Hi John and all. I submitted an abstract, which I include below. There seem to be 16 talks submitted (as of yet) with 4 to be chosen. It was a nice exercise at least to sketch out some ideas. It would be nice to learn more about entropy or to think more about it.
Grace and Justice: The Deliberate Ambiguity of Whether We Live in a System Which is Open or Closed
Are Entropy and the Second Law cognitive constructs at heart? They may be cognitive, metaphysical frameworks, first and foremost. Do we live in an open system (fueled by the Sun)? or a closed system (doomed to decay)? Cognitively, this is the distinction between grace and justice. Which is it? Apparently, it is deliberately ambiguous. Cognitively, we can define an ambiguity based on two directions for causality: 1) Every effect has had its cause, 2) Not every cause has had its effect. We can study prayer as an attempt to productively align ourselves with Deliberate Ambiguity.
Entropy and the Second Law are concepts from physics. However, as concepts, they are also meaningful in considering, from a human point of view, what decision making is all about. Indeed, one can wonder whether these are, in fact, cognitive constructs at heart. Reflection upon cognitive frameworks where these concepts are relevant may offer insights into their significance for physics; may suggest that their application in physics is quite illusory; or as this author believes, may yield evidence and understanding in what sense cognitive frameworks - metaphysical frameworks - are the foundations for all systems, physical or otherwise.
In particular, quantum mechanics notwithstanding, a physicist works in the spirit of eliminating ambiguity. However, entropy is a concept which is highly dependent on perspective - on how a subsystem is defined - and thus invites ambiguity. Do we live in an open system (fueled by the Sun)? or a closed system (doomed to decay)? Both locally and globally, on all scales, lines can be drawn in space and time to model us either way.
Cognitively, this is the distinction between grace and justice. Do we live in a world that is loved, a world of grace? If we believe so, then we can tolerate misfortune because everything may yet work out for the better. If we live in a closed world, left to itself, then the best that we can expect is justice, but our own imperfection makes it inevitable that the Second Law will grind us down.
In the biggest picture, which is it? Apparently, it is deliberately ambiguous. The concept "deliberate" here is important because entropy itself can be thought of as a measure of "indeliberateness" but also "ambiguity". Is the "ambiguity" within the system (a goodness - slack) or beyond it (a God - Everything)? The ambiguity is understandable if we have the case of an Everything which is investigating, Is Everything necessary? That is, Is Ambiguity necessary? Would there be Ambiguity even if there wasn't? Is it possible for a subsystem to stay Deliberate, isolated from Everything? Such questions make sense if we think of Everything as an initial state of contradiction, and we consider how it goes beyond itself to establish a noncontradictory system.
We live in an "atheistic" physical world which seems determinably so, or at least, physicists traditionally aspire it to be so, for they remove all aspects of life that might say otherwise. But yet, with the Second Law, we face the inevitable expansion of ambiguity. Is this the original Ambiguity? Can we imagine and engage it?
If we think that we live in a deliberate system, a closed system of justice, then we insist that God has to be good, life has to be fair, even though we ourselves are not entirely. But if we think that we live in an ambiguous system, a system open to grace, then we can suppose that "God doesn't have to be good", "life doesn't have to be fair", for we ourselves can take responsibility.
Indeed, our emotional life depends very much on how we ourselves choose to draw the boundaries in space and time as to whether our expectations have been fulfilled. The entropy of a system can be decreased dramatically by simply measuring it more precisely or by relabeling the coordinates. Inherent in the progression of time is the increasing deliberateness which keeps the phenomena in each "time zone" distinct from those in "time zones" before and after.
At the heart of these questions is the cognitive framework for decision making. It supposes two directions for causality: 1) Every effect has had its cause, 2) Not every cause has had its effect. Our minds represent these either dynamically, in terms of time, with the past causing the future, or statically, in terms of space, with outside causing inside. The present in time, and the system boundary in space, are where these two directions meet in ambiguity.
These questions are naturally relevant to us both in our own freedom to be deliberately ambiguous, but also in our relationship with whatever Deliberate Ambiguity is beyond our system. Prayer is (if it is anything) a way of engineering, of increasing the likelihoods of miracles. It can do this by increasing the ambiguity required for (God or external forces) to intervene (without breaking any natural laws too badly). When two or three people pray together for their intentions, and ask for such unnatural intervention, then they give each other license to act against the expectations of justice, to let go of their own interests or violate social norms. One person may relax, and another may step in on their behalf. Alternately loosening and pulling strings may be the simplest way to untie knots, so to speak.
As architect Christopher Alexander has pointed out, if we only do something once, like washing the dishes, then it doesn't matter how we do it. But a recurring activity evokes structure, and structure channels activity. Similarly, we can have a one-time conversion of heat into work by expanding. But if we want that activity to recur - if we want an engine, a clock, a wave - then we have to deal with the Second Law. And yet there is again an ambiguity as to whether our activity is singular or recurrent.
A particular set of atoms, say, may seem meaninglessly chosen. And yet if we study what happens to those atoms - their flow through the system - then we may nevertheless witness signs of life. We may define life as that which can have (self)-interest, which can be helped or hurt, hated or loved, which is to say, has a self - is a subsystem. Such a question is not detached, as physicists might like, but has us consider, do we choose to align ourselves with a Deliberate Ambiguity which cedes control by way of the Second Law?