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Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From: Paul Perry

Hi Arjen,

>This wonderful statement would be the ultimate answer, were it not the case
>that in the nuclear reactor the process is still entropian, not extropian.
>If you want to climb the decay chain, you'll some how have to reverse the
>process. And instead of inhibiting, reflecting or modifying the stream of
>particles, you have to make them accept your input (of energy and particles
>in the extropian chain, of energy and whatever in the artistic chain). I'm
>still wondering.

You are right, the decay of uranium is entropic -- an unstable system that moves towards stability and order by 'losing' particles and energy. The products of the decay are 'lighter', i.e. they move step by step towards a lower atomic mass. (The atomic mass of an isotope is the sum of the protons and the neutrons contained in it's nucleus). However, when that decay is contained and controlled (in a reactor) it is possible for the system to gain 'order'.

Uranium-238 can capture particles during the fission reaction of Uranium-235 to become one of the artificial transuranics (beyond uranium in the periodic table -- there always seems to be a 'beyond' to everything, doesn't there?) and Plutonium-239. This principle is exploited in the 'breeder' which makes more fuel than it uses...

Thus to go up the entropy slope the artist (or the engineer) doesn't need to assert or insert additional energy. It should be possible to focus (think: John von Neumann's lenses) the energy that is 'naturally' being lost to increase the order of a system. We usually call this extropic process -- evolution. It is possible to increase order by exploitating small fluctuations or instabilities (mistakes?) within the system. Another term that is used to describe this phenonemon is self-organization. Rock once became sentient. It can happen again.

A few notes:


Self-organization is basically a process of evolution where the effect of the environment is minimal, i.e. where the development of new, complex structures takes place primarily in and through the system itself. As argued in the section on evolutionary theory, self-organization can be understood on the basis of the same variation and natural selection processes as other, environmentally driven processes of evolution. Self-organization is normally triggered by internal variation processes, which are usually called "fluctuations" or "noise". The fact that these processes produce a selective retained ordered configuration has been called the "order from noise" principle by Heinz von Foerster, and the "order through fluctuations" mechanism by Ilya Prigogine. Both are special cases of what I have proposed to call the principle of selective variety.

The increase in organization can be measured more objective as a decrease of statistical entropy (see the Principle of Asymmetric Transitions). This is again equivalent to an increase in redundancy, information or constraint: after the self-organization process there is less ambiguity about which state the system is in. A self-organizing system which also decreases its thermodynamical entropy must necessarily (because of the second law of thermodynamics) export ("dissipate") such entropy to its surroundings, as noted by von Foerster and Prigogine. Prigogine called systems which continuously export entropy in order to maintain their organization dissipative structures.

-- Principia Cybernetica Web (

...every isolated, determinant dynamic system obeying unchanging laws will develop organisms that are adapted to their environments." "The argument is simple enough in principle. We start with the fact that systems in general go to equilibrium. Now most of a system's states are non-equilibrial. So in going from any state to one of the equilibria, the system is going from a larger number of states to a smaller. In this way, it is performing a selection, in the purely objective sense that it rejects some states, by leaving them, and retains some other state, by sticking to it. Thus, as every determinate system goes to equilibrium, so does it select. We have heard ad nauseam the dictum that a machine cannot select; the truth is just the opposite; every machine, as it goes to equilibrium, performs the corresponding act of selection.

-- Ashby in W. Buckley (ed.): Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist


The world's staggering diversity seems to preclude any simple explanation. There is structure at all scales, from protons to clusters of galaxies. Even before unified theories of physics, the world's richness seemed a paradox.

It is easy to show that the world is far, far more complex that can be accounted for by simple interpretations of chance. Take, for instance, the old fantasy of a monkey tying Hamlet by accident. If there are 50 keys on a typewriter, then the chance of the monkey hitting the right key at any given point is 1 in 50. There are approximately 150,000 letters, spaces, and punctuation marks in a typical text of Hamlet. Once the monkey has struck the keyboard 150,000 times, the chance that it has produced Hamlet is 1 in 50 multiplied by itself 150,000 times.

Fifty multiplied by itself 150,000 times (which can be written 50e150,000) is an unimaginably huge number. It cannot even be called an astronomical number, for it is much larger than any number with astronomical significance. Just writing 50e150,000 out would take about 255,000 digits.

In contrast all of the large numbers encountered in physics can be written out easily. It is estimated that the number of fundamental particles in the observable universe is (give or take a few zeros):


Vast as this number is, it is nothing compared to 50e150,000.

In view of this, it may seem remarkable that anything as complex as a text of Hamlet exists. The observation that Hamlet was written by Shakespeare and not some random agency only transfers the problem. Shakespeare, like everything else in the world, must have arisen (ultimately) from a homogeneous early universe. Any way you look at it, Hamlet is a product of that primeval chaos.

If every particle in the universe were replaced with a monkey and a typewriter and all the monkeys had been striking keys since the big bang, the chance of producting Hamlet would still be negligible. Yet Hamlet was produced form a series of physical processes that (initially, at least) were even more chaotic than monkeys banging at typewriters.

-- Poundstone, William: The Recursive Universe (1985)

Extropy lives.

Btw Arjen,

You are (among other things) a media theorist. Do you see the mass media as entropic or extropic? Do mass media cater to our increasing order or disorder? Dick Rijken told me last night that the purpose of the media is not to 'bootstrap' our consciousness but to mirror our unconscious. I remember Rushkoff arguing something similar in his preface to the 1996 edition of 'Media Virus'...

-- Paul (onwards to Polonium)

Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From: Paul Perry


masss movement On unstable slopes, that is slopes whose angle is greater than the natural angle of rest of the constituent material and whose shear strength is not capable of maintaining this angle, gravity along with the help of other agents such as wind and water may act to produce a mass movement of some kind, whereby slope angle becomes reduced to a more stable value.

Mass movements constitute flows, slides, and falls of rock material from a slope; they may be sudden and short lived, as in the case of rock falls, or very slow and long-lived, as in the case of creep.

massMove picture

Fig. A. Slope angle becomes too steep to be stable
Fig. B. Shear plane develops
Fig. C. Slide/fall lowers slope angle

Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From:Arjen Mulder

Hi Paul,

I wrote:

>> I don't think it's a good idea to 'defend' your work of art with the
>> argument that nuclear power plants are just what we need.

davidkremers wrote:

>...also i think you need to consider that stars work by nuclear fusion...not
>fission...and i would say that the fission age is definitely over...nobody is
>going to seriously invest in nuclear power agian until the properties of fusion
>are understood...this makes it more like chemistry...

When we talk about going up the extropian ladder of the decay chain, we're talking about fusion instead of fission. That's a very clear statement. The process that's going on inside the sun and the stars but can't be reproduced on earth. The project of art: making the impossible possible with all technical means. Sort of alchemy I suppose.


Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From: Arjen Mulder

Hi Paul,

thanks for all the information you sent me on nuclear energy and stuff. My knowledge is definitely a little rusty there. So let's get the whole story about all these reactors into the book, okay. I will try to come up with an answer about the media as being entropic or extropic (information = energy, this makes the argument possible). I'll talk about Benjamin too then. I must admit that the difference between optimism and pessimism isn't all too clear to me at the end of the 20th century. I hope to find time tomorrow, otherwise a bit later, as we have some time now. I read on the Alamout site you're going to put the artwork in Wageningen without the uranium. But did you make the holes in the stone?

Bye, Arjen

Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From: Paul Perry

Hi Arjen,

You cited davidkremers:

>>...also i think you need to consider that stars work by nuclear fusion...not

And you added:

>When we talk about going up the extropian ladder of the decay chain, we're
>talking about fusion instead of fission. That's a very clear statement.

1) I didn't get the above message from davidkremers (or for that matter any other messages from him concerning our recent discussion), would you mind forwarding it (or them?) to me please...

2) Yes, we are aware that a fission reactor is not a fusion reactor -- though both nuclear processes release enormous amounts of energy -- the processes are opposed. Fission is divergent, diversifying, one-to-many, while fusion is convergent, synthetic, many-to-one.

I'm not sure that moving towards greater order (call it what you will: self-organization, autopoesis, emergence) is any more the result of fusion than fission.

The energy required for a system to become organized need not be applied from the outside -- it can be purely an internal matter, a matter of learning to get rid of the constant 'heat' in a clever and constructive way.

-- Paul

Date: Wed, 29 Apr 1998
From: Paul Michael Perry

>But did you make the holes in the stone?

I sure did.

-- Paul

Date: Sat, 2 May 1998
From: Arjen Mulder

Hoi Paul,

I needed to think a bit about the media entropy / extropy matter. The first step is, of course, to identify information as energy. Reality consists of mass, energy and information. Information is like light, which is either a particle or a wave: information is either mass or energy, depending on the way you measure it or try to observe it.

You and I have a very different perspective, although we look at the same things (and love them). As the maker of an artwork, what you are dealing with is finding, sorting out and extrapolating all the information you can find in relation to the project you're into. You always put as much possible information in your work as you can find, in the sense that you have all the necessary data etc. You know why what is where. (I'm not talking about the first idea, which might be heuristic or inspirational or arbitrary - although I guess that a lot of your concepts are rationally deduced or induced from earlier projects or things you've read, heard etc.) You load your artwork with all the information you find, you literally 'inform' it, and out comes the form in which the project presents itself as a work of art.

But I look at it from the other side. I'm not looking (in the first place) at the information you put into your work, but at the information that comes out of it. That's what fascinates me. Part of this information output is information that you put into it. But part of it is a different sort of information: the 'aura' of the artwork, that Walter Benjamin talked about, is part of this latter type of information output. The aura, according to Benjamin, is the knowledge that this work of art in this museum or exhibition is the only copy of it existing, a completely unique thing (even though from graphical art or bronze sculpture there are more copies) - this is the material thing, the mass of the artwork. All the talking and writing about the artwork is information that is stored in this unique piece.

Benjamin thought that this aura would be destroyed because of the reproduction of artworks in magazines etc through photography and other technical means. When you have seen pictures of an art work before you see the real thing--the shock of seeing the material piece is dumbed, and the work does not 'emit' an aura, so to speak.

Benjamin wrote his article on 'the Art Work in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in 1935 and it has been reproduced ever since. But I don't think he is right. The work of art found other ways to regain aura. One of them is the signature on a painting or print. Another one is that a lot of art looks better when mechanically reproduced, so why not use the reproduction and forget about the original? (Think of the stone circles etc of Richard Long, which look much better in his photobooks than in a museum.) The price was another way of gaining aura (instead of the other way round, where aura raises prices, as in the case of Van Gogh etc.) Koons was the one to make his technical reproduced works aural by asking too much money for them and having the price put into the press. Et cetera.

Now to come to your work. The information that, for me, comes out of your reactor stone in Wageningen is not that nuclear energy is a good way to solve our energy demand problem in Holland, but a necessity if we want to have long distance space travel (this information comes from the concept of the exhibition: the garden as space ship, your stone-reactor as motor). As long as nanotech isn't that much functional, or matter/antimatter motors are not operable, let's use nuclear energy (although the problem here of course is the launching of the rocket: remember the space shuttle - if a rocket with nuclear fuel explodes in the atmosphere, eh, that is a bit tricky, I suppose). Remember that one of the steps towards Singularity in Vinge's version was the use of matter/antimatter energy through cosmic engineering. He forsaw a nuclear war at the beginning of the 21th century (in 2012 or 2014, if I remember the time wave correctly). But, as he wrote, 'If we don't have that general war, then you will understand the Singularity in the only possible way--by living through it.'

Now from my perspective, the nature of the Singularity is different than it is from yours. You see, the most important information that comes from your stone reactor in Wageningen is that it contains uranium (even though it is no longer supposed to be there - but who can check this out, the stone is much too heavy to lift and have a look inside the holes, and your average Geiger counter isn't able to detect if there's some extra radiation coming from the stone.) What the Uranium does is that it gives your artwork an incredible strong aura--which I tried to express in the dutch word: 'heilig ontzag' (holy or sacred awe). And awe is no longer a matter of mass or of energy or of information, for that matter, but is a gateway to what an old European tradition calls 'the Realm of the Spirit' (het rijk van de geest, der GEIST in German). That is: that realm of the imagination that allows humans to see something different in the objects around them than the objects as such: that possibility of the imagination to enrich objects or processes with values these phenomena as such never could produce.

You see, what I like about Vinge's approach to the Singularity is that in a way it is not a result of the technological progress as such, but of a very specific part of this progress (if you want to stick to that term): the possibility to log in to different minds of human beings at the same time, without any lagtime, so that these humans minds melted together. Tunc Blumenthal, the guy who was the last one to bobble up before the Singularity, had the best theory about it, I thought. He described how they, in their little company, used their computers: `We spent every spare gAu on our processor system and the interfaces. When we were linked up, we were something... wonderful.'

Love Amplification (in stead of IA, interlligence amplification). Now that is an interesting concept. Because if humanity got linked at the same time at the same adress, that must have caused, or created, or must have been-- the Singularity. Then everybody moved into the realm of the spirit (apparently).

I know this is a matter of what I believe, and I must admit that I don't believe in science that much any more (I know I had my data wrong about nuclear energy, but if the anti-nuclear movement archive, which is just around the corner from where I live, wasn't closed because of Queens day etc. I'm sure they could have furnished me with lots of counterdata. I mean, to every bit of information there is counter information.) When you create a work of art with such a strong aura as yours, that it inspires 'sacred awe', then the individual mind feels its way towards the door of the realm of the spirit where, finally, in Singularity, we will all meet, for ever or never. That's the information that your reactor stone induces in me.

I'm exhausted now. I hope I made my point clear. We just booked a holiday for two weeks on a tiny island in Greece (mid may, lots of beautiful flowers and butterflies). I'll check my mail now and see if you have sent anything.

Bye Paul,


Date: Mon, 4 May 1998
From: Paul Perry

Hi Arjen,

All of a sudden, writing and responding to this thread has become difficult! When I feel that there still is so much more to discuss--and what we've covered can be elaborated in much greater depth.

It seems we have to take a round-about-way to get at the heart of the matter.

You wrote the other day:

>I must admit that the difference between optimism and
>pessimism isn't all too clear to me at the end of the 20th century.

I feel that optimism and pessimism are very close to 'the heart of the matter'. Our predilection (mental preference) for one or the other is exposed when asking personal questions:

"Do you accept (the fact) that you will die?"

"If it were possible to choose to live longer, say for thousands of years, would you be interested?"

Since the rise of objective science and the corresponding 'Death of God', optimism (in the form of eternal life) has waned and pessimism (in the form of 'deathist' thought viruses) have ruled our society's seas.

The discussion of evolution (not only as a biological principle but also as a cultural principle), and its relation to your own life, to the 'progress' of life on earth, and to life in general in the near and far future--is TOTALLY dependent upon whether you are optimistic and 'believe' in progress and evolution or not.

Where do you stand?

Whether you believe in God ( or evolution, or are interested in the possibility of immortality, or the truth about Uranium) says a lot about whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

I must get ready to go to Wageningen to begin the installation of my officially 'Non-commissioned Nuclear (Reactor) Garden'. But as you said (and I thank you very much for this) the Uranium could very well still be in there, "for who can check this out, the stone is much to heavy to lift and have a look inside the holes".

I'll respond to your expression of the differences between our 'approaches' and your recent discussion of the art work's (my art work's) aura later.

Bye Bye For Now.

-- Paul

Date: Tue, 12 May 1998
From: Arjen Mulder

Hi Paul,

I was so exhausted last saturday that I didn't make it to the presentation of your exhibition. I'll come after our holiday and have a good look at it (and hopefully Mike's work too). How was it? Do you have a better feeling about the project now?

I will adress the optimism / pessimism question one of these days, but I still have some problems with the concepts. Knowing that you will die is not a form of pessimism to me. Thinking that you will be remembered and loved after your death is a form of optimism. Art has been about bringing back the dead to life. And now you propose art should be bringen life to the dead - that is: don't die at all?

What's wrong with death? Death is the key to biological evolution. It is a terrible force, but like all destructive forces also a creative one. I recently had two artists friends out of Ireland here. They had a child and were so happy with the boy that they hardly made any work for five years. Than the litte boy died because of a braintumor (no reason - shit happens - 'if it ever happens again we'll skip the brainsurgery and give him the chance to die without it'). Now they are making this incredible art again (etchings).

I don't know if I can answer your questions if you bring death into the optimism/pessimism balance. I always felt at home in negative thinking. In a way it's a happy way of thinking, feeling, living. I always was suspicious of optimism. If you think that everything will be even better, why not make it happen and stop muttering about it (the same is true for pessimism of course).

Do you know that the only real tradition we have in Dutch literature is the pessimistic novel? But I'll come up with a more profound thought on this matter.

Bye, Arjen space picture

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