• Issue 106 / July - August 2015

    Open Systems to Avoid Decay

    Ihsan Kose

    Why do natural systems in our universe age? Why do social systems cause errors? Why do both die? Why does inactivity lead to degradation? Why don't flowing waters get polluted but still waters do? Why do certain institutions work like a clock, whereas others fail to develop common sense and die?

    The answer to all of these questions relies on understanding certain laws in the nature. Every existence, from stars to trees, and living to nonliving, is an example of the systems in the palace of our universe.

    Closed systems never engage in any exchange of matter, energy, or information with their environments. There is not any closed system in the universe. For example, a "thermos" can be a partial example of a closed system, since the liquid contained inside it does not get cold or warm quickly.

    Open systems take part in matter, energy, and information exchanges with their environments. Human bodies, plants, and animals are each open systems. For instance, chemical reactions take place under our skin: enzymes constantly move, and blood is continuously flowing; via sweating, body heat is maintained; we exhale and inhale. We feed ourselves with food and beverages for our energy needs. Unwanted materials are excreted from our body.

    These are necessary exchanges, but there can be exchanges for intangible realities such as ideas and love.

    As a guide for understanding systems and as an indicator of irregularities, entropy finds its true meaning in the second law of thermodynamics. The entropy of closed systems increases up to a certain value and remains constant. The higher the entropy, the higher the level of irregularity.

    For example, we are born in an organized state; however, as life continues, it drives our entropy higher and we leave this world at the maximum level of entropy. In other words, we posses a lower entropy when we step into this world. We mature as our entropy gets higher and we migrate into the other world with the ticket of death at the maximum form of entropy.

    When the events inside and outside ourselves are halted, death becomes inevitable. It is through the uptake of materials from the outside world (oxygen, water, food, etc) that entropy slows down, so that we can sustain an average lifespan. An open system allows us to survive.

    If we close the borders and cut our relations with the outer world, open systems are observed to generate entropy quickly, causing an internal disruption that may lead to death. Hadrian's Wall of England, the Great Wall of China, and the Berlin wall of Germany can be presented as examples of detrimental functions. Similarly, the former Soviet Union was a closed system, and the hardships it caused are further evidence that such systems are not natural when they violate the second law of thermodynamics and they are not sustainable.

    It is possible to talk about the entropy of any organization by looking at the level of its irregularity. A loss of variations or tensions within an organization, or an increase in the number of units, may cause an elevation of entropy.

    When a living or nonliving organization approaches the moment of death, or all units become independent or equilibrated, entropy reaches its maximum value and control starts to diminish.

    Conversely, if all units have a perfect interaction with the administrator and each other, this time entropy trends towards the ideal value, which is minimal, and irregularity in the system decreases.

    The flow-use of energy and information is critical in organized structures such as a factory, corporation, school, government, or living organism. Upon the degradation of this state, entropy increases and efficiency decreases. If in this system there is not a structure in which information is stored, and no effective flow of information and energy is present at all stages of the hierarchy, the information from the lowest layer cannot pass through many units on its way towards the administration, and the information/energy flow among units becomes unhealthy. Entropy inevitably increases in such a process. Therefore, to ensure the proper sustainability of all organized structures, the vertical (hierarchic) and horizontal information-energy flow channels must remain open.

    If work-based conflicts are experienced in between certain units in an organization (for instance, the same task is being carried out by several units) or certain jobs are being neglected, this situation refers to a major irregularity in terms of information-energy flow.

    If a great portion of the power remains at the head of the structure, it is easier to make decisions and organizational efficiency is higher. The intensity of power at the lower layers of the organization therefore reduces the effectiveness of the structure, leading to chaos and disruption in information transfers.

    If all units in the organization have the same authority and are equal, they are independent for all matters, this case may be classified as maximum entropy, in other words, the end of the organization.

    Entropy and infinity

    To understand entropy, one must consider its relation to infinity. Infinity points to a place, a situation in which an infinite amount of information is present. We can think of a book as low-entropy, organized structure where letters of the alphabet make up the words by joining together under certain rules. These words form sentences, and sentences compose chapters. Now let's imagine that we cut the pages with a pair of scissors, and then remove words by cutting them away one by one, finally separating the words into letters. Now we are only left with a pile of letters.

    At this moment, let's ask the following question by looking at the letters collected on the table: "What do I have now?" The first answer that comes to mind will be "a pile of very scrambled letters." But in fact, you own more than a pile of scrambled letters, since a high level of entropy also means a large amount of information.

    The collection of letters on the table possesses a very large potential of information. With these letters, not only can the original book be assembled, but many books by combining the letters into different forms; this is just like in the Book of the Universe.

    When the body of each organism that experiences death decays and disintegrates under the soil, it is separated into its letters ÔÇô in a physical sense. Thus, each organism is converted into a potential form of information with its death. Then each part (letter) is employed for various tasks. In other words, the remnants of deceased organisms are used for writing different words, sentences, and books in the universe. This cycle points to an infinite amount of information, and infinity.

    Conversion from state to state

    We are moving in a state of flow towards a maximum state of entropy, carried by the execution of natural laws. In this process, almost everything is transformed from one state into another. Instantaneous renewal and growth occurs. There are parameters that we can affect in addition to the ones we cannot. For instance, once cells reach a specific size, they divide into smaller units and growth starts again. Firms, stars, and living things are like that, too. These are systems that lose energy (dissipative systems).

    These systems are constantly transformed into newer states and certain dynamically-stable statuses are built. Transformations occur by arriving at branching points and many alternative states may be possible at these divergence points. Some of these states may be beneficial for the system, and some are not. However we do know that maximum entropy and making selections, whether good or bad, at the divergence points is a result of the second law of thermodynamics. For this reason, efforts to remain constantly in the stable states, which we describe as "balanced," will mean death in some way. Try not to change, if you like. Eventually, you will witness your break down and degradation. We now recognize that human society should act as an open system. To be able survive many years, both materially and spiritually, then the exchange of information and energy should take place in a natural fashion. The spiritual guidance of the masters of faith and thought in human history teach us to be in compliance with this nature.

    Furthermore, all these incidents remind us each time that balance in its absolute meaning does not exist in this world, and that it will be established somewhere else.


    Hershey, Daniel. 2010. Entropy Theory of Aging Systems, Imperial College Press.


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