Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Falling Apart

It was that sort of evening.  I was planning on getting to bed at a Ben-Franklin-approved healthy-wealthy-and-wise hour.  I'd read until fatigue took me, and turned in as the rest of the family still puttered about the house.  It was nice and neat and just so, an evening that followed the natural order of household evenings.

But just as I reached REM sleep, our dog started having another seizure and fell down the stairs.  Which we were trying to deal with, when my older son announced that he was starting to feel lousy, and lo and behold, he was running a pretty substantial fever.  Ack, we went, running around as our orderly expectations came apart.

From order to chaos, in less than ten minutes.

Existence, or so we are told, bends towards disintegration.  Chaos is, we hear, the very state and nature of the universe.  Order degrades, and all descends to entropy.  Things fall apart, as the recently deceased Chinua Achebe reminded us.  The universe is slowly, surely, declining, as columnist Michael Gerson wrote in a particularly reflective recent op-ed.

These things are true, and feel ever the more true as the years progress.  Few things remind you more of the gradual degeneration of being from order to disorder than your arrival at midlife, as your body aches and sags and creaksaround.

Yet in the face of that, there's the reality of life.   Not my own life, but life itself, as we can observe it.  Life seems to drive fiercely and intentionally in the opposite direction.  Life moves from complexity to complexity, growing ever deeper and more sophisticated as it grows and evolves and adapts.  From random bitlets of protein to cells to multicellular organisms to social organisms, from the flail-around-till-a-mutation-sticks adaptive spamming of evolution to the intentionality of sentience, life shows a peculiar trend towards more and more elegant systems, as it tacks hard through the waters and winds of chaos.

Life moves, as it moves, against the flow of the second law of thermodynamics, in ways that appear to be non-random.  It is being, standing in relation to being, seeking cohesion and order and continuity and memory.  And knowledge.  And will.  And personhood.

It is possible, I suppose, to consider sentient life as an anomaly, just a swirling eddy in the great current of entropy.

Or it could be something more.  Something that must be part of the system, and that arises from the great completeness of all being.

From purpose.   Or so it feels, even after those times when things have fallen apart.


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