Q&A: The Proverbial Buzz Kill, plus a “New Physics Theory of Life”

Q: What happened when you got back to your apartment after work?

A: Oh man, let’s see…I biked home from work, went to lock it up on the street (right where I always do) next to where I park my car by Chauncy Lane. This location’s directly under my third-floor-apartment’s desk window, and I often enjoy looking down at my material means of transportation, stationed idle, awaiting their next call to action.

Q: So… what happened?

A: My car was gone. There was a big empty space in place of where my car was supposed to be. No broken glass or anything to suggest a theft, no note, nothing. There was a moving truck about 10 yards in front of the space, and I asked the mover if they’d called a tow truck for my car. No, they had not. I walked 20 yards in the opposite direction, about 10 yards behind where the back of my car should have been. And there, stapled to a tree, was a no parking notice. The sign was flipped onto itself, you couldn’t even see what it said without unfolding it.

Apparently earlier in the afternoon another truck had reserves to where I’d parked my car, and without any other notice besides their assuming I’d see the note they’d latched onto a tree (which couldn’t have been mounted more than a day ago because I’d re-parked the car on the evening prior), my car had been towed. My precious car, where have you gone?

Q: So what? you’re bummed?

A: It’s a buzz kill man! I’m bummed because regardless of the money, regardless of the mild pain in the ass it’ll require getting my car back, I was biking home after work — enjoying my own mind at play — and then… bam: “go figure this shit out before your get too comfortable young man.” Call up the tow locations to see where the car’s at, decide when you’re going to pick up the car, lament about the inordinate fee to reclaim your car, etc. etc…

Q: That’s it? That’s why you’re so bummed?

A: The thought struck me, as I’m walking up the stairs filled with an attitude of discontent: I’m primarily bummed because — simply put — I couldn’t discern any silver lining.

If I get stung by a bee, it’s some random unpleasantness — but at least I can say, with slight conviction, that the bee sting, in it’s own way, is a super small, even insignificant, cultivation of my tolerance for pain, and maybe I’m stronger for enduring it. It’s not much, I know, but it’s not nothing. It’s some slight catharsis to help me move forward with my day. And in the case of my car getting towed I can’t seem (at least right now, in the midst of the emotional ramifications) to surmount my woe in a degree that feels acceptable.

Nietzsche said: “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It’s a nice thought, and in many instances I agree with him. Friedrich was also fond of the stoics notion of Amor Fati, to love fate and cherish everything life throws at us. Again, I’m a fan of this philosophy. It’s about making lemonade out of lemons, not living with regret, dancing with the flow of life undulating through your experience.

It’s just that some things suck. Period. And in many (most) cases, these things can be way more profoundly disheartening than one’s car being towed.

And as I try now to recenter myself, I’m thinking, “even if my tolerance for buzz kills gets strengthened because of this, well, you know, that’s not really something I’m trying to strengthen in the first place.”

For me, the less buzz kills the better. That’s an axiom I’d stencil into stone.

There’s this guy at MIT, Jeremy England, who recently formulated what Scientific American called A New Physics Theory of Life. From what I understand, the premise is that life is a complex process of dissipating entropy. And the most “evolvable” systems of life — be they a cell or a human or a rainforest— are ones that keep entropy low by dissipating it into the environment in productive ways. England is building off two of my favorite scientists work, Erwin Schrodinger, specifically the ideas he laid out in What is Life?, and Ilya Priogine, one of the most under appreciated scientists of the 20th century whose contributions range from dissipative dynamics and the equilibrium of systems, to the cosmological arrow of time (he did win a Nobel Prize, so I guess he’s somewhat appreciated).

England’s stuff is groovy because it also works on the inanimate level, suggesting a smoother continuum in the cosmos between the living and the dead (re: rocks, robots… anything and everything).

Look at the behavior of a plant for a fine example of this theory in practice. Plants takes in energy from the sun, and through it’s creation of a technology we learned in middle school called photosynthesis, builds sugar to sustain itself, and spits what it doesn’t want out into the atmosphere, which actually helps us because it’s mostly oxygen. It doesn’t defy the second law of thermodynamics because the net entropy of the universe still increases, but the plant has harbored it’s own state of coexistence, through which it thrives.

Artists are really good examples of this process. Much of art is simply the process of artists dissipating the flow of entropy infusing their lives through a medium, craft, and product. Ken Kesey took LSD, an entropic shot to the skull, and wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Faulkner usually kept his “whiskey within reach” when he wrote, making literary music out of the madness he grew up with in the deep south.

And both are bad examples because you don’t need drugs or alcohol, art is overwhelmingly a simple feedback mechanism between life and intellect, experience and character. It’s like, “here, you (re: Life) gave me all these thoughts, all these feelings. But I found a signal in the noise, and I made this ‘thing’ as a result.” It’s all about energy dissipation. It’s a fundamental process in the evolution of all beings, things, and universes.

So perhaps writing this is my energy dissipation, and maybe Nietzsche was right, and I’m all the better for it. I just needed to dissipate. Maybe that will be my new excuse when I decline an invitation or something, “sorry I can’t make it, I’m dissipating some shit right now.”

But maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I still have to go get my car.