A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Part 4: Consciousness and Entropy

[Disclaimer: This series is not really going to deliver a proof for God's existence. This is why the word "proof" is in scare quotes. It is, rather, a suggestive line of argument. However, "A suggestive line of argument for God's Existence" isn't a very good blog title. So, the goal of the series is not to arrive at a Q.E.D. moment. It is, rather, to end with a "That's an interesting argument" moment.]

The last few posts are not overly critical in their particulars for the larger argument I want to make for (a) g/God's existence. They were mainly to deploy a few ideas and familiarize ourselves with the lay of the land. This post offers what I think is a more critical observation to the larger argument. Again, you might beg off on this post's observation/conclusion, but if you find it plausible please continue on with me.

The critical observation is this: Consciousness is intimately related to entropy.

Given that consciousness "adheres" to matter in some mysterious identity relationship we can ask the question: Does consciousness affect matter in any clear way?

I believe the answer is this: Yes. Specifically, consciousness drives matter into low entropy configurations, toward order and structure.

Let me unpack this.

Let's consider consciousness in its most rudimentary form: Pain and Pleasure. As in our last post, if we examine primitive life forms they appear to have some rudimentary, albeit degraded, "sensations." In petri dishes amoeba will reliability move away from toxic stimuli (of a chemical nature) and toward food sources. Although it is clear that an amoeba "consciousness" cannot say "Ouch! That hurts!," in the amoeba's primitive approach/avoidance responses we recognize rudimentary pleasure and pain. The informational complexity of the amoeba does not allow the organism to represent in any sophisticated way this experience, if one could call it that, of "pain" or "pleasure." But we, given our vantage, recognize it as the experiential primitive and precursor of more robust conscious experiences of pain scaling up to snails, ants, fish, mice, dogs, apes, and humans. At each level of structural/informational complexity the pleasure/pain experience grows more complex. Humans, as the most complex systems known to us, experience pain in ways that are both profound and excruciating. Our consciousness, given its sophistication, makes us the most vulnerable to suffering.

When we look at that amoeba and scale up what we see is this: Consciousness, in its most rudimentary and complex forms, pushes the organism away from high entropy states toward low entropy states. Consciousness, the second it appears, moves the organism away from dissolution and thermal equilibrium. It appears, to me at least, that consciousness has a telos.

But why should this be?

As you ponder that, a little 101 on entropy. Entropy is a term from thermodynamics and is, roughly, the tendency for physical system to move toward thermal equilibrium. In informational terms, entropy is the tendency to move from highly ordered states to disordered, randomized states. Highly ordered and structured systems have low entropy. Disorganized and randomized systems have high entropy. A thermal disequilibrium has low entropy while a thermal equilibrium has high entropy. Perhaps some examples will help:

Thermal example:
You have bathtub full of cold water and pour in a pot of hot water. This creates a thermal disequilibrium at the point of entry. A hot spot in the tub. But, the arrow of entropy will cause the hot spot to dissipate until a thermal equilibrium results: The tub reaches a uniform temperature.

Informational example:
You shelve the books of your personal library in a highly ordered way. But due to time and use, unless you keep putting energy into the system, your books gradually get disordered until one day you realize you can't find the book you want.

Simple examples, yes, but they illustrate the general trend of physical/informational systems: Low entropy (structure) eventually giving way to high entropy (disorganization). Order giving way to dissolution, decay, and randomness.

As a highly ordered physical/information system you, currently, have low entropy. That is, you are highly structured. And, for a span, via the chemical processes in the body, you can maintain your structure (a good reason to eat). But, eventually, entropy will win out. Your structure will no longer be able to maintain itself. And, as entropy takes its toll, your structure will randomize and dissipate. Eventually, the structure will vanish. So it goes for you. So it goes for the amoeba.

But I want to go back and contemplate the role of consciousness in this process. All along, consciousness pushes us upstream against the global tide of entropy. It is consciousness that forces some matter into highly structured states. Think about that ameba moving away from toxins and toward food. Or you for that matter. What you notice, when you think about it, is that consciousness is intimately tied up with entropy. Specifically, it fights against entropy, attempting to create, maintain, and produce more and more structure and order.

Let's now take stock of these posts. First, we've already noted that we don't know why consciousness exists in the first place. Second, we're unclear about how consciousness adheres to matter, but consciousness seems to be related to physical/informational complexity. And, finally, in this post, we have this mystery: Consciousness, apparently for no good reason, moves against the arrow of entropy. Why should this be?

In sum, it appears that consciousness, built into the very fabric of the universe, creates order out of chaos. Matter intrinsically "wants" to self-organize to create greater levels of structure with the byproduct being greater levels of consciousness.

And self-consciousness systems like you and me.

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5 thoughts on “A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Part 4: Consciousness and Entropy”

  1. Richard,

    You continue to deal with the 'easy' questions - don't you?

    I am not sure where you are going with this, but is consciousness best dealt with by equilibrium thermodynamis? I am by no means an expert, but it seems as though people like Ilya Prigogine (and others who have tried to bring physics into this discussion) have suggested non-equilibrium thermodynamics would apply better to consciousness and other self-organizing phenomena.

    As I have read the BLOG, I am amazed at similarity between topics I have covered with students here in Oxford and your topics. We have talked about aspects of language here compared to the states and about the humanity of Jesus - although I did not have the creativity nor the _____ ask the 'diarrhea' question.

    I have missed our conversations and look forward to seeing you in December.



  2. Paul,
    Can't wait to see you on campus! Hope your time there was wonderful.

    I would like to respond to your comment, but I have a rule, as a psychologist, to not discuss thermodynamics with physicists. I find those conversations uncomfortable for some odd reason...:-)

  3. I'm trying to understand the idea of consciousness moving against the arrow of entropy. Seems to me that something is missing. What if something would lower a persons entropy(physcial) but would also be detrimental to life?

  4. Connor,
    I'm discussing the broad contours of pleasure and pain. Generally speaking, biological systems seek homeostasis, the internal equilibrium that signals biochemical stability. When homeostasis is lost (like when we are hungry or tired) a drive state emerges to prompt the system to take action to restore homeostasis. In short, hunger pains are all about entropy. And hunger pains are among the first signs of conscious experience in the animal kingdom.

  5. I'm an applied physicist. I'm not sure how useful the concept of entropy is to consciousness. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics refers to isolated systems. Entropy in an isolated system will increase in time. However, when there is a decrease in entropy within a system in one location, it will be paid for elsewhere by an increase. A human is not an isolated system. A human is constantly taking in energy and that energy is used to power the organism. It supports the order or increase in order within the organism. It is "paid for" in part by the production of waste. The input of energy into a conscious creature is necessary for its proper functioning and is hence for that reason necessary for consciousness as well.

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