Does Consciousness Create Order, Reverse Chaos in the Universe?

June 25, 2015 Updated: June 25, 2015

According to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe is doomed.

Part of this law, entropy, dictates that anything left to itself will head toward degeneration, disintegration, and chaos. Though circumstances exist in which order is created, there is said to be a net loss of order; entropy reigns in the bigger picture.

“The universe is defined as a great machine running down and wearing out,” explains general systems scientist George Land of the University of Minnesota and educator Beth S. Jarman, Ph.D., in their recently published book “Nature’s Hidden Force: Joining Spirituality and Science.” As Land and Jarman see it, “This law has created a bleak and dismal worldview that has permeated science, philosophy, and much literature since the 1800s.”

This law has created a bleak and dismal worldview that has permeated science, philosophy, and much literature.
— George Land and Beth Jarman

Land and Jarman are part of an undercurrent in the scientific community looking at how the universe may actually be moving toward greater order. Some say this supreme organizing force may be related to consciousness.

Of course, consciousness is far from being well-understood by the scientific community. And the supremacy of entropy is still held to be a law of physics. But, it is interesting to look at some of the theories, ponderings, and reasonings presented by those who think we’re not living in a great machine doomed to degenerate into chaos.

Princeton University Experiments

Dr. Robert Jahn, dean emeritus of Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, wrote in his book “Margins of Reality”: “Attempts have been made to ascribe to consciousness an entropy-reducing capability that allows it to exert an ordering influence on otherwise random physical processes, thereby reversing their normal thermodynamic tendency toward minimum information and maximum chaos.”

Experiments conducted at Princeton suggest consciousness may indeed contribute to such an ordering process, Jahn said. Researchers at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory began to show in the 1990s that the human mind could influence a machine known as a random event generator (REG). REGs produce either 1s or 0s. They’re like electronic coin flippers, producing two possible outcomes generated at random. Operators were asked to direct their intention at the machine to cause it to produce either more 1s or more 0s. The REG displayed a corresponding tendency toward the choice of the subject at a rate well above chance.

The mind seems to have added some order to the random physical processes.

Important Ordering Events in the Universe

Land and Jarman said that science has ignored “prickly irregularities of nature. The very emergent, creative, and unpredictable phenomena that are the universe’s most important and fundamental drivers.” Not least among the wonders of creation in the universe is the human mind. They wrote: “For all of this to come about from chaotic stardust, it seems that there must be a deep force underneath driving it all.”

Professor of Consciousness Studies Explains

Entropy is said to occur within a closed system, a system which is unable to receive new energy from outside itself. On the other hand, a tendency toward order may occur within an open system, one which is able to receive new energy from outside itself.

Living beings take in energy from outside, for example, so order may increase inside the human body. But, in exchange for creating order within our bodies, we add to the disorder outside of our bodies—we export entropy to the outside world. In the universe as a whole, entropy still increases. This is the widely accepted view in the scientific community.

Dr. Allan Leslie Combs, who is developing a Consciousness Studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, described how the creation of order actually extends beyond the limits currently placed on it.

He wrote in a paper titled “The Evolution of Consciousness as a Self-Organizing Information System in the Society of Other Such Systems”: “The occasional outposts where systems swim upstream like salmons against the entropic current were understood to be in some sense unnatural. These recalcitrant systems included living organisms of all types, and evidently ecological systems as well. Today … it is increasingly apparent that such salmon-like systems are not only common, but the natural and inevitable result of inherent self-organizing processes grounded in the basic architecture of the cosmos.”

Energy currents have an innate tendency to divide into structures “that capture energy and use it to organize even more complex, flexible, and tenacious … structures.
— Dr. Allan Leslie Combs

We are now coming to understand, Combs said, that energy currents have an innate tendency to divide into structures “that capture energy and use it to organize even more complex, flexible, and tenacious … structures.” Shape changes that increase the efficiency of energy flow, such as whirlpools or tornadoes, are a basic representation of this energy-driven evolution.

“The result is a natural cosmos that moves toward increasing complexity when driven by energy concentrations,” he wrote.

A similar increase in complexity and energy concentration is observed in the human consciousness, he said. He looked at psychological processes and the neurological—the physical—effects that undergird them. He cited research that showed these psychological processes are partially chaotic. They are not predictable in detail.

Consciousness, he said, can be understood as a “complex system comprised of chaotic or chaotic-like psychological processes.
— Dr. Allan Leslie Combs

Consciousness, he said, can be understood as a “complex system comprised of chaotic or chaotic-like psychological processes.” The chaos allows for flexibility, but our consciousness draws from the chaotic elements and places them into some kind of order.

As our consciousness grapples with things of increasing complexity, electrochemical changes occur in the brain. “The complexification associated with a conscious experience also involves an increase in energy, though this may be only a small amount,” he said.

“Advances by energy-driven interdependent (complex) dynamics … lead to increasing levels of organization,” Combs said.

Entropy Heightened During Altered State of Consciousness

The ordering effect of consciousness was also explored in a study by researchers at the Imperial College London published in February 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, titled “The Entropic Brain: a Theory of Conscious States Informed by Neuroimaging Research With Psychedelic Drugs.” 

The researchers observed in neuroimaging data that people who had taken the psychedelic drug psilocybin displayed elevated entropy in certain aspects of brain function. They hypothesized that entropy is suppressed in normal waking consciousness.

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