Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Encryption and entropy-why works hide secrets, part I

Hieronymus Bosch
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Detail, background, right hand side

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why do esoteric works conceal information?

The answer may surprise you, as it has to do with physics. In exploring this, we'll eventually come to an explanation of the seemingly innocent background of the above painting, which encrypts a great deal of hidden information.

The ordering of information—which is, in its essence, what the creation of all meaning consists of—is essentially anti-entropic. That is, it goes against the absolute and inevitable tendency of all things to devolve towards their lowest possible energy state. In doing so, meaning decays: the structural relationships which impart higher orders, such as crystalline structures (DNA, for example), planetary bodies, etc. either dissipate into cold, inert clouds of gas and lumps of non-interacting matter, or are compressed into impossibly dense balls (black holes.) Meaning, as we understand it, arises when interactions take place; and that can't happen in the lowest energy states.

When we impart meaning—when any higher order is discovered and encoded, as, for example, when a cell reproduces and creates new copies of itself—entropy decreases. In the ordinary state of things, unless more energy is put into a system, eventually it winds down and stops moving, which is why perpetual motion machines can't work.

The same can be said for ideas, which are in their essence a similar ordering of information. Ideas are subject to the same laws of entropy that everything else is; they arise, they live, they circulate, in defiance of natural laws that degrade them and tear them down into constituent elements over time. Unless ideas are constantly invigorated (challenged) they die; it's in the nature of things to need a struggle in order to renew themselves.

There is, however, another way to preserve ideas, and that is to encrypt them. That is, one hides them within other structures.

This action layers a second level of information above the first, original, meaning; that it, it protects and encapsulates the meaning in the original ideas by increasing the amount of information in the system; this is Gurdjieff's "burying the bone deeper," or, as some would have it, burying even the dog itself. The idea here is that an esoteric idea, encapsulated in a second layer of apparently quite ordinary—deceptively ordinary—meaning, is more protected from decay. Ideas, you see, are more susceptible to destruction of their meaning if they are unprotected. Wrapping them in a layer of protection insulates the core, the inner meaning, from the action of entropy. If an idea isn't so protected, when the corrosive forces of the outer world encounter it and begin to act on it, they corrupt it almost at once; whereas if the idea wears a cloak, so to speak, well, it is much less exposed to the elements.


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