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It’s Literature Literature, Lolita

We have little problem when a Dostoyevski brings us up a set of stairs to bury an ax in an old woman’s head. But when Nabokov brings us on a little tour of the United States and has Humbert Humbert bury himself in his insane fantasy of a twelve year old nymphet, we are quick to call Nabokov an immoral pervert who encourages pedophilia. Indeed, when vandals attacked the St.Petersburg museum dedicated to Nobokov, they left a note which read, “How can you remain unafraid of God’s wrath promoting Nabokov’s pedophilia?”

Yet even literate readers level a similar charge against Nabokov.

Just this week, I debated a scientifically-minded philosopher on the topic. He told me that Nabokov is a horrible man for penning such immoral smut. He told me that such a book does not belong on any shelf a teenager might peruse. He admitted that he had not read the book.

Having got his confession, I told him that when my one year old daughter is literate and mature enough, I want her to read the book — the sooner the better. I want her to be wise to the Humbert Humberts of the world.

We should be thankful that we have such a beautiful, moral book as Lolita. We should be thankful we have this first-person account so that we may explore perversion sublimated par excellence. I for one am thankful for having been made wiser to the world for having read this first person account of a cruel, mad mind, driven to divine idolatry.

Countering, my philosopher friend gave an account of a scientific book which gives us to understand how rape is an unsavory impulse embedded in our genetic pattern, and that understanding this scientific account can help us to understand why we should not throw gasoline on that little red coal which burns in the darker corners of the human genome, of hotels, and of Hollywood.

And yet he did not think his scientific book an immoral book. Yet he, like so many, considers Lolita smut, perverse and pornographic.

I pressed him to distinguish why Nabokov’s account of a child rapist is a sick and immoral account, while the scientific account is not.

I asked him if it had to do with presentation, if it had to do with our relation to pronouns, if it had to do with the fact that a scientific account is not given in the first person, but is rather given in the third person or in the passive voice, in which the personal pronoun is neatly and happily hidden, like so many in our culture.

(According to Humbert Humbert, some seventeen percent of men have enjoyed a nymphet — yet Humbert Humbert is not a scientist. He is an unreliable narrator, and Lolita is unreliably narrated.)

My philosopher friend considered, and we have yet to conclude this conversation. Nonetheless, this lively debate led me to think about what we fancy Literature to be, and what we imagine Literature to give us. Scientific Literature, the prejudice goes, gives us knowledge — impersonal, sane and sanitary. Literature Literature, on the other hand, can give us a Humbert Humbert — but not knowledge.

Literature Literature alone can present for us the first person account, alone can present us with precision an individual, and alone can widen our understanding, knowledge, and humanity as the third person or passive voice cannot. Literature Literature can show us with precision what the scientific imagination alone cannot.

“A writer should have the precision of a poet, and the imagination of a scientist.” —Nabokov

The Objects of Mortality

Objects, had they no bearing on our mortality, would be no objects at all. All we see is touches our mortality. All implies finitude.

A Trojan Wall of Separation: Creationists Defeated in South Korea

This last spring, the Society for Textbook Revise [sic] managed to sneak up on us and attack evolution theory as it was presented in South Korean high school textbooks. In effect, they got through security and hijacked the secular word science by means of the sectarian adjective creation. With passports thus forged, creation scientists presumed it proper to put a dead pilot in the cockpit, since He, they claim, drew up the flight plan in the first place.

(Aboard His plane, there are to be no science textbooks sporting profane pictures of cross-dressing dinosaurs, like Archaeopteryx. Birds were created birds, and fossils sporting fashionable feathers are, well, inconvenient–even downright embarrassing.)

Having got around security, and having got their “scientifically” licensed Pilot into the cockpit, The Society for Textbook Revise [sic] expurgated from Korea’s science textbooks both the feathered Archaeopteryx example, and the example of the horse’s evolution. They created, in effect, a Family Darwin, in which nothing is added, but those things are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.

On that fateful day of the hijacking, the weather was fair, and Korea’s scientific community was, as usual, busy doing a certain secular something behind laboratory walls, which they call “double-blind experimentation.” Thus busy and blindfolded, the scientists did not see the coming of this bold and brazen Bronze Age attack.

Who woulda thunk it possible? I mean, there are children in those school houses! Even twins! Such attacks, these scientists thought, happen only in “backwards” nations like America; if not in New York, then in Tennessee. But who would bring down the textbooks?

But out of the blue, they came. Textbook terrorists.

Yet there is good news. But let’s pause first. As a US citizen, it is with some measure of irony that I call the US “backwards.” I love that my country’s core values include freedom of speech, which is necessary in order that we have freedom of thought. Paradoxically, it is in the US that creation science was conceived as a political movement. And this movement is a threat to the separation of church and state. It threatens this separation by fusing theology with science.

Science, like the US Constitution, is a product of the Enlightenment, and depends on the free exchange of ideas. This requires that we defend the freedom of speech, and that we erect a wall of separation not only between church and state, but also between church and science–both in the US and in here in Korea.

“The real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over.” –Spinoza, 1670

By the Enlightenment ideal, nothing is beyond the reproach of criticism–not even Darwin. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of free-thinking minds. No blasphemy is too profane in the pursuit of knowledge. No one is special: not you, not me, not Jesus, not Mohammad. All people, and all ideas get a shot. The best ideas–the ideas which work–get put down in textbooks.

I say much here which does not settle well with my more religious fellows, whose right to worship even my blasphemy defends. Allow me my mindless babblings, and I’ll you yours. Where we cannot find common ground, let us to the impartial judge: science.

Now, to the good news. The Society for Textbook Revise [sic] failed to sway a special government panel which recently convened to review the changes. Before the panel, Korean scientists showed reason and restraint. They did not rally up a coalition of the willing and invade Texas, where such plots are planned. They did not invade and leave lone-star education board members’ mouths agape with a scientific display of shock and awe. No, these scientists did better; and we have the Enlightenment vaccination program to thank for it. This Enlightenment vaccination program had pumped up and prepared their immune system with critical-thinking skills.

Let’s look more closely at this assault on reason, and see how disaster was averted.

The Society for Textbook Revise [sic] scouted for years, looking for weaknesses in the security system. They found legitimate scientific debates. They found ways distort these legitimate debates in order to suit their messianic mission.

In particular, they isolated two textbook examples of evolution: the evolution of the horse, and the example of the Archaeopteryx as a transition species.The horse example, the Society argued, is too simplistic, and is unreliable evidence of evolution. There is, they say, a wholesome “alternative” explanation, which does not involve sexual selection. And the Archaeopteryx, they claimed, is an unsettled issue, and therefore should be excluded and dismissed as scientifically invalid.

But the kicker is that the Society did not consult with experts in the field. Rather, they snuck through security with their creation-science passports, and hijacked the scientific process. They went directly to the publishers.

With their distorted evidence, political pressure, and perhaps some friends on the inside, they successfully got the textbook publishers to exclude the examples. Presently, they began to work on omitting examples of human evolution. We are, after all, not bonobos.

Therefore they disguised their motives, repressed them; and, if you will forgive me for shifting metaphors, they put these repressed motives into the horse example, and snuck their trojan arguments into Troy–as a Greek gift: ΙΧΘΥΣ.

When the Korean experts in the field of evolution got word that their city-wall had been breached, they organized and set the antediluvian fossil record straight. The publisher will now retain the Archaeopteryx example, and has rejected the creationists’ argument as invalid. Go figure. The horse example they have agreed is too simplistic and not convincing enough. So, with tongue in cheek, the scientists have now prepared for Jonah a Great Fish, and look to substitute the horse example with an even more convincing example. Hast seen the white whale?

“Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me. This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal respect does the whale differ from other fish.” –Ishmael from “Moby Dick,” 1851

You can also read my previous piece on the topic: Buffoons of Truth: Evolution Under Attack in South Korea.

Reductionism And The Impossibility of A Master Vocabulary

Reductionism seeks to have a kind of master vocabulary that which, if not now, then at some moment potentially to come, contains both the necessary and sufficient elements by which all causal relationships can be described.

Emergent philosophy might be thought of this way. The so-called master vocabulary is not a master vocabulary except insofar as it does more in its specific application than to rival vocabularies. Further, this vocabulary (which ever one that might be), is indispensable thus far, and contains important concepts which can lead sometimes into other vocabulary sets, though not necessarily so.

Think of this last point thus. A man and his wife argue over the lack of affection and care in their marriage. It turns out that the major and unconscious causal factor which leads to this disagreement is that they had consumed a sufficient amount of spoiled mayonnaise to chemically disrupt the balances of their bodies.

Their fighting can, for a sufficiently large part, be reduced to their sour stomachs; which, in turn, can be reduced and sufficiently understood in the complimentary vocabularies of biology and chemistry.

In this way, we can see how the vocabulary of marriage can be augmented by these other two vocabularies. Further, we are wise for recognising this.

However, it does not follow that all causal relationships are ultimately reducible to a single vocabulary.

If we, for the sake of clarity, model that we would have one privileged vocabulary which would serve as the most general and most foundational, and set other vocabularies above this in a kind of pyramid structure–or better yet, if we set even several vocabularies atop this most general vocabulary, understanding each to represent complimentary vocabularies; then we might assume that the very tip of each vocabulary, being each like the tip of each pyramid, is in some fundamental way dependent on the first; then, I say, we might assume the possibility of a master vocabulary to which all are reducible.

Even in this kind of structure, we might see each pyramid to be composed of layers, each of which represents a fundamental transformation such as to be different in kind than that upon which it is dependent, even as a child might start building a pyramid on a rock, upon which is set plastic blocks, then wooden, and finally a chewed piece of gum.

At each level, different things are taken in which cannot be explained by the terms which are contained in the former; yet all are dependent on each the former.

But my view would not even have it so.

Rather, vocabularies begin often in entirely related areas; such as the language of New York street gangs evolves to express causal relationships which are very different than do evolve such languages as would go into making a Zen Tea Ceremony, or in Harpooning Whales.

The language which does so much to explain aspects which must be necessarily involved in all three must necessarily be too general as to be sufficient to explain the important contingencies in each particular vocabulary set.

Further, to get such a powerfully generalized vocabulary necessarily entails a kind of falsification which precludes a vocabulary would ever sufficiently explain the all of the three as even to come close to justifying the abandonment of any of their respective vocabularies.

On the contrary, the level of falsification necessitated in making a highly generalized language leads me to the conclusion that each of the respective vocabularies is to that extent even more justified in its conservation of itself, containing in each case those terms and assumptions which alone can lay threadbare the necessary causal terms.

Buffoons of Truth: Evolution Under Attack in Korea

Here in Korea, my science students tell me that though on any corner you can see half a dozen red neon crosses reaching for heaven; that though not even in the corner of your living room are you safe from missionaries magically transubstantiating your doorbell into a church bell; that though here Bible thumpers everywhere corner you and thump their Book with more zeal than thump traditional Korean drummers their buk; that, despite all this, Creationists will not corner Korea. They tell me that all the students here learn evolution without theological qualms; and they tell me that, despite the universal, catholic, eternal and unchanging truth claims of Abrahamic theology, omnipresently valid, the likes of which not even Jonah could escape, that there is no tension here, locally, between science and religion. Creationism, they tell me, is an American disease. When they tell me this, I stand back askance, and sidle to the nearest window to see if God again has stopped the Sun, if not all critical thinking, that Joshua may win his battle.

My science students tell me that the roots here are very different than those of the United States, which has again shown its old worrisome tendency towards theocratic puritanism; and they tell me that their sindansu roots protect these old rain-worn Korean mountains from land-sliding into old Creationist abysses. They tell me that Korean mythology does not celebrate a creator of the universe so much as it celebrates and venerates clan lineages and leaders, who teach the people how to live upright and virtuous lives.

To an extent, what my students tell me makes sense. Korea does have a unique mythology which is latent in their formative and regulative concepts. We can see this mythical dynamic expressed in the god-status of North Korean leaders whose sons are given to rule. We can also see this in South Korean capitalism, where the fathers like Samsung or Hyundai naturally give their sons to rule. Here, Abraham’s sacrifice makes less sense. Yet Korea’s sons’ are now increasingly tied upon Abraham’s alter by an organized and zealous minority who would presume the godly authority to “correct” biology text books and “delete” the error of evolution. Would that Korean science educators sent us an angel, the likes of a Carl Sagan, to abort this sacrifice. Would that a Korean angel lit a scientific candle in this dark, demon haunted world. Would that The Society for Textbook Revise [sic] learned to read. First lesson: of fruit and metaphor. Eat up, boys.

Korean origin myths are different than Genesis. They don’t begin at The Beginning. Rather, they establish how Koreans came to be and are staged in an already existing world. In philosophical parlance, these myths are not concerned with the speculative question, Why is there something, rather than nothing? Korean mythology is not concerned with the infinitely regressive and speculative problem of how Being came to be. Rather, Korean mythology is concerned with establishing a unifying narrative, and in establishing a practical foundation for a Korean civilization and ethics.

Consider the Korean island of Jeju, and its unique culture. It has a rich array of cultural myths. Among these is the founding myth of Samsonghyol, in which three divine men emerge from three holes near the already existing Mt. Halla. These men are the ancestors of the three family names: Go, Yang, and Bu. The people of Jeju have traditionally traced their historical narrative back to these three divine men. Neither do the people of Jeju fear that Darwin would threaten their unique island culture; nor do they rally behind the battle flag of the king of kings–well, not until recently, when many among them enlisted in The Army of The Lord, and found a peculiar admiration for Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son’s scientific education.

Jeju also has a story about the origin of people, which is infinitely more naturalistic than the story of Genesis. In this myth, the two giants Maitreya and Sakyamuni fight in an already existing world. Maitreya kills Sakyamuni and makes earth out of the corpse; and the maggots which form on it become people. In this, we can clearly see one species changing into another: maggots to people. Clearly, one might think, Darwin will have less of a problem here; for who is so attached to maggots as to become a zealot? Who on this myth would suppress science education? Who for maggots would stop the Sun, and declare Truth changeless?

Peninsular Koreans have the myth of Dangun to establish their origin and ancestral lineage. In this story, a heavenly prince named Hwanung looks down on an already existing world. He wishes to possess it and to rule over the mortal men who live there. His father Hwanin knows that Hwanung will be a good ruler and will make the people happy; and so this father sends his son down to earth, setting him on Baekdu Mountain; this father sends his son down to earth, not in order to sacrifice him, but to establish the holy city of Sinsi. Moses-like, this good god-son establishes laws, moral codes, and the cultural order.

Later, a male tiger and a female bear pray to Hwanung in order that they would become human. So he tells them to spend a hundred days out of the sunlight, in a kind of maternal cave, with only the sacred foods mugwort and garlic to eat. (We can deduce from this that fruit is among the oral pleasures forbidden them.) Naturally, the male tiger gives in to temptation and is delivered to evil. He leaves this maternal cave a kind of oedipal miscarriage, while the female bear manages to supress her natural desires and oral fixation; thus she is transformed into a human who knows, a Lacanian might observe, le-nom-du-père. (After all, every person has to get beyond the oral attachment to mother’s sweet breast milk in order to become a healthy human citizen.)

This obedient and virginal Eve-bear lacks a husband, and so naturally prays for one at a sindansu tree. Though no serpent tempts her, Hwanung is happy to answer her prayer, and blesses her with a son named Dangun, who is given to rule, who establishes a walled city near Pyongyang, and who thus begins the old kingdom of Gojeosan and Korean history in about 2333 BCE.

Nearly four thousand years later, in 1603, just thirty years before the Inquisition would jail Galileo for his scientific heresy; and just eighty-nine years before the Salem Witch Trials condemn nineteen Americans to death for witchcraft, justifying this on sound theological grounds; just four thousand years later, I say, a Korean carries an atlas of theology into Korea, and Korea begins to learn a new but already dying story, and to help ensure their children might one day inherit the wind, flatulent a wind though it may be. The scent of history is rank; when on disguised theological grounds creationists suppress science in the classroom; when on theological grounds tired old judges burn witches or burn books to forward their drive for wealth and power. Vive la suppression!

Yet it was not until the mid 1960s, some forty years after Tennessee put John Scopes on trial, and but a thin decade after the Korean War, that the number of Korean Christians spiked and began to outnumber adherents of traditional religions. Interestingly, this spike parallels the radical westernization of South Korea; there is a common causal link between sightings of both Ronald McDonald and sweet Jesus–forsooth, man cannot live on garlic and mugwort alone!

My students are right to point out that, like mad cow disease, the conflict between science and religion is not native to Korean soil; yet the infection is here. There is nothing in the traditional Korean mythology which claims eternal authority on an unchanging and otherworldly Truth; yet the infection is here. The Korean mythos tends to be pragmatic, not speculative, not worried about eternal and unchanging Truth, not inclined to mud-over cracks in the fortress of theology, not inclined to suppress science education. Yet unscientific creationists are getting into the business of science text books.

Korean philosophy is traditionally Confucian, which tends toward creating social order and to defining virtuous living. It is less concerned with the ultimate structure of reality. Even in Buddhism, metaphysical speculation is seen to be a waste of time and effort, to which point we have the parable of the poison arrow.

“Suppose,” the Buddha says, “that a man is shot with a poisoned arrow, and the doctor wants to remove it immediately. Suppose the man refuses to let the doctor remove the arrow until he knows who shot it, what his age is, who his parents are, and why he shot it. If he waits to answer all of these questions before removing it, he may die.”

Korean science expresses this pragmatic tendency, and a kind of economic urgency, trying to pull out a poison arrow called poverty; wherefore Koreans tend to fund well the applied sciences, which have helped to build such economic giants as Samsung; and they tend to underfund speculative science, which does not fit well into practical economic structures and does not quickly fill empty rice bowls.

One consequence of this is that Korean scientists have not, as a whole, taken a keen interest in Darwinism as a question of ultimate origins, and have been able to ignore the profound zero-sum contradiction between modern science and the Abrahamic religion–Abraham, who is usurping Dangun’s claim for mythical origins. In place of a virtuous and chaste she-bear, Koreans are increasingly meditating on Eve and Mary; and for their love of Christ, they are increasingly denying empirical science, biting the hand which feeds it. And Korean scientists, going about their daily business, have been caught flat-footed, thinking, like my students, that there is no need to worry.

There is need to worry; and the sovereign mind of free-thinking Koreans, who would do right by their country to practically solve real problems; indeed, the sovereign mind of free-thinking people everywhere; this sovereign mind of a first born, I say, risks to become a blood sacrifice to an Abrahamic Metaphor.

Gospel Birds

I love gospel music. I love the literature, the art, and the architecture of Christendom. Yet I would not lock myself in a church, reading but one book, staring at but a few images, while listening alone to gospel music, however tempting that may be. I love bird songs and sunshine too much to spend my Sundays inside.

e.e. cummings wrote that little birds are the secrets of living, and that whatever they sing is better than to know. Yet it is hard not to know; it is hard to quiet the mind enough to really hear what the birds are singing.

Churches are too stuffy and self-righteous, clanging the pots and pans of their opinions, even to hear the music. And secularists are too fed up with theological debauchery to even come near to a church, where some cool birds might roost and sing.

Me, on my clearer days, when my mind is calm, and my heart full of spirit, I like to come near to a church, but to come no nearer than to stand on the lawn, free from the congregation. There, standing outside, I can on a sunday hear the songs, and know that, no matter how wrong the theology, the sound is right.

There, on the lawn, I can hear the music, smell the fresh cut grass, feel the warm moisture evaporate and permeate the air, almost as it would itself suspend the music. And when the song ends, I can, without disturbing a soul, walk nearer to the lawn’s edge, nearer to the forest, and listen to the ancient bird songs, and wonder when dinosaurs began to sing.

Entropy in Jack London’s “White Fang”

“Henry, squatting over the fire and settling the pot of coffee with a piece of ice, nodded. Nor did he speak till he had taken his seat on the coffin and begun to eat.” –Chapter 1

In Jack London’s White Fang, the second law of thermodynamics reigns king. Life is an entropic struggle, a struggle against entropy, a struggle for survival. It is the struggle of  highly organized systems battling against the universal process of entropy, which is the tendency for all things to disorganize and dissolve. Indeed, this is much the reason why Schrodenger called life negative entropy.

The concept of entropy rests squarely on the second law of thermodynamics, which states that, in a closed system, heat cannot transfer from a cooler body to a warmer one. If, for example, we pour hot water into a bucket of ice, the heat will transfer to the ice. The ice will absorb the heat, and the hot water will cool, until all that is left is water of one temperature.

Ice is more organized an less random than is  water. By adding the hot water, the ice becomes a liquid, and the whole system thereby increases its overall level of entropy. It is less organized than before, more random.

Though we have looked at the bucket as if it were a closed system, a bucket is not a closed system. No system is closed, except the universe itself. The heat of the hot water disorganized the ice, and the temperature equalized; but, assuming the room still cooler than the water in the bucket, this process towards equalization will continue, until at last, at some moment ages and ages hence, the universe itself will disorganize to a state of perfect simplicity, utterly undifferentiated — Nothingness.

But until that happens, particular systems can increase in complexity. But this increase in complexity is finite, and the overall level of entropy is toward perfect and simple equilibrium. For example, we can build a freezer, and make ice cubes. But to make these stable little cubes, we must burn, perhaps, coal, and by the time we have ice cubes, there is less overall structure in the universe. That is, we lose energy and heat in creating the ice cubes. Simply feeling the warmth behind the freezer can confirm this. There is much more heat behind the freezer than was extracted from the water to decrease its randomness and make it stable ice.

Our flesh is like the ice, and the life we eat is like the coal. Turning plants and animals into complex proteins adds to to level of entropy in the universe. That is, though we ever evolve into more complex structures, we have to disorganize other structures, and the over all level of entropy is always increasing. Life struggles to maintain itself, as against the flow of a great cosmic glacier.

We can think of the earth as a single system, finite but not self-contained. The earth itself can increase in complexity, but the universe as a whole will move towards disorganization and extinction. The sun radiates energy as its entropy increases. The heat of the sun moves out into the cold, black deep. The earth absorbs some of that heat. Plants gather light, and photosynthesize it, gaining the energy to fold matter into complex patterns. Rocks and dirt also absorb the heat, just as ice will absorb heat. But the earth will not hold the energy if the adjacent system is cooler.

During the day, the earth gains energy, but it is only day on one side of the earth. On the dark side, energy radiates out into the dark deep. Indeed, even where it is dawn, the earth still loses energy. It takes several minutes for the light of day to reverse the trend, and for the sun to reverse the process, which is why the coldest time of day is just after dawn.

In what London calls “the savage, frozen-hearted Northland,” the dawn comes late in wintertime, and the sun replenishes adds very little energy to the system during the day, so that in the winter, there is more loss than gain. Then, life is most cruel, most hungry, most  savage.

In the savage, frozen-hearted Northland, every calorie matters. Negative entropy, like a freezer, needs energy to organize. A mouthful of food is the difference between motion and absolute stillness. In this frozen-hearted Nothland — in this bucket of ice —  we meet two men and their six dogs, who depend absolutely on adding energy to their own negatively-entropic system in order to counter the entropy, and keep from melting, like so many ice cubes, into their environment, into the belly of the universe, and becoming indistinguishable from it.

In order to keep from death, these men must keep an orderly and calculated system, which is symbolized by the circle of safety around their campfire. The campfire itself symbolizes their complex intelligence, and also the process which Heraclitus described thousands of years ago, when he called the universe by the metaphor of fire.

“This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it has always been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measure and going out by regular measures.” –Heraclitus

Early in White Fang, when it is dark and hard to see except by the light of the campfire, one of the men goes to feed the six dogs with six fish, but notices that one mouth goes unfed. A dog-like wolf had broken their circle, had acted as one of his dogs, and has stolen some of their energy: one fish. That night, one of the six dogs disappears, is eaten, metabolized, and turned to protein and steaming dung. Thus the circle grows smaller, colder, quieter, with less organized mass and less organized energy.

The dog-like wolf who breaks the line of the camp circle and steals a fish to eat, and who later lures out a dog to eat, is herself a member of another cooperative and organized system — a larger circle, a wolf-pack. This larger circle encompasses this smaller camp-circle, almost as a stomach would enclose its meat. This larger circle is like the belly of the universe itself; it is that which would draw all energy to equilibrium, all movement to stillness, all noise to silence, through its snake-like digestive tract. The circle of life is Ouroboros, the snake consuming itself, forming a circle as it eats its own tail. Life feeds on life.

The hunger and drive to gain energy is a consequence of life’s futile struggle against entropy. Recall that entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder in a system. Now recall our bucket of ice. The bucket of ice had a certain level of organization, and when we added hot water to the ice, the amount of entropy in the system increased. That is, the ice molecules had a certain level of organization and structure. But the energy we added turned the ice into liquid. Liquid is more chaotic than ice. So, the overall state of the system, with the added energy, is more chaotic, less organized, and has more entropy, and radiates heat.

Now think of the wolf as an isolated system, like the bucket itself. This system has a high level of organization. Indeed, it is an organism. The wolf eats meat. The meat is itself highly organized, like the ice. The wolf’s stomach adds acid and churns the meat, which is the equivalent of adding hot water to the ice. The meat digests and changes from a solid to a liquid, or from a lower to a higher entropic state. A byproduct of this digestive process is heat, which is still less organized than liquid.

As digestion continues, the digestive processes transport the nutrients and energy around the wolf’s body, and integrates the energy and nutrients into its own flesh and activity. It reorganizes its meal into its own flesh. The more chaotic and less organized liquid is organized and folded according to genetic patterns. Yet the sum of this process leads to greater, not less, entropy. That is, the wolf itself is not a closed system. The wolf only transforms a part of the meat into a more organized state; much order is lost in the form of heat and stool. The wolf itself is a process is negative entropy; it is creating a high state of order out of disorder; but the whole system–wolf, prey, and environment–has a net gain in entropy. The universe, by a tiny fraction, becomes less organized than before.

Watching the action in the beginning of White Fang, we can see behind the language and action entropy and negative entropy. In terms of entropy, we can see in London’s negative language the process of order moving to disorder. Heat moves to cold, motion to stillness, sound to silence. But complex life, in a futile struggle against this entropic process, must consume energy and other life, like Ouroboros, the snake which forms a circle consuming itself, in order to maintain itself.

As the dogs and men move as an organized unit toward their village, the wolves move as an organized unit in order to consume the meat, which the men and dogs are. As one at a time the she-wolf, with her cunning and highly complex mind, calculates and lures out less complex and less intelligent dogs; as this she-wolf, with her canine theory of mind anticipates the sex the male dogs desire and so lures them out and traps them; as this she-wolf lies to these dogs and makes them her meal, the circle becomes smaller and smaller until only one man and two dogs remain.

The last man’s circle grows smaller and smaller. He chooses, as a last defense, to not burn his fire in the middle of the circle, but to rather make the perimeter itself the fire; and in so doing burns the last of his available wood, disintegrating his circle. When the man is as near to total annihilation as a man can be; when the wolves are charging him from every angle; the man is surprised that the wolves leave their prize behind. The man is saved by another, well-organized circle, which is greater in cunning and available energy than is the wolves’ circle: his comrades.