It is striking how obvious, yet subtle, the relationship between science, religion, and truth is. This could be an example of chapter 71’s, My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice. There are profound spiritual implications in core scientific principles. Why then the battle between religion and science? Consider the clearly partisan aspects of religion vis-à-vis the impartial spiritual truth from which religions spring. The conflict I see are battles between partisans of both tribes — religion and science. These adherents are religious minded or science minded in name mostly.
Disconnection and Reconnection
The spiritual aim of religion is to give people a sense of reconnection. Indeed, the Latin root of religion, religare (“to reconnect,”) says it all — the prefix re “again” + ligare “bind, connect”. That is what science promises as well. There is an important distinction between these two paths of reconnection. Religion draws on feeling and faith; science draws on thinking and experiment. While both require devotion, feeling and faith are more primal and thus religion offers a far easier path for reconnection for most people.
As we left our ancient hunter-gatherer tribal lifestyle and became civilized, we lost the intimate sense of connection that fosters a sense of well being and self-security. Religion helps fill that void. That people are religious, or science minded, in name only says much about our tribal nature. It’s no wonder that keen devotion is the easiest way to feel connection… from puppy love to you name it.
Yet, neither religion nor science fulfills its connection promise. If either did, both could live and let live. The need to contend with an opponent is a clear symptom of an insecurity fueled by a failure to feel fully connected. Naturally, we began feeling our sense of disconnection long before civilization arose. Language began dominating human awareness tens of thousands of years earlier. This increasingly disconnected us from the contemporaneous moment-to-moment quiet simplicity that other animals experience. Now, ironically, I am going to use language to religare science, religion, and truth.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is Spiritual Truth
I don’t suppose I gave entropy much thought other than as a cornerstone of classical physics, i.e., The Second Law of Thermodynamics. While reading a Science News report, A New View of Gravity, I realized the natural link between the humble spiritual roots of religion and the essence of science. The link between entropy and gravity makes a solid case, although I’d have trouble explaining why. Fortunately, a simpler case is possible to make.
An example of increasing entropy is burning coal. When burning coal, you are returning carbon to a simpler mysterious sameness-like state. Returning the carbon back into a lump of coal would require energy to reorganize it, so to speak. The input of energy is what made the coal originally, i.e., CO2 + sunlight + plant life + tectonic forces (+ time) = coal. When chapter 80 says return to the use of the knotted rope, this sounds like a call to increase entropy in our approach to life… Simplify!
Language, and the information it contains, is a low entropy state. Increasing entropy would mean decreasing information. Chapter 10 speaks to this also, When your discernment penetrates the four quarters, are you capable of not knowing anything? Complete entropy results in a complete loss of information. This is what the Tao Te Ching refers to as, mysterious sameness, nothing, stillness, emptiness, the void, silence. It is odd using entropy to illustrate Taoist principles. I expect the increasing information overload in the centuries ahead will make the Taoist entropic worldview ever more appealing—balancing. Let’s face it, sanity lies in disordered humble simplicity.
It is interesting how language, as a low entropy system, has the opposite effect on large groups of people. Language provides a high entropy common ground that removes barriers among any multitude of strangers (i.e., low entropy individuals) who speak the same language. In short, a common language helps strangers (in essence) to connect—unity, a state of high entropy.
A shared language reduces spontaneity and individuality by pulling everyone into mutual high entropy common sense. That allows people to create and maintain a low entropy organization—civilization. At the same time, language has the opposite result of decreasing entropy in the mind of each individual thinker! No wonder life is mystifying at times. Interestingly, chapter 40 parallels high entropy…
Turning back is how the way moves;
Weakness is the means the way employs.
The myriad creatures in the world are born from Something,
And Something from Nothing.
The Tao Te Ching helps us escape the low entropy nature of language and its ordered domination of our mind. That helps one see the world more as a baby again. Correlations also help increase entropy of language to the point approaching what I call cognitive singularity—a mental black hole. (See Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations, p.565.)
Newton’s Laws of Motion are also Spiritual Truth.
My first experience with connecting spiritual truth with laws of science was years ago while living in Japan. I’ve forgotten now how I came to be thinking about classical science in the first place, only that I was pondering the action vs. reaction aspects of a rocket.
I recall being blown away when I realized how Newton’s third law, For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, applies to life overall. I don’t recall exactly how I linked it to life. In any case, I see my experience of life as symptomatic of underlying biological forces. This parallels Newton’s Law of Motion. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” corresponds to how my actions on the ‘outside’ are counterbalancing reactions to my ‘inside’ reality. This action-reaction law is universal, yet it’s only appreciated as a mechanical law. I imagine many other scientific insights remain as untapped resources for spiritual understanding. That’s understandable for the spiritual side of science is far more subtle and non-provable in empirically testable ways. By the way, I also see more relevance to spiritual truth in the other two laws (google [Newton’s laws of motion]).
Oh no, I’d never do that! Consider this parallel. Through our cleverness we have figured out how to separate the oil from the peanut, the sugar from the beet, the opium from the poppy. Those successes at lowering entropy has unintended consequences: diabetes, obesity, addiction. To realize the consequences of our willful innovation is not going against nature. Indeed, it may be returning a little closer to balance… the ‘spirit of nature’.
And, hey, don’t stop treading on my metaphors. I’m just flattered you care. 😉
A Final word from the physics cop here. Then I’ll stop treading on your metaphors.
Maybe it’s a stretch to extend from statistical properties of microscopic configurations of matter and energy, to the field of human nature and our mental life.
The one interesting intersection I think though, is this observation that the creation of reduced entropy states is the one thing that sets Life apart from the rest of the world. It’s kind of spooky and mysterious, really. I felt uncomfortable that you were suggesting we go against Nature in that regard.
Keep using that computer. Take comfort in all the heat entropy you are generating as you order the electromagnetic field.
Knots, electrons – what’s the difference really?
Hi Mark, Good to hear from you. Leslie said see saw you today as we were playing down there. So many people, such a blur, so I didn’t recognize you. I was good almost seeing you though! Here are a few thought on your thought. Entropy is a novel way of speaking to all this for me. A bit confusing too, but I guess that’s the lure.
I’m saying we, as a life form, over-do our quest vis-a-vis reducing entropy. Of course, on the surface, reducing entropy feels great. I mean who could object to the increased comfort and survival benefits which that offers. It is the other side of the coin, the negative consequences of imbalance that cause us more grief than we bargained for. The Tao Te Ching is constantly pointing out how we don’t know when to stop. “Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger.” (Ch32)
Death is the most mysterious spiritual truth of all. Well, it and ‘life’. “These two are the same but diverge in name as they issue forth” (Ch1)
The idea is not to reject entropy reduction. It is just to be a little more wary of our obsessive quest in that regard. It knocks things off balance. Sure the rope is low-entropy, but not compared to a computer. So, giving up my computer and returning to the use of the knotted rope would be accepting an increase in entropy. Nice idea, but that ain’t going to happen. This is too much fun.
Hey Carl. I’d like to respond to what seems to be your idea that the simple life is all about increasing entropy.
You write: “When the Tao Te Ching talks of return to the use of the knotted rope, it is referring to increasing entropy in our approach to life.”
Hmmmm. I’m not sure what this means in terms of our APPROACH to life, but in terms of life itself, it our essential nature to create a reduction of entropy in specific important regions within and around ourselves.
The one defining characteristic of life seems to be that it creates a REDUCTION in entropy (in localized regions, creating an increase overall, just like non-life processes). It was life which created the low entropy in that lump of coal remember.
Schroedinger saw life as feeding on “negative-entropy”:
“It is by avoiding the rapid decay into the inert
state of ‘equilibrium’ that an organism appears so
enigmatic; so much so, that from the earliest
times of human thought some special
non-physical or supernatural force (vis viva,
entelechy) was claimed to be operative in the
organism, and in some quarters is still claimed.
How does the living organism avoid decay? The
obvious answer is: By eating, drinking, breathing
and (in the case of plants) assimilating.”
But life doesn’t feed simply on energy (that’s not what
produced the coal)
“What an organism feeds upon is negative
entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the
essential thing in metabolism is that the
organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the
entropy it cannot help producing while alive.”
(“What is Life”, 1944).
You write: “Entropy Is Spiritual Truthl” but the state of maximum entropy for an organism is death.
To me, those knots in that rope, indeed the rope itself, is
more symbolic of the kind of low-entropy we produce.