Cultural Systems and Useful Entropy

Even apparently useless phenomena usually have an implicit purpose or reason to exist. It just requires a little lateral thought to untangle the complexity a little…

Consider the entropy of white noise and audio chaos which envelops a sporting spectacle: this is a constitutive instance of a generalised class of “useful entropy” generated around these cultural, information-processing and communications gravitational centers. There are of course other forms of entropy, other layers or orders of abstraction and accumulated waste-product which orbit such effective cultural centers of gravity. What is particularly interesting about all of this is that a large amount of the waste and excess generated around cultural entities is not entirely dissassembled into randomness and unrecoverable noise; it manifests or implements a loose utility and recyclable function.

The intransigent and unintelligent rubbish propagated by mass advertising, utterly pointless home-improvement competition serials and the contrived romantic encounters of batchelor island getaways with all of their manufactured drama and empty intellects – these are also waste products. They are the unintentionally necessary methods through which commercial culture reproduces itself. The mandatory entropic cost and ultimate dissolution of order and systemic continuity can only be countered to any plausible extent by the production of such useful entropy, of a low-grade waste product that is not entirely without functional utility or regurgitative purpose.

Organisational systems, dynamical non-linear patterns of emergent complexity and complex environmental or relational matrices cultivate reflexive methods of countering their own inevitable decomposition into disorder by displacing or delaying the inevitability of decay back into internal systemic or external environment-recyclable waste products, generally identifiable by their low-quality and mass-production. Information and communications systems are no less subject to (or demonstrative of) this decay than are mechanical or other material systems but the potential complexity of the systems allows for an extensible logical problem-space of manoeuvre or dimensional freedom through the production of functionally recyclable sub-components.

The patterns, relational symmetries and oscillating cycles underlying the self-propagating rationales and logic of (sufficiently complex) organisational systems instantiate themselves much like a Mexican wave passing through a crowd at a large-scale spectator sporting event: it is through an elementary cybernetic algebra of iterative self-replication and recursive self-propagation that every element of a system serves a useful purpose and that the ontological boundaries of any arbitrarily-defined system are measured by the extent to which those systems form channels and paths through which other systems, patterns, information, energy and useful (!) waste-products pass, causatively inflating and energising the host-systems. (The really interesting layers of abstraction assert themselves where the systems and logics begin to be observed, or may be successfully described, in some enigmatic logical manner as passing “through themselves”.)

We may not overtly know why some phenomena actually occur (and in general these deeper layers of things rarely happen for, or towards, any trivially-selfish human goals or ends) but in the case of cultural and information-processing systems, there is usually an underlying purpose or derivable under a systems-theoretic analysis and logical reason, if you are willing or able to develop sufficient insight or creative abstraction to be able to conceptualise it. This indicates that at a cultural level that we collectively produce all the intransigent garbage and waste that we do precisely because it serves a purpose at some (not necessarily consciously-selected or even visible) level.

In the longer run, the casino always wins and waste as heat and randomness is the likely inevitable fate of all ordered and usefully-complex systems but on that long, slow (yet, perhaps, also accelerating) civilisational degeneration into self-dissassembly, we can witness the production of autonomous and self-propagating sub-systems and microcosms of mass-produced, low quality and usefully recyclable organisational waste product. The implication here is that there is an underlying symmetry and logic to all of this and that this is also (and fundamentally) an exploitable information entity, system, dynamic symmetry or process.

Postscript: I am not keen to attempt to define how a specific waste-product may be useful; more, to indicate that these products exist at many layers and levels of constructive abstraction. Political farce, for instance, serves purposes that are not always immediately apparent to us as interpreted or attributed globally-systemic goals of self-continuity. Individual actors are as much (if not more often) blindly “chosen” or “selected-for” by a larger global-systems context and imperative for self-propagating cultural and information processes as they are in any sense individuals acting purely in their own interest.

There are of course always many interpretations (which is a fundamental beauty of our creative minds). Of specific interest in a logical and holistic complex-systems interpretation of cultural and similar massively-distributed information-processing systems: there are very many potential slices of the possibility-space, very many possible assertions of significant centers of gravity.

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