Social Reorganisation: Lessons from Physics and Nature

All ordered organisational systems are engaged in an endless competition with (and of) disorder and entropy; it is a race to weave order and patterned persistence from available resources while the other end of the tapestry continuously unravels into largely unrecoverable waste and loss. These organisational systems aspire to a relatively stable or constructively adaptive material form of information and energy flow. A characteristic feature of organisational pattern and symmetry is that of increasing complexity (of technology, or hierarchical administration, of environment and context).

Increasing complexity brings with it increasing information. Increasing information also brings increasing entropy and potential disorder. The more moving parts or components that a system has, the more possible disordered states it also has. Systems tend to drift into disorder over time as a matter of physics, of probability and perhaps also – as a matter of logical necessity.

The number of components of any system is proportional to the number of potential disordered states of that system. A house of cards is an ordered state. A heap of randomly distributed cards is a disordered state. The more cards there are in the initial house, the greater the number of potentially disordered and randomised configuration of the cards after it has collapsed. The vast number of possible disordered states (and the even greater number of paths that lead to them) in any ordered system represent the degrees of freedom of that system.

Naturally-occurring material, biological, ecological systems successfully recycle disorder and entropy as an autonomous process. Open systems tend towards their own optimally-concise and self-propagating information and energy-processing solutions – we might recognise life and sentience as being manifestations of this. Human organisational (and cultural) systems in general attempt to maintain order by treating entropy as external or environmental and contextual system properties, displacing costs and losses to that environment. In defying the endemic and ubiquitous presence of systemic disorder, we displace it into an environment as “someone (or somewhere) else’s” problem and a future cost to be negotiated at a later date. When systems are analysed holistically – all entropy, turbulence and disorder reveals itself as an internal property of that Global system and all attempts to displace those costs to an external system, context or environment are demonstrably and necessarily futile.

This is why the human world is in such an apparently intractable mess. The degrees of freedom and paths into entropy, thermodynamic equilibrium or semantic and semiotic meaninglessness always outnumber the ordered configurations; entropy is inevitable but a combination of psychological immaturity and (its corollary of) ideological intransigence leaves us all in a very bad place. Natural systems – ecological, metabolic, homeostatic – have autonomously cultivated their own best solutions to the inevitability of disorder and information or energy loss from any notionally individuated organisational system. The best organisational solutions are holistic and occur not as a result of forced analysis and austere planning. Optimal solutions are generally those almost entirely self-propagating patterns and symmetries of information and energy flow which the world is implicitly oriented towards through physics and the self-organising biases of complex systems.

Nature has a lot to teach us about how best to organise our societies and maintain our Global civilisation, if only we would listen.

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