Dissipation-Driven Adaptive Spirituality

Part II in my Process Theology, Revisited series–

Again, this hypothesis was originally presented in my Guru book, pp 108-118, in chapter 8 based on Jeremy England’s Dissipation-Driven Adaptation. Below is my discussion in those pages about what I termed, Dissipation-Driven Adaptive Spirituality.

Here I will jump to my main point that applies to my concern about Process Theology’s “God calling,”and how I address this concern from a secular, non-theistic paradigm? By “non-theistic” I mean without being based on a personal god, i.e. a god that is a person, place, or thing, but instead on laws and processes of nature, namely physics in this case. Instead of a God calling, on the driving force of the universe–energy dissipation–not some personal god out there doing a “calling” for humans to be “good.” Energy dissipation is the driving force not only of the universe but of spirituality too.

Here are text excerpts from that chapter, reproduced with the author’s permission. It is a rather lengthy presentation, first going over background. It introduces spiritual fitness, which I haven’t covered in a previous post. Spiritual fitness, analogous to Darwinian fitness, basically equals inner peace x personal growth, again as discussed in Guru. Charles is the guru on the mountain in the book. As presented, Charles’ hypothesis is a type of unified field theory of spirituality.

“… A unified field theory is one of the big areas that has eluded physicists for the last decades since Einstein and the advent of quantum physics. This is a theory that interrelates the four types of energy: electromagnetic, gravity, and strong and weak nuclear forces. At the quantum level of the atom, the world is really a weird place.[i]It is a Wizard of Oz land. Behind the curtain of Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz, at the subatomic levels, the universe is not what it seems. Why would such a unified field theory be important to me and to spiritual seekers in general? As I lay there in the heat of the afternoon thinking about it, the answer came, “Because it tied the science and spirituality together! The theory gave a deeper understanding about such spiritual concepts as the Native American’s medicine wheel, balance and harmony, resonance, energy flow, and karma, tying these spiritual concepts back to the basic underpinnings of the universe. Charles’ hypothesis was that England’s Dissipation-Driven Adaptation not only underlied the Darwinian evolutionary process, but that it was also foundational for the spiritual evolution process.

Jeremy England’s work is about dissipation-driven adaptation and the origin of life itself.[ii] The essence of England’s new physics theory is that life exists because “the law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire life-like physical properties.” Increasing entropy is called dissipation. Another way of stating his theory is that energy dissipation is the driving force of the universe that inevitably led to the creation of life. His research is based on an expansion of the second law of thermodynamics combined with chaos theory’s self-organization principle.

Entropy is a measure of the energy available in a system to do work. Work here is very specific in physics, but also applies to the spiritual work that we do. Work is any force that moves something from place A to place B. As work is done, entropy increases and, unless more energy is put into the system, less and less energy is available to do additional work. Anytime work is done, energy is converted from a higher energy form to a lower energy form, until no more energy is available to do work.

Spiritual growth is about spiritual work. That is, it takes work to grow spiritually. In terms of our guru-mountain metaphor, it takes work to get us across the valleys and up the mountainside. It took Charles a lot of spiritual work to get where he was.

Dissipation is the loss of energy that occurs when energy is converted from some form into some other form, which is what happens when work is done. As this process continues, more and more energy is lost and converted to heat. Dissipation then is defined in physics as work plus heat. What drives the universe, England’s work proposes, is this dissipation process, where centers of high energy are continuously dissipating their high energy out to the universe—and systems will self-organize to dissipate as much energy as possible, something called resonance that I will come back to below.

The First Law of Thermodynamics essentially states that energy of a system cannot be created or destroyed. It is conserved; it merely changes form as work is done and heat is generated. The Second Law, the important one for our discussion, essentially states that entropy increases as work is done

The Laws of Thermodynamics are stated for closed systems for which energy neither comes in nor goes out. These are idealized systems that don’t really exist in nature. Living systems are open systems where energy flows in and out. Energy flows into and out of an open system as either work or heat, that is. This is dissipation.

Work occurs when energy is transferred from one form to another. Work is a measure of the energy transferred when something is moved from one point to another in the direction of the force that is moving it. This could be moving electrons, mountains, or anything. Heat is wasted energy, essentially. It is energy that is no longer available to do work. Spiritual growth requires work, lots of work.

Keep in mind, energy and matter are the same thing, just in different forms, as shown by Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2.[iii] Eventually, if more energy is not put into the system, entropy is maximized, and no energy is left available to do the work. A hot cup of coffee cools down, gases diffuse, batteries run down, boiling water ceases boiling when the heat is turned off, ice cream melts in a warm room. In general, energy disperses or dissipates until it is equally distributed throughout the system and no longer available to do work.

The second law of thermodynamics, referred to as the law of increasing entropy, is also called the arrow of time. To understand this, let us turn our attention to particles in a system. Entropy is a measure of how dispersed energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffused those particles are in a space. It is again a measure of randomness. Entropy increases as a simple probability: there are more ways for energy to spread out or disperse than for it to be concentrated.

This is a one-way process, that is, it is irreversible, hence the title, “arrow of time.” Time only flows one way. As the energy of a system spreads out, it reaches a point where the energy is evenly distributed throughout the system, known as thermodynamic equilibrium. The hot coffee cools if it is left alone to the ambient temperature. The coffee never heats up spontaneously because the probability is overwhelmingly against the room’s energy randomly re-concentrating in the cup. Eggs scrambled never unscramble. We grow old; we never grow young. Again, in open systems where energy/matter can be inputted and outputted, our coffee can be kept hot with the constant input of energy, a.k.a. heat. In an open system, entropy can be kept low or at bay through the continual input of energy.

Life does not break the law of entropy. Living systems are open systems and keep entropy low by continually inputting energy to maintain their structure and processes, but thereby increasing the entropy of their surroundings. For example, we humans take in high energy food, along with water, oxygen, etc., convert that energy to proteins, DNA, ATP (energy), bodily structures, and so forth, and give off carbon dioxide, bodily wastes, heat, etc. By the way, these are all forms of work. We give off lower energy in the form of heat, some of which is used to maintain our body temperature. (Death is when our inputs cease, and then, the structures all start breaking down/decomposing[JS1] .) Plants take in high-energy sunlight and, through the process of photosynthesis, combine it with carbon dioxide and a little water, converting the energy to sugar, starch, cellulose, and plant structures. This process emits lower level infrared energy and oxygen, thus increasing the entropy in the environment around it. Although life doesn’t violate the law of thermodynamics, we were at a loss to explain from a thermodynamics perspective why it might originate in the first place. Hence, the importance of Jeremy England’s work.

England’s generalized expansion of the second law of thermodynamics applied to systems made up of particles with certain kinds of characteristics and driven by some high-energy source such as electromagnetic waves (think sunlight, lightning), mechanical waves (think waves on the ocean), chemical energy, or so forth, and that could transfer heat into their surrounding environment. This includes all living systems and many non-living ones too. The “certain kinds of characteristics” applies to carbon-based systems. Life on planet Earth is carbon based. England then asked how such systems tended to evolve over time, given that they become increasingly thermodynamically irreversible as they do. (Remember that thermodynamic irreversibility means that entropy increases as these systems offload more and more of their heat into their surroundings.)

His findings showed that the more likely evolutionary outcomes were going to be ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from their high-energy input. That is, the system restructures itself (evolves) so that it resonates better and better with the forces that are driving it. (This is a really important point for our discussion.) The system self-organizes so it can absorb and dissipate the energy better. He points out that the system dissipates more energy when it reorganizes itself so that it resonates with the driving forces. That is, it vibrates in the direction and frequency the driving force is pushing it. Such systems are more likely to evolve in that direction than another direction at any given moment, i.e. toward greater resonance. Resonance is a key concept for our purposes here in reference to spiritual evolution, and I will come back to that aspect below.

Resonance can be defined as synchronous vibrations. That is, when two objects (or things) vibrate at the same frequency, they produce the largest possible response/output. If you looked at it graphically, what you would see is that, at their resonant frequencies, there is a large spike in their outputs that falls off rapidly at frequencies on both sides. Again, for our treatment, think of a mountain and our guru, Charles. At resonant frequency, it is a tall mountain peak. Again, Charles is sitting up there on his mountaintop just resonating away because he is in harmony and balance both inside himself and with his environment around him. I will come back to him below.

In living systems, reproduction and survival are the two driving forces of evolution, as we have said. Reproduction, a type of self-replication, is a mechanism by which a system dissipates more and more energy as more and more copies of itself are made and are in turn reproducing themselves. It creates a positive feedback loop where more and more produces more and more. Hence the evolution of life on planet Earth.

Returning this now to our spiritual evolution, could England’s work shed light on our spiritual evolution as individuals and why it is important? Charles’ answer of course was, yes, else I wouldn’t be writing this chapter.

Dissipation-Driven Adaptive Spirituality

[Charle’s] hypothesis is that higher spiritual fitness leads to higher energy dissipation as work, but not just any work, the work that we want to do. It leads to higher resonance and harmony, thus magnifying the work output. Because of interconnectedness, a.k.a., Buddhist co-interdependence (interconnectivity), of the universe and with each other, his resonance leads to harmony with others and his environment, which results in further amplification and dissipation through others.

Spiritual Fitness and Energy Dissipation as Work

It has been an axiom of what has been known as New Age spirituality that the more we resolve our psychological issues and reach inner peace, the more of our energy we can focus on the things we want to work on and the less of our energy is wasted. This fits in directly with England’s research. Less of our energy is used up with dissonance and disharmony, both creating resistance. Resistance generates heat and wasted energy, resulting in greater entropy, that is, energy unavailable for doing work.

For example, it takes a lot of energy to deal with our inner conflicts and issues, leaving less available for us to direct toward the things we would rather put it into. Dealing with anxiety, depression, fear, anger, loneliness, worry, etc., is exhausting. They are energy hogs!

Take Freudian defense mechanisms as another example. It takes huge amounts of energy to keep repressed memories repressed. Likewise, denial, distortion, rationalization, etc. From my clinical experiences with patients, I have seen this time and again. I have seen the tremendous wave of relief when they are able to let go of these defenses. Often, my clients have commented about how much more energy they have and how their life is moving ahead. It is unstuck.

I certainly know from my own personal experiences that this is the case. As a recent and very personal example, for the last five years or so, this book has been sitting in limbo. I had been dealing with so much chaos and conflict in my personal life that I had no energy left over to work on the book. Once this conflict and chaos was removed, in divorce, I found my energy and creativity returning. And here we are, writing.

Harmony and resonance are important components here, which will bring us back to the Medicine Wheel.

Harmony and Resonance

In physics we have already mentioned resonance in reference to terms of Dissipation-Driven Adaptation. We want now to look at it more closely, as it has importance relevant to spirituality. England’s research was on very simple systems, not anything as complex as our minds or any living system such as ecosystems. Again, in physics, the term resonance refers to the amplification that occurs when the frequency of a periodically applied force is at the same frequency of the system to which it is applied—that is, when two systems vibrate at the same frequency. Small periodic forces that are applied at a system’s natural frequency produce a high amplitude output of the system. Such amplification or resonant effect occurs in all kinds of systems, mechanical, musical, electromagnetic, nuclear, etc.

For example, take two stringed musical instruments, say a banjo and a piano placed near each other. When one plays a note on the piano, say G4 (G in the fourth octave, or middle G), it will cause the equivalent G4 string on the banjo to vibrate. However, it will also cause the G5, D5, G6, B6, D7, and G7 strings to vibrate or resonate with it. Actually, it will cause vibrations in all the other integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. 

A little relationship worked out by Pythagoras and the basis of our western musical scale, these notes of multiple integers sound pleasing (harmonic) to our human ears. Throw in a half-step note, say D5-flat or sharp, and it sounds disharmonic. I would like to propose that a similar harmonic can be experienced within and between individuals and even between an individual and nature. This is one you can easily test out yourself.

When you meet someone with whom you resonate, you can feel the effect, the heightened energy, the harmony. On the extreme end, “love at first sight” is an example of this phenomenon, but we have all met people with whom we resonate. Likewise, there are places or situations where you have had this resonant effect. I, for example, resonate with the desert mountains; and when writing—that is, when my writing is going well and on some topic in which I am interested. Likewise, for me, there are places in nature that I have felt these really strong resonant effects. The energy vortexes around Sedona, Arizona, are an example. Which brings me back to our guru, Charles.

Charles’s hypothesis was that the higher your spiritual fitness, the greater your resonance and harmony, the greater your dissipation in terms of the work you want to do. Greater resonance means amplified output of your efforts or energy. Greater harmony leads to greater resonance effect. If you have ever been in the presence of a powerful spiritual teacher, you can feel these effects.

[i] Capra, F. Tao of Physics. Josephson, B. 1987. Physics and spirituality: the next grand unification? Phys Educ. 22: pp 15-19.

[ii] England, J. 2013 Statistical physics of self-replication. J Chem Phys. 139: 121923. Wolchover, N. 2014. A new physics theory of life. https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-new-thermodynamics-theory-of-the-origin-of-life-20140122/.

[iii] Bodanis, D. 2005. E = mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation. Walker Books.”