Saturday, September 19, 2009

Electric Company

It's funny... all of us started out as classical objects.  Seed's and circular cells and zygotes, ect.  We were all more or less spherical at one point, and from a cellular sphere of one we multiplied and grew to a larger and larger sphere.  A regular shape made up of cells.

All organisms do this, more or less.  There are a few things out there that amount to exceptions, but we can talk about them later.

You ever notice that a walk down the street doesn't exactly provide much in the way of regular shaped organsims, plant or animal?  Fish, rats, whales, vultures, hamsters, people, houseflys, and dragqueens all seem more or less elaborations on a constellation of shapes, some regular, but taken as a whole, sensuously curved and shapely.  It isn't tradition that has the student artist before the nude:  the body speaks a language instructive as it is silent.  Take a listen.

(A woman is locking her bicycle up ten feet away from me, with a chain that is so gigantic, it looks (and sounds!) like a Cirque de Soleil prop.)

When I have the time, I take a book and go nestle myself into the knobs of a tree's roots somewhere on the campus across the street from me.  When I started this blog I considered taking a picture of myself in such a position, but I'm afraid not everyone would have appreciated that as a joke.  Plenty of people think I take myself rather seriously.  For a very short period of time the front page of this blog was a picture of me sitting on Paynetown docks of Lake Monroe, here in Bloomington.  The less said about that the better. I loved telling my buddy rick about that.  He's rather paranoid that I might at any moment be summoning some kind of critical mass of earnest sentiment (about myself, of course) which will finally be the last straw in our friendship.  No longer would he then be able to sustain a feigned ignorance on the subject of my self regard.

As a kid I never realized that those tree roots were so deep in the ground, and represented such a considerable proportion of the trees mass.  Indeed, even today it is rather difficult to believe that all that wood is really there underground.  Sitting on the roots, helps focus the mind.

So why is it, anyway, that a tree is so knobby, and irregular?  Why not be spherical, or cylindrical, or cubical, like The Rest Home exterior sensibility?  Doesn't God like round stuff, and straight lines in the macrological world?  Or is there some kind of thing going on?

Well, to be honest, I am in a lovely state, on the subject.  My walks have taken on a delicious quality of musing on all the creatures world, to such an extent, that I'm afraid I look like a total idiot, way more than normal.

It is my feeling that the shapes of organisms are, of course, formed by many many factors.  It is a commonplace misconception that evolution or natural selection promotes morphological changes in the shapes of organisms according to some kind of sense.  The genius of the concept of evolution is it's absence of a reliance on sentience, and indeed, sense of any kind, and instead it's suggestion of a taut pragmatics in a species edowments.  The loss of the ability to fly has happened hundreds of times in the annals of natural history.  Which means two things, at least to me.  One: flight evolved, only to be discarded by some species (just think about that.) And two:  the genuinely soaring qualities that a person might consider in an organism, are easily discarded by our human heart as prosaic, next to our fantasies and sensibilities.  Some of the most fantastic qualities in the natural world are right before our eyes (which is such a cliche, it drones on the page like a foghorn.  Try to remember it though, in concert with the notion that poetics about the fruition and flight of life obscure the real genius of life.)

Inside a plants choloroplasts there is a little molecule of magnesium, which is responsible for dropping the falling electron, which the apparatus of photosynthesis rather focuses itself around and is  the priciple effect that the cloroplast reaches toward photons to achieve.  The delicate structures holding that magnesium are so damaged by the violence of the magnesiums perpetual discharging of electrons, that they must constantly be replaced and repaired.  Science has not a clue how that is accomplished, only evidence that it has happened, and will happen again.  This happens in every cell of a plant: every weed in my garden.  When I start seeds you better believe the first little speck of green reminds me of that discharging magnesium: I smile thinking, "there you are you goddmned miracle. All it took was water and time, but you are a universe of enzymatic fire.  How  the hell do you exist?"  To date, we just can't be certain.

So it's kind of a close encounters of the first person kind.  Organisms have their powers of ten physiological minutiae and impact on the planet as well.

If I go back to my original question, though, why aren't we, and our fellow living beings shaped like classical objects, cubes and spheres and regular in shape and proportion, various things might be suggested by that magnesium molecule's falling electrons, and our dependence on the same.

For one thing, things are rather elaborate at the level of the chloroplast.  The shapes of the structures by which the famed Z scheme in photosynthesis is achieved (if they can be said to have a fixed shape, they of course are never fixed) are very complicated, indeed, and their movement, and the originating forces that compell them are a white hot subject in research today.

In a few posts back I spoke at length as to how life on a planet takes photons and shakes them down for awhile until it lets entropy have it's way with them.  And this defiance against entropy is probably the best way to "sense" life on a planet, should you be in the position to be scanning unknown planets.

But a defiance against entropy cannot be achieved through "work" in the sense that fighting, or wrestling against entropy, only serves to cancel out the very slim thermodynamic margins life butters it's bread with.  So life has to employ a scheme that is equivalent to effort or work, or energy, but never allows for the dreaded state of equilibrium to set in in any of life's endeavors.  Thermodynamic equilibrium, you'll remember, on a planet, equals, "no signs of life."

This is why any thourough definition of entropy will include more than the subject for which entropy was named: thermodynamics; it must also include information theory.  For entropy is utilized by people who study information, and complexity, to understand better all matter of subjects that employ "info" as a rather more lively thing than a mere graph, chart, or list.

Information is a wonderful concept.  In one moment it's text on a page, addressing some issue of specificity, the next moment it's twisting the contrails of quantum mechanical objects light years apart.  And yet information has a meta quality in it's usage as a word, my favorite conjuring (from the annals of emergent behavior in the physical AND achetypal world) being that a person should occasionally ask themselves why the wave that spreads around a pebble tossed in a pond knows from one edge of it's growing circle to the other, how to spread.  How do the forces, energies, forms, and differences remain whole and coherent from the instance of the pebble from your hand to the surface of the water, to more than seventy feet across before you find it difficult to see it's whole?  What accounts for such an assemblage.  You should feel free to say, "waves," and go on merrily thinking such a word can hold such relics as I mentioned, but I'd be stopped dead by the Golden Rule in remarking freely on your hypothesis.  Used in such a manner "waves" means almost nothing.  Nothing next to the quivering aria that that rough hewn piece of metamorphic stone generated as if by accident.  And then, sinking to the bottom of the pond, became resplendant in it's achievement, a prince of pebbles, an artist among the cattails.

I won't go on about information in this context for too long, since it becomes pretty academic depending on how deep your interest burrows (and mine's digging away, so I must be thoughtful lest I end up here, alone.)  But it's worth simply pointing out, that information has been regarded for a rather long time now as impactful to phenomena in a very active and virile way.  It's a doer, and makes a difference in a manner surprising to it's flaccid place in the cabinets of common sense.

For our purposes here, information is a labrynth, employed to trick the cold vacuum of space into giving a little succor and substance to a corner of the periodic table, gone mad.  Science regards information as equivalent to energy, in many respects.  Complexity is a structure of information in space and time.  And as such, complexity is a maze down which electrons fall, at every turn denied their fervent wish to simply get hitched, and end this harrowing fantasmagora.  Imagine how peaceful it must have been for the photon travelling from the sun to the earth:  to break out of the surface of a star, after bouncing around in different forms of energy and cycles of seething titanic convection for thousands of years.  Suddenly, without warning, the photon meets the darkest ink of space, hurtling toward the earth, our planet so small it it wouldn't even be seen.  At 180,000 miles per second I'm guessing the view would be brief, once it was discernible, but in any case, for four minutes the photon gets to chill in the vacuum of space: neither at the mercy of a thermonuclear blacksmith, nor the beck and call of life's enzymatic mosquito hum.  Every time sunlight hits you, it must consider itself either the unluckiest bastard in the photonic diaspora, or the luckiest depending on the photon's generalised worldview.  If a photon likes space, well then hitting your eyeball, can truly be considered (provided it's from the sun) a total disaster.  There are photons out there flying for ten thousand years and light from the sun gets four minutes.  Were it not a scientific fact, it'd be a stinkin' miracle.  What are the odds?

Well, for all the existential angst that photons unfortunately risk once relieved of their stint in the stars, they've really got it easy next to the magnesium molecules outer shell, inside the cloroplast. As is abundantly clear to you and me now, the entire apparatus of life on a planet must be tricked out to ravish those electrons.  And the strange conclusion you come to when you think about it is: life is more or less electrical.  Based, in terms of its form, and sustenance, on falling electrons.  Not the thermodynamics of the archetypal hearth or fire.

The shapes of lifeforms take heed of all of this, along with the rest of the forces that morph us.  And falling electrons are more employable by the dendritic, fractal branching forms that our labrynthian bodily structures follow then the classical objects that our sentiments for so long have associated with perfection.


Ande said...

Andy - Yes, you are absolutely right; the electrons are more employable by the labyrinth of bodily structures than “perfect and endless circles”. The bodies of biological things define classical geometry in a scandalous way which reveals that our human notion of physics and matter is inadequate. I read about a mathematical discovery called e8 recently, and this is stunning; a huge phenomenon which describes the universe. But where does biological life come into these perfect circles? You raise very significant questions, and hugely interesting.

Andy Coffey said...

Thanks Ande,

By the time you and your wife get done reading my blog, I'm afraid I will have forgotten what an idiot I really can be! Perhaps this is my therapy. My friends would say something different, be assured.

The synthesis of biology and physics has been on my mind a great deal lately. Mathematics unavoidably is charged with the explicating of this exciting new world. It is fascinating to watch our best mathematicians and physicists in the world trying to account for how Life manages to so exploit the Second Law. Just look at your hands: apart from their beauty, there is also the fact that they share a great deal of mystery with the world that they manipulate. They are not only exquisitely engineered, but strangely tied to a world that is too easily thought of as "other." Transcendental meditation is famous for helping people to "feel" at one with the universe. The funny thing to me has always been the fact that we are at one with the universe in the first place! So try a little harder to feel like what you are.