This is chapter 5 of the "The Macroscope" by Joël de Rosnay



Everything is linked to time, even the full meaning of words. Any vision of nature and society that wants to be comprehensive cannot ignore the vast problem of time; it determines even our manner of thinking.

The contrast between physical time, a frame of reference that is outside events and phenomena, and psychological time, which is rich with the intensity of living experience, reveals itself in everyday language as well as in the languages of organization and data processing. We speak of time gained or lost, of shared time and real time, of free time and the lack of time.

Beyond the difference between physical and psychological time lies a fundamental question: Do not many of our understandings and irreconcilable points of view arise from the use of strongly "polarized" concepts through implicit reference to a privileged direction of the flow of time? These concepts have an entirely different emotional meaning, depending on whether the unconscious reference is to time that aims toward entropy or toward organization--according to a causal explanation ("pushed" by the past) or a final explanation ("pulled" by the future). Does this also explain the unreconcilable conflicts--between determinists and finalists, for example, or between materialists and spiritualists--that spring up as soon as the discussion turns to evolution?

To go beyond such conflicts, we must free ourselves from what I call our chronocentrism. The term may seem a bit strange; I use it here in relation to two better-known terms, geocentrism and anthropocentrism. Thanks to the theories of Copernicus and Galileo we have succeeded in getting rid of our geocentrism, the stifling idea that the earth is the center of our world. It was just as difficult to escape anthropocentrism, which put us at the center of all living things. Thanks to the theory of evolution, man is again one species among thousands.

Yet the most difficult threshold remains to be crossed. We are prisoners of time and words. Our logic, our reasoning, our models, our representations of the world are hopelessly colored by chronocentrism (as they formerly were by geocentrism and anthropocentrism). From chronocentrism come the conflicts that paralyze our thinking. Can we free ourselves from them?

It is difficult and dangerous to tackle the concept of time. Each of us feels deep inside that he must struggle fiercely, step by step, to preserve the concept, to continue to let himself be guided by this vital thread to which we cling as though it held our universe together. To break the thread would be to risk undoing, stitch by stitch, the net woven by preceding generations, the web in which our past is imprinted and our future constructed.

Nevertheless we must pull gently on this thread to see where it leads and to learn whether it forms a closed loop. To study the world through the macroscope is to try to perceive, beyond details, the great principles that tie us to the universe. Without the attempt to leave the tunnel that time has drawn us into, there can be no constructive dialogue between the objective and the subjective, between observation and action.


Through our sensations we project on the universe the "reality" of terra firma, of geometric space, of time that never stops. Most of the major laws of physics come from the interpretation of information communicated directly or indirectly by the eye and the muscle and then stored in the memory.

The eye is an instrument that is particularly well adapted to recognizing forms, detecting changes, and perceiving movement. Man's muscle allows him to measure and compare weights and efforts; it leads him to interpret his relations with the outside world in terms of forces. Memory accumulates and concentrates time, whose course is inscribed in the web of our consciousness.

We are accustomed to describing events by using four coordinates: the three spatial coordinates (where the event occurred) and the coordinate of time (when it occurred). Just as it seems to us impossible to conceive of the outside world without relying on geometric properties, so are we unable to describe it without referring to the passage of time. But where does the idea of before and after come from?

Memory and expectation point past time (the before) toward the future (the after). The two modes of conscious behavior are perceived to be different and asymmetrical. We know that we can act on the future but not on the past. We are conscious of knowing the past to the smallest detail, while the future seems to be enveloped in the uncertainty of chance and the possible (Fig. 79).

When we stop the machine tape on which the movement of a pendulum is being traced, we see only a continuous line; when the tape is started again, the line becomes sinusoidal. For the pendulum of a clock there is no process of time. It is our consciousness that creates duration and, like the machine tape, records past information as a series of peaks that we can number. By deciding that one is before and another after, our consciousness can develop a chronology of events.

At the same time as the concepts of force, movement, and before and after, there appeared two concepts that are mutually irreducible, continuity and discontinuity.

We have the sensation of continuous movement as we follow the trajectory of a moving object, as we watch the road unwind under the wheels of a car, as we contemplate a liquid flowing without interruption. But if we turn our attention even for a moment to the location of the moving object, to one stone in the road, or to one drop of the liquid, our concentration on discontinuity immediately destroys the sensation of movement. One cannot concentrate on continuity and discontinuity at the same time.

In the same way, the flow of time can be seen either as duration or as a succession of instants. Intelligence is accustomed to cutting up continuity into moments and objects of determinate shape. Contrary to intuition, which according to Bergson is the feeling of things in motion, intelligence freezes what it isolates from the flow of time. Since its method is analytical, intelligence can understand movements or flows only as a succession of juxtaposed still positions.

This limitation on our perception of nature has great significance. It is found at the root of the distinctions between flow variables and state variables (see p. 73) and between the ondulatory and corpuscular aspects of a fundamental particle. It was in order to overcome such dichotomies that the concept of complementarity was introduced: each entity in nature can be conceived at the same time in its continuous aspect and in its discontinuous aspect.

Time in the Evolution of Thought

A short history of the various conceptions of time in scientific and philosophical thought will help us to sort out the paths of the contemporary theories. Is the concept of time an objective idea, independent of our consciousness observing the universe?

Or does it originate in the rigorous adaptation of human beings to the conditions of the universe?

Time according to Aristotle. To measure the flow of time one relates it to space through movement. For Aristotle "time is the quantity of movement." Thus one divides space into as many gradations as can be linked together, either by the movement of a shadow on a sundial or, later, by the movement of the hands of a clock. In the same way a road can be divided into segments of equal length, identified by markers and linked by the movement of a vehicle--which brings us again to the measurement of time by the regular speed of a moving object.

Time according to Newton. Newton identified himself with the search for an "objective" time that was outside phenomena, a flow of time that would run through the universe of its own accord. In laying down the concept of universal time as the basis of his mechanics, Newton was led inevitably to the principle of absolute space, according to which each place or each position is identical in every respect to any other in the universe. For Newton there must be privileged axes of reference that are absolutely immobile and that make it possible to describe the universe and the processes that occur in it.[1]

The irreversible time of Carnot and Clausius. The thermodynamics that sprang from the works of Carnot (1824) and Clausius (1865) no longer calls expressly on the concept of space but on the concept of time. It speaks now of transformation and no longer of movement. Irreversibility does not exist at the microscopic level, in the simple, homogeneous systems that are the concern of classical physics. Physical laws obviously take into account the passage of time, but not its sign; negative time and positive time play the same role. If t were changed to -t, the world would be a strange place, but there would be no fundamental conflict with the laws of nature. It is only when the phenomena of dissipation, diffusion, friction, disorganization, transfer of energy, and especially complex systems are considered at the macroscopic level that the irreversibility of time enters the picture (see p. 103).

What can we infer from this? That all systems that are sensitive to the passage of time have in common the ability to move from a state of high organization to a state of disorganization, or a state of higher probability. Thus it is only in complex systems that time seems to run irreversibly and toward increasing entropy. The arrow of time and the arrow of entropy point in the same direction.

A statistical clock has just been added to the moving clocks of Aristotle and Newton, and this clock plainly indicates time as irreversible.

The time of Einstein. The theory of relativity introduced a new upheaval, the transformation of space into time, or the "spatialization" of time (time and space being equivalents). Henceforth we can speak only of a "space-time continuum." For relativists time does not "pass" and matter is unfolded in both its "temporal thickness" and its "spatial span"--which means that time, like space, is an actual span. We can no longer refer to a "universal time" and an "absolute space." The properties of space-time depend on the speed at which a moving object travels, and at speeds approaching the speed of light, space-time "contracts" around the moving object. But the time of relativity, like that of classical physics, remains reversible.

Time according to Bergson and Teilhard. Bergson and Teilhard place the direction of evolution over that of entropy ( see notes ). According to Bergson, "all our analyses teach us that life is an effort to climb the slope that matter descends." Teilhard measures the duration of evolution by the series of transformations that lead matter, life, and society toward states of higher complexity. "We are already prepared to observe that life, taken in its entirety, manifests itself as a current opposed to entropy. ...Life, contrary to the leveling play of entropy, is the methodical construction of an organization that ceaselessly grows bigger in the most improbable way." For Teilhard space-time takes the shape of a cone: the point of the cone is the outcome of cosmogenesis; God is Omega, the end.

Thus the distinction between the two great currents of evolution and entropy is clear in the minds of these two authors. One "climbs" toward life and the mind; the other "descends" toward matter and multiplicity. The "ascent" of life seems to have to be measured by a thermodynamic "clock" whose hands turn in a direction opposed to that of the clock of Carnot and Clausius, for instead of entropy it is complexity that appears to increase locally.

Bergson introduces another fundamental asymmetry, that between the time of invention (creative duration) and the time--almost instantaneous--of reproduction. The duration of the universe goes hand in glove with the "possibility of creation that can take place there." Since every determinist process is foreseeable, reversible, and reproducible, the freedom of the creative act renders this act unforeseeable, irreversible, and impossible to reproduce. In the creative transition from the virtual to the actual--or, as Aristotle said in an especially illuminating way, from the "power" to the "act"--there are unlimited possibilities. The realization of just one among them immediately excludes all the others. This is what gives a work of art its unique character and its value; the moment of creation is an "historic" moment, the moment of copying is commonplace. That is why the future is not given alongside the present; creation requires duration.

Time in Contemporary Theories

In a stimulating book published in 1963, The Second Principle of the Science of Time, a French physicist, O. Costa de Beauregard, provides the first elements that make it possible to reconcile the reversible time of relativity and the irreversible time of the consciousness ( see notes ). He suggests a fruitful hypothesis concerning the manner in which consciousness meshes itself in the universe through the dialectical process of observation and action. Thus the hypothesis integrates the ideas of thermodynamics, information theory, and relativity.

Costa begins with the work of Szilard and Brillouin leading to the equivalence of negative entropy (neguentropy) and information, that is, to Carnot's principle generalized ( see page 134 ). Its main conclusions deserve recall. Information--which is order, organization, and improbability-- is the opposite of entropy--which is disorder, disorganization, and probability. Entropy measures the lack of information in a system. Information is thus the equivalent of negative entropy ( see notes ). Every experiment, measurement, and acquisition of information by a mind consumes negative entropy. Thus a tax must be paid to the universe, and that tax is the irreversible increase of entropy.

Yet the mind can create negative entropy, thereby increasing organization, order, and the quantity of information in the system in which it is found. The global system remains subject to the law of universal degradation.

Carnot's principle generalized fails to answer satisfactorily three questions: Why does the inquiring consciousness explore the universe only in the direction that sees an increase in entropy, that is, the direction we call "time"? What is the actual difference between neguentropy and information? Why are we conscious of such an asymmetry between observation and action (the first "costing" less than the second)-or why is it easier to destroy and copy than it is to construct and create?

For Costa the direction in which every inquiring mind explores the universe is adaptive. As soon as an animal or a man opens his eyes on the world around him, information from outside is linked to an inward flow. Information appears in the form of waves sent by a radiating source--light, heat, sound. Living beings adapt little by little to the direction of the waves from these sources. This adaptation becomes a rigorous condition of survival, since living beings can act on their environment only to the degree that they receive and intercept information coming from it.

But man can observe phenomena only in the direction of disorganization, since every acquisition of information is paid for by the increase in entropy. Thus each observer follows the course of time by "accompanying" the phenomena he observes. Living is an arrow pointed toward dying; without this imperative condition we could not observe phenomena. And without information all creation would be impossible.

An answer to the first question may now be attempted. It is not matter that advances by "evolving" in a static space-time framework. If anything advances in the spatial-temporal block, it is the inquiring consciousness. The universe is spread out over its entire temporal dimension. Time is given, it does not pass. But because of its adaptation to the conditions of the universe, the consciousness, in order to acquire information, can explore it only in the direction of increasing entropy (the direction of time). The observing consciousness meshes itself in the universe like a funicular on a one-way trip.

On the other hand, by creating new information the consciousness accumulates something in an "opposite" direction--in another dimension, that of creative duration aiming toward ever higher levels of complexity.

The second question concerns the difference between information and neguentropy. Costa de Beauregard cannot avoid reintroducing the subject in the world of objects: every creative or inquiring mind has its influence on the increase of entropy in the universe. Must one dare to use this bridge between the subjective and objective worlds? If one crosses the gap, neguentropy appears as the objective counterpart of information.

We have seen that all information can be measured in a quantitative way (in bits, for example) and that to accomplish this measurement the meaning of the information must be disregarded. Neguentropy is completely neutral and objective. It travels in a telephone cable or in a computer, but it enters and leaves in the form of meaningful information. For the consciousness each item of information possesses a different sense meaning, and subjective value. The mind distinguishes without difficulty between information of high value and information of no interest, even though both amounts of information may be measured by the same number of bits.

Are information and neguentropy perhaps subjective and objective aspects of the same form of potential energy? Costa de Beauregard does not answer the question definitively. However, the transition from one form into another, through observation or action, does imply two asymmetrical processes that strongly suggest the transition from the subjective to the objective.

Classical determinism regards free action as being "impossible" on the scientific level (theory of the epiphenomenal consciousness). Observation, however, raises no difficulty. This is because the consciousness has two fundamental modes of activity ( see page 131 ), ( see page 139). One corresponds to the transformation of neguentropy into information. This is the process of observation, where information means the acquisition of knowledge (Fig. 80).

The other corresponds to the reverse transformation, of information into neguentropy. This is the process of action and creation, where information means the power of organization (to give form to something). In one case the mind is informed, in the other it informs.

The first process actualizes, or puts to use, the information that has been acquired--in distribution, reproduction, and copying. This process costs little in neguentropy (in preexistent potential energy). That is probably why measurement and observation always seem to raise no difficulty.

In contrast, the reverse process of creative action costs very much in information. That is why the creation of an original (as opposed to making a copy) seems so difficult. The popular expressions "actions speak louder than words" and "easier said than done" also reflect this principle.

The temporal difference between the two modes of activity of the consciousness is also very important. The time of actualization can be instantaneous, as Bergson foresaw; it depends only on the efficiency of the duplication and broadcast media. In contrast, the time of free action and organization is related to creative duration. The time of actualization is time that "spreads out" ( see notes ), the time of ontogeny, of our physical life. Opposed to it is time that "adds on," the time of phylogeny, of evolution, of creative duration.

Contemporary theories suggest that the conventional direction of the passage of time, measured by the passing years (and headed from the past toward the future), is the result of an adaptation of the consciousness to the conditions of the universe.

The time in which an observation occurs is certainly headed in the direction of increasing entropy, in accord with the direction of conventional time. What about the time of creative action? It seems to belong to a time that is qualitatively different, apparently reversed by the consciousness and pointing in a direction opposite to entropy--the direction of increasing complexity. How can we distinguish this direction from that of conventional physical time?

The chronocentric attitude is uncompromising; it refuses to consider the complementarity of two "qualities" of time--just as physicists once considered only evolutions that pointed toward an increasing entropy and refused to integrate into their theories the possibility of a biological evolution.

Chronocentrism adopts a logic of exclusion; it accepts only causal explanations--and emphasizes, in this case, the principle of sufficient reason and the assumption of objectivity. Or, on the other hand, it accepts only final explanations arising from some "act of faith" and subjective action.

The significant difference between the two extreme attitudes is that causal explanation is strongly emphasized in our education and our culture. Causal explanation is based on experiment, demonstration, and scientific proof, while explanation by finality allows neither irrefutable demonstration nor scientific proof.

One advances into so delicate a realm only with a certain caution proceeding by successive stages: demonstrating first why our logic is led astray by circular causality; illustrating then the obstructions that result from the adoption of either causality or finality as the one method for explaining phenomena; and proposing, finally, a new route that may make it possible to overcome these conflicts.


The Link Between Chronology and Causality

The cybernetic feedback loop has many interesting properties, some of which are linked to time and have not yet been mentioned. Having discovered them, the first cyberneticians were obliged to introduce finality, or purpose, into the world of machines.

In an information/decision/action loop, information on the results of past actions is the basis for the decisions that will correct a present or future action. Because decisions are made to achieve an end, the consequent action is purposeful; such a loop illustrates the occurrence of an intelligent act (Fig. 81).

Not only men achieve intelligent acts; there are also the cybernetic machines, the servomechanisms. Their "decision" mechanism is also embedded in a feedback loop. The character of this loop is very general, and I have already given numerous examples of it.

Consider the general circuit of any feedback loop and then ask, does cause precede effect or does effect precede cause? It is impossible to say, there appears to be no distinction between them, and they cannot be split apart in time. Causality follows the entire circuit of the loop; so does finality (Fig. 82).

We are forced then to speak of circular causality as opposed to linear causality, which is represented by a vector superimposed on the time axis, where cause coincides with "before" and effect with "after." Thus a feedback loop is like a serpent that bites its own tail.

The loop of circular causality must not be confused with a cycle. A cycle is always subject to unidirectional time; it is an infinite repetition of the same sequence of events. There is no "becoming" in a cycle, and a cyclical succession can be measured by any clock. However, in a circular causality loop the arrow of time appears to close on itself. It cannot really be said that time "passes"; it is balanced by something else, a kind of conservation of time.

As soon as the chronology of events is questioned, our logic loses its footing and seems ill at ease. Why? Because only chronology permits explanation by causes. To be forced to abandon the principle of causality even for a moment profoundly shocks our logic. We may find it amusing to watch a film being run backwards. But our logic is completely disarmed in the presence of a "vicious circle"; because of the circulation of causality we no longer know "by which end" to take hold of things. Thus there is a close analogy between vicious circles and feedback loops.

We seem to be caught in a vicious circle whenever we look for the origins of a complex system--as in the familiar problem (which came first?) of the chicken and the egg. Or that of the origin of man: every man or woman is born of a couple, each of whom was born of another couple, and so on. To break the circle it was necessary to conceive of the origin of humanity in a "first couple" created by divine will. The same is true for the origin of life: life depends on a very small number of basic organic compounds that are believed to have been made exclusively by living systems. How could life have begun in the absence of these substances? The answer is that the first cell was created by God or--same thing--that the first cell appeared abruptly, fully assembled entirely by chance.

What does reason do to get rid of the irritating logical problem posed by a vicious circle? It opens the circle. It cuts the circle at an arbitrary point, which allows the circle to stretch out straight along the conventional arrow of time. At the same time it recovers the familiar relationship of before-and-after between cause and effect (Fig. 83).

This artificial cut into reality will have important consequences:

Causality appears to be the only method of explanation; we are forced to return, cause by cause, toward a "first cause" lying in the past.

Time "passes" again, for explanation by causes belongs to the process of observation, which points inevitably in the direction of increasing entropy.

We are obliged to adopt a reductionist approach.

In opening the circle even with the slightest cut, we allow an aspect of the whole to escape forever. Now complementarity makes room for a certainty that is limited to a single aspect of reality (Fig. 84).

This is what happens in every analytical approach. Incapable of considering all the interdependencies of the functioning mechanisms of the brain or the cell, we isolate several loops that seem to be essential, and we open them in order to find the familiar relationship of cause and effect. In this way we can explain perfectly well certain aspects of cerebral or cellular behavior through molecular reactions. And we will probably come to do this better as time goes by. But we know that something is escaping direct observation. Is is life? consciousness? the "soul"? I reject any vitalism that postulates the existence, in the heart of living matter, of a principle that will forever escape scientific knowledge. I say simply that the principle of sufficient reason or causal explanation reveal only one aspect of reality, owing to profound limitations linked to our perception of time.

Why are there such limitations on our reading of the phenomena of the universe? Probably because of custom that originates in the adaptive psychological meaning of "before" and "after." This custom makes a succession of events appear logical to us only insofar as there is chronology, insofar as the arrow of time points toward increasing entropy. Without knowing why, we have associated chronology and causality. The result is that "the convention that defines the direction of time by increasing entropy is inseparable from the acceptance of causality as a method of explanation" (Grunbaum) ( see notes ). Therefore the principle of sufficient reason or causal explanation would depend on our adaptive sense of time. We understand why physics (and with it all science) "accepts causal explanations, where improbability is 'given' at the start, and refuses final explanations, where improbability is 'gathered' at the end."

Irreducible Points of View

The limitations of our thinking reach their bounds when we consider the phenomenon of evolution in its entirety, from the formation of living matter to the appearance on earth of living systems and social systems. The discovery of the great history of life and of man was made in reverse-- from the complex to the simple, from subject to object--in accord with the "entropic" direction of observation in search of causes--that is, toward the past.

Man is breaking open one by one the vicious circles of the origins that have imprisoned his thinking. The circle of the origin of man is opened: the theory of biological evolution shows that man descends from simpler organisms that preceded him. The circle of the origin of life is opened: the first cell is the result of prebiological evolution. The circle of the abiogenetic appearance of organic substances is opened: they were formed in the course of the geochemical evolution of the planet.

When each of the circles is "stretched out" and the vectors are pointed in the conventional direction of time and then placed end to end, they reconstitute the greater vector of the evolution of matter, life, and society in that part of the universe that is our planet (Fig. 85).

Here we find one of the principal theses defended in this chapter: that the conventional direction attributed to this generalized vector of evolution leads to irreducible points of view.

The conflict between materialists and spiritualists can be traced back to modes of thinking and the use of expressions closely related to the acceptance of a conventional direction of the flow of time. According to the materialists, matter was present before the mind; according to the spiritualists, the mind existed before matter. Thus there came about a kind of hierarchy of preexistence, with greater value assigned automatically to what was there "before." This polarization is recognized in the expressions "initial impulse" and "final attraction"--matter being pushed (explanation by causes) or pulled (explanation by ends). How could the future both manifest itself in the present and be the cause of it? On the contrary, it is obvious that the past determines the future.

There is the same type of conflict between the Darwinists and the Lamarckists, or more generally between determinists and finalists; the struggle is fierce and the lack of understanding often complete. For the former, to admit any influence of the environment on heredity is to open the door to the spectre of a design of nature willed by a supernatural entity. For the latter, on the other hand, to think that molecular reactions occurring at random can condition heredity and the perfection of an eye, or that they determine thought and behavior, is to reduce what is most "noble" in life to mere matter--and thus to inferiority.

These two kinds of attitudes, carried here to their extremes, are shared by a large number of scientists and philosophers throughout the world. They illustrate a debate that it is helpful to personalize because it poses clearly the problem that interests us here. To do that, we might refer to two French authors whose works have stirred up a controversy that has not yet been calmed. The controversy was caused by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man and Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity ( see notes ).

Teilhard says that mind and matter cannot be separated, that there exists only a "mind-matter" analogous to the space-time of the relativists. All evolution--which Teilhard calls cosmogenesis--is the history of the increasing complexity of matter, from elementary particles to human society. At each level of complexity the "inside of things" is revealed in properties that we call life and (later on) reflective consciousness. Each stage sees the mind liberating itself from matter. Pushed to its logical limits, the law of complexity consciousness (the more complex a system, the more conscious it is) leads to the integration of all consciousnesses in a single God, the point of convergence of all evolution.

Monod says that there is no one concerted evolution of the universe but many evolutions that can be studied at the level of biological systems or at the level of social systems. In biological systems evolution is the result of chance mutations that cause changes in the genetic heritage. These changes are retained from generation to generation; this is the property of reproductive invariability. The environment acts as a filter, keeping only the best-adapted species. Life and thought are emergent properties, explained by the play of molecular interactions. The illusion of the "design" of nature is based on the teleonomic (from the Greek teleos, far, and nomos, rule) properties of complex systems, particularly enzymes, whose behavior seems to be directed toward a goal. Biological evolution is the result of the play of invariability and teleonomy.

In my eyes Monod and Teilhard are both right--Monod right in defending the principle of objectivity, Teilhard right in searching for a meaning in evolution. But both are probably wrong in using the approach and the language of the other side. One important point clearly deserves clarification. To do that, we must analyze the causal explanation, to which Monod refers implicitly, and the final explanation, which serves as the basis of Teilhard's system. Then we shall compare the two approaches, seeking ways to go beyond this choice.

The Causal Explanation: Divergence

Our science and our philosophy are founded on observation. They rely on reason (the principle of sufficient reason), objectivity (the premise of objectivity), demonstration, scientific proof, and the reproducibility of results. We can be rationally certain only after having explained by causality (the same causes produce the same results), verified, and demonstrated the validity of our theories. This is the rule for all good science.

However, as the works of Grunbaum, Reichenbach, and Costa de Beauregard suggest, the principle of sufficient reason, like that of causality, comes directly from our adaptive direction of time. Phenomena are significant for science (and observable) only when they occur in the direction toward which the life of those who observe them is also flowing. We would then be reduced to being absolutely certain only of what is decomposing and able to demonstrate perfectly only what is being destroyed. We would understand much better how things become disorganized than how they become organized.

Because of this, science goes spontaneously toward the past, toward the origins, to seek certainty. Every cause can be linked to a previous and more general cause. Having left the top of the tree, we descend toward the huge limbs that branch out from the trunk. From the millions of people on earth, we come to the "first couple"; from the abundance of forms of life, to the "first cell"; from all matter present in the universe to the "primitive atom." By pushing causal reasoning to its limit, we must come to cosmological explanations of the type in which all neguentropy, all Improbability is given to begin with. Out of this primary sphere of energy the universe begins to expand, entropy increases, and time passes (Fig. 86).

Retraced in the opposite direction from a point in the past, all evolution founded on causal explanation can only be divergent; we see only arborescences like the tree of evolution or any family tree. From this point of view it was legitimate, as mechanistic science attempted, to try to explain all properties of matter, life, and thought by the interaction of basic particles and the effects of the laws of physics and chemistry. It was common to hear it said that "more can never come of less" or that "time can bring nothing that has not already been given." From this came the theory of the epiphenomenal conscience and the impossibility of free will.

Scientific and philosophical thought have obviously evolved a great deal from these extreme positions. Today we admit readily to the increase in complexity that manifests itself in the course of evolution and to the emergence of new properties. However, we still have difficulty explaining the "vertical" transition from one level of organization to another level of higher complexity; from one "integron" (Jacob) to another integron; or from one "holon" (Koestler) to another holon. This does not mean that we shall never succeed, as the vitalists and spiritualists claim. Yet in spite of the sharp power of resolution of modern scientific thought, it seems difficult, because of the limitations mentioned, to interpret this vertical transition in any way other than by a juxtaposition of still positions--like the arrow of Zeno of Elea in flight or the arches of a bridge thrown across a river, which cannot follow the river's course (Bergson).

The Final Explanation: Convergence

The interpretation of the facts amassed by positive science can give a new meaning to evolution. Imagination, intention, and the poetic interpretation of reality help to reveal the full meaning of evolutionary facts. And personal motivation and the will to act depend in turn on the meaning that we give to events.

In this view each finality reaches ultimately toward a single end, located in the future, and in which it integrates itself. Every goal, every intention can be linked to a goal or an intention at a higher level and of a more general character. Finalities do not appear at the extremity where blind determinisms play. But at the human stage of evolution they are increasingly evident; humanity can handle its own destiny, thereby ensuring the relay of biological evolution. Everything points to the fact that evolution is converging toward a single end, which can be portrayed as a cone that is the reverse of the first. In this construction may be recognized Teilhard's cone of time, cosmogenesis, at the close of which the mind liberated from matter will be gathered at the end of time, at the Omega point (Fig. 87).

Such a representation returns in reality to an inversion by the consciousness of the conventional direction of time. For the positive axis of cosmogenesis is defined here by increasing complexity (the increase of neguentropy). This new convention appears to be inseparable from finality as a method of explanation. But this is where interpretations will differ strongly: finality is not an explanation (this term ought to be reserved for the rational sense of exploration of the universe); rather, it is an implication, or an involvement. Final "explanation" belongs to an act of faith. It is no longer a "reverse cause" that forces evolution to execute a program established in advance or to follow the "design" of nature or of God.

In the finalist view generalized evolution appears as a movement that is antidispersive, selective, convergent, and creative of order--analogous therefore, to any intelligent act. Contrary to thermodynamic evolution which points toward conditions that are ever more foreign to us, convergent evolution would be directed toward what resembles us most, it would assume our values, our desires, our hopes. It would resemble an exploration and a conquest of an inner space-time confined "within" rather than an exploration and a conquest of an outer space-time dispersed "without."

This movement is by nature invisible to reason, which refuses to accept such a concept of evolution. It is not demonstrable; it can only be perceived, deduced, interpreted by the consciousness, which sweeps up, in the reverse direction, the facts amassed by observation and experience.

Are divergence and convergence complementary states? To represent both in a single diagram, one need only superimpose the two cones, for divergent evolution and convergent evolution are related to one and the same positive direction of time. This situation occurs even though the adherents of one approach or the other refer implicitly to what appear to be two contrary directions (Fig. 88).

Is there a dichotomy between these two states, or a complementarity?

In focusing on divergent evolution, one loses sight of its direction, its meaning, its finality. Human values, the subjective, the affective, the "meaning of life" have no place in the causal explanation--no more than do becoming, creation, or free will. The unquestionable advantage of the causal explanation is to be able to demonstrate its theories by scientific proof.

On the other hand, when one focuses exclusively on convergent evolution, the details of the underlying phenomena become vague. Even if one is utterly convinced of the direction or the meaning of evolution, of the interpretation given to facts, to events, or to the finality of every act, one has no proof to offer but "the evidence." And to want to demonstrate at any cost the "evidence" of convergent evolution is to miss the goal that one is trying to reach. In fact every demonstration points in the conventional direction accepted by the principle of sufficient reason. By using the approach and the language of science, one inevitably transforms into a divergent phenomenon what one believed to be convergent.

In superimposing the divergent cone on the convergent cone in the conventional direction of time, one rediscovers the status of complementarity of all phenomena that, subjectively or objectively, are linked to time. But in doing this, one projects the direction of creative evolution in the direction of one's individual future; there is an apparent reversal of time by the creative consciousness.

In observation, situations always precede representations (subjective models). In action, the representation of what one wants to do (the model of one's future action and its possible consequences) precedes the situations determined by this action (Fig. 89).

If the future of each life and the future of evolution coincide and are superimposed, it is because we imagine our individual future (and that of human society) as something "to be constructed," and therefore before action. We are in convergent time; its arrow points toward the increase of complexity. Perhaps confusion is born from the fact that we use the same time scale to measure the succession of events in our lives (from birth to death) and the stages in the life of humanity. The direction of historical time or evolutionary time should be the opposite of the direction of entropic time.

Complementarity: A Third Route

To surmount these contradictions, we may use a third route, that of a complementarist dialectic inspired by the form of reasoning introduced by cybernetics. Like the systemic approach, this approach considers the totality of phenomena. Deliberately reintroducing the subject into the world of objects, it accepts a universe both perceived and lived in under two aspects, the subjective and the objective. Finally, it attempts to resolve the dualities and to go beyond the alternatives by laying down as its first principle the principle of the conservation of time.

To maintain the organization of an open system (living cell or human society) is to slow the speed of the increase of entropy in the system, or in this case to slow the passage of time. "Incapable of stopping the advance of material change, [life] nevertheless manages to delay it" (Bergson) ( see notes ). A forteori, to create information and organization, to compensate for the wear of machines, to use ways that make it possible to concentrate and channel energy, results in holding time, in preventing its being lost. It also contributes more effectively to slowing (and perhaps stopping in the intensity of the moment and not in the dilution of eternity?) the passage of time by balancing it against the creation of information. Time and information: two flows of equal speed, moving in opposite directions.

Conservation of time would then come about through the maintenance of a balance between speed of organization and speed of disorganization of the world. When evolution began, the flow of entropic degradation was preeminent. The activity of man, however, helped to oppose it with

an increasingly intense flow of new information. We can illustrate this with a story. Living beings are passengers on an infinite train traveling at great speed, "the train of the second law of thermodynamics." Confined in small compartments, the passengers measure time by counting the signs that pass their windows with regularity. Intrigued by the inscriptions on the signs (impossible to read, so great is the train's speed), the passengers communicate with one another and break down the partitions that separate them, thereby creating an infinite aisle in the center of the train.

Having succeeded in uniting and organizing themselves in order to build machines to carry them in the aisle--at increasing speed but in the opposite direction to that of the train--they were then in a position to offset the speed of the signs. At the very moment that the speed of the signs was canceled, a signpost bearing its mysterious inscription appeared before them. Thus they were able to read in full the "secret of the universe."

Man resembles Janus, the god of two faces. He is the meeting place for two different qualitative perceptions of the direction of time. His life runs in the time of death, but his organizing action on physical and conceptual systems is in the time of the life of the world.

Through his actions each man transmits a part of himself into the universe. He fills a reservoir where something is being stored. Consciousnesses are (and probably will be even more effectively) interconnected and synchronized through means of communication in real time and by collective memory. This collective consciousness becomes informed by obtaining information on the universe (through research) and communicating it (through education). All creative action, at all levels of society, contributes in its own way to the organization of the world and its advancement toward higher levels of complexity.

The increase in complexity is neither unavoidable nor irreversible. All organization, no matter what its form, remains subject to degradation, to use, and to aging, whether it be living beings, machines, buildings, or information. Human society could even be destroyed instantly by nuclear catastrophe.

However, it is the individual creative action that compensates for the passage of time. For every original work is analogous to a reserve of time, to a potential time. Along with the concept of potential energy, then, we might propose that of potential time. The significance of the concept can be guessed: potential time is information.

Consider two examples, one at the biological level, the other at the level of society. The information necessary for the reproduction and maintenance of the structure of a living being is inscribed within the DNA molecule. This molecule represents all potential time amassed by the past evolution of life. The message is of high improbability; the actualization of this potential in the time of making copies will constitute the short span allotted to existence. The information that was present at the origin of this life will only be irreversibly degraded. Like the noise that covers and slowly blurs the meaning of a message, disorder sets in and increases. Entropy rises and errors accumulate. From reproduction to reproduction, from synthesis to synthesis, the organism ages, then dies. It has exhausted its "reserve of time," its reprieve has expired. It has attained its most probable state--death.

We see the opposite when we consider the life of humanity. The generation of information (potential time) in human society is accomplished at an accelerated rate as a result of the ceaseless efficiency gathered in storage and processing systems. As Gaston Berger has observed, humanity seems to grow younger.

Thus we can distinguish between the evolution of an individual life, which belongs to ontological time (the time of making copies), and the evolution of life that culminates today in the collective life of humanity, which belongs to phylogenetic time (the time of the creation of originals).

The dialectical approach proposed here accepts two complementary languages: that of reason, of scientific knowledge; and that of "meaning," of art, poetry, and religion. The scientific language (mathematics, physics) is rich in information and poor in human content, while the language of meaning (politics, religion) is poor in information but rich in human content.

Using the two languages, one can try to answer the "how" without neglecting the "why"--without separating the objective world from the subjective world. For they form the two complementary aspects of reality and knowledge, in spite of the enormous disproportions between the objective, physical universe and the subjective universe of individual consciousnesses lost in the immensity of space-time.

In the complementarist view, information and neguentropy are no longer divided into two separate worlds; they are the hinge between the objective and the subjective. Although they are superimposable and equivalent, information and neguentropy possess opposite "temporal poles." In fact neguentropy, the objective measure of information, is compelled to head (as soon as it is used) in the direction of entropic time. On the other hand, information, the subjective meaning of neguentropy, is compelled to head (once it has been acquired) in the direction of creative duration (Fig. 90).

Through observation and in the certainty of the tangible, we discover the world in a direction analogous to that of waves diverging from a source: the direction of conventional time. The universe now appears to us in its energetic, quantitative, material, and objective aspect. Through creative action and in the richness of living experience, we discover its other face in the direction of waves converging toward a center. It is the spiritual and subjective aspect through which the universe becomes more and more meaningful.

The two basic entities found at the end of this reflection, like the two sides of a single reality, are energy and the mind; their intermediate aspects are matter and form (or information). Yet everything appears as though only two things existed in the universe: informed energy, or matter, the fabric of knowledge; and the materialized mind, or information, the framework of creative action.

If there is conservation of time, freedom will be totally contained in the present. Thus, the universe appears as a consciousness that creates itself as it becomes conscious of itself. The trail it leaves, and which we observe, is the phenomenon of evolution.


Evolution is the history of self-organization of matter in increasingly complex systems ( see notes ). It is a very general process that includes prebiological, biological, and social evolutions, and for this reason the mechanisms most widely used to explain biological evolution (mutation and natural selection) are no longer sufficient. They must be expanded and generalized to make them applicable not only to biological systems but to physicochemical and social systems as well.

The global view of evolution, faithful to the systemic approach, integrates energy, information, and time. Its goal is to come to see in the same light the genesis of the organizations of life and society, their maintenance in time, and their evolution.

Darwin's explanation of biological evolution is based on three concepts: spontaneous variation, the struggle for existence, and natural selection.

Spontaneous variations are the random mutations produced in the chromosomes, which determine heredity. These variations generate new forms; thus there is an increase in the variety of forms present.

The struggle for existence results from the combination of two effects: the formidable reproductive capability of living organisms and the limitation of energy resources (or the dangers of the environment). The better adapted organisms will survive and reproduce, those less well adapted will die. The outcome is simple in its severity: survival or disappearance.

Natural selection is the ultimate approval of the environment, which acts here as a filter. Reproduction permits the transmission from one generation to another of the ability to adapt to certain environmental conditions. There is reinforcement of the better-adapted species, and their populations increase. Each individual, being subject to mutation, has the potential to affect the entire course of evolution.

In order to extend this classic mechanism to the evolution of all complex systems, we must replace the three Darwinian concepts with generation of variety, survival (or disappearance), and competitive exclusion. Every evolutionary mechanism in fact rests on the combination of three elements: a random generator of variety, a system of stabilization (and therefore self-maintenance), and a selector.

I shall take up these three stages, genesis, survival, and exclusion giving examples from physical, biological, and social systems.

The Genesis of Form

Thermodynamic equilibrium is death--monotony, homogeneity, the tepidity of entropy. Life, on the contrary, like all forms of organization or information, is a deviation from equilibrium, a temporary evasion, a reprieve.

The problem of the appearance of new forms (morphogenesis) can be illustrated by two questions: How can order, information, and variety be born out of disorder and homogeneity? How can one pass from a state of equilibrium to the "controlled disequilibrium" that is life?

The treatment of classic thermodynamic principles by the theory of information modifies radically our idea of equilibrium. A deviation from thermodynamic equilibrium is the equivalent of information, the expressions "far from equilibrium" and "recognizable in the environment" have precisely the same meaning.

Consider two examples, an iceberg and a sand castle. An iceberg floating in the sea is conspicuous in its environment. It represents structure, organization, and information. When it melts, each drop of its water mixes with that of the sea. Entropy is at a maximum and equilibrium is attained.

A sand castle is made of the same material as the beach. It, too, represents a deviation from equilibrium, and it has a form that is readily recognizable in the homogeneous environment of the beach. But exposed to the wind and the movement of people on the beach, it soon becomes lost in the environment; it disappears completely when each grain of its sand blends with that of the beach.

All organization is like the iceberg or the sand castle. The problem posed by morphogenesis is not far removed from that posed by the transformation of a small part of the beach into a sand castle. The two questions are now reduced to one: How does every deviation from equilibrium-- every generator of form--make its start?

At the base of this deviation and its preservation in time is the effect of positive and negative feedback loops. Every deviation from equilibrium begins with a simple fluctuation, and this fluctuation can be amplified through the play of positive feedback. In order to maintain itself in time, the fluctuation must be stabilized by negative feedback loops, which give rise to prolonged oscillations and then to cycles. These are characteristic processes of the vital functions of self-maintenance.

That everything begins with a simple fluctuation is a fact that rests on a property well known to physicists: a system that is stable and homogeneous at the macroscopic level is no longer so at the microscopic level. Take the example of a crowd: seen from afar, it presents a homogeneous appearance; its overall behavior is predictable, yet the actions of individuals can create fluctuations around a state of statistical equilibrium. These fluctuations can broaden and lead to a new and unpredictable overall behavior.

The same is true for molecules, which makes their study especially interesting with respect to the creation of living forms and the origin of life. A population of molecules forms a stable and homogeneous system at the macroscopic level, but at the level of the individual molecules the system is no longer homogeneous. Collisions, reactions, combinations that make and unmake themselves represent the fluctuations out of equilibrium. Each random fluctuation is a possibility for new organization. It is a kind of information. Amplified by positive feedback, each fluctuation is a random generator of variety, found at the base of all evolution.[2]

A particular form of fluctuation that plays a fundamental role in the genesis of an organized structure is the autocatalytic reaction ( see notes ). There is autocatalysis when the products of a reaction serve as catalyst in the same reaction. An autocatalytic reaction can lead to the emergence of an ordered structure from a homogeneous system. This is the case in a chain reaction which produces (following random molecular collisions) a more complex molecule that is able to catalyze certain steps in its own formation. The chain closes on itself to form a positive feedback loop. From simple molecules present in the environment and acting as building blocks, the complex molecule assembles itself. The process becomes faster and faster as products hardly formed accelerate the building process (Fig. 91).

At the molecular level this process is the equivalent of biological reproduction: to remake oneself faster than the original was made. The molecular species endowed with autocatalytic properties invades the environment. This explains the predominant role of certain molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids in the origin of living organisms.

Temporal asymmetry ( see page 166 ) is found at the level of molecular reproduction. A long period of time is required to produce the first catalytic molecule (the original), but once it exists it accelerates the steps that lead to the making of two, then four, then eight molecules of the same species. Thus copies are made quickly from spare parts present in the environment. This type of mechanism is also at the base of animal reproduction. Phylogeny requires a long time to produce a new species, but ontogeny permits the making of copies in a relatively short time. The demographic explosion--and its acceleration--is the direct consequence of efficient autocatalysis of the human species.

Fluctuations that prolong and amplify themselves can take the form of periodic oscillations in time. They occur, for example, when the presence of certain chemical substances causes the degradation of one catalyst and the regeneration of another--and vice versa. The concentrations of the two substances oscillate over long periods, moving to and from their minima and maxima. Similar oscillations are found in the relations between populations of predators and their prey. When E. coli bacteria and paramecia are cultivated in the same environment, the number of each colony oscillates between its maximum and minimum. The E. coli population is small in the presence of a large number of paramecia; then the latter die because they cannot find enough food--which enables the bacteria to reproduce rapidly again. And the process repeats itself.

Such oscillations represent the beginning of regulation through negative feedback, and they lead to stabilization. When autocatalytic chain reactions become extended in highly ramified networks, a branch may close on itself and form a cycle. Then the sequence of corresponding reactions becomes stabilized through negative feedback. Thus there is self-maintenance and self-selection. This explains why such cycles are found at the base of all life processes (cycles of cellular metabolism or ecological cycles).

Autocatalytic fluctuations, oscillations, and cycles can lead to the birth of organized structures out of disorder.[3]

At the root of the origin of each new form there is a random generator of variety and a system of stabilization.

The generator is chance. The slightest deviation from equilibrium can be amplified by positive feedback. The process of reproduction and mutation in living beings combines random generation of the most varied forms with their autocatalytic development. Environment, as we shall see, plays the role of the selector.

In social evolution unforeseen events, accidents, and environment-generated aggressions form the seeds of change. These events can be captured, selected, and triggered for political ends. Ideas, new directions that are the result of research and thought, are at the outset random fluctuations. They will be selected, saved, or abandoned depending on the play of rewards and reinforcements that link each person to the system that gives him life.

The system of stabilization and selection represents necessity. It causes the environment to intervene. This prevents the separation of an open system from its ecosystem. (Compare Figure 92 with the diagram on p. 66.)

The environment acts as a filter, keeping only the best-adapted forms. The penalty for not adapting is elimination and death. By upsetting homeostatic systems, the environment forces them to adapt and evolve. It is through the reinforcement loops (represented by the best-adapted survivors) that environment exercises its power of selection: obviously, only the survivors can transmit a favorable mutation to their descendents.

How does the selector operate? From a new organization, a new species, a new idea, how does evolution move? Toward growth, equilibrium, or decline?

Exclusion and Divergence

Autocatalysis inevitably involves rapid growth and acceleration--and conflicts with the environment. Growing systems drain energy for their own use; when the resources of the environment are limited, these systems enter into competition with others. Some survive, others are eliminated. In this respect autocatalysis must be linked with self-selection. Natural selection must not be confused with an arbitrary "choice" effected from the "outside" by a supranatural entity or even by an environment endowed with some "design." The old concept of natural selection must give way to a more general concept that integrates duration and acceleration: competitive exclusion.

Competitive exclusion is based on speed of growth, acceleration through autocatalysis, and liberated power ( see page 104 ). Imagine two populations living in the same ecological niche and competing for limited resources. These two populations cannot coexist in perfect equilibrium unless their reproduction speeds are identical.[4] As soon as the rate of reproduction of one population exceeds that of the other, even by a tiny fraction, this population will have all the opportunities to eliminate its rival. The actual situation is clearly much more complex, for it involves the interdependencies of several populations.

Carried to its extreme, should not competitive exclusion end in a single species--the best adapted--selected at the expense of all the others? Human beings, for example? In fact such exclusive selection is impossible because it would destroy the ecosystem. Recall the law of requisite variety (see p. 87). The predominance of a single species or too drastic a reduction in the number of species present would cause a fatal disequilibrium. The ecosystem would not survive such a simplification, nor would, a fortiori, the systems that evolve within it. Self-conservation involves the entire system--open systems in evolution plus the ecosystem.

Acceleration is one of the characteristic features of generalized evolution ( see notes ). Duration of time contracts from the first living forms to human societies. Human intellectual or sociotechnological evolution is even more accelerated than biological evolution. Every invention is the equivalent of a biological mutation. Man can invent and make a mistake without having to await the birth of a new generation to determine the results of his creations. In biology, to eliminate a useless invention one must always eliminate an individual. Moreover, the transmission of useful "biological inventions" is sequential; it happens only at the moment of transition from one generation to another. In intellectual evolution, however, what has just been invented can theoretically benefit everyone; the techniques of diffusion and storage considerably accelerate the sociotechnological evolution.

Linked to acceleration, competitive exclusion introduces temporal gaps that are difficult to fill, between two or more types of evolution. Now one understands the importance of the relative growth rate between two systems or two populations in competition in an environment of limited resources. Every increasing gap between two metabolic rates can also lead to the elimination of the slower one. This is as true for biology as it is for human society.

Thus the concept of temporal divergence seems to me to be basic to an understanding of the general mechanisms of evolution and "selection." Moreover, it has the advantage of linking closely evolution and time, which--paradoxically--scientists have been trying to separate (Fig. 93).

So important a concept has not failed to have a profound influence on the development of the philosophical, economic, and political ideas on which modern societies are built. It is particularly enlightening in this respect to follow the direct line of ideas leading from Malthus to Darwin, from Darwin to Engels and Marx and the familiar concepts of "the struggle for existence" and "the class struggle." An economic law gave birth to a biological law that in turn was the basis for a new economic law.

In September 1838, some time after his return from the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin read Thomas Robert Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population, which had been published in 1788. Suddenly he realized the fundamental importance of the temporal divergence between the rate of population growth and the rate of food production, which are the bases of Malthusian theory. "It at once struck me," Darwin wrote, "that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work." ( see notes ).

The true driving force of evolution is the extraordinary power of reproduction of living beings. Potentially each species has the means for overrunning the world with its posterity; what prevents it from doing so is competition and death.

Engels was impressed with Darwin's ideas and realized the great generality of the evolutionary mechanism he proposed. On December 12, 1859 he wrote to Marx: "All things considered, this Darwin whom I am now reading is absolutely sensational . . . no one has ever made an attempt of such scope to demonstrate that there is an historic development in nature, at least no one has done so with so much success."

Marx, who lived in London, had the occasion to meet Darwin. In June 1862 he wrote to Engels: "What amuses me in Darwin, whom I have seen again, is that he also claims to apply Malthus' theory to plants and animals. . . It is remarkable to see how Darwin recognises in plants and animals his own English society, with its division of work its competition, its opening of new markets, its inventions, and its Malthuslan 'struggle for existence.'"

Among societies the law of competitive exclusion takes into account the widening of the gap between rich countries and poor countries. The unbridled consumption of energy in rich countries, related to the rapid pace of economic development, leads them to drain increasing energy flows from an environment that is becoming impoverished. In addition growth and acceleration linked to the control of the regulatory mechanisms of a system of lower complexity lead to the domination of the weaker by the stronger. Beyond selfish interests there are moral, ethical and humanitarian values that ought now to guide us. Without them we are in danger of seeing a phenomenon of inexorable competitive exclusion: the self-selection of the rich countries and the elimination of the poor countries. The catastrophic consequence of this will be the loss of an even more important treasure of humanity, the cultural and human variety necessary to its evolution.

Equilibrium and Zero Growth

For biologists growth is only a step toward equilibrium. Once attained, it is not static equilibrium but dynamic equilibrium. Static equilibrium, as we know, is death.

The concept of equilibrium in chemistry is based on Le Chatelier's principle: "If one varies the conditions imposed on a system originally in equilibrium, the equilibrium will move in a direction that tends to return the system to its original condition." This was a cybernetic principle before Norbert Wiener introduced cybernetics; it is regulation by negative feedback. This principle made possible the great laws that govern chemical reactions. But it relates to closed systems, whose evolutionary direction is determined by the increase in entropy. On the other hand, in an open system the direction of evolution is determined by the increase in information or--its equivalent--the decrease in entropy.[5] The stationary state that it maintains is comparable to a controlled disequilibrium, a flight forward. One is wrong to speak of "equilibrium of the inner milieu," "price equilibrium," "balance of payments," or "social equilibrium", in an open system there are only controlled disequilibriums. This type of "equilibrium" is born from speed, like that of the surfer who leans forward to ride a wave that remakes itself endlessly beneath his board.

One of the best examples of "controlled disequilibrium" is furnished once again by biology. In the cell the manufacture of the cellular fuel ATP is taken care of by the chain of electron carriers ( see page 49 ). At the head of the chain are the energy-rich molecules extracted from food. These molecules have a strong "electron pressure"; thus they will tend to release their electrons. Each carrier is located at a lower "pressure" level than the preceding one, and the energy represented by the electrons runs from one level to the next like a waterfall. At the end of the chain the molecules have given away their electrons, their "pressure" has fallen, and they combine with water and oxygen. Over the entire chain, however, "equilibrium" is maintained.

Figure 94 illustrates this by means of a hydraulic analogy. In each tube (open at the top) water is maintained at a stationary level, provided that input flow is equal to output flow. The water levels are not the same, for the pressure differs from one tube to the next (it is weakest near the drain). The same principle applies to the "pressure" of the electrons in each carrier; it is weakest at the end of the chain.

The network of stationary states in the cell gives life one of its most remarkable properties: it maintains itself at crosscurrent to the flow of entropy. Incapable of overriding this flow, it balances it for a period of time.

It is in this respect that we must understand the expression "stationary economy" ( see notes ) and the maintenance of a controlled disequilibrium. The expression is preferable to that of "zero growth," which introduces numerous misunderstandings regarding the finalities of economic growth. Zero growth is confused with a halt in the technological and intellectual progress of mankind or with a static equilibrium. The birth rate and industrial production are flows. The object of the stationary economy ought to be the maintenance of wealth at a desired level through the regulation of flows to their minimum output. To try to enlarge flows as though they themselves were wealth is absurd.

Tbe Conquest of Time

Beyond the problems posed by pollution and the exhaustion of natural resources, economic growth "at any price" introduces a new constraint: it makes time a "consumable product." Time, like work, is broken up and rationed, for it is coming to be a commodity in short supply.

"The abundance of goods creates a shortage of time" (J.-P. Dupuy) ( see notes ). We constantly lack the time to enjoy the objects we buy. Attached to each commodity is a "minimum duration for consumption": it takes time to read a book, to listen to a record, to watch television, to drive a car, to mow the lawn. "Time becomes a rare commodity in comparison with material things" (Dupuy). Its value increases with the standard of living--which accounts for the search for ways to take time away from chronophagic (from the Greek chronos, time, and phagein, eat) activities. People cut short the hours they allow for sleep, hygiene, meals, reflection, travel, family life, and sports. They prolong their working time in order to buy time-saving machines or to pay for other people's time.

Why save time? What deadline must we meet? Saving time without having a deadline (the temporal dimension of the goal to be achieved) ( see notes ) leads, as we have seen, to wasted energy. The only way to "save time" on the human scale is to create, to organize the world.

Ways of fighting entropy are not to be found in accelerating the economic machine. Acceleration leads to an increase in consumption; it heads in the same direction as entropy and disorder. It would be better to look for ways to fight entropy effectively by increasing the capacity for creation in society.

Waste time to earn one's living or risk one's life to save time? That is the alternative that torments so many men and women in the industrialized countries. Instead of remaining trapped in this vicious circle, perhaps we could find in creative activity the ways for really saving time. To create something original requires time. The communication through education of this reserve of time furnishes everyone a "time capital" that one can use throughout one's life.

We must learn again to "waste time" in order to know better how to save it collectively. In our civilization of haste and waste the contemplation of a countryside, the conversation with a child, the participation in a sport, and even quiet meditation can seem a loss of time--but how many fruitful ideas, creative thoughts, and new hypotheses have been born in such moments?

The conflict between the unrestrained speed of our society and the awareness of a moment lived to its fullest has never been so acute. Our biological clock protests: the stress is too great. The organism reaches the limits of its resistance. Psychological time ( see notes ) is no more taken into consideration than biological time, as many biologists and physiologists have pointed out. Time flows at different speeds for different ages in life. The young child, who uses a great deal of energy in proportion to his rate of metabolism, ages quickly. We could say that the younger the organism, the faster it ages. Psychologically that is expressed for the child in the slow passage of the outer time of reference, for he fills it with too many "priorities" of his biological time. The years pass slowly when one is young, then more rapidly as one becomes older. Everyone has this experience in the course of his life: the old man sees the child change constantly, but for the child old people remain the same.

In spite of this observation--which is confirmed by biological facts-- the school day of a child is almost equal to the work day of an adult. The hours weigh more heavily for a child, but if he is properly motivated, he learns more quickly than an adult. Yet the child spends hours trapped in a world (school) that seems to him impoverished in comparison with the outside world.

Eager to save time, we live in an era known as much for its conquest of time as for its conquest of space. From communications and transportation systems to computers, we continue to invent machines for conquering time. But the machines may be a trap. Computers work to the nanosecond (which is to the second as the second is to thirty years), the quantity of information already present in the social organism is such that the lives of all persons living on earth today, laid end to end, would not make up a sufficiently long duration of time to receive, process, and assimilate all this information. The conclusion is simple: the amount of information needed for the functioning of society already greatly exceeds our capacity to handle it, even with the help of computers. That which is exchanged between one computer and another must be controlled; samples of these "conversations" have to be taken in order to allow decisions to be made. It is precisely this fraction, minute in comparison to everything being said in the world of bits and electronic impulses that already saturates the processing capability of our mind.

What can be done? Shall we leave it up to the computers? Even in the Apollo program the entire hierarchy of computers checking in real time all the parameters of takeoff during the countdown was built in such a way that the final decision to launch was made by a human intelligence, that of the director of the program. The organization and the success of the Apollo program were due to the fact that it was a directed operation; those responsible were able to make choices, allocate time and resources, and organize time.

Our societies, however, still do not know how to choose their goals. To liberate time, to restore to everyone his free time, neither growth nor a stationary economy will be enough. We must succeed in setting clearly our goals and deadlines. Perhaps then we shall be able to fight effectively against a form of waste much worse than the waste of energy or raw materials--the waste of human energy. But in order to accomplish this shall we have to go so far as to overturn our scale of values? Goals and deadlines imply choices among many types of constraints. Every choice at the highest level is based necessarily on a hierarchy of values. Ours has lapsed; the failure of our industrial societies testifies to it. Can we discern in the new generation, more open to the global approach, the emergence of new values?

[1] The Newtonian illusion of a time of things, an absolute time, was virorously defended by Samuel Clarke in his famous correspondence in 1715 with Leibnitz, who considered time an "order of events". Later, with Kant, time moves to the side of the subject by becoming "an a priori form of sensitiveness" (Transcendental Esthetics, 1781).

[2] On positive feedback ( see page 87 ), ( see page 72 ).

[3] Von Foerster calls this process order from noise According to Ilya Prigogine, it is order by fluctuation. Organized structures transforming energy are "dissipaove structures."

[4] It would be the same for a population of molecules displaying autocatalytic properties or a populalion of prebiological systems (the rudimentary ancestors of living organisms) ( see notes ).

[5] If the creation of information exactly balances the production of entropy in a system, the system remains stationary--it does not evolve. If entropy increases, the system becomes disorganized and disappears. The direction of evolution (change) in an open system is therefore determined by the increase in informalion or organization

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