Chapter 5

Inanimate bodies

Before getting into the last section of this Part, which deals with change, let me just say a few words about the properties bodies have because they are inanimate and not alive.

I said above that bodies are inanimate because they are "controlled" by their total quantity. This seems to be what is revealed by the properties of inanimate bodies as distinguished from living ones; but in a sense, this has to be proved, and an attempt will be made in the beginning of the next Part. All I am trying to do here is list the properties that are known from physics and chemistry which seem to be those that bodies have as bodies. Living bodies also have them, but living bodies have other ones in addition (such as nutrition) which at least in part contradict the implications of their nature as bodies, as we will see.

The properties of inanimate bodies as such can be more or less deduced from what in physics is called the "second law of thermodynamics," which has various formulations, but basically says that in interactions among physical bodies, some energy is always lost out of the system of the two bodies. There is another way to formulate it that systems that interact tend by their nature to get less organized, but that leads to complexities we don't need to consider, since it is really another way of saying, when all is said and done, what is said in the first formulation.

In any case, the first thing this implies is this:

Conclusion 14: The natural state of an inanimate body is the lowest energy-level compatible with its form of the unifying energy.

In the next chapter we will discuss instability and equilibrium; but we can be a bit proleptic here and say that the "equilibrium" condition of a body is the one that (a) it will tend toward if it isn't in it, and (b) it will stay at if it is. It's the one it "wants" to be in, or its natural condition.

What the second law of thermodynamics says is that the natural tendency of a body as a body is to go from higher to lower energy, which implies, first of all, the conclusion above: the energy-level it is "comfortable with" or it is "seeking" is the least amount of energy it can have.

If it's at its lowest energy level, then of course it will stay there, because the direction of any change in inanimate bodies is to lose energy; and it hasn't got any more to give up and still be the body in question. And of course, it can't give itself more energy, because "to be at a given energy level" means "to have this much and no more," and so it doesn't have any more energy to give itself.

Presumably, it could get more energy from outside; but since its spontaneous tendency is to give up rather than acquire energy (this is what the law says), then as an inanimate body it only acquires energy when this energy is forced into it from outside; it doesn't go looking for extra energy. Your car doesn't suck up gas from the tank unless you force it to do so by putting your foot on the accelerator; and it certainly doesn't drive itself to the gas station when the gas in tank gets low.

People have developed machines which plug themselves into energy sources when their internal energy drops below a certain point; but note here that these machines are running because they are unstable, which means that they still have an excess of energy inside them (in their batteries, for instance) which is dissipating itself into the other components of the machine, which make the whole system move toward the battery charger and plug itself in. Let the machine run down totally, and all the parts are intact; but it won't plug itself in any more. It's completely happy with being a non-running machine. Hence, the machine is just running because it's been pumped up into an unstable condition, and the battery is really just a way of delaying or slowing down the release of the excess energy that it is trying to get rid of so that it can go back to just sitting there. So even these machines have as the natural state the lowest energy level, when they are doing the least that this particular set of components can do.(1)

But this also implies:

Conclusion 15: Instability in an inanimate body always means an excess of total energy.

An inanimate body is never in an "unnatural" (unstable) condition because it has too little total energy. It can't have less energy than the "ground state" and be that kind of body (obviously if the ground state is as we saw the least total energy); and its natural condition is precisely this ground state. Hence, it will be unstable only at a higher energy level than its ground state, and so will tend downward rather than upward. It can be forced to acquire extra energy, as when you charge a battery; but once it has this, it will be unstable, and will tend back down to its ground state(2).

The following will also be true:

Conclusion 16: An inanimate body will be performing at any given moment all of the properties it can perform at that moment.

The reason for this is that the properties reveal the body; and either this body is unstable (in which case it is doing something to get rid of the excess energy and has a reactive property), or it is in equilibrium, in which case it has the least energy it can have and still be that body.

Now if in its ground state it could be performing a property that it isn't in fact performing, this would imply some extra internal energy that is not manifesting itself in a property (because it could be doing this act also with the energy it has available at the moment); but that extra property would reveal it as more energetic than it is revealed to be at the moment, which is a contradiction, since it is at its lowest energy level.

That is, a body which is not doing what it can be doing has to have extra energy "in reserve" that it is not revealing in a property. This is quite possible in a body (batteries have extra energy that they are not revealing), but not of one at its lowest energy-level, simply by definition.

But then if it is not at its lowest energy level, it is (if inanimate) unstable, in which case (a) it is doing something to get there, and so has a reactive property (as when the battery is connected to a light bulb, which it lights), or (b) it is blocked somehow from getting rid of its excess energy (as when you don't connect the battery to anything), in which case it is incapable of doing what its natural tendency is to do. Therefore, whether the inanimate body is in equilibrium or not, it will always be doing all that it can do in the state it is in.

Conclusion 17: What an inanimate body will do will be predictable based on the total energy of the body.

The idea here is that if you have an exhaustive knowledge of the "initial conditions" of any unstable system, you know where it is going to wind up and how it is going to get there. And the point here is that, since the instability depends on the amount of excess energy in the system, then these determining initial conditions amount to this: how much excess energy is in the system or body.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule, for various reasons; but basically what it means is this: The inanimate body will be doing all it can do based on the energy-state it happens to have (equilibrium or instability) and the surrounding objects acting on it or capable of being acted on by it.

If, of course, it is in its ground state, then its future is predictable because it is going to stay that way. But if it is unstable, then it will tend to lose its excess energy. Here is where variations come in. It is a law of energy that "energy follows the path of least resistance," which means that a body tends to lose energy as fast as it can; something that stands to reason if its excess energy means that it is in an unstable--and therefore self-contradictory--condition.

But that means that if you know what the most efficient way is for this body to dissipate its excess energy, you know what it is going to do; because it will take that route.

Variations come in two forms in inanimate bodies: (a) There may be a number of ways of getting rid of energy which are equally efficient, for practical purposes, and it may be that the body can't dissipate its energy in all of them at once. In this case, the range of things it can do is predictable, but not which act within this range. For instance, If you put a ball on the tip of a cone which has three channels for the ball to roll down, it is not predictable which of the channels will be used(3), but only that one of them will be; and in the long run, that each will be used a third of the time. Or (b) it may be that there are several different states for minimum-energy (ground) states, and all of them have the same total energy. For instance, a die that is rolled will stop with one face uppermost (because its minimum-energy condition is to be resting on a face); but since all six faces are compatible with this minimum-energy state, then which face is uppermost on any given throw is not predictable, only that in the long run any given face will be uppermost one-sixth of the time.

I might point out that, as quantum mechanics and catastrophe theory shows, it may very well be that the particular route taken or the particular final state may not be predictable even in principle; that is, even if all the forces acting on the object were known. There is nothing in the nature of an unstable body that says (a) that methods of dissipating excess energy cannot be exactly equal in ease, or (b) that anything has to determine a given one rather than another in a given case. Obviously, it will be unlikely that all avenues of getting rid of excess energy will be absolutely exactly equal; and so in general (at least in the macroscopic realm), the path will be determined by the route of quickest dissipation. But, however hard this may be to swallow for the determinist, there is nothing that says this general rule is universal. The donkey trapped between equally attractive bales of hay will not starve; it is just that you can't even in principle tell which he will begin eating if they are equally attractive (of course, "equally attractive" would have to take into account such esoterica as whether he was a left-eye-dominant or a right-eye-dominant donkey). But to pursue this further would be asinine.

It can be seen, I think, why physics and chemistry (which are the sciences that deal with inanimate bodies) are so heavily mathematical. Inanimate bodies are controlled by their quantity; and so in order to know about them, you have to know the quantities of the energy you are dealing with. And as Conclusion 17 shows, once you know this, then you can not only tell the present condition of the body, you can predict its future condition too; and, except for the variations in equally probable states or routes, the better you know the quantities, the more accurate your predictions.

But let us now look more closely to see what is involved in anything's changing.



1. Of course, when it plugs itself in, it is simply in a condition to absorb the release of energy from the electric line, which itself is "trying" to get back to its ground state, or its state of no excess energy. When it is not forced into an "excited state" by the generators, it runs down and stops, and our little machine's plugging itself in is now an exercise in futility.

2. Unless the release of the energy is blocked, as when the terminals of the battery are not connected to anything (ultimately, to each other).

3. This is supposing that you place the ball on the very tip, and initially it isn't "leaning" more in one direction than another.