Hexagons, Death, and Tea

Orrery, - 19th century. Date: circa 1880I’ve been watching The Code again (Netflix), which at one point talks about how imaginary numbers have been integral to describing the nature of dark energy. And this question came to me: What does it mean when an imaginary number (the square root of negative one), a number that logically cannot exist, can somehow be necessary to explain aspects of the universe? Is it false, like the gears and joints of an orrery, where the orrery itself successfully (though vaguely) describes some fundamental structure of our a solar system, but the mechanics are just representative? A contrivance?

Sure wish I had a mathematician buddy with a lot of patience.

Giant's Causeway unusual rock formationAnd another thing, for all its strengths, The Code loves to anthropomorphize–which scientists purportedly hate. Through its enthusiastic narrator, Marcus du Sautoy, The Code seems to imply intent on the part of the universe to favor a particular numerical order, like the shape of a bee’s honeycomb or the Giant’s Causeway on the northern tip of Ulster. The truth–which they must be skirting to jazz things up–might be better stated as the universe has an entropic economy to it, and these numbers often result. Which is still very interesting. For example, the bees’ industry, a behavior evolved over time (a higher ordered state), is channeled into the making of the honeycomb (a higher ordered state), where their efficient-to-make circles become crunched on all sides by the equitable distribution of pressure, which fills in the gaps and collapses them into hexagons (entropy, a lower ordered state). This funneling of energy can occur slowly over time (heat and pressure in the earth’s crust to make diamonds, the ongoing evolution of bee behavior). Channeled energy will overwhelm entropy until the energy becomes diffused (one version, the structure that funnels it collapses–like the bees die or the earth cools). But even before, energy is always constrained by entropy.

Here’s another way of putting it: the greater the efficiency, the less energy required to maintain order. It is this interplay that forces something like symmetry, what we identify as order.

You can really think about this ad infinitum: the pyramids, enduring, designed well and well-made due to learning; which is due to a culture that retained, furthered, and passed on the learning; which is due to a biological organism’s genetic capacity to learn and form cultures, evolved over time….

And that makes me think. Though being less hardwired leaves room for innovation, we humans are ultimately disordered: We move quick and rash when we push against this natural drive towards entropy. There will be a compromise, because The Code is ultimately right, there’s an economical interplay to the universe. But I have to wonder if technologically advanced civilizations that develop more slowly–and more harmoniously–over longer periods of time are the only ones likely to be even remotely enduring. Sociological and technological progress is apt to have the same economy to it, I believe–there will be forces, constraints, that impose order, like the bees’ hexagon. By slowly pushing against the natural tendency towards disorder and incorporating it (resource management) instead of merely diverting entropy (consumptive, throw-away societies)–slower civilizations might reach some sort of balance and hover there for a much longer period…..

Wait, what am I saying? Is that homeostasis I’m talking about? Nothing’s static, right?—So that would imply… that would imply at the very moment stasis has been achieved… a turn.

Glowing pyramid on dark background
Annuit coeptis (“favor our undertakings”)

Well, never mind all that. What are we, then? We’re amazing, that’s what! Death-defying, glory-seekers, and we simply cannot wait. The more energy and types of energy we pour into our endeavors (but please, please let’s latch onto something more practical than fossil fuels), the greater our accomplishments, the more monumental the edifice, the more gloriously massive the crystal. And yet, though frightfully dazzling, Ozymandias, it will almost certainly be more flawed.

Damn it, it’ll crack!

But not yet. Not yet. Let’s keep going! Let’s keep at it! This is how we’re made. This is who we are!

….Eh. It’s what I was thinking. I’ll go make a nice cup of tea now.

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