Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Introduction to EntropyPawsed 101 Module 1

The EntropyPawsed project, physically located in southeastern West Virginia, seeks to utilize the Second Law of Thermodynamics, human development, Permaculture, Deep Ecology, medicine, and life experiences to demonstrate how to survive and thrive in the coming years. To date, EntropyPawsed has been described by its developers Frank and Bonnie Gifford as “a nature linked low energy living demonstration site.” Beginning in early 2009, EntropyPawsed will post a series of on-line articles and videos focused on issues and skills relevant to the future. In this way we hope not only to attenuate the inherent contradictions of high energy expenditure travel to promote sustainability, but also add to the growing conversation of how we design for the future.

Within the context of our sheer numbers, at first glance humans seem well equipped for future survival. However, when viewed within the context of the human population growth curve and ecological systems, human actions and reactions of the recent past several decades raise serious questions as to whether we are equipped perceptually to survive in a post industrial world. Systems upon which the vast majority of modern humans rely for basic survival needs - water, food, and sanitation - are often and increasingly centralized and/or fragile. A very real possibility exists for increasing dysfunction and possible collapse of these and other systems integral to modern industrial civilization.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is also referred to as the Entropy Law. Simply stated, Entropy says energy always goes from concentration to dilution. The implications of this simple fact upon science, technology and modern industrial civilization are immense. One might legitimately ask what something as seemingly arcane as entropy has to do with surviving in the future? This concept has proven difficult or impossible to grasp for most, probably because it stands in opposition to our inculcated world views. By taking a patient, open minded approach with the material and references herein, the links of entropy to the future will gradually reveal themselves in their full importance. The concept of entropy was not discovered through theoretical thinking . Rather, its discovery came through observations of steam engines during the Industrial Revolution. Understanding the Second Law through reading can be daunting. While a scientific grounding may seem required, actions and writings of many modern scientists suggest the 2nd Law is not well understood even in the scientific community. Many scientific community supported proposals such as those for a hydrogen economy, biofuels, pervasive nuclear technology, coal slurry impoundments, clean coal, and the introduction of terminator genes in crops, suggest either an ignorance of the 2nd Law, or wishful thinking for a successful violation of it. In fact, the modern human desire to override the 2nd Law is so strong that once the Entropy Law was formulated, Maxwell's Demon, a thought experiment seeking exceptions to it, soon followed. Maxwell's Demon was devised by Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell in 1867. Its sole purpose is to find some way around the Entropy Law. A good starting point for more information about entropy is http://www.secondlaw.com/index.html. Once one has developed a reasonable understanding of the Entropy Law, then the folly of proposals to use biofuels, hydrogen, air, algae, etc...to power a continuance of our auto and truck based modern culture will then be seen as fruitless if not ludicrous. When first assessing notions of entropy, it is important to remember that fossil fuels possess concentrations of potential energy from millions of years of sunlight upon living plants and fungi. A more complete understanding of the Entropy Law yields a possible future that is more agrarian and less industrial. Unfortunately, from some perspectives, the nature of the Entropy Law seems counter to the “American Dream”.

By observing the actions of our political and economic leaders during the extant financial crisis, a potentially unsettling picture develops. To a perceptive observer, it quickly becomes apparent those in charge have an extremely limited palette of insight and responses. Even though a vast multitude of businesses and individuals are in “hock over their heads”, all remedial actions to date seem aimed at providing yet more credit. The majority of these remedial actions unfortunately may well prove counterproductive to any kind of effective longterm response. Diagnoses of the problem tend to revolve around various kinds of assessments of deficit in newly engineered financial instruments, oversight, social conscience, etc.. Is it possible that the financial crisis and resulting economic meltdown are really just symptomatic? Does the combination of resource stringency, environmental degradation, human overpopulation, and climate change play any role in the current crises? These questions beg questions about what it means to be human. How do I perceive the world I inhabit? How is my world view shaped? Unfortunately, from the observed inept responses of our current leadership, it appears no consideration has been given these crucially important questions, likely due to the inability to perceive even the need for such questions.

We see and react to a thunderstorm, but we cannot perceive the dire state of forest health in the eastern United States. The thunderstorm happens quickly, and humans evolved to perceive this immediate threat. Forest health is being slowly, over the course of decades, attenuated by human polluted air and rain. Our lifespans are too short, and the process is too long, for us to notice or it to cause widespread alarm. An answer to this is the development of the ability to observe and understand longer term phenomena. Fortunately for younger generations, there is a group that works exclusively in this area of human perceptions. The entity here in the United States is the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, or ISHK. Robert Ornstein, PhD, a world renowned psychologist, is the executive director. ISHK has a website, http://ishkbooks.com. with a“Recommended Reading” list. Our project, EntropyPawsed, is partly the result of a number of years work with the materials distributed by ISHK. This work's yield is that any of many possible scenarios that seek to leave a reasonable Earth to future generations of living beings includes a critical mass of humans who are aware of what it means to be human, who understand the deficits in our perceptive apparati, and who have learned to consciously remediate perceptive deficits.

EntropyPawsed also utilizes the principles of Permaculture as it provides a design system for sustainable human settlement. David Holmgren, co-founder of Permaculture, observes in his book “Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” that humans know how to live sustainably. For virtually the entire time humans have inhabited this planet humans have lived in this way, except for this very brief instant of the past ten thousand years. The human way of sustainability revolves around indigenous lifestyles. These ideas are often in complete opposition to the inculcated world view of many inhabitants of modern cultures. Most Americans are so strongly biased against this notion it is not possible for them to evaluate this observation on its merits.

Deep Ecology dovetails with Permaculture. In effect, Deep Ecology ties the dis-ease of modern humans to the loss of connection to the natural world, and therefore seeks to establish ways for humans to reconnect with the natural world. For urban dwellers, likely starting places are balconies with plants, city parks and nature trails. For those more fortunate ones who dwell in a rural place, the reconnection with nature is significantly easier to effect; finding a daily walk, naming natural spots based upon observed characteristics, learning to find one's way without a GPS, learning not only the names, but also characteristics of plants you see.

The issue of health is integral to any possible desirable future, particularly one where humans thrive. “Dis-ease” could well be the result of humans living in arrangements for which we are not evolved. In indigenous communities all humans would know all other humans with whom they had contact, for their entire lives, and the connection with the plants and animals of the place where they lived would be strong. The arrival of a wayfarer would have been rare and strange. And yet in modern culture, we continually put ourselves in environments where we know few if any individuals, and where there are few other living plants and animals. Modern airports epitomize this condition. How much stress is created for the individual in these “friendless “environments? Any desirable future incorporates consideration for the health of the individual as well as all living beings, for one without the other is not possible.

Try walking alongside any road in suburban America to experience first hand the level of violence inherent in simple acts of transportation in modern culture. Witness a large track hoe digging up a 200 year old tree, roots and all in one “bite”. Modern humans are inured to violence, so much so that many will subject themselves to extreme depictions of violence in movies like Mel Gibson's “The Passion of Christ”, thinking it is somehow about their own personal redemption. The idea of redemption has merit, however this approach only yields more inurement thereby moving further away from health. Health is the opposite of what today's disease management system strives to perpetuate. Good health is not compatible with maximizing businesses bottom line, whereby chronic illnesses are “managed” rather than prevented.

John Michael Greer writes a weekly blog entitled The Archdruid Report. His essays are informative, entertaining, and thought provoking. In December of 2008 Greer wrote about dissensus. Merriam_Webster Online defines dissensus as difference of opinion. Greer was promoting the idea of allowing differences of opinion to exist, and even embracing them as we explore possible future lifestyles. This was within the context of thinking about our future, and how it may unfold. In nature, the yield of diversity is resilience.

EntropyPawsed embraces dissensus and diversity. It is acknowledged that no other humans would design the EntropyPawsed project quite like Bonnie and Frank have, or even give it the same name. We do not espouse this to be the one right way; just our way. A caveat: Doing one's own thing hopefully means not falling into one or more of the many pitfalls resultant from living in modern industrial civilization. A belief that the Entropy Law can be violated is a serious limiting factor when designing for human sustainability. For the sake of future generations, it is imperative that we learn to design in accordance to the Entropy Law, that we begin to fully understand what it means to be human in a modern industrial civilization, that we begin to embrace concepts of good health and detach ourselves from the current disease management system. We then learn to reject projects that purport success while relying on tacit violation of crucial laws like the Entropy Law, or the Law of Life as espoused by Daniel Quinn. One of the goals of the coming educational series is to describe more fully what it means to be human, and convey how growing up in modern Western civilization has skewed our view of reality. We hope to point out some of the pervasive myths of modern humans, like “technology will save us”, “there is plenty of oil if the price is right”, “all resources are infinitely replaceable”, “human progress is totally a result of human ingenuity”. We will discuss the importance of developing a strong positive but realistic vision of the future, and how by making the fulfillment of our vision our life's work, we find not only deep personal fulfillment, but also create the conditions for leaving a reasonable Earth to the future generations of living beings.

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