Cesar Hidalgo’s book, “Why information grows” is trying to untangle a very big issue by looking at a very simple problem (at least in appearance). How do small things (cities, economies, groups) get complex when most other things in nature tend to decay over time? A large rock, left by itself, over time cracks, breaks, and washed by rain and blown by winds turns into sand. A small family can over time turn into a dynasty or state. See the House of Habsburg or Osman. A small city can grow to become a world metropolis. See Singapore. Hidalgo believes that the world of humans, especially economies, are sophisticated information engines “Economies become distributed computers, made of networks of people, and the problem of economic development becomes the problem of making these computers more powerful.” I find the computer simile provoking, yet reductionist. Hidalgo’s proposition hides a much more abstract problem: if the second law of thermodynamics predicts the ultimate demise of the universe in a state of sameness and lukewarm entropy, why is life, natural and social, going in the opposite direction? If the world of humans is the apex of life, our success as a species, which includes the creation of cultural artifacts (in the anthropological sense), is our ability to defy and beat back entropy. But why do living organisms and cultures strive to become increasingly complex and their societies more and more unpredictable and negentropic? The simple answer could be that the universe is a reciprocal engine, in which evolution is the reverse of entropy, and that the second law of thermodynamics goes hand in hand with the law of evolution. The flow of physical world according to the principle “panta rei” to a state of maximum stability and predictability seems to engender and support as a compensatory mechanism the evolution of life and consciousness. The universe is not just an everflowing river, but a river that was created to power a watermill. The mill of life and culture. The more the river flows, the more complex the mill becomes and the more refined its products. The universe is run not by one law, that of decay, but by a more complex, two pronged law, that demands a compensatory force to keep the world in balance. As the world becomes more entropic, it generates information as a reciprocal action. Information and its “complexification” are the “bright side of the force” fighting the “dark side” of entropy. The old idea of a necessary “ying” and “yang” balance becomes more relevant than ever. The only unclear question is “what happens at the end of time”? When entropy would’ve run its course, would the world of life an consciousness come to its ultimate realization as a noosphere, as proposed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin?
Sorin Adam Matei
Sorin Adam Matei – Professor of Communication at Purdue University – studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei’s teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).