When it comes to order as opposed to chaos, that is, of holding things together, physicists speak of four fundamental forces of the universe. There is gravity, electromagnetic force, and the so-called “strong” and “weak” forces that hold particles together and govern their relations. These four forces supposedly explain everything. But what about life? And what about meaning? Do not living organisms have their own “life” force that holds the cells and parts of cells together and regulates their interactions? As for meaning, what holds the words a language together so that they make sentences? Why can’t just any word be combined with just any other? There must be something that makes meaning happen. Can these forces not also be considered “fundamental” forces of the universe? This question is important, at least if we want to avoid “physicalism,” that is, reducing everything to matter.
Let us call the force that turns inanimate matter into living organisms “negentropy” and let us call the force that holds words together to make meaningful sentences and thoughts “power.” In 1944 the Nobel Prize winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger published a book entitled What is Life?. The question arises because living systems do not follow the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that is, the law of entropy. In living systems, order increases rather than decreases. This goes against the law of entropy. Life, therefore, is a fundamentally different form of order than matter. Life is a so-called “emergent” phenomenon which means that we don’t know where it comes from or how it comes into being, but we know it did and that it is very different from the purely physical organization of matter which the law of entropy regulates. In distinction to merely physical organization, which does not negate entropy, life seems to do this. Negentropy means the negation of entropy. Entropy is the tendency of energy to dissipate to equilibrium, that is, the equal probability of all states. For Schrödinger, this was a paradox. How can entropy be negated, and systems move from being less organized to being more organized? Another Nobel Prize winner, Ilya Prigogine, spoke of “dissipative systems” which run energy through their structures much like water running through a mill or food going through the metabolism of organisms. Such systems use entropy to negate entropy.Continue reading