Everyday entropy: instress


All nature is mechanical, but then it is not seen that mechanics contain that which is beyond mechanics.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Inscape, for Hopkins, is the charged essence, the absolute singularity that gives each created thing its being; instress is both the energy that holds the inscape together and the process by which this inscape is perceived by an observer. We instress the inscape of a tulip, Hopkins would say, when we appreciate the particular delicacy of its petals, when we are enraptured by its specific, inimitable shade of pink.”

The instress of inscape mirrors the german origin of the concept of empathy, Einfuhlung, in which feeling is transferred into observer without the bridge of cognitive understanding.  The problem with thinking about empathy mirrors the problem of thinking about entropy, which is that you have to use information to do it, and that information will tend to obscure them because empathy and entropy are fundamentally not informational qualities.  Hence the impulse to create these terms for un-ideas: haecceity to describe a quality that is not a quality; empathy to describe an idea that is not an idea; and entropy to describe an energy that is not energy.

There is an echo of entropy in the Formal Distinction theory of the medieval scholastics.  The formal distinction between a folded protein and its denatured state is the most obvious real example, although the formal distinction was developed for the purpose of theological illumination.  This vein of entropy runs through haecceity, or thisness, to account for the particularity of individual things as opposed to the general qualities they share with all things of their type. This chair not any chair.  Duns Scotus developed these ideas to explain how things that are the same nevertheless have their own identities.  “The formal distinction in this context is fundamentally a way of distinguishing the necessary properties of a particular substance” from substances that have the same qualities.  “Indeed, Scotus goes so far as to suggest that the accidents of a substance — at least, its quantities, qualities, and relations — are individuated by their own haecceities.”  Note how “the accidents of a substance” mirrors Boltzmann’s insistence that entropy be understood only in terms of the probability that a body will be found in any one of its possible configurations.  Qualities are predictable, but the individual quality of a body depend on the random chance of its personal history.

I was looking at high waves. The breakers always are parallel to the coast and shape themselves to it except where the curve is sharp wherever the wind blows. They are rolled out by the shallowing shore just as a piece of putty between the palms whatever its shape runs into a long roll… the hollow of the barrel disappearing as the white combs on each side run along the wave gaining ground till the two meet at a pitch and crush and overlap each other…(GMH Major Works)”1366026GA

-Gerard Manley Hopkins 

GM Hopkins wave note:  “Note: The curves of the returning wave overlap, the angular space between is smooth but covered with a network of foam. The advancing wave, already broken, and now only a mass of foam, upon the point of encountering the reflux of the former. Study from the cliff above. Freshwater Gate. July 23.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s