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A depiction of an eddy in a river, categorized as a "boat hazard", according to Boat-Ed.com.[1] In the 20th century, many people, following Sherrington (1938), began characterizing humans, and an evolution + second law sense, as "eddies in the stream of entropy", among other variations.

In hmolscience, eddy (LH:2) is a current of water or air running contrary to the main current, especially a circular current. In the 20th century, using the idea or analogy of the second law being the "stream", a so-called "eddy model" began to emerge, generally following Charles Sherrington (1938), wherein organisms and humans were being referred to as "eddies" in this second law or stream of entropy.



In 1938, Charles Sherrington, in his Man on His Nature lecture, citing Claude Bernard, on homeostasis, and Joseph Needham, on dynamic equilibrium, introduced the idea that a "living" energy system, is an "eddy" in the "stream of energy", destined by the second law, as follows:[2]

“The cell is a dynamic equilibrium. It is so constituted as to maintain itself for a time—a time which is very brief as compared with the persistence of many inanimate things. From and to the world around it takes and gives energy. It is an eddy in a stream of energy. It has the power of throwing off from itself other eddies specifically like itself. In that way, though its personal eddy is brief, its specific eddy is as a species lasts immensely longer. But that eddy has inherent in its tendencies toward change, so that, where we are able to look back far enough, we find great numbers of its specific forms have vanished, and a multitude of modifications taken their places. These too are all on their way to change. It remains at present largely beyond our forecasting.”
— Charles Sherrington (1938), Man on His Nature (pg. 73)
“The living energy-system, in commerce with its surround, tends to increase itself. If we think of it as an eddy in the stream of energy it is an eddy which tends to grow; as part of this growth we have to reckon with its starting other eddies from its own resembling its own. This propensity it is which furnishes opportunity under the factors of evolution for a continual production of modified patterns of eddy. It is as though they progress toward something. But philosophy reflects that the motion for the eddy is in all cases drawn from the stream, and the stream is destined, so the second law of thermodynamics says, irrevocably to cease. The head driving it will, in accordance with the ascertained law of dynamics, run down. A state of static equilibrium will then replace the stream. And yet they will have been evolved. There purpose then was temporary? It would seem so.”
— Charles Sherrington (1938), Man on His Nature (pg. 78)
The Sherrington commemorative stained glass window (1990), in the dining hall of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, showing an afferent neuron: “two excitatory afferents with their field of supraliminal effect in the motoneurone pool of a muscle”, which may conceptualize what Sherrington means when he speaks about eddies?

Next, Sherrington gives the following modern paraphrase of Philo of Hume’s Dialogue:

“Cleanthes, are you not treating as one thing two which are not similar? You speak of the beginnings of life on the earth, and then of the extension of life's forms which has come about on the earth's surface since life's first advent here. We accept this latter as a fact because the factual study of the earth's history documents it to us. In the serial millions of years which have passed since life appeared new forms of life have arisen, all of them variants of its one broadly taken central pattern. An eddy in a stream can survive many changes in the form of the channel. That it does so, does not presuppose that an alteration in the channel was made just such as may allow the eddy to persist.”
— Charles Sherrington (1938), Man on His Nature (pg. 81)
“Obstacles to life's adventure we might have supposed insuperable were overcome. One of those old difficulties was that life at its beginning had been wholly aquatic, though so long ago that the very saltiness of the sea was then much less than now. There the lives in it, for instance those of our own primitive stock, multiplied, flourished, and evolved. Later this life invaded the land. Some of our own early stock took part in that invasion. The moving equilibrium of the cells' life in our early stock was almost literally an energy-eddy in the sea. The water of the sea conditioned it. Its energy-exchanges were based upon the sea. How if cut off from the sea could such a life exist? The Canadian biologist, Archibald Macallum, gave a reading of this riddle. The salts dissolved in our blood today are those of that long past geological epoch.”
— Charles Sherrington (1938), Man on His Nature (pg. 127)



In 1950, Norbert Wiener, in The Human Use of Human Beings, elaborates on the same idea:

“Certain analogies of behavior are observed between the machine and the living organism, the problem as to whether the machine is alive or not is, for our purposes, semantic … if we use the word life to cover all phenomena which locally swim upstream against the current of entropy, we are at liberty to do so; however, we shall then include many astronomical phenomena … it is my opinion, therefore, best to avoid all question-begging epithets such as ‘life’, ‘soul’, ‘vitalism’, and the like, and say merely that machines [and] human beings [are] pockets of decreasing entropy in a framework in which the large entropy tends to increase.”
Norbert Weiner (1950), The Human Use of Human Beings (§2: Progress and Entropy, pgs. 28-47)


Cultural | Ideology

In the 1950s, the eddy model was being taught in college as follows:

“Evolution is an eddy in the second law of thermodynamics.”
— Anon (c.1955), culturally known ideology

In 1978, Morgan Peck, in his 7M+ copy selling The Road Less Traveled, e.g., was referring to the so-called "eddy model" as follows:

“The concept that evolution runs counter to natural law is neither new nor original. I seem to remember someone I studied in my college days [1950s] stating, ‘Evolution is an eddy in the second law of thermodynamics’, but I have unfortunately not been able to locate the reference. More recently the concept has been articulated by Buckminster Fuller in his book And it Came to Pass—Not to Stay (1976).”
— Morgan Peck (1978), The Road Less Traveled (pg. 265) [3]

In 1986, James Beniger, in his The Control Revolution, outlined a Maxwell’s demon view of societies as ‘eddies’ or currents in the heat flow of the sun:[4]

“A system can sustain work only if its internal energy is purposively organized in a heat gradient, as, for example, in the steam engine, which inspired early work on thermodynamics. Only living systems can maintain and even increase such organization—to work as if guided by some vitalist equivalent of Maxwell’s demon. This does not mean that life decreases entropy in the universe, however, but only within its own systems and only by increasing entropy in the matter it consumes. Hence all living systems, including human societies, must be seen as eddies in the entropic stream, as counter-currents resisting for a time the rush of the universe toward final heat death.”



Benard cells

A depiction of Bernard cells, described as "eddies" in heated silicon oil by Henry Bernard in 1900.

In 1900, Henri Benard completed his PhD on “Cellular Eddies in a Horizontal Liquid Layer”, wherein he made hexagonal cells form, in silicon or whale oil, when heated past a certain Reynold’s number.

In the 1970s, the idea of “Benard cell” formation, was championed ad nauseum by Ilya Prigogine, in his “far-from-equilibrium” model of order formation.[5]


In 2020, Christopher Nolan, in his film Tenet, has the characters reflection entropy inversion, the arrow of time, and how when people are "inverted", it is like swimming up the stream of entropy.

  • Kat (pg. 99): Who are you?
  • Neil: Let me start with the simple stuff. Every law of physics operates the same forwards and backwards, except one. entropy
  • Protagonist: What’s the ‘algorithm’, Neil?
  • Neil: The 241 is one section of it. One out of nine, It’s a formula rendered into physical form so it can’t be copied or communicated. A black box with one function.
  • Protagonist: Which is?
  • Neil: Inversion. But not objects or people. The world around us.
  • Kat: I don’t understand.
  • Neil: As they invert the entropy of more and more object … [Neil holds his hands, fingers spread, pointing at each other] The two directions of time are becoming more intertwined … [he slowly brings his fingers together, into the ‘Tenet’ gesture] But because of the environment’s entropy flows in our direction … [he pushes one hand back with the other] … we dominate. They’re always swimming upstream. It’s what saved your life—the inverted explosion was pushing against the environment.
  • Protagonist (pg. 100): Pissing in the wind.

This take on things, to note, is based on the blurry ideas of John Wheeler, who from 1939 to 1989 attempted to expunge and or invalidate the operation of second law (and entropy increase) of thermodynamics in all areas of application, from molecules to black holes, owing to some peculiar metaphysical belief or anthropism.


The following are related quotes:

God and the universe, soul, and consciousness, idealism, realism! I swim in a sea of formal dialectic and logic, unfortunately not with my former ease. More experienced swimmers have enticed me too often into the rapids and eddies.”
Fritz Haber (1887), aged 19 letter Max Hamburger, Jan 23 + Feb 2 [6]
“Each organism exists at the center of its own little eddy of inclusive fitness in a very shallow sea of reciprocity.”
— David Hull (1988), Science as a Process (pg. 433)
“The knowhow, so to speak, to make salt is already in the sodium and chlorine. But the knowhow to make hemoglobin molecules and lemurs is not secretly coded in the carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Life is a countercurrent to entropy, an energetic fight uphill in a world that typically moves thermodynamically downhill, despite some negentropic eddies, and despite some irreversible thermodynamics. Thermodynamics need be nowhere violated, because there is a steady ‘downhill’ flow of energy, as energy is irradiated into earth from the sun, and, eventually, reradiated into space. Here, one can posit god as a countercurrent to entropy, a sort of biogravity that lures life upward, an autopoietic force that energizes all the particulars.”
— Holmes Rolston (1999), Genes, Genesis, and God (pgs. 357, 364) [7]
Eddies are patterns of a river. Similarly, all forms of matter and energy – from quarks to galaxies, from microvolts to lightning bolts – are patterns of the substrate of the universe.”
— Rick Hanson (2009), “Eddies in the Stream” [8]
“Humans are a electromagnetic eddies, existive in various states of being, each quantified by a Gibbs free energy of formation, embedded in a universe comprised of four fields: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear.”
— Libb Thims (2017), correction commentary on Lynne McTaggart’s 2001 statement that humans are “coalescence of energy in a field of energy” [9]

End matter

See also


  1. Eddies (river hazards) – Boat-ed.com.
  2. Sherrington, Charles. (1938). Man on His Nature (eddy, pgs 73, ). Publisher.
  3. Peck, M. Scott. (1978). The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth (eddy, pg. 265) Touchstone.
  4. Beniger, James. (1986). The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (thermodynamics, pgs. 36-37, 45-47, 55; eddies, pg. 55). Harvard University Press.
  5. Benard cells (subdomain) – Hmolpedia 2020.
  6. (a) Haber, Fritz. (1885). “Letter to Max Hamburger”, Jan 23 + Feb 2.
    (b) Haber Collection, 2305/3 (Jan 23) and 2305/7 (Feb 2), Archives for the History of Max Planck Society, Berlin, Germany.
    (c) Charles, Daniel. (2005). Master Mind: the Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Laureate who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare (pg. 15). Harper Collins Publishers.
  7. Rolston, Holmes. (1999). Genes, Genesis, and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History (pgs. 357, 364). Cambridge University Press.
  8. Hanson, Rick. (2009). “Eddies in the Stream”, RickHanson.net.
  9. Lynne McTaggart – Hmolpedia 2020.
  10. Chemistry professor paradox – Hmolpedia 2020.
  11. Turnover rate – Hmolpedia 2020.

External links

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