Everyday entropy: phase transition 

Mud https://www.flickr.com/photos/11878530@N08/6486058589/in/photostream

The mind experiences a phase transition when sound changes from noise to music. The transition is in the relationship between the sound and the mind, not in the sound. In the same way that there is a phase shift in the mind when sounds go from being out of tune to being in tune, the transition is both subjectively clear and objectively arbitrary.

There is a similar phase transition from movement to dance, and a somewhat more obscure phase transition from image to art, and from good to cuisine. There have been attempts throughout the 20th century to smooth the phase shift, to present noise as music, movement as dance and image as art, but now there is something profoundly dated and cliche about the notion of art as an arbitrary conception. Classical music, dance and art have survived. The phase transitions are not simple, but they are real insofar as they change the way the action is perceived by the information processes of the mind that observes it.

The phase transition is somehow related to a sudden perception of the intent of the mind and body that made the thing, in the same way that you know when someone is speaking to you, trying to communicate, even if you don’t understand the words.

Phase transitions have become a primary target of investigation in modern physics, but it is an important concept in any mapping process, including information processing and especially in the process of human perception.

“We study phase transitions because it is one of the most fundamental questions that puzzle us.  What is the origin of the complex structure of the universe, how do imperfections emerge and how do identical materials develop distinct properties over time?”

The Second order phase transition at the critical point is particularly fertile because measurables like heat capacity and compressibility go haywire, and perception has the same supercritical craziness. There is a critical point where writing becomes great writing, beauty becomes overwhelming, music melts the soul and cuisine becomes an obsession.  The mind recoils in awe and is left with no information but the question: what just happened? It is never possible to say what happens at these moments except that all of your senses engage with this one perception – you taste great beauty and hear the harmonies of flavour – and everything else fades away.

What is important to remember is that the phase transition in perception isn’t in the music or the food, but in the relationships that the music or food sets up in the mind of the observer. Supercritical water isn’t a different material from liquid water, it just has wildly different entropy and wildly different information capacity.  There is a curious parallel between the phase shift in information space and the phase transition in entropy space. The phase shift indicates the difference between constructive interference and destructive interference while the phase transition indicates a profound change in configuration without any new constituents.


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