Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Schrödinger Paradox

I've been thinking lots 'bout entropy & non-equilibrium thermodynamics.

Found an excellent description of Schrödinger's paradox. Central to the paradox is the question of how biological life - on a cellular & indeed biophysical level - cultivates 'syntropy', or order in the face of increasing entropy (as stated by the second law of thermodynamics).

Part of the first Chapter of Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life is available online here.

Schrödinger freakin' predicted the existence of DNA as what he called an "aperiodic crystal" that he guessed chromosomes were made of. What a wizard. Crystals as the infrastructure for the transmission of biological machine code.... mmmyes indeed! Other types of crystals are also what enables us to have cellphones and computers and the internet. Those wily ancient ones! They also are some of the only natural substances to make straight lines (or surfaces) on a level tangible to humans. The rest of nature seems to shun straightness.

Anyway, here's the brain candy at hand:

Schrödinger's focus on what makes progeny from parent, on an as yet unknown crystalline molecule within the chromosome, amounted to a scientific prediction of the nature of the gene. It would take James Watson and Francis Crick ten years to unravel the workings of this "aperiodic crystal"—and identify the hereditary, helical molecule as deoxyribonucleic acid—DNA. …

Schrödinger's third and final lecture introduced a thermodynamic consideration that led in time to what is now known as nonequilibrium thermodynamics. If before he had been talking about order from order—if before he had intimated that mutations had a stochastic component that was in keeping with the second law—he now turned to the question of order from disorder: how does the cell manage to escape the randomizing effects of the second law? After all, it is this escape that makes living forms startling replicants, almost magical three-dimensional copies of themselves.

Reminding his audience of the chemical means by which a small number of atoms control the cell, he asked, "How does an organism concentrate a stream of order on itself and thus escape the decay of atomic chaos mandated by the Second Law of Thermodynamics?"

Now Schrödinger would try to link life with the underlying theorems of thermodynamics. How is order ensured, given that systems of microparticles tend toward disorder? Schrödinger caught sight of the problem. Consider a copy machine: if you copy a copy, it gets dimmer; if you copy that copy, it gets dimmer and duller still. While organisms do lose features of their parents, their copying fidelity is astonishing; and they sometimes progress or improve, evolving complex refinements, sometimes whole new features. How do organisms perpetuate (and even increase) their organization in a universe governed by the second law? We call this "the Schrödinger paradox."

The basic resolution of the Schrödinger paradox is simple: Organisms continue to exist and grow by importing high-quality energy from outside their bodies. They feed on what Schrödinger termed "negative entropy"—the higher organization of light quanta from the sun. Because they are not isolated, or even closed systems, organisms—like sugar crystals forming in a supersaturated solution—increase their organization at the expense of the rise in entropy around them. The basic answer to the paradox has to do with context and hierarchy. Material and energy are transferred from one hierarchical level to another. To understand the growth of natural complex systems such as life, we have to look at what they are part of—the energy and environment around them. In the case of ecosystems and the biosphere, increasing organization and evolution on Earth requires disorganization and degradation elsewhere. You don't get something from nothing.

The spectacular rise of one side of Schrödinger's program—the genetic and informational—has been made at the expense of the other—the energetic and thermodynamic. We do not wish to take anything away from the tremendous success of inquiries into the genetic, languagelike aspect of life. But we do wish to advocate flipping over Schrödinger's record and listening to its other side. In the daring of his vision, what is important is not that Schrödinger made mistakes but that he called attention to the dual information- and energy-handling abilities of living beings—the organization they derived from their parents, on the one hand, and, on the other, the organization they maintain in spite of (and, as we will increasingly see, because of) the second law's mandate for systems to head toward equilibrium.

When we follow Schrödinger we find ways of looking through life to the energetic processes governing not only life but inanimate systems as well. Life's complexity is due not just to its chemical data processing, but to its function as an energy transformer. Indeed, life's DNA replication and RNA protein-building duties may have ridden into existence on a thermodynamic horse. Their roles make sense in the context of an earlier gradient-reducing function. Life is not just a genetic entity. Genes by themselves do nothing more than salt crystals. Life is an open, cycling system organized by the laws of thermodynamics. And it is not the only one.

That last paragraph hints at the sort of molecular organization that I was speculating about in my post on 'evolution as a cosmic algorithm'. Also, I wonder if the sun's role in the 'flux of order' on Earth is fully understood. I mean, duh, we're all running on stardrive, yes, but this sentence in particular made my brain reach a little further:"In the case of ecosystems and the biosphere, increasing organization and evolution on Earth requires disorganization and degradation elsewhere."

Ecological economists are conceptualizing Earth as a minimally, or mostly closed system, sunlight and radiation of course being the inputs & outputs to and from our big blue-green spaceship. The rate at which solar energy reaches the earth is fixed, and moreover lots of it is reflected back by the ozone layer. What boggles my mind is this: imagine how much freakin' degradation is going on in the fucking sun. It's burning up like way more shit in an hour than we've burned here in our entire residency on this planet...

And the earthside answer to all of that orgiastic outpouring is, fundamentally, green things. Algae, grass (terrestrial algae), leaves...These things are nature's solar panels, in an ongoing conversation with sun-love. I know, this is none other than the Gospel, but I'm feeling rather moved to reiterate it. The success and complexity of terrestrial life depends on the ability of organisms to variably mitigate or maximize solar energy absorption - this rule applies to animals as well as plants...we've got melanin in our skin and they've got chlorophyll. And moreover, it applies on all scales - in that respect entire ecosystems function as organisms or cells. And then Mama Earth has the ozone going on. O3. You go girl.

I drank like a quart of raw sap last night, so the trees take credit for this post. If you've never had sap tea or a lumberjack, or just sipped the stuff cold during the course of an evening, try it - do you realize how many minerals from deep underground are in this stuff (which is cleverly disguised as a clear liquid)? Do you realize how much stuff is destroyed in the sugaring process? I love maple syrup as much as the next Vamontah - and so does the rest of the world, which is why every last drop of sap gets turned into the stuff - but the raw or barely-boiled tree blood... mmm, that's the closest thing to mana potion we've got. I know I said that about coffee the other day - I think coffee is like lesser mana potion and sap is greater MP. For the higher level druids.

Mmm. maybe more sap, less whiskey. Whiskey just gets in the way. lol

1 comment:

bdw said...

Great post and analysis.

I've long tripped out trying to grasp the fuel consumption of the sun, but never been led down the path of questioning the Second Law before. Great post.

Straight edges come from crystaline structures...circles, spheres and straight edges catch our attention when found in a natural environment. Why is this...for food? To be able to discern human creations from wild form?