A friend wrote to ask because he came across a 2001 paper, Entropy and Self-Organization in Multi-Agent Systems by H. Van Dyke Parunak and Sven Brueckner Proceedings of the International Conference on Autonomous Agents (Agents 2001), 124-130:
Emergent self-organization in multi-agent systems appears to contradict the second law of thermodynamics. This paradox has been explained in terms of a coupling between the macro level that hosts self-organization (and an apparent reduction in entropy), and the micro level (where random processes greatly increase entropy). Metaphorically, the micro level serves as an entropy “sink,” permitting overall system entropy to increase while sequestering this increase from the interactions where selforganization is desired. We make this metaphor precise by constructing a simple example of pheromone-based coordination, defining a way to measure the Shannon entropy at the macro (agent) and micro (pheromone) levels, and exhibiting an entropybased view of the coordination.
The thought seems to be that entropy decreases here but somehow increases somewhere where we can’t see it.
I’ve (O’Leary for News) always thought that a fishy explanation, especially because I soon discovered that even raising the question is considered presumptive evidence of unsound loyalties. The sort I am long accustomed to hearing from authoritarians covering up a scandal.
So not only do I not believe it, but after that sort of experience I get the sense I shouldn’t believe it. Depending on where I am working, I might need to parrot it to keep my job, of course, but it would be best not to actually believe it.
Rob Sheldon told us both,
What you read is the “standard” physics response. It is misleading on many levels.
a) Physicists really, really can’t explain what goes on in biology. Neither their definition of entropy, nor their definition of information (Shannon, etc) work. Rather than admit that they don’t know what is going on, they simply extrapolate what they do know (ideal gasses) to biology and make pronouncements.
b) While it is true that “open” systems may allow energy and matter to flow through them, which would change the information in the system, this does not nor cannot explain biology. The best treatment of this is Granville Sewell’s articles on different types of entropy. Truly excellent. It explains why sunlight does not carry enough information to create life out of precursor molecules. And people who claim this are either: (i) deluded that physics entropy = biology entropy, or (ii) equivocating on the use of the word “entropy”, or (iii) unable to handle basic math, or most likely, (iv) all the above.
c) This paper suggests that the cell has machinery for converting sunlight to information–e.g. photosynthesis. While true, this machine must be even more complicated than the carbohydrates it produces. Ditto for self-replicating machinery, etc. So if we permit some high level of information to enter the system, then low-level information can be created from energy sources. This argument really is indistinguishable from ID, though they may not realize it.
In conclusion, the violation of the 2nd Law remains true for biology, and there still is no good physics explanation for it.
It’s a good thing they didn’t realize it. They won’t have to issue some embarrassing repudiation of their work.
And I don’t have to believe something for which we have no evidence just to protect the tenurebots’ theory.
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