Sunday, October 16, 2022

What emergence theory can tell us about how we might save ourselves from global warming in our time - and entropy at the end of time.


Integral calculus can’t save us from global warming, much less from entropy. But, through its relation to synthesis and systems emergence, it can help us identify our best shot at saving ourselves.

by Ira Straus


Setting our differential language right-side up and perceiving emergence


Rational scientific language should translate directly into public language, not inversely. But sometimes scientists talk as if we were going up the down staircase. It confounds communications with the public, and can obstruct their own intuitive grasp of the implications of what they’re saying. We will find striking implications in differentiation, if we set its numerical tagging right-side up.


In a right-side-up mathematical language, our tag-numbers would go up as we move up the chain of integrals. Negative numbers would be used for moving down the chain of differentials. Going up in levels, we would speak of the 1st integral, 2nd integral, 3rd integral; going down, we’d say the -1st integral (or -1st differential), -2nd, etc. -- instead of the usual 1st, 2nd and 3rd differentials. (A compromise symbolic language, (-) 1st, (-) 2nd, (-) 3rd differential, might mollify mathematicians, but gets us only partway there to intuitive reality.)


This change from + to - signs has implications that do much to clarify our problem of global warming.


In systems theory and emergence theory, one moves up a chain of emergent systems, or down a chain of reductions to their constituent elements. Integration is akin to climbing to the higher levels of organization of reality. Differentiation is akin to the going into lower levels of analysis of reality.


“Integration” relates to “synthesis”, “emergence”, “meta”, and “system level”.


“Differentiation” relates to “analysis”, “reduction”, “unit level”.


We operate daily on a fairly high system level or synthesis level.


It can often be enormously helpful to analyze a problem down to a unit level, where precise explanations are sometimes possible. But even more often, the higher, systems levels of integration are more meaningful and relevant for what is important to us; analysis downward is only used as an aid to this.


“Emergence” is a phenomenon that affects the operationally relevant level of analysis. This is true no matter even if it is only the weak form of emergence. Strong emergence means the hypothetical development of a system level whose behaviors are even in theory irreducible to the unit-level behaviors, or, in its maximal form, the system provides a vehicle sufficiently complex for a spirit-consciousness to emerge from or enter into it and have a free will that transcends all material reductions. Meanwhile emergence is demonstrably observed all over the place in weak form; it is the emergence of a system level whose rules are very different from those on the unit level, and that it is a waste of time to reduce to calculation of the unit level motions, as those calculations would sometimes require almost infinite computer space and time before they could describe or predict phenomena or describe how interventions into them would function, while predictions can instead be made and proposed interventions analyzed, fruitfully and in real time, by thinking in terms of the system-level patterns of interaction.


Which is fundamental, the higher or the lower? Does the gene exist to generate and reproduce the sentient organism, or does the organism exist and learn to think and become skillful in order to reproduce the gene?


It is an eternal philosophical debate. The advances of science provide reasons to think of the lower level as fundamental, but there can be no proof. It could be the ultimate task of humanity to find a way to make the higher level fundamental, by saving the universe with it. And it can be argued that only on the highest level can we find intrinsic value.


Mathematical integration rises in levels in a precisely calculable manner, but only within a limited abstracted context. It requires isolating a variable so one can integrate over it without interference from extraneous factors. Differentiation does likewise. Between the two, differentiation more easily isolates its variable: it works on an instantaneous, infinitesimal level. By contrast, integration expands the time and space over which it operates, letting in more opportunities for interference. As a further confounding factor, the provision of time for interaction of the units often creates an emergent system level that is not predictable from the unit level. It might be predictable that some unspecified new kind of system might probably come into being, given enough time, but it is usually through experience and observation, or running simulations, that one learns what specific kind of emergent systems to predict. Chaos science adds to the complexity and difficulty of meta level prediction through unit level analysis.


In other words, the real world is prone to introduce complications into integration. For integration over time in the real external world, as distinct from on paper, additional variables keep protruding into the picture -- the more the time, the more the intrusions. Differentiation over infinitessimals of time can often easily ignore other real world variables. Integration for calculating emergent phenomena would have to add a vast array of multivariate complications to the calculation. Further, the variables might interact in new system-forming ways that we fail to anticipate at all.



That is the underlying reason why, as we integrate upward toward climate consequences over the several differentials from emissions cutting to the warming itself -- from slowing the rate of increase in global emissions, to ceasing that increase and moving toward fewer emissions (= slowing the increase in atmospheric carbon and the acceleration of global warming), to ending emissions and turning emissions-negative (= lowering atmospheric carbon and slowing the warming) to reaching an atmospheric carbon level that ceases warming and begins de-warming (= slowing the icecap and tundra melting) to cooling the atmosphere enough to cease and even reverse the melting -- the accumulated time interval can enable other external factors to enter the picture and upset the effects on higher integrals that are the things we truly care about: the warming and melting.


And in fact, given time, the feedback loops of the warming will inevitably kick in. Given enough time, they will nullify the effects of the anti-emissions policy: they will actually add to warming, by reducing the earth’s ice-based albedo (reflectivity) and by releasing new masses of greenhouse gases (methane). This would render the entire anti-emissions effort futile and indeed, a distraction from actually dealing with the real-life problem.


This indicates again how important it is to deal with the warming and melting on their own levels -- meta-levels several steps above current emissions -- in the immediate future, and not rely solely or even primarily on current programs on reducing emissions. It is the only way to have the time to make the anti-emissions programs work.


And what about the levels of social organization? Or the levels of research? Are they also a chain of integrals or differentials?


No, not literally, with precise integration from lower to upper levels. But yes, approximately and metaphorically. Social organization has meta levels and lower unit levels. Their interrelated higher and lower levels could be imagined as integrals and derivatives of each other. To be sure, we would have to become infinitely multivariate in our calculus here, in order to capture anything close to the complexity of reality. But, as long as we are talking metaphor not precise mathematical integration, we can continue with the thought experiment.


Everything is a part of a global system encompassing multiple levels, which in our metaphor are levels of integration and differentiation. Mutual organization is an integral of individual human beings; multi-group societies are integrations of their groups, a matter much discussed in theories of ethnic integration and theories of international integration. Education and research systems are integrals of individual human intelligences. Research and science are derivatives of overall societal capacity and accrued learning. Biology is an integral of chemistry, chemistry is an integral of physics, physics is an integral of mathematics; mathematics is like an integral of logic.


Frege in fact tried to turn our human arithmetic into a precise, reducible meta level of formal logic. Russell found a paradox in this and tried to do it again, in a more sophisticated manner, with a clear division between unit and meta levels to avoid all paradoxes, and an even deeper reduction to logic. Godel threw a monkey wrench into the project, by generating true propositions in Russell’s formal system, and any extension of it, that were not finitistically resolvable or provable -- except that they could be known to be true on a very different kind of meta level, that of human understanding outside of the formal logic system. Unless and until we find all the connecting links between the level of logic and the level of human intelligence, the idea of a meta level as an “integral level” will remain an imperfect metaphor.


The sphere of knowledge -- the “noosphere”, first understood by the biochemist Vernadsky and by the theologian Teilhard de Chardin -- encompasses the self-organization and integration of the knowledge we have found, together with its knowledge-bearing entities. It is a high-level integral, perhaps the highest. Mathematics and logic are bottommost derivatives.


Our task is to preserve our noosphere -- our highest integral -- undamaged as we work our way upward out of global warming. We may fail if we work steps by step from the lowest differentiated levels of the problem of global warming to the warming itself. SRM, if it comes into being as a way of making it in time to overcome the higher integrals of the warming problem, will operate on the main level itself; it will be an evolution within the noosphere, a part of its self-organization for regulation of its own consequences.


In logic, we should have always been seeking the answer primarily on this higher system level of the warming itself, not primarily, much less exclusively, on the lower differential level of its unit causes. It is one of the basic tenets of systems theory that the meta or emergent level has its own rules for prediction, analysis, and management, rules that bear no resemblance to the rules of interaction and analysis on the unit level. The main operationally workable cure for a problem on a meta level is generally to be found on that level itself, or an even higher meta level, rather than on the lower or reductive levels.


Applying this to the cure for global warming, one would have to conclude that the first and best place to look for the cure is on a level similar to the warming itself, by means such as solar radiation management. One should also look at lower reductive levels such as the unit carbon inputs into the system and ways for reducing them, but one should expect this to be a secondary approach and not the main cure, nor even the optimal one.



The injection of energy into a group of units enables them to interact and develop into complex systems. Life and thought emerge on planets infused with heat. Great infusions of energy can however lead to a phase shift; and while this can be a shift into a higher system, a phase shift can more easily be a collapse to a less complex system, by erasing essential components of the existing systems. This is the danger from global warming: failure to manage the energy use, to keep its growth from producing destructive phase shifts. Rising waters create floods that destroy sophisticated things in flooded areas. Feedback loops can create chaotically ill-predictable (not predictable by calculations that can be made in time to be relevant) accelerations of rise in water or in temperature. Change is not good. It is also not bad. It is indifferent. But it can more easily destroy than create.


Society is a complex meta-system of humans. Energy inputs -- the human harnessing of energy -- enable it to grow ever more complex, starting with the harnessing of diffuse sunlight and growing more concentrated and sophisticated with time, getting to windmills and watermills, biomass, fossil fuels, and nuclear; and in the future, potentially, fusion and antimatter. Sharp reduction in society’s energy level would bring a collapse of complexity, down to a lower level of society, with fewer amenities and cruder, more brutal behaviors.


Today’s complex society can be collapsed both by too much and too little energy: too much absorption of diffuse energy for the climate to stabilize, too little use of concentrated energy for the society to function. It is a dilemma. Is there a way through? Reversion to more harnessing of diffuse energy is being tried, requires harvesting it over vast natural spaces and creates other environmental risks, and is proving insufficient to solve the problem. Nuclear energy was a way through that was refused after the 1960s, carries political risks, and takes time to revive. Carbon capture and storage may work in a future when fusion energy is available to fuel it. Solar radiation management is the way through that is most available at this time, and is insufficiently researched. If it proves too risky after honest research, or continues to be delayed and rejected on political grounds, we will be in trouble.


The ways we know for destroying the universe -- vacuum decay of the Higgs boson, which would collapse the universe (or at least all parts of it reachable at the speed of light) into an undifferentiated, uninteresting mass; possibly strange matter could destroy it too -- are on the lowest differentiated microscopic scale, even if they were figured out on the highest mental synthesis level. This is not hopeful for the idea of salvation through differentiation and reductive learning.


It is nevertheless possible that the ultimate salvation of the universe from entropy could be found in the same way, by differentiations that figure out the lowest level of elementary particles -- figuring them out by using the highest level of mind, to be sure -- and discover how to re-organize them to avert entropy. However, this would have a hard time avoiding the problem of New Genesis: that it overlays the existing universe with a new one, destroying all the information in the existing universe, rather than perpetuating its existence.


It is also possible that salvation could come on the meta level primarily, by processing, on the highest mental level, our information about the universe, and thinking about the multiple potential emergent levels this information can be organized to generate. Mind generates syntropy (negentropy), i.e. self-regenerating organization, but within a limited space thus far, at a cost of increasing the entropy elsewhere. It is possible that mind could figure out how to overcome this limitation. We’ve only known of entropy for a brief time in our span of history, after all, and have already redefined it to save the concept from its original defects. We have trillions of years to come, in which we will surely refine the concept further and maybe figure out ways around it.


Already there are some promising beginnings. There is the theory that it could be possible to generate successor universes, mini-universes, and sub-universes. This would put us in the position of the Creator, or the simulator in the Simulation Hypothesis. And it is of course entirely possible that this universe had such a creator-simulator, an an “extra universial” so to speak, and could be saved by its intervening to modify the program. Several religions offer a version of this.


We will stick here to salvations that we ourselves could generate, without relying on an extra-universial savior to interpose. Perhaps we could suck the dark energy out of the universe -- the energy that is driving the universe to faster and faster red shift and entropy -- just as we will someday be able to suck the carbon out of the atmosphere. But the universe is a big place. Maybe we could save our local universe that way. Maybe another intelligent life in other local universes might figure out how to do the same in their sector of the universe.


But for now, we haven’t figured out yet how to save the universe. We might someday. We’re faster on finding ways to destroy it. Not because we are trying to, but because it’s easier.


It’s always easier to destroy than to create. Looking for ways to create always leads also to ways to destroy -- usually to ways that can destroy faster and on a more massive level than the ways we find to create. It is the curse of mind.  We have not figured out how it would be possible to regulate research so that its creative potentials outweigh its destructive ones.


Possibly the generation of mini-universes and sub-universes will lead to to the creative outweighing the destructive anyway. For, while destruction has always been much easier than creation, the far more widespread will to help each other and create has outweighed this most of the time. Perhaps it will continue to do so, with us creating new universes. Perhaps we’ll blow up this one, but have left a lot of legacies this way; and they’ll be fruitful and multiply, too. Saved by our own version of the principle of fecundity!


Fecundity is a theological principle derivative from the infinity of the potency contained in God. In his plenitude of love and creative will, God must of necessity create everything he is capable of creating. Perhaps it is we who have the unavoidable compulsion to create. If it is possible, it is inevitable. Both the construction and the destruction, but with the fecundity outpacing the ruin, Eros beats Thanatos, not because Eros is easier but because there is so much more of it: it reaches the core of our will, perhaps it is The Will of Schopenhauer. If fecundity prevails, curiosity will save the cat; it goes ahead with its exploratory hopes and figures it or its progeny will have eight more lives left over anyway.


I give the last word to Isaac Asimov. In a sense he was just carrying and management of solar radiation to its logical conclusion in his essay, “The Final Question”. That question was: Could entropy be reversed? Or is it all in the end futile? He peered into the bleak time trillions of years hence, when the stars and black holes all peter out in entropy. If salvation for the universe could still come, it would be on the highest meta level of integration of knowledge: in the light of our minds and spirit. The noosphere had become embedded in a global supercomputer, then an interplanetary mind as we harnessed all the energy coming from the sun, then a galactic mind, finally a universe-spanning supermind. It kept wondering whether entropy can be reversed and the universe saved. It kept finding the data insufficient to answer the question. Entropy marched on. The last sentient beings expired, merging without loss -- somehow swallowed up federatively -- into the superintelligence. The universe-mind had gathered all the possible information of the universe and still lacked sufficient data. There was no more differentiated information being generated by the universe. Mind was alone in hyperspace, alone with an infinity of time to examine all combinations of all possible information bits, all the ways of integrating it, every possible level of emergence atop it. At last it found the answer, and said, “let there be light”.


And there was light.




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