The goal of the scientist is to understand the nature of the universe. The fruits of their labor can most benefit the rest of society when the information they generate is transformed from the dichotomous true vs. false framework into a goal-oriented utility framework. In other words, “This is how things work, but what good does that do me?” “How can the discoveries of the scientist help me achieve my goals?”

The laws of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy were first laid out at the end of the 19th century. The original motivation was to explain some very important aspects of our universe. In fact everything that occurs in our world, does so within the confines of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Everything from chemical reactions to life to weather patterns are driven by the continued increase in entropy (randomness) of our universe.  Over the last century these laws have been used to generate better engines, make better chemicals and of course bigger and better weapons. But if they are so universal, are they important to the common individual as well?

Without getting too detailed, the first law of thermodynamics is essentially “There is no free lunch.”  (Matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted from one form to another).  The second law is essentially Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Put another way, the entropy (randomness) of the universe can only increase, so the only way to bring about order in one place is to do some form of work (releasing heat and creating more entropy in the rest of the universe.)  Our highly ordered bodies can only exist because we are constantly feeding them energy to maintain that order.

The main barrier to any form of political activism is overcoming the entropic tendencies in the form of differing ideas among individuals. Getting people with differing ideas “on board” is often an uphill battle because it involves overcoming the entropy of diverse ideas. Often times no volume of dichotomous “true fact” is adequate to change minds. It is often the case that common goals are the catalyst to overcoming entropy.  Chemical catalysts overcome entropy by brining chemicals closer together so they can react more easily. Similarly, focusing on common goals and avoiding dichotomous separations can add to consensus building and make political progress more likely.



I started visiting the Occupy Wall Street site at Zuccotti park in late September. I was curious what the goals of the movement were and the degree to which dichotomous thinking might be interfering. I was also curious if there were a lot of individuals whose goals did not go beyond “I am very upset and I am here to stamp my feet and make a lot of noise.”  What I found there was quite remarkable.

Almost everyone I spoke to could state, in a reasonably coherent manner, what their personal goals were. It was not the simple “Wall street and corporations are bad!!”. It was really “Here are the problems as I see them.”  As for the proposed solutions,
I would say they ranged from liberal progressives who want to see significant
change in our current system to Marxist/anachists who were convinced the entire
system needs to be torn down and rebuilt. There are very deep concerns over the
movement being usurped by larger forces. This is why there is such a commitment
to a horizontal leaderless organization of the movement.

What is most amazing about the OWS movement (and what does
not get any coverage in the corporate media) is the direct democracy process
that is being used (in lieu of leaders) to make decisions and commit to
specific actions. It has its problems at times and it may not always succeed,
but the goal is to come to consensus on issues in a way that allows all voices
to be heard with no one being marginalized. Any one individual can block a
proposal (although it is supposed to be for serious reasons like safety, ethics
or a perceived threat to the movement) and the block can only be over-ruled by
a 90% majority. As a result, it forces the group to search for the proposal
that best reflects the values and opinions of the most members. The assumption
is that simple majority rule can result in 49% being dissatisfied.

What fascinates me about the process is the degree to which it can be derailed by dichotomous thinking and how it forces the individuals to constantly return to the larger goal the group is striving for.  Among the goals of many individuals is to bring this form of consensus building to other aspects of society. I am very excited about this because I see it as a potential step towards a world where dichotomous thinking is identified and rejected when it interferes with achieving desirable goals.

BTW if you think the movement has “fizzled out” just because the encampment has been disbanded, go to the official website (, click on “Groups” and take a look at what the 124 (as of this posting) working groups are up to.