘perfect balance’ between order and chaos. The second law of thermodynamics states that the overall entropy of a system can never decrease. Thus for life to become ordered, its overall use of energy must produce more chaos then it consumes. No matter what we do, disorder always increases.

      To answer your other question, I don’t think there really is a good way of separating an organism from a population. All life is connected, and disconnecting it is purely academic. I also think that self-replicating electronics may create a new paradigm of chaos and order that biological humans may never be able to grasp completely.

  4. Some days are a jumble of bits and pieces, a jumble of disparate ideas, but a little while back I had a day that had a theme. The theme was order and chaos. For a few hours, everything I did seemed a commentary on their relationship. I would do a full write-up here, but it seems it is worth a post by itself. Maybe I’ll link back later.

    Anyways, I came to some conclusions that day, many which parallel what you say here. An excess of order in a system will make it stale and dead. It will be torn apart by the chaos it is designed to repel. An excess of chaos cannot attain the stability needed for productive creation. In all things, we must balance order with chaos; we must be flexible and resilient.

  5. Pingback: Nature Has No Allegiances: An Argument for Geoengineering | Thought Infection

  6. Pingback: Basic Income Means Basic Freedom | Thought Infection

  7. Pingback: Swiss to Vote on Basic Income for All | Desultory Heroics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s