Read that word in an absolutely fascinating excerpt from the new book Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman.  Didn’t know what it meant either and it wasn’t in my dictionary.  Tried to look it up in my digital OED but it locked up.

Courtesy of Google found that non-ergodic refers to a set or group or system, the universe say, that is incomprehensible by study of a single aspect or earlier state.  Ever since the Big Bang, the universe has been expanding and evolving.  One could not extrapolate its current state based upon its early arrangement any more than examination of a slice now would tell us much about the whole a billion years hence.

Kauffman is an atheist who wants to understand the nature of the universe.  At its earliest why did the atoms combine as they did?  Darwin’s theory of evolution tells us a lot about our biosphere, but what about before there was anything to evolve? How did the first reproducing cell form?

Framing the question with an example, he tells us that there are twenty different amino acids and 20 to the power of 200 possible combinations thereof to make a length 200 protein.  It would have taken ten to the power of thirty-nine times the age of our universe to make each of them once. Why did the ones that formed come into being and not any of the other possible combinations?

Kauffman began his quest with genes.  He earned his MD at UCSF and undertook research into genetic expression.  He found that they exist “on the edge of chaos” and that “the proper functioning of an organism depends upon its self organization and regulation”.  A trait does not come fully formed from a single gene, but from their interaction.  “Health is just a moment of stability in a very uncertain cellular world.”

The principles of self-organization found in complexity theory play an important creative role in the evolution of the universe, our biosphere, our genome, and our existence. It describes the behavior of systems that are sensitive to initial conditions, but evolve unpredictably over time.

The above Mandlebrot fractal is an example of a complicated structure arising from a simple set of points, a formula, and repeated iterations.  A slight difference in the points and formula would have led to significantly different evolution.  (cf the butterfly effect)

“Thus a radical and I will say, partially lawless creativity enters the universe.  The radical implication is that we live in an emergent universe in which ceaseless unforeseeable creativity arises and surrounds us.  And since we can neither prestate, let alone predict all that will happen, reason alone is an insufficient guide to living our lives forward.  This emergent universe, the ceaseless creativity in this universe, is the bedrock of the sacred that I believe we must reinvent.”

“What about all the aspects of the universe we hold sacred – agency, meaning, values, purpose, all life and the planet?…One response is that if the natural world has no room for these things, and yet we are unshakably convinced of their reality, then they must be outside of nature – supernatural…”

“The ground of our existence, then is not to be found in physics alone, but also in the partially lawless becoming of the biosphere, econosphere, culture that we self-consistenly co-construct.”

A universe not understandable by reductionism? Nor by a grand patron in robe and slippers?  Kauffman gives us a radical appreciation of an unpredictable creativity that underpins and leavens our cosmos.

*Interesting (to me anyway) Kauffman was president (in 1961) of the same mountaineering club as was I (1974).  Makes me wonder anew about the field of embodied cognition to which I referred  in “Let’s Dance” 1/24/08 below.  Kinesthetics, adventure, and cerebration  can combine to powerful effect.

**Dang if he didn’t figure out how to get paid to sit around staring off into space while I still need my day job.   Teaching at Harvard this spring,  he heads the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary.

2 Responses to “Non-Ergodic”

  1. Andrew Says:

    An important part of any non-linear or self-organizing process is its rigor. In an emergent process there are few things you can define. So it is important that those rules decided upon are valid ones. The rest is left to unfold and emerge in the system that it lives in referring only to its governing rules for guidance.

    Everything follows an emergent process, including; lightning storms, the expansion of the universe, ant colonies, cancers, personal relationships, sprawling of cities, weathering of a building, etc. Everything.

    Scale is another important factor. For example, each one of our lives is an emergent process. And our lives are part of the emergent process of a community, and that of the nation, and our nation of the world and the world of the universe. In order to determine what a design is responsible for you have to know what its scale is.

    If you picture your own life as an emergent process (which it is) then what is tits rigor? what are the rules? That i believe is the only part we actually can control. The rigor is who you are and what traits are important to you. If you make decisions based on that the rest will unfold around you.

  2. Andrew Says:

    this reminded me of a bukowski poem i like.

    so you want to be a writer?

    if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
    in spite of everything,
    don’t do it.
    unless it comes unasked out of your
    heart and your mind and your mouth
    and your gut,
    don’t do it.
    if you have to sit for hours
    staring at your computer screen
    or hunched over your
    searching for words,
    don’t do it.
    if you’re doing it for money or
    don’t do it.
    if you’re doing it because you want
    women in your bed,
    don’t do it.
    if you have to sit there and
    rewrite it again and again,
    don’t do it.
    if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
    don’t do it.
    if you’re trying to write like somebody
    forget about it.

    if you have to wait for it to roar out of
    then wait patiently.
    if it never does roar out of you,
    do something else.
    if you first have to read it to your wife
    or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
    or your parents or to anybody at all,
    you’re not ready.

    don’t be like so many writers,
    don’t be like so many thousands of
    people who call themselves writers,
    don’t be dull and boring and
    pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
    the libraries of the world have
    yawned themselves to
    over your kind.
    don’t add to that.
    don’t do it.
    unless it comes out of
    your soul like a rocket,
    unless being still would
    drive you to madness or
    suicide or murder,
    don’t do it.
    unless the sun inside you is
    burning your gut,
    don’t do it.

    when it is truly time,
    and if you have been chosen,
    it will do it by
    itself and it will keep on doing it
    until you die or it dies in

    there is no other way.

    and there never was.

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