Patterns constitute the ultimate story of our world.
They’re there to tease us – to tell us that there’s something we don’t fully understand yet.
These patterns represent something greater.
They represent the mechanics behind how our universe works and hold clues invaluable in answering some of life’s most interesting questions.
The key to understanding life may be found in understanding these patterns – in relating these disparate subjects and finding a thread of commonality.
If we can understand this stuff, we can control it. We can invent new things. This is why it’s important to understand these patterns – it gives us the ability to unlock the universe.
This essay is an empirical look at our universe and the underlying systems that seem to govern it.
One mechanism that seems to be emergent at multiple scales of reality is the concept of ‘evolution’.
All systems undergo evolution – it is a constant that goes hand in hand with time. As outside forces act on an object, it evolves.
It erodes, it adapts, it changes.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was a brilliant observation, but may just be the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
In general, we think of evolution as a process that illustrates how we started as little bacteria and ended up as sentient humans. It’s much more than that.
The crux of Darwin’s theory was a process called natural selection – or the gradual process where organisms who adapted to their environment would better survive and produce more offspring.
Evolution is an optimization function.
It’s a process that creates a pattern of increasing order through iteration and problem solving.
While Darwin’s theory outlines the evolution of life on earth, the dynamics underlying evolution seems to be a basic function of our universe.
Everything evolves, and it seems that the pattern of evolution is too common to ignore.
The universality of this pattern suggests that its emergence should be understood from general principles.
The interesting question here is, what is evolution optimizing for?
What is evolution?
To fully understand evolution, we need to pull back and look at the second law of thermodynamics.
The Second Law states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve towards a thermodynamic equilibrium – a state with maximum entropy potential.
Entropy has several definitions, and can be a bit confusing, but generally is known as the measure of disorder in a system, or the available energy in a system to do work.
For example, if you have an empty box with 5 carbon atoms floating around, the total entropy of the system is all the ways those carbon atoms can arrange themselves inside the space of the box. The equilibrium state is the arrangement where the carbon atoms have the highest level of entropy, or the most available energy to do work.
If there is a way the carbon atoms could arrange themselves to increase the system’s entropy by allowing it to do more work, then the system will naturally move towards finding that equilibrium.
This mirrors the process we see in natural selection and how it optimizes organisms for energy dissipation.
In a study titled “Natural selection for least action” published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society A., Ville Kaila and Arto Annila of the University of Helsinki described how the second law of thermodynamics can be written as an equation of motion to describe evolution, showing how natural selection and the principle of least action can be connected by expressing natural selection in terms of chemical thermodynamics.
In addition, a recent formula based on established physics indicates that when a group of atoms are driven by an external source of energy (sun or chemical) it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy.
This means over time, clumps of atoms tend to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic, or chemical work in their environments.
In this view, evolution would be a process that explores the possible paths to increase entropy & energy dissipation.
An organism would serve as an energy transfer mechanism, where beneficial mutations allow successive organisms to transfer more energy within their environment.
This may mean the phenomenon of life, including its origin & evolution, find their bases in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and information theory.
There are two main ways matter optimizes its arrangement to increase its entropy potential.
The first method is self-replication.
This is the process that drives the evolution of life on earth.
One of the most efficient ways for a system to dissipate more energy is to make more copies of itself.
Cells divide to replicate and increase entropy. Two cells have more entropy than 1.
The order produced within cells as they grow and divide is compensated for the disorder they create in their surroundings during the course of growth and division.
Living organisms preserve their internal order by taking from their surroundings free energy (nutrients or sunlight) and returning to their surroundings an equal amount of energy as heat and entropy.
A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy though itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms.
The second mechanism for increasing the dissipation of energy is self-organization.
As entropy increases, so does disorder.
In an effort to always increase entropy, this ‘disorder’ equalizes in an organized structure.
Using the same example, a plant is much better at capturing and routing solar energy though itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms.
This self-organization hierarchy is something governs all living and non-living systems at every scale of our universe.
atoms – > molecules -> cells -> tissue -> organs -> organ systems -> animal
sun -> solar system -> galaxy -> superclusters -> universal wall
atoms -> subatomic particles -> quantum particles -> really weird stuff
Even systems of our own creation follow a similar pattern:
binary code -> programming languages -> graphical user interfaces -> computers
Not only do these things follow a logical and mathematical pattern, but it’s interesting to note that they LOOK the same as well.
A key feature of this hierarchical system is that a single node can stop functioning, but the overall system stays in tact.
If one of your cells dies, your human is still okay. If one user leaves a social network, it stays alive. One light pole can go out on a electrical grid but the system at large still works. If one human dies, the larger system of humanity is unaffected.
You can lose a star, or an entire galaxy and the universe at large goes unaffected.
In these cases, entropy is simply transferred.
To explain this hierarchy through information organization, Ray Kurzweil describes each new level as an ‘Epoch’.
He organizes our “evolution” into Epochs, each next level describing a paradigm shift in information organization and storage.
Epoch 1: The most basic level of information organization we know is physics & chemistry which stores information in atomic structures.
Epoch 2: Biology, or information stored in DNA.
Epoch 3: Brains, or information stored in neural patterns.
Epoch 4: Technology, where information is stored in human created hardware & software tools.
Epoch 4 is what we’re living through today. We’ve created technologies that allow us to outsource large parts of our biological mental capacity to technology. (mental math vs. calculator)
This hierarchical structure is very interesting, as it seems to be a recurring pattern.
Fractals are a mathematical set that display self-similar patterns. They may be exactly the same at every scale, or nearly the same at different scales.
Essentially, a fractal is a detailed pattern repeating itself.
As we observe, our universe is made up of many different structures arranged in a fairly well-defined hierarchy ranging from quarks to galaxies.
We find the structure of the universe and everything in it to be repeating. It’s composed of super clusters which are composed of galaxies composed of star systems, composed of planets with moons.
Truly every detail of the universe shows clustering patterns with a fractal distribution.
Going both up and down in scale you encounter a very similar russian doll-style organization structure.
Many objects in nature also show this complex geometric self-similarity. One example of a naturally occurring fractal is the dendrite structure.
This branching dendrite structure is found in plants, neurons, snowflakes, social networks visualization, and even mycelium.
All of these systems have a geometric symmetry, and that symmetry is fractal.
It’s a dynamic that presents itself everywhere.
Paul Stamets talks about the mycelial archetype and how the information sharing systems that comprise the Internet look exactly like computer models of dark matter in the universe, look exactly like the neurons in a brain. They all share the same intermingled filamental structure. It’s the rise of networkism as big data advocates talk about how man-made systems are looking exactly like natural systems.
This fractal geometry is also used by computers to generate realistic looking plants, landscapes, and snowflakes, all through simple, repeating math.
The IFS technique has been successful in generating computer simulated 3-d models of the universe and galaxies using fractal geometry.
This structure is something that seems to be another underlying process in our universe. Everything is fractal.
This would also explain the usefulness of the golden ratio and why it shows it so many places.
The golden ratio itself is a fractal.
The interesting thing is that most astrophyisicts actually agree that on relatively small scales the distribution of our universe is fractal-like.
The point of contention is what happens at even larger scales. According to some, the russian doll-style clustering comes to an end and the universe, on large scales, becomes homogenous.
The question is are these fractal patterns random or do they obey some underlying law?
From entropy and the second law of thermodynamics it seems that evolutions ‘purpose’ is to increase entropy and the dissipation of energy.
It does this through self replication and self-organization, creating a hierarchical & fractal structure of increasing information organization.
What about Gravity?
Another thing to consider is if the universe can be said to have generally increasing entropy, then gravity plays an important role in the increase because gravity causes dispersed matter to accumulate into stars, which eventually collapse into black holes.
So, where does gravity come from?
This is one theory that sounds extremely interesting: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1001.0785v1.pdf
The central notion is that the basis of gravity is information.
More precisely, it’s the amount of information associated with matter and its location, measured in terms of entropy.
The larger an object is, the more information entropy it has, the more information entropy it has, the more gravity it generates.
Of all the forces of nature, gravity is clearly the most universal. Gravity influences and is influenced by everything that caries energy, and is very closely connected w/ the structure of space-time.
It’s also interesting to note that the equations for gravity closely resemble the equations used to derive the law of thermodynamics.
The curious thing about gravity is that its massively influential at large scales, but at small scales, the quantum level, it’s a very weak force.
How could this be?
If gravity is a function of information entropy, it would make sense that at the macro scale (galaxies) gravity is omnipresent and strong, but on the micro scale (quantum) the force is extremely weak.
The information entropy of a large star is much higher than information entropy of a single quark. That single quark doesn’t contain that much information entropy, therefore it doesn’t generate much gravity. Maybe.
Hey, that’s interesting…
If you think of ‘the universe’ itself as a closed system, it would seem logical that it too is optimizing to increase entropy & the dissipation of energy.
We know as time moves forward, entropy increases.
We also know that systems within our universe all optimize themselves through self-organization, and self-replication.
The self-organization is apparent in the structure of the contents of the universe. At all levels it has the same fractal russian-doll structure.
We also know that self-replication is natures most efficient method of dispersing energy and increasing entropy.
It’s interesting to note that black holes have the maximum possible entropy of any object of equal size. The entropy of a black hole is proportional to the surface area of the black hole’s event horizon.
Here’s where we get a bit crazy – could it be possible that black holes are singularity events which are the self-replication process of our universe?
A black hole event on our side would be a big bang for the creation of another universe.
The death of a star, the birth of a universe.
The event that causes a black hole (exploding star / supernova) would have all the all components you would find in a big bang.
As a closed system, could our universe follow a similar pattern to everything within it and be self-replicating as well?
One of many nested universes within a much bigger fractal picture.
A universe that creates universes. That would be cool.
On one end of the spectrum it’s possible that ‘life’ is just a happy accident, bound to happen eventually in the process of a universe constantly increasing entropy through self organization and self replication.
It’s also possible that we’re an even greater part of the system but we’re just extremely early in our life cycle.
If the goal of the universe is to increase entropy, then life may not just be an accident. It’s possible that life is another path the universe is exploring to further increase entropy, just like how evolution explores multiple options of optimizing energy dissipation in animals through natural selection.
If humanity continues its evolution to the point where it self organizes or replicates again, what’s to say that system won’t be even more efficient at creating singularity events than waiting for stars to grow and explode.
If humanity can become a type I or II civilization, we would likely be able to initiate singularity events at will.
Our entire human evolution has dealt with the increase of energy consumption. Our greatest inventions were ones that created paradigm shifts in the way we consumed energy & information.
We use machines and technology as tools to increase our entropy the same way the universe is using humanity as a tool to increase its entropy.
It seems to reason that humanity will continue on its growth trajectory. Over thousands of years we will go through several more iterations of self-organization and self replication in order to optimize energy dissipation – transferring energy through layers of higher order.
Through self-organization, humanity may merge with technology (we already have?), and then again merge with itself once everyone’s minds are connected and in-sync.
You can have 1 billion cells in a petri dish, but unless they’re connected somehow they won’t come together to form an organ.
If each human was a computer, we’re still uploading every file to each computer manually. Kids start at 0 and everyone needs to be brought up to speed each generation. This takes up the first 20 years of each humans life. This is a long time when you consider our natural lifespan is only ~100 years.
We need a dropbox for the human brain so when 1 person learns something, we all do. A master sync of the minds of the human race.
Through self-organization we may go from a group of individuals, to a single entity with a collective conscience. From many to one.
A new paradigm shift in information storage.
This will probably be seen as a singularity event in human history, but really it will just be a new level of organization in the constant chase of reaching an equilibrium state in a massively complex open system.
Increasing entropy, forever and ever.
That would be cool…