Cognitive Physics | Systems Theory
“What universal law known to be true operates in the domain in psychology? Is there anything as unfailing in its influence as the universal law of gravitation when we consider such things as human emotion, motivation…?” -Professor Daniel Robinson
For reasons that escape me, it seems as if that the realm of Psychology is under the impression that our minds are excluded from the laws of nature. Even though we do not know everything that there is to know about nature as of yet, we still know quite a bit, and there are plenty of rigorously proven aspects of these rules that seem to be applicable to cognition and consciousness alike; despite of what David Chalmers has to say about the matter. For instance, I am a HUGE fan of Carol Dweck. She is a legend and pioneer in her field, and I highly recommend that everyone read her book “Mindset”. However, I firmly believe that if she had studied entropy, systems theory, and the writings of Erwin Schrodinger, she would have found a mountain a priori support for Growth Mindset, which she is already quite famous for.
In Chapter 6 of Schrodinger’s book “What is Life”, living matter (life) evades the decay to equilibrium (death) by feeding on negative entropy. He went on further to point out that we seem to accomplish the act of “feeding on negative entropy” by eating, drinking, and breathing. What he meant by this is that in order to reduce our own entropy, as living systems, we often increase entropy elsewhere in our environment, and that we accomplish this, for example, by consuming plants or animals. In turn, cows accomplish the same by eating grass, just as Cheetah’s accomplish this by eating a Gazelle. In order for a virus or parasite to live inside us, as its environment, our entropy also has to increase in order for them to reduce their own entropy and we can see this effect by an increase in temperature or by succumbing to them under some circumstances. In short, life displaces and exchanges entropy. Some seem to think of such a notion as a violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, but this is merely a probabilistic law, and on the scale of the universe, life, including our own existence, we must only be incredibly rare and improbable in order to be in compliance with it; which SETI can confirm to be true, at least for the time being.
If we fail to displace entropy by not eating, drinking, breathing, or fighting off viruses, we run the risk of equilibrating with our environment at a much faster rate than we otherwise would; but what would happen if we stopped thinking? All of these extrinsic motivations seem to be supplemental to our cognitive processes and intrinsic motivations alike, and we seem to treat knowledge with the same priority as food, water and air; some more than others. Further, it seems as if our ability to leverage knowledge has a tendency to return the favor by aiding us in acquiring the necessities of life and enabling us to find more efficient and safe ways to prosper, or “escape the decay to equilibrium” as Schrodinger called it. Because of this, I am beginning to wonder if it would it be a stretch to add “thinking” list of ways that we can “feed on negative entropy” as it seems to be functionally the same.
As a species, we seem to *hate* entropy in its many forms and uncertainty does not seem to be an exception to this. We hate uncertainty almost as much as we hate starving, dehydrating, and suffocating. We take great strides to keep uncertainty to a minimum wherever we can. In order for “thinking” to fall in line with negative entropy though, we only need to consider the possibility that knowledge derived from thinking increases our certainty and is the equivalent of negative entropy, while the ignorance derived from thinking increases our uncertainty and that it is the equivalent of entropy as prescribed by Claude Shannon and Information Theory. Ironically, Information Theory has made just as many waves in cognitive science as it has in computer science, but that is a discussion for another time.
To those unaware, an over simplified explanation of Shannon Entropy means that a decrease in entropy equates to less uncertainty, while an increase in entropy equates to more uncertainty. While counter-intuitive at first, this may help explain why Shannon himself described entropy to be “a measure of our ignorance”. If true, wouldn’t this also imply that open-minded people can function like open systems, and that closed-minded people seem to function (dysfunction?) like a closed system? As predicted by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the entropy of a closed system tends to increase or remain the same over time, which seems to fit. However, living matter, or “life”, is an open system of sorts, albeit a complex one.
“A closed system does not interact with its environment. It does not take in information and therefore is likely to atrophy, that is to vanish. An open system receives information, which it uses to interact dynamically with its environment. Openness increases its likelihood to survive and prosper.”
Much like our body, our mind can only feed on negative entropy and take on new knowledge as long as it remains open or “growth minded” to some degree. If this is true and as we become more open-minded, we should find that we tend to increase the probability of delaying our own atrophy, decay and equilibrium in various aspects of our life, although not in absolution. Conversely and as we become more closed-minded, we should also find that we tend to reduce our probability of delaying entropy while goading atrophy, decay and our inevitable equilibrium just the same. As such, and if our ignorance is the result of an uptick in entropy, then it should not be a stretch to at least hypothesize that negative entropy could decrease our ignorance, while subsequently increasing our knowledge. Further and if any of this has merit, then Growth Mindset may just be the optimal mean between the extremes, or a “virtue” if you will.
While this may be difficult to see on the individual level for some, it seems as if we can easily see how much the collective mean of these mindsets impacts society, as society represents the virtues and vices of it’s individual citizens, magnified many fold. The stark contrast between South Korea and North Korea may be a perfect example of this; I’ll let you decide which is which.
Obviously, I am not an authority on any of these matters, but I still think that it may be time to reconsider the possibility of the applicability of physical laws within consciousness. After all, assuming that we are exempt because we do not know the rules doesn’t even seem to work to well on the scale of traffic court, let alone on the scale of our mind or the universe.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Now updated with new research-the book that has changed millions of livesAfter decades of research, world-renowned…
What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (Canto Classics)
Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life? is one of the great science classics of the twentieth century. It was…
Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time
Time rules our lives. From the rising and setting of the sun to the cycles of nature, the thought processes in our…
Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies
What is economic growth? And why, historically, has it occurred in only a few places? Previous efforts to answer these…
A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society
Imagine trying to understand a stained glass window by breaking it into pieces and examining it one shard at a time…