Tag Archives: spirituality

The Law of Change

All conditioned things are unsatisfactory.
All conditioned things are impermanent.
All things are empty, devoid of intrinsic, independent nature

-The three marks of existence,
from the Pali Canon

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: neither all thy Piety or Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

-Omar Khayyám, the Rubaiyat

The hardest questions in life are asked in innocence:

Why did my dog pass away?

Why do we have to die?

If one thing defines an absolute truth about life, it’s that things change, and quite often for the individual, they change for the worse. It’s can be a somewhat depressing fact of the universe that life is hard. It’s full of full of dangerous things that seemingly are dead set on making our lives risky: disease, radiation, war, volcanoes, old age, fast moving objects, predators; the list goes on endlessly. It’s an experience so universal that one could conclude that it is time itself that is set against us. The passage of time eventually destroys anything and everything that is conditioned, buildings, empires, our loved ones, us.

If time is our enemy then, it makes it important to know its nature. But time is a tricky thing to define. Many definitions end up in circles, and trying to nail it down beyond the somewhat unsatisfying statement that “time is what clocks measure” is the topic of many arguments among both scientists and philosophers.

But one aspect of time that’s beyond reproach is the Moving Finger that Omar Khayyám addresses in his verse above:  the truth that time moves inexorably from the past and into the future, and while redemption, forgiveness and reparation may be found, there is no undoing of past mistakes. This is the Arrow of Time. Life has no save points. There is no [CTRL] + [Z] in physical reality.

But why exactly is this? Both classical and quantum mechanics fall short here. In mechanics, there is no particular reason why time has a direction. Consider a movie where two billiard balls collide perfectly, each going off in their own direction. Play this movie backwards, and there is no apparent problem: the motion of the balls backwards to collision and outwards to their initial positions seems to the human eye a perfectly reasonable proposition. This process is what’s known as reversible.

However, when we just have two billiard balls on our table, things are simple. But if we have a whole game of pool things become trickier. A cue ball smashing into the triangle of balls is a process that’s not completely impossible to reverse, but would take very careful measurement and setup of initial conditions to make all the balls move back together in a triangle and then spit out the cue ball with all their combined energy. You can be absolutely sure that this will not happen randomly. And as the game gets bigger, the complications to reversing processes become all but impossible.

Let’s now say we do something horrible: we light a tree on fire, make a movie of it, and play it in reverse. Now something in this picture strikes our intuitions (and hopefully also our conscience) as clearly wrong. Thermal fluctuations and atmospheric ashes do not direct themselves inwards, their turbulent flows becoming smooth, concentrating until the carbon glows red hot, and all this energy being used to split and then fuse oxidized carbon atoms together into an intricate matrix of carbohydrates and metals that is capable of sustaining itself by energy from the sun. This simply does not happen by itself. The process of burning a living thing is utterly irreversible, so take care if you are ever contemplating doing so.

To get a grasp of the extent of the physical reality that underlies this irreversibility, look around you. If you are reading this in the comfort of your home, your first impression may be that not much is happening. This is an illusion. Our perception is attuned to the narrow band of phenomena where saber-toothed tigers pounce and beautiful people dance, because these are the things we need to be able to react to in order to survive and reproduce. Nevertheless, the physical reality is that all things are constantly in a state of relative motion. Clouds look initially static as you gaze on them, but as you keep staring, it becomes apparent that they are in flux, shape shifting as they pass overhead. So it goes with windows, tables, computers, mountains, planets.

If all things then are in motion as time passes by, what in this is the cause of our loss and grief?

The examples of reversibility and irreversibility above show us something about nature: as soon as things get complicated, they also become irreversible. But why exactly is that?

The answer to both of these questions is one that’s purely probabilistic in nature. There are many ways that a game of pool can go after we hit the cue ball, but very, very few that land us back in the situation we started in. There are many ways that the particles of the tree can fly once it’s lit on fire, but incredibly few ways that they can fall back together to be a tree.

The Law of Hard Knocks then, to which Murphy’s Law is but a lemma, is that there are many, many more ways that things can go wrong than ways that they can go right. Leave things up to random chance, and the dice is overwhelmingly loaded against you. That’s life.

This law is mathematically codified in physics as The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that as time passes, entropy in a closed system increases. Entropy is the property associated with the number of ways a given system can arrange itself. The Second Law is widely celebrated as the surest thing in science. Because it is an intrinsic property of systems of any real complexity, it’s not just that we can’t imagine how the universe would look without the Second Law, it’s that we can’t imagine any universe without it. The great physicist Arthur Eddington, who is credited for coining the concept of the Arrow of Time, once stated:

“The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation”

He also made it clear that the Arrow of Time, the property of time moving in one direction only, is solely a property of entropy. However, he also stated that even though it doesn’t have any other physical properties, it is immediately recognizable by consciousness. Any observable process that doesn’t make sense when run in reverse is subject to the Second Law. And the Second Law deems that as time passes by, all things must return to dust. Does it absolutely have to be this way? No, because the Second Law isn’t absolute. There’s a chance that things can randomly run in the opposite direction, but this chance is so vanishing small that it’s easier to regard it as impossible.

Entropy has some properties related to the human condition that are worth noting:

It is the mechanism that causes bad things to happen.

It is the mechanism of impermanence.

It does not map to any physical property except the configuration of matter and energy as it relates to something else. In other words, it has no essential nature, only relational nature.

These three properties map disturbingly well to the three marks of existence as witnessed by Buddha several thousand years ago, once again lending credence to the argument that the Second Law is all-pervading not just scientifically, but also on the scale of humanity.

So if all things are at the mercy of the Second Law, why is it then that we’re surrounded by order? Truly if we look around us there are a great many things that are set in order, much higher than it was when say, the Earth first cooled billions of years ago?

There is an aspect of entropy that seems to clash with itself: chaos can lead to order. Death can lead to life. All it takes is a mechanism that constrains entropy to rise in a certain way.  Because the Second Law states that entropy is always on the rise in a closed system, and systems aren’t generally closed. Think of a windmill: it’s an arrangement of matter that causes something very chaotic, the weather, to be turned into something very ordered, electricity. Though it causes turbulence and therefore increases entropy in its environment, internally in the mechanism, entropy is reduced.

Let’s go back and have another look at the burning tree example. As it turns out, there is a process that comes very close to describing our impossible reversed burn scenario of gas, ashes and energy turning back into a tree: the growing of the tree itself. Through photosynthesis and other self-organized metabolic pathways, the tree grows, taking in energy from the sun, carbon from the atmosphere, and minerals from the ground. How then is this not in conflict with the Second Law? Because the tree is not a closed system. The sun’s rays come from the nuclear processes taking place in its core, which are very high entropy, but the rays themselves transmit lower entropy to the tree which utilizes them to create itself. In other words, the seed of the tree creates constraints that limit the number of possible ways the future might look for the tree, until the seemingly impossible happens with a high probability: the miracle of life.

Likewise, if you eat an apple from the tree, you increase the entropy in the apple by digesting it, which then leads to a lowering of entropy locally in your organism and thereby staving off your own demise. It takes the death of the apple to support your life. All this happens because you and the tree and all life is carefully yet robustly arranged in a configuration that allows for entropy to flow out of one subsystem and into another, and as long as the total entropy for the system is on the rise, the Second Law is appeased. Internally in the sun, entropy is always rising and eventually it will die. But here on Earth, that process of dying is the root cause of weather, photosynthesis, brains, trees, apples, puppy dogs, space probes, ancient sages and great Arab poets. It is a misunderstanding that entropy must necessarily end in total death and decay. It can just as well turn to life.

These constraints on the flow of entropy are so carefully arranged that they can perpetuate themselves, flexibly and with small variations so that they can always respond to the changes in their environments, just like the windmill turns into the wind, propagating endlessly and diversifying into endless forms most beautiful and wonderful. We call this mechanism of constraint propagation Evolution, which is arguably the most elegant explanatory tool we’ve ever encountered. Evolution is the mechanism that has life locked in a dance with the Second Law, ever postponing the inevitable and doing so with unfathomable beauty and efficiency for the last 4 billion years, exactly because the universe is such a dangerous place. The very thing that is trying so hard to kill you is the source of all the complex forms you hold dear.

Life is hard. As soon as we’re old enough to perceive the world, this becomes apparent. But if life wasn’t hard, we’d have no reason to exist the way we do.

What remains is the question: what do we call this this eternal double-sided law of entropy and evolution, yin and yang, death and life, creation and destruction?

The Chinese named it the Dao. I choose to call it Entheos, the Divinity of Change, the dynamic of cause and effect.

It is the core conveyor of creativity in the universe, a law that transcends the material, independent on everything but the interconnectedness of all things.

The worship of Entheos is nothing other than effecting change, by creating the constraints and frames into which your life flows by itself.

Today’s Saviors and Superheroes

anonymouse_s640x427Picture yourself an average citizen on planet earth.  You know as a fact the system is wrong yet you are not sure what to do.  You go about your daily life starting with a cup of joe and a shower before work.  You slept in so you may not even have time to cook a proper breakfast.  In that case you may have a bowl of cereal which may not be too healthy for you, but is inexpensive.  You ask yourself “why is the food which is luxury so expensive while the food I need, I cannot afford?”  Regardless, you obey the routine and go about your day.  You go to work.  If you are in the United States, you are lucky if you can call in sick or have a paid vacation.  Life is not as convenient for you as it was for your parents or grandparents when they were young adults.  The prosperity taken off the backs of indigenous people’s from the west of Africa and in the Amazon of Brazil that began in the 1950’s is deteriorating.  You receive a text on your phone.  As you look at it you may not see the man held at gun point in Kenya so you can have the precious mineral that helps your phone operate.  Yet you know something is not right.  You know deep down that you are not happy with the regiment of your day.  Deep down you know the system has made it mandatory for you to be an addict just to get by.  You know this as you take a sleep aid to go to bed early so you can wake up on time.  How you have your morning coffee to keep you awake.  One day you go on youtube.  Maybe you just want to be entertained by something funny.  Not looking for anything in particular but you just want to wind down and forget about the day.  Out of shear curiosity you click on a random video.  Then a figure pops up.  It’s a drawing of a suit with its arms behind its back.  The message in the synthesized voice says “Greetings Mastercard.”   You watch with anticipation as the voice gives them an option to cease in stopping free speech on the internet.  The voice may sound kind of creepy.  Maybe a little scary at first but there is something in you that is building hope.  At the end of the message the voice says “We are Anonymous.  We are Legion.  We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  Expect us.”  You are unsure what you just saw, but as you go and watch PBS or RT, you see that whoever Anonymous is, they did in fact crash MasterCard’s system.  This says they mean business!

                What does this indicate?  It indicates the very nature of this entity called the internet.  Alexander Bard, a philosopher from Stockholm illustrated in Berlin how for ages information only came from the top down and how the invention of the internet has just severed that line.  In this day with the invention of the internet information can come from wherever.  The pitfall is that most of the information is Poppycock.  The upside is that just about the most accurate information in the world is available online if one knows where to look. 

                Many Folklorists and religious scholars see the Adam and Eve story as symbolic of the transition from foraging to agriculture.  How after Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they had to till the soil, wear clothes, woman had to be submissive to man and once out of Eden (foraging) they can never return.    All of which are traits of agrarian society and the origin of property.  The invention of humans that made cities and States possible.  This is neither good or bad.  There is much mankind can be thankful for due to agriculture in terms of the innovations that came from it.  However agriculture combined with the idea of ownership is what led to stratification, patriarchy, even slavery and last but not least warfare.   So while the invention of farming brought us out of Eden, the internet may bring us back.  The way Timothy Leary said Psychedelics would.  😉

                So where are today’s superheroes one may ask?  When is superman coming to save the world?  When will the savior come or return to cleanse the world of its ills?  Who is this savior?  Who is this superhero?  No use waiting, because he is not coming.  But there is good news.  You can be this savior or you can be this superhero!

                To begin, examine what a superhero is.  Before they were called superheroes, these comic book icons were called mystery men.  Though on the surface these characters may be filled with ego as they were made from the egos of some nerdy pulp writers.  However if you take a closer look, they are an example of a high standard of altruism.  This concept was borrowed heavily from Nietzsche’s idea of the ubermensch.   Superman as well as Batman, Spiderman, ect . Do incredibly kind and heroic acts.  They often get despised even by the people they are saving.  But they wear a disguise as they do not want recognition for the heroic deeds they do.  They as Zarathustra says “righteousness for the sake of righteousness alone.”  Even in the case of Batman who was at first out for revenge against the murderer of his parents.  Once he had revenge he realized that crime still exists, and that he must not stop doing his job.  Batman is a good example with where this essay is going as he does not have any special powers.

                As for the savior!  The original savior idea came out of Zarathustra’s message of the Saoshyant meaning bringer of hope or happiness.  Unlike later views of the Saoshyant, Zarathustra did not say that this figure will come.  Zarathustra advocated that we all strive to be Saoshyants and bring the paradise here to earth right now.   

With the invention of internet we are in a day where all human beings can be Saoshyant.  The truth is humans always had that opportunity.  The internet is now practically handing it to us.  And yes.  Superheroes are real in this sense.  You do not have to be known for what you are doing when you do right for our environment or for humanity.  You may not have to be a hactivist, but you have a means to get the message across and be heard.  You have the means at your fingertips to organize.  You no matter how small you may see yourself in the world can make a major shift in the world perspective to create Heaven here on earth.  Anonymous are not only today’s superheroes, but today’s saviors.  We the people can be one or both if we choose, and if you have a computer, the tool is available to you.

                  Like the superheroes of Marvel and DC comics Anonymous has a secret identity.  You never know who they are.  They could be your neighbor or classmate, or work colleague.  Never the less like Spiderman he/she could be a teenager.  The Anon will go about their day and when near a computer provided no one is looking will open a proxy server, go on a Gmail account or twitter that does not have their real information and put on their secret identity.  This person will go on irc not telling the other Anon’s his/her real information.  They discuss an injustice happening in the world.  It could be something big like the shutting off of the internet in Egypt.  It could even be a local incident like the teenage girl who was raped and killed by the guys on the high school football team but the courts were trying to dismiss it.  Either way whether one agrees with their methods they are working to protect the common person from tyranny.  So on the irc these Mystery Men and Women vote to see if these atrocities should be leaked.  If by consensus all agree, they hit their target. 

Wait a minute?  How did the internet suddenly flip back on?  Pepper spraying the faces of college students?  Fine Mr. police officer, we will just post all your information.  Bet you thought there would not be consequences eh? 

                Here is the genius of the whole thing.  Anonymous, as well as Arab Spring, and the Occupy movements all over the world do not have leaders.  This is the strength of this global rebellion.  It is useless to arrest someone.  It is also useless to assassinate anyone.  There will always be replacements.  In a day in age where we are handed the chance to be savior’s, who needs leaders?  The internet is uniting the collective.  While agriculture created hierarchy and male dominance the internet is doing away with it.  It may take a while but like all shifts, it happens sooner than we realize.  Perhaps the dominion of the Great Intellect is happening now as it has always been happening.  It’s just a matter of waking up to the possibilities of having a paradise here on Earth.  Sure there are camera’s and they are watching us, but we carry our own camera’s in our cell phones and we are also watching them.  When a cop is using excessive force he will be recoded and leaked on youtube.  While we are all losing our privacy because of the entity called the internet, those on the side of justice and truth will not face the repercussions as much as those whose injustices rely on secrecy. 

                Syntheism which has its foundations in the teachings of Zarathustra, as well as Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, ect. strives for direct action against institutions that create inequality and injustice.   Syntheism may be thought of as idealistic as Island by Huxley is one of the society types we stand for.  However it is an idealism that promotes the ultimate realism.  Where the phrases “never” or “will not happen” do not have a place in the ideology of the evolution of human ethos.  As Aristotle once said “In pursuing an ideal, we may assume what we wish, but must avoid impossibilities.”  i.e. we not only as Syntheists but as citizens of mother earth,  must never assume the impossibilities in the goal itself, but must be realistic and go by the step by step process while we work to achieve our vision.