Jun 222012

Recently, a so-called ‘atheist blogger’ of whom I had never heard announced her conversion to Catholicism. Normally this would concern me not at all – the world is full of fools, after all, and what’s one more? And in fact, my current interest will taper off fairly quickly as I watch her Think Very Hard about it all and rationalize what I think she even knows is far more about feeding something in her gut than moving the furniture in her head.

Being, it seems, the intellectually geeky (and possibly mathematically inclined) sort, she presented as one model of her conversion the idea of local maxima in a thought-space defined by philosophic coherence – the idea being, I think, that one should be able to discern fundamental correlations between the features of those maxima and jump, one to the other, without a complete sense of cognitive dissonance.

It’s a clever model. But I think it’s upside down.

In information networks – which can be knowledge networks, which can themselves be models of philosophic systems – the coherence of a system is the inverse of its entropy, and is found in its local minima. The more complete and parsimonious are the connections between nodes (things, data, postulates), the less variant the strengths of those connections, the less disordered is the system.

And when the entropy is at a local minimum, knowledge has become certainty. The model stiffens. Noise has been eliminated and all that’s left is the fixed pattern.

When you’re certain of the patterns, reason becomes ideology. You see this among the newly zealous and the firmly convinced. Their arguments are rituals, not persuasions. The condition of rational purity, of complete philosophical consistency, is the death of living thought and morality.

I cannot live that way. Whenever I find myself falling into an anti-entropic well of this sort, something seems to propel me upward, outward, toward contradiction and chaos and uncertainty. The noise is essential to my life, to how I see my humanity.

Entropy eventually wins, and I like to be on the winning side.


  One Response to “Local Maxima”

  1. Entropy; and gravity, let’s not forget. Though the latter affects the flesh rather than the mind.

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