Just as the constant increase of entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy.
Václav Havel
Entropy Gradient Reversals

Bad Science, No Pictures

I must be more fucked up than I thought. I had a dream last night that I was a kid again and my world was falling apart. I was pleading, begging for it not to happen. There weren't any people I can remember. Instead, there was this intense purple electricity. Whatever was going on, it sure seemed important. I woke up angry. I'm tired of being angry. I'm tired of being scared. It makes me angry.

Maybe it's all just in my head. Always a winning bet. Maybe I'm locked in some lifelong fugue that doesn't relate to anything outside itself. Never sees daylight. Turn it back in, wrap around the wound. I get this psychotic image of an animal suddenly caught in the headlights, eating its own entrails. Hour of the wolf is a fine game to play, an outstanding role -- long as the wolf's not really dangerous, not somehow broken or deranged. But then that's usually the central question, isn't it?

I pretty much know how the world works. I just don't like the way it works. The world is its own darkness. But it disguises itself as clearest day. The way it is. The way it's always been. It's only you and I that just don't get it. Because we're damaged. The logic is seamless, almost beautiful. Almost. All it really needs is something like baptism, some kind of assurance that yeah, you're fucked, but it's not really anything you did. As long as you don't look back, into the darkness you crawled out of, the bad place that birthed you and left you hanging. Umbilicus, omphalos, whatever. Quick, pretend you're not stranded! Even though those strands are all you've got.

What I believe -- sometimes, on a good day, which this is not particularly -- is that I am healing myself of this madness. It is not real, but it's not a dream. Not something I can just roll over and wake up from.

What I believe about my writing -- sometimes, when it's not just flatulent exhibitionism -- is that it's a way to turn those headlights on myself. Not to shock anyone, but to cease ignoring, fearing, hating what I am. After half a lifetime doing that, one day fourteen years ago I stopped. And right before I stopped, I got truly angry. It wasn't anger born of fear, for once, but of understanding. Understanding how I'd been complicit with whatever it is we go along with, buy into, lay on ourselves and others constantly: the shameful guilty knowledge that we are licking our own secret wound in private, in the dark, and no one must ever see. No one must ever know.

Well, maybe not you. Maybe you're what they call well adjusted.

But others -- I suspect many others -- see this freakshow of crippled psyches every day, like some medieval Danse Macabre out of Bosch or Brueghel. Some work in mental hospitals where their patients perhaps see it clearest of all. The phenomenon is hardly limited to institutions though. Its sickened spirit haunts the laboratory and the stadium, the whorehouses and great tabernacles of commerce. It is welcomed outright in those cathedrals still offering salvation, not just Bingo.

Jesus died for your sins, the story goes. You wanted. You craved. You had this gaping need. And because you couldn't hold back, control yourself, he was nailed to a cross for you. Personally. It was very personal. You were involved. There was blood everywhere, not like they show it in the churches. It was ghastly. Visceral. Not something you'd ever want to look at really. Get out the incense and the flowers and the whitewash then. Shine your shoes and comb your hair and straighten your goddam tie!

Did it get off-track someplace? Or was Christianity always just fundamentally weird? Is there a mystery here we really don't, really can't comprehend? Unless we surrender, as they say? And who are these "they" who presume to comprehend enough to say it? Let them cast the first stone. Let them, after Einstein, dice with God.

What I was going to say about writing was... What? Something about art perhaps. I used to think art was just another trick. A crock. Another form of posturing -- just more clever, more obscure. Another pretense to cover up the fact you didn't have a clue what was going on. Now I'm not so sure.

Entropy is simple stuff at base. The stone once cast, rolls down the hill. It stops at the bottom. There is no perpetual motion, no friction-free anything; there's the rub. In a closed system, heat transfer is a losing game. All energic transactions are headed for absolute zero. Steep is the path; downhill the gradient.

But what's this about a closed system? The physicists always throw that in, like some kind of legal rider, some incantatory caveat. Here be dragons -- beyond this point we cannot take responsibility. The thing is, they don't really know, and this is the place they have to admit it. They're talking about the universe, you know. Isn't that great? Science is so cool. You get to say shit about the very fucking universe no less! Not like religion, which is so mysterious and all, so unnecessarily complicated by the things you get to know and the things you don't. Since the Enlightenment, we get to know it all. Except, of course, those bits we can't. Like, for instance, whether the universe is open or closed.

If it was all just energy and mass, it wouldn't really matter much. If it was all just suns and clouds of interstellar gas and light shifting red with nobody there to measure it anyway, I mean, who'd give a crap? It could be beautiful, in a theoretical sort of way I guess. It could be meaningless. Neither of those could possibly count for much unless there was somebody there. But suddenly there was.

Because something forgot to run downhill. Maybe it was some rogue carbon. We can find out what, but not why. Or maybe why, but not how come. There was DNA in the oceans one day that wasn't there the day before, and it was linking, headed somewhere. The fact of the matter, no matter how you cut it: it was headed for us.

Nature abhors a vacuum they say. Now, where the hell did that come from? What an anthropomorphic notion. Moreover, what a peculiarly Western, Northern European, adversarial form of anthropomorphism. Nature, whatever that is, looks around one day and says: man, I just can't stand this vacuum! Motherfucker! And I am surrounded -- no, worse -- I am defined by it.

Seriously, go outside, look up! Between all those stars out there, you know what that is? That's vacuum. And there's quite a lot of it. More than anything else. Of course, the scientists will tell you that's not something you can really say -- "there's a lot of vacuum" -- because it isn't anything at all. It's just "space." But the universe, which must be coextensive with nature -- you'd think, huh? -- and which is mostly space, supposedly hates this space. Abhors it. If you take just this one thing, you can see how a lot of problems get started...

"What? Do you think I'm working this hard just to heat the whole outside? Shut that friggin door!" This is how Dad first explains entropy and the closed universe. It must be closed. Space must be contained by something. Otherwise, there would be -- my god! -- no borders, no boundaries, no Heavenly Kingdom! Bummer.

But it isn't all just energy and mass. Look again at your animal in the headlights. There is something else. Intelligence in the eyes and that purple electricity. There is something awake in there, some urgent purpose. Look closer. This is hard, yes. You're not supposed to even notice it's there. It's not polite to stare. But if you do, you might realize that the animal is not eating its own entrails as you first thought. It is chewing its leg off. The leg that binds it to the trap.

What trap, you say. What animal for that matter. What in christ's name are you talking about? You must be crazy. There is no trap, no animal, no look in its eyes you thought for a second that you might have recognized. It's all just a bad dream. An open and shut case. A shut universe. Go back to sleep. Tomorrow we're taking you to DisneyWorld!

Then what is this pain in here, Mommy?

Don't kids just say the darndest things? They've got that special light in their eyes too. Until it goes out. Until they stop asking those innocent America's-Funniest-Home-Video-type questions, like: Who am I? Where did I come from? How am I connected to those stars up there? Will someone please tell me what this is all about?

We've got to protect our kids from the facts of life. The dirty little secret of how they were conceived. Well, the chemistry is OK maybe, the molecular biology. But you take it to its natural conclusion and -- whoa! -- it's all attached to that thing down there. Nevermind Billy, nevermind Sally, run along and play! And such nice kids, too. But oh, the blood and sweat of it, the awful want. The longing that's never satisfied. The horror, the horror... (June turns abruptly from the disturbing reverie to complete her household chores, knowing Ward will soon return from work to play baseball with the Beaver.)

It's not just the Catholics, either, and their virgin mother who never got laid. The embarrassment runs much deeper. It's there in the whole Big Bang thing too. Funny how they call it that. There couldn't be any, like, Freudian overtones you don't suppose? Just for the hell of it, try asking sometime what happened just before that. Just before everything came slamming out of that singularity 14 billion light years roughly to the north. And the answer is -- ta-da! -- it's all Mind-of-God stuff, kids. Don't ask; don't tell.

That's one edge of the box. The others are a bit more iffy. In fact, it might be open or it might be closed. We're not sure. We are uncertain. But if it's closed, then the energy is running down, running out. Must be closed then, right? Because it's late now and we're getting tired. Because love never works and everyone dies. Because... well, because nature abhors a vacuum, that's why! And the trap closes. The light goes out.

While this has the advantage of not being messy, like the reprehensible agenda of DNA, and not as outright spooky as religion, it's still just too depressing. What are some other options, then? Well, we can remain outside it, we think. Though quantum physics suggests otherwise, we can opt to be observers. After all, what's a little denial between friends? We can separate body from mind, then prove that mind does not exist. We can use logic. We can be objective and precise. We can make fine distinctions. We can be professional about it.

Or we can just shoot smack. One path seems about as legitimate as the other. There is no pain, you are receding...

One way or another, like the guys and gals in the antiperspirant commercials, we can finally be sure. We can reach closure. We can attain certainty about what's outside and what's inside: in both cases, a bounded space that abhors itself. As above, so below. It's not much, but it's a kind of redemption. Something to make the voices stop. And all it demands is a little surrender.

Maybe there's another way, though. I've been thinking about art as a possible candidate. Exploring without knowing. Looking at what's actually there, not what you expect will be. Allowing for the possibility of magic.

Why bother though? Who needs another way? Wow, you forgot already didn't you? Amazing. The fear? The pain? The howling emptiness and desolation? Remember? Oh right, you took two Tylenol and had a nice hot bath and it went away. Lucky you.

Whatever five out of six doctors may say, Tylenol somehow didn't quite do it for me. I never used heroin either, because my junkie friends told me I was a natural, and I believed them. I figured I'd be strung out in a week. I ended up doing mostly alcohol -- and acid. I used to joke that the hangovers kept me grounded. Probably true. But the hangovers were hell. And the high got pretty weird too.

Basically, it just stopped working. That's the worst part about addiction. The shit quits doing what you used to take it for. And then what?

Then you either quit or you OD or you go off a bridge. Bridges are quicker. Anyway, when this happens all you know is: something's gotta give. Which leaves you in a really strange place, because the so-called Real World is a lot different from the world of booze and dope -- or whatever your drug of choice happens to be -- and if you opt to keep on living, you're gonna have to do it somewhere.

But what really pissed me off was the assumption that, if you were going to stop taking, you were also going to have to accept the reality of all those sexless heartless high-entropy androids you found yourself surrounded by and the twisted belief systems based on their weirdass addictions: Money, Work, Fame, Beauty, Sports, Science, Religion, Higher Education, Television, Relationships, Satanic Bondage, General Niceness. The prospect kept me out there a lot longer than I needed to be. Yeah sure, cop, buy in. Make a genuine effort to be a more all-around reasonable human being. Beg their forgiveness for attempting to escape all those wasted years. I never thought they were wasted. Escaping those zombie vampires had always seemed like a good idea to me. In fact, it seemed like a hard-wired survival imperative. After 14 years sober as a goddam hanging judge, it still does.

So the question becomes: is it possible to live in a world that is not pre-defined in the kind of philosophic depth you might expect to find articulated, say, on the back panel of a box of Wheaties? A world that is hugely uncertain and whose principles of operation, if any, are largely unknowable? Well, like the man said, when you got nothin, you got nothin to lose. Why not?

You might end up a little on the feral side. You might have to gnaw a limb off to get free. But hey, you can get around just fine on three legs, trust me. And the best part is: it's your world. No excuses, no bullshit. Somebody fucks with you, they only do it once. Somebody's in pain, you understand they're suffering, not having a bad hair day. Somebody's born, somebody dies, you know who you are, you know what to do. Plus there's luminous night again, the mountains, water, wind, those stars. That amazing light in people's eyes. Coming back in yours.

And you say what you see along the way. That's the art of it. That's the reversal.

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

Henry David Thoreau

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


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     Entropy Gradient Reversals
     CopyLeft Christopher Locke


"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon
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