Kamo & Entropy

Kamo no Chomei lived in Japan from about 1155 to 1216 AD, after some political upheavals in his Shinto shrine he decided to become a hermit and live in the woods. He built a “ten foot square hut” and turned his back on the world.

A key message in Kamo’s  “Life in a ten foot square hut” is that; boundaries form barriers between our unenlightened state of being and harmony with the universe, and thus enlightenment. More specifically, his philosophies proselytize, that to pour one’s energy into the construction of a boundary is counter-productive to the ultimate goal of enlightenment achieved through the dissolution of the illusion of boundaries.

Kamo’s hut is minimalist, an “unsubstantial cottage”, and provides only the bare necessities he needs for simple survival. It is impermanent and can be easily moved, “I can easily take it down and transport it elsewhere”. In this, we see that he has minimized the boundaries of his living arrangements to be in commune with nature to the bare necessities. He further tears down boundaries by rejecting fear, resentment, luxury and most notably desire, “I commit my life to fate without special wish to live or desire to die”. To relinquish the boundary of desire is one of the most significant achievements of any Buddhist seeking the path to enlightenment.

As Kamo is vigilant against self-delusion he invokes the wisdom of the Law of Buddha that “teaches that we should shun all clinging to the world of phenomena”. He laments that he likes his little hut and solitary life so much that it “may be a hindrance to enlightenment”. He views his attachment to a solitary life to be a folly. In Buddhism, the boundary of desire must be removed to achieve enlightenment.

Boundaries appear to instill order by stemming the expansion of entropy, but in reality they obscure your vision, making it difficult to discern emergent patterns. When we channel our energy into the construction and maintenance of boundaries we cloud our perceptions of additional realities by directing focus and strength into these artificial constructs, blinding ourselves to the beauty in the movements of o.ur world as it expands and into entropy.

Entropy is commonly misunderstood to mean a movement toward disorder; that is not an accurate description of the second law of thermodynamics. It is clearer to think of entropy as a method by which energy becomes more evenly distributed in an isolated system (in this case the universe itself). In other words, an increase in entropy is a process of energy dispersal. For instance in a region in which one area is hot and one cold, the entropy of the system will see the heat disperse throughout the system creating a uniform temperature. The ability of the system to react with itself decreases and a state of balance is achieved. The higher the entropy, the more even the distribution, and thus a reduction in the dichotomy of difference. In other words, a dissolution of boundaries.

Entropy, in our understanding of the universe, is as irreversible as the uni-directional arrow of time.  By removing all boundaries, including the illusionary boundary of external and internal, the mind can start to relax into the expanding patterns of entropy. On a microstate level, no laws of physics will be broken should the cream remove itself from the coffee and reassemble in the milk jug. It is simply a matter of probabilities.

Which brings me to another aspect of entropy as it relates to the philosophy of Kamo; the dispersal of energy measured by an increase in entropy whilst on the one hand, can be seen as a more balanced and uniform state, it is in no way a static or dead state. When energy is more evenly dispersed the next instant for each microstate has an increased number of possibilities. Therefore, maximum entropy gives you maximum potential. As a friend recently pointed out to me, at such a time there would be no more energy to move, giving rise to images of a crystalline universe; sparkling in its frigid state, with no further chance to breathe. When all energy is expelled, is there no possibility for a fresh influx? Are we given a finite amount to play with? Or perhaps does the very thought of existence give continual breath to movement? Is this the boundary between Zen and Nirvana?

We see that entropy is a measurement, a measurement not of disorder but of energy dispersal, assessed by the number of possibilities of each microstate in the next instant, or how many different ways the system can arrange itself in the next instant. If the energy is more dispersed it has a greater potential for new patterns. A state poised in anticipation of movement and potential.

In short, the dissolution of boundaries allows for an increase in entropy, which in turn provides a more balanced state and an increase in potential and possibility. I think this a scientific way of saying, “more enlightened”.

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