(Originally published on Quora on March 16th, 2012)
I used to think that “What is the meaning of life?” is a misguided question, because it assumed the existence of a creator with an intention or a plan, which I never thought was warranted.
But I’ve come to realize that there’s a different way to think of meaning. I think when we ask “what is the meaning of life?” most of us really mean “How should I interpret life in the grand scheme of things? And what value should I assign it?” I think those are very good questions.As a confirmed Atheist, I nevertheless spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about life, its meaning, and how this meaning should guide us in our everyday lives. It’s almost a personal obsession of mine.
What follows is my best attempt at a universal “meaning”:
You are an intelligent being, and intelligent life is the latest, most awe inspiring stage in universal evolution. Its birth was the moment in which the universe has evolved the sufficient complexity to be able to perceive, direct, and re-imagine itself, and this process is only beginning – through you.
From the first micro-second of its existence, the universe has been a vast though inanimate battleground between two universal mathematical trends: order and chaos, creation and destruction, syntropy and entropy.
Your life, and human life in general, represent the universe’s single best hope in the battle against randomness, entropy, and chaos; the single best reason to believe that creative forces, order, and harmony will prevail.
The way to fulfill this promise is to think and act like an intelligent being. To find a use for that marvelous brain of yours in the service of progress. To create things that are good and useful. To empower others to do the same. And to be happy, truly happy, because that’s the only way to make sure that you are not a force of entropy after all.
Syntropy is the opposite of entropy.
It is the appearance of order out of chaos. The self-organizing tendency of matter, over long periods of time. The tendency towards greater complexity and harmony that occurs naturally and counteracts the universal law of entropy, in living systems as well as inanimate constellations.
The term is not in common use. A more common name is “Negentropy”, or “Negative Entropy”. Wikipedia describes the term’s evolution as follows:
The concept and phrase “negative entropy” were introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1943 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores it. In 1974, Albert Szent-Györgyi proposed replacing the term negentropy with syntropy. That term may have originated in the 1940s with the Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappiè, who tried to construct a unified theory of biology and physics. Buckminster Fuller tried to popularize this usage, but negentropy remains common.
Whatever word we use, I believe that the concept is of the utmost importance:
To the extent that there is a single “reason” for our existence, and for everything around us, the fact of syntropy is it. And if any one concept can guide us forward, as the rate of technical innovation accelerates and the very way we think of humanity expands, I believe that syntropy is that concept.
This is my personal blog, and I intend to blog about many things including philosophy, technology, art, and the psychology of human happiness. But I also hope to express some of my ideas about syntropy and its applications. I hope to engage with others who are thinking about similar topics. And I hope to get more people talking and thinking about syntropy.
Enjoy the ride!