All posts tagged as nonequilibrium thermodynamics (NET)

05 Nov

Death & Sex

In News by poeticinterconnections / November 5, 2009 / 0 Comments


Death & Sex


Back in July I was asked to contribute a review blurb to an upcoming book called Death & Sex. The request came from Dorion Sagan, one of the book’s authors—an amazing writer and a friend of this blog. I immediately said yes. I was sent an advance copy of the text and spent the next few evenings unable to put it down, rapt.

The book is a hybrid: two essays by different authors bound into a single work. Tyler Volk’s Death examines how our passing feeds the greater cycle of life, our bodies breaking down into food and energy for other animals and plants. Our greatest personal fear is thus recast as an ecological act of self-sacrificial love. It’s a deeply spiritual view of dying.

Dorion Sagan’s Sex suggests that our procreating has cosmic implications. We reproduce to continue life. And viewed from the perspective of thermodynamics, life on Earth actually exists to help spread the concentrated energy of our sun into surrounding space. Nature likes its energies evenly distributed, and we ease an inequity: we take in localized sunlight and disperse it into space as heat.

Simply by living we’re doing God’s work, spreading the good solar news.

Death & Sex is out now, and my review blurb is printed inside. This blog post is to thank Dorion Sagan and Chelsea Green Publishing for the honor and pleasure, and to turn you on to a fine, fascinating read.

If you pick it up, let me know… Comments always welcome.

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13 Dec

The Revised Gospel of NET

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / December 13, 2008 / 2 Comments

Religious scholars believe our scriptures are mostly compilations. To historical experts, sacred texts reveal signs of revision, editing and translation. For me, nothing about this possibility makes our holy books less beautiful or valuable. I like the idea of God-inspired people co-creating our wisdom traditions. It feels communal.

This week, I was blessed with a bit of co-creation! My last blog post, The Gospel of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics, was based on a book called Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life. One of the book’s authors, Dorion Sagan, was kind enough to leave a comment about the post, and in his comment he made a notable correction to what I’d written.

I’d said that perhaps life on Earth evolved to reduce a temperature gradient (difference) between the hot sun and cold space. Mr. Sagan explained that the reduction of any temperature gradient was a secondary issue, and that the primary gradient life on Earth reduces is between the “high quality” electromagnetic energy of the sun and “low quality” energy of space. He referred to the sun’s energy as “quantum packets”, referencing quantum physics’ discovery that light travels in discrete energetic bundles.

We facilitate a balancing between star-quality energy and dark, cool space. The poetry in it knocks me out.

And here comes today’s spirituality/science interconnection: All world mysticisms believe human beings to be a conduit between divine and physical realms. Kabbalah teaches that the purpose of human life is Tikkun Olam—’repairing the world’. In an earlier blog post called Kabbalah and Einstein, I explained Isaac Luria’s teaching that material creation is thought to be infused with sparks of divine light, fallen from their divine source and needing to be raised and redeemed.

So now, putting it all together, I wonder… Are Kabbalah’s holy sparks analogous to quantum packets of solar energy? In reducing the sun/space gradient, are we all actually working toward Tikkun Olam?

This post is to thank Dorion Sagan for his feedback.

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10 Dec

The Gospel of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / December 10, 2008 / 3 Comments

My latest poetic interconnection between spirituality and science involves a branch of science with a long, scary name: nonequilibrium thermodynamics.

Nonequilibrium thermodynamics (abbreviated ‘NET’) combines physics and biology, studying the energy processes of open systems. All living things, including you and I, are open systems. Put simply, this means that while we are individual selves, we are also interwoven with our environment, exchanging energy and information with it in constant cycle. Exploring how this occurs can help us understand life. So NET is meaningful.

I’ve been learning about NET from a wonderful book called Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life. It emphasizes that the guiding principle of NET is that “nature abhors a gradient”. A gradient is any difference across a distance: When somewhere is hotter than somewhere else, or when something is more highly pressurized than something else, a gradient exists between the two. Gradients, then, are always relative dualities: colder/hotter, more pressurized/less pressurized, etc. Nature moves to resolve these dualities into equilibriums—states where differences are reconciled, and energy and activity are minimized.

Gradients are tensions, like all differences. Nature moves to resolve its tensions into quietude.

In Judeo-Christian language, nature seeks Sabbath.

But without gradients, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. NET proposes that when gradients appear, life evolves to reduce them. Perhaps life on Earth evolved to reduce the temperature gradient between the hot sun and cold space: We feed on sunlight and dissipate heat into space, bringing the temperatures of both closer together.

We assist a reconciliation—it’s a romantic notion.

Perennial romantics, mystics understand NET intuitively. All the world’s mysticisms teach that the purpose of human life is to resolve the fundamental duality of self and non-self, realigning our essence with the sacred, undifferentiated unity of God. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas contains this passage:

Yeshua said to them,
When you make the two into one,
and when you make the inner like the outer
and the outer like the inner
and the upper like the lower,
and when you make male and female into a single one,
so that the male will not be male nor the female be female…
then you will enter the kingdom.

The Chinese Tao Te Ching contains this passage:

Is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow?
The high it presses down,
The low it lifts up;
The excessive it takes from,
The deficient it gives to.
It is the way of heaven to take from what has in excess in order to make good what is deficient.

I read these passages and wonder: Are the Christian ‘kingdom’ and the Taoist ‘way of heaven’ analogous to equilibrium? Did the world’s mystics prefigure nonequilibrium thermodynamics?

Comments welcome.

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