Entropy happens. It is inevitable in any system. Left to its own devices, stuff always moves toward decay. Energy is lost. Stuff wears out. We don’t need science to tell us that all forms are impermanent. That idea is the foundation of just about every religion. (“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”) Shoes, cars, empires, galaxies—they all come into being, hang around a while, then lose their mojo and disappear.
If you view the world from the materialist side of the Western Gate, then all you see is stuff. You even see yourself exclusively as stuff. And as stuff, you then feel the same entropy you see in all other forms. You see yourself wearing out, getting older, losing your energy.
Of course we are made of stuff. But we are non-stuff as well. When we only address our stuffiness, then physics and chemistry are often sufficient to explain what is going on. But when we go beyond the Western Gate things get a little fuzzy. That’s where Life enters the picture.
I wrote about negentropy in Taijiquan:Through the Western Gate, but it’s an idea that bears repeating. I’m not sure if Erwin Schroedinger coined the term, but he wrote about “negative entropy”:“The essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.”
As all the stuff in the universe moves toward entropy, Life evolves to more complex forms to utilize all that lost energy. Grass utilizes the energy of sunlight via photosynthesis. Sheep can’t do that. But they have evolved to eat grass and access the energy they can’t get directly from sunlight. Wolves can’t get their energy from grass, but have evolved a taste for mutton to get energy that way.
Humans are constantly developing new ways to reclaim lost energy. Consequently, living has become quite complex for the species. There is a desire to keep the game going. We may wax nostalgic for the simplicity of the “good old days”, but that djinn has left the lamp.
We can, however, slow entropy down, at least in our own bodies. Biophysicist May Wan Ho describes negentropy as “stored, mobilizable energy in a space-time structured system.” Energy gets “trapped” in a living organism and does work in sustaining it. The energy doesn’t stay there, it does its work and moves on. The more complex the system, the more energy that is required to sustain it. It also takes longer to move through a complex system. (A whale needs the energy of the millions of krill it had for lunch to keep on keeping on.)
Taijiquan and qigong use the consciousness of the practitioner to utilize the energy of food and breath in more complex ways than in normal activity. More bang for the buck. They also train the body/mind to move more efficiently, so there less energy leakage. Energy becomes more coherent.
Mae Wan Ho says, “As coherence approaches infinity, entropy approaches zero.”
That is to say: Entropy is inversely proportional to efficiency and harmony within any system.
It is the non-stuff of consciousness that makes it work. It continues to evolve new ways to utilize the energy that is dissipated by all the stuff it meets. Learning what it means to be coherent and how to access it often is the key to negentropy.
Thankfully, the process is quite a bit of fun.