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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology
(1969)

Ianni, Lawrence A.
[Editorial comment: science and art as forms of communication: an inquiry into the place of art in a technologically-oriented society],   pp. [164]-175 PDF (13.2 MB)


Page 168

Some say existence .
Stands still and dances, but it runs away,
It seriously, sadly, runs away
To fill the abyss' void with emptiness.
What the man seems to be suggesting is
that human life comes from a pattern
developed counter to the total progress of
of existence. That is, in terms of
the second law of thermodynamics,
organization or structure - potential
energy, in other words - is a definite form
counter to the total entropic tendency
of the universe. The development
of certain forms in the evolutionary process
is the emergence of what might be called
an anti-entropic enclave, that is, a
turning back of a wave against the total
flow of the stream of existence. As the
speaker in the poem points out, while
this enclave may seem to be a
constant developmental progress toward
greater and greater organization in the
universe, this is not as a general
rule so. He points out that there has
been an expenditure of energy in the
creation of the anti-entropic enclave which
ultimately results in an increase of
entropy. That is, the human demon, like the
168     demon in Maxwell's imaginative
model speculating about the second
law of thermodynamics, will also fall heir
to the vertigo that Norbert Weiner
contends awaits Maxwell's demon as heat
loss occurs. Consequently, the human
species will not be able to function and cope
indefinitely with existence any more
than Maxwell's demon can continue to
indefinitely sort molecules. The speaker
in the poem sums this up just as
surely as if he were talking about the
general heat death of the universe:
Our life runs down in sending up the clock.
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook.
And there is something sending up the sun.
He sees the whole course of human
existence as the development of a tendency
contrary to the flow of the general
course of things in the material world. Yet
there was an expenditure in this endeavor
that makes the effort inevitably doomed
to extinction.
This view is in total accord with the
philosophical implications of the scientific
facts of the second law, for it is
recognized by the scientist that, while the
general tendency of the universe is
toward an increase of entropy and toward
eventual heat death for differentiation
of organization in the physical world,
there can exist at least temporarily local
heightenings of organization with
an increasing diversification of structure
that reverses the progress toward a
totally homogeneously diffused universe.
Man and his way of life quite
obviously fit into the notion of one
of these anti-entropic enclaves. The speaker
in the poem repeats his earlier
recognition of this in saying:
It is in this backward motion toward
the source,
Against the stream, that most we see
ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is in this in nature we are from.
It is most us.
The poem, then, recapitulates entirely man's
history as an anti-entropic development.
The comment by the woman that
they as a couple in their union run
contrary to the normal flow of things,
together with her suggestion that as they
are married to one another they should
conceive of themselves both being
married to the stream, suggests mankind
as a result of greater structuring in
nature. The man's viewing the
stream as he does make clear enough
that whatever significance there is in the
second law of thermodynamics for man's
ultimate fate when one views it as
a scientific concept is just as faithfully
and securely present in Robert Frost's poem.
Just as Maxwell has, Frost has
constructed a model that represents
the total functioning of the second
law. In the various features of the stream,
its counter-swirling wave, and the
other concomitant natural elements, we
have a poetic metaphor which is
the equivalent of Maxwell's
scientific metaphor.
These two treatments of the second law
of thermodynamics emphasize that
both science and literary art use a symbolic
medium of communication. This is a
statement which is simultaneously
over-obvious and easy to misunderstand.
Although it is accepted by even the
most naive that both the mathematical


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