The Value of MEST and MESTI Concepts in Understanding Universal Change
MEST and MESTI Concepts
Information and MEST
Locality, or Space Compression: A MEST Compression Example
MEST and MESTI Concepts
Matter, Energy, Space, and Time ("MEST"), together with their still poorly understood cousin, Information ("MESTI") are five important properties of physical systems that, due to universal applicability, should be considered foundational elements of any systems theory. Modern science is increasingly discovering deep relationships between them, but each has also historically served as an independently valuable perspective on universal change.
These five concepts may not describe all the important elements of universal change, but they are at least among the fundamentals, a place to begin in our journey of understanding. It is not surprising then that they are also ancient insights into the basic features of the universe. Perhaps their earliest written roots as a coherent system come from Indian Jainist cosmology, circa 2600 BCE. Surprisingly modern, Jain philosophy does not posit an independent God as a creator, survivor, or destroyer of the universe. Instead, it asserts that the universe encompasses countless cycles of origination and destruction, but at the same time has always existed and will always exist in strict adherence to the laws of the cosmos. Time is considered as infinite, both in the past and in the future. Jainist systems theory proposed six immortal, cycling, and continuously changing "dravyas," or universal substances:
1. Soul/Consciousness/Life/Information - Jiva
2. Matter - Pudgala
3. Medium of motion (Kinetic Energy) - Dharma
4. Medium of rest (Potential Energy) - Adharma
5. Space - Akasa
6. Time - Kaal
Note that the Jainist scheme of five "nonliving" substances (excluding the first "living" one) can be collapsed to the familiar MEST of the Newtonian universe. Furthermore, we can recognize their first substance as information, considering the universe as womb for the creation of intelligence, and thus MESTI is fully represented.
Over the last two and a half millennia several independent philosophies and religions have also converged (in what appears to be an inevitable developmental process) on this useful, if approximate,"MEST" characterization of the basic physical features of the universe. Concepts of matter have evolved from Aristotle, Democritus, and the Alchemists to modern chemistry, relativity, quantum mechanics, and astrophysics. Our understanding of energy has likewise advanced through thermodynamics, free energy, relativity and quantum mechanics. Space has been reformulated from Euclid and Newton's concept of absolute space, to our present non-Euclidean, relativistic models (e.g., Friedman, Reimann, Einstein). Time, perhaps the least well understood of these four, like gravity among the fundamental forces, has progressed from our Greek concepts of transience and eternity to Einstein's and Minkowski's space-time continuum and the physics of black hole singularities. Within the latter special environment time, from our own reference frame, loses universal meaning. Finally, in Albert Einstein's general relativity, we see a further compression of these concepts into matter-energy (a precipitation from more elemental gauge fields), and space-time (an apparently fundamental continuum). Today, string and M-theory are now hard at work attempting to represent all the features of the universe using 10 fundamental dimensions of space and one of time..
In spite of the matter-energy (M-E) and space-time (S-T) simplicity of the MEST acronym, Damien Broderick has noted that a more appropriate order of presentation of these elements might be the more awkward "TSEM," ("MEST" in reverse) given that first Time, then Space (inflationary theory), then Energy, then hadronic and finally regular Matter apparently precipitated out in an unmistakeably sequential pattern into our particular universe during its early development. Yet as I argue in my forthcoming book, Destiny of Species, current physical events are in many ways a mirror image of the rundown of complexity that occurred in our early universe. On first approximation it seems that today first Matter (miniaturization), then Energy (density, efficiency), then Space (localization), and finally Time (instantaneity) are being substantially more compressed (and eventually eliminated altogether?) by ever accelerating local technological change. More on this at another time. Thus for a number of reasons I prefer to use the acronym MEST as the physical counterpart of information, and it seems to be the most common among systems theorists today.
In a curious coincidence, beginning in the 1950's L. Ron Hubbard popularized the MEST acronym, which he did not invent, by proposing a "MEST Universe" as the lowest ("physical") level of his Scientology philosophy. Beyond the coincidence of acronym, Hubbard's treatment has no historical relation to the systems theory presented here. Nevertheless, there apparently is at least one interesting conceptual relation. As Flemming Funch notes, Hubbard saw MEST as ultimately created by what he called "Theta," i.e. consciousness, information, the spiritual dimension of reality. Apparently, one of the aims of Hubbard's philosophy is to move the relevance of the MEST universe from infinity towards zero, and the Theta (informational) universe from zero towards infinity. In other words, to lessen the power of the physical, and to replace it with the power of consciousness/information. While much of Hubbard's philosophy (which includes notions of alien visitation) seems absurd, in this I suggest he has summarized a basic universal trend toward MEST compression in evolutionary development, into the predictable statistical emergence of highly informationally dense local physical-computational systems that achieve effective computational closure with regard to all the slower, older, universal systems in which they are embedded. In The Human Phenomenon, 1955/99, Tielhard de Chardin (from whom Hubbard may have gained this insight) called this same process the balanced transfer of energy potential (entropy) into intelligence potential (noosphere), implicitly positing a law of conservation of potential as yet undiscovered by modern physics. Even earlier, Buckminster Fuller beginning in 1938 called the process "etherealization", a move of physical nature toward the informational abstraction, and use of less energy, volume, time, and mass "per each given level of functional performance."
Greek and medieval science, thermodynamics, chemistry, Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics and relativity have all greatly improved our understanding of MEST in recent years. But perhaps most significantly, Einstein's advances in special and general relativity in the 1920's brought a profound and surprising developmental convergence to MEST concepts, exposing both matter-energy equivalency and the topology of the space-time continuum in one grand synthetic model whose long-range implications have still not been completely explored. This convergence has not yet provided us with a complete understanding of the way MEST evolves over time, but it has provided an excellent beginning.
Most specifically, we are missing a deep understanding of how MEST changes can be characterized as informational changes, and the way that informational evolutionary development can be characterized as constraining the future of MEST activity. We are still missing our Einstein of information theory, a concept we will return to several times in our discourse. Nevertheless, we can begin to make several claims as to the general shape that this theory must take, and in the context of the developmental singularity hypothesis, we can now propose several specific examples of such constraints.
For good introductory surveys of each of these five MESTI properties of physical systems, you might investigate the following generalist works. Matter: The Magic Furnace, Marcus Chown, 2001; Energy: The Refrigerator and the Universe, Martin Goldstein, 1993; Space: Concepts of Space, Max Jammer, 1954/93; Time: About Time, Paul Davies, 1995. To sample some of the more grounded speculation on MEST's relationship to information, there are a range of interesting books available. Erwin Schrodinger's What is Life? 1944/92, Paul Churchland's Matter and Consciousness, 1988, and Wolfgang Hofkirchner's The Quest for a Unified Theory of Information, 1999, are all excellent places to start.
Information and MEST
In our modern materialist worldview, we don't generally consider information as a separate substance or entity from the MEST that encodes and generates it. Instead, scientists usually propose that information theory is essentially another, more holistic way to view the evolutionary developmental changes that occur within our physical MEST universe over time. This view of information-processing as another, perhaps more holistic perspective on the evolutionary development of the MEST universe, might be diagrammed as something like "MEST = I", in a yin-yang relationship, using two different filters to view the same process, if we were to represent the relation in an acronym.
An increasing number of systems theorists (see, for example, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, The Quest for a Unified Theory of Information, 1999) consider the flow of information as the most fundamentally useful way to understand reality. This has been called the "infopomorphic" paradigm. In other words, the most fundamental bias in this world view is not anthropomorphism (the specialness of the human form) but infopomorphism (the special function of information in the universe). Both are clearly biases, but there appears to be much more evidence for the latter than the former in universal design.
From the infopomorphic perspective, humans constitute a brief and transitional phase at the leading edge of the local development of cosmic intelligence--no strong anthropomorphism there. But the same time, there appears to be good reason to have mild anthropomorphic bias (e.g., humans are special, in the sense that they are currently the most complex local form of information processing, and anthropic parameters in universal design appear to be tuned to cause the developmental emergence of humanoid forms). Nevertheless, it is very easy to take this anthropomorphism too far, as is done, I feel, among those humans who think that the universe was designed for humanity as an end product. A strong and unjustified anthropomorphism also surfaces among those feel that humanity's destiny is to some how stay in control of, and superior to, exponentiating technological development, a wish, as we will discuss later, that seems entirely unsupportable given both the past history of substrate emergence and the recent history of technological development.
A lot more remains to be understood on the interrelationships between matter, energy, space, time, and information. It is most common today, given the fantastic success of reductionism, to consider parameters, forces, physical laws, and bodies of scientific theory as the "root elements" of universal change. That clearly remains the most effective investigatory approach within any scientific discipline. But to gain a broad qualitative and intuitive understanding of the impact of physics on universal change, to understand the way that human will influences physics, and the way that cosmic intelligence is itself constrained by physics, to understand the global features, properties, trajectory, and perhaps even the teleology,or purpose of the entire system, as a whole, we need to move beyond MEST into MESTI conceptualizations, tentative as they are at this early stage of our science.
Today, we find that contemplating which changes are induced in the "MEST" of the universe by information (both our scientific laws and the less quantifiable forms of information in the domain of living systems) remains the most useful and concise conceptual approach to understanding the future that is presently accessible to human thinkers. As systems theorists, it appears that the Jainists discovered this strategy almost three millennia ago. Yet information can also be considered in its own right. Like modern information theorists, early Jainists proposed there was a universal substance that deserved its own unique class, a "knowing substance." And they saw a duality between these two forms more than two millennia before Descartes.
Today, many systems theorists would call this first concept information, or computation, or complexity. Like the Jains, we know that information is also "something special." It apparently arises out of, and constrains the further evolutionary development of MEST structures over time. As Daniel Dennett observes, while it is at least grossly true that we may accurately describe a human being as a "complicated washing machine" using our most intricate physics, at the same time we know that such a reductionist description, however detailed, misses the subjective perception of one's own consciousness, an emergent informational property. This perception may still be entirely constrained by and representable within MEST physics (or not), but it also demands to be considered as a special perspective on MEST reality.
Therefore, trying to understand change from a MESTI perspective engages us in a dance that employs both the Cartesian duality of mind and matter, and a smaller number of nondualist approaches (as in Taoist cosmology) that refuse to separate the two. As we learn the interrelationships between MEST and information, it is likely that both dualistic and holistic approaches will continue to be necessary. Note also that the informational perspective on the universe has, on its own, a great explanatory and simplification power. All our oral and written conceptual history, for example, could be considered one crude window on informational evolutionary development, without considering the details of the MEST that this information "lives within."
Does information, or constraining pattern, have its own unique existence? It certainly appears so. For example, modern reductionist neuroscience attempts to explain humans in terms of localized action potentials and synaptic activity, e.g., MEST. Yet we know that this is not enough. Humans are also motivated by goals, deductive and inductive thinking, emotions, intuitions. Much of this is in the realm of information. Our reductionist sensibilities tell us that all our motivating information must also be encoded in specific physical structures. Yet we always find it inordinately powerful to say, for example, that I did a good deed for her because I love her, or because she said so-and-so to me, each compact bits of communicated information, a vastly efficient shorthand for all the brain states that affect my thoughts and behaviors. The specific MEST states in that situation are so complex it will take an AI to eventually model them (for its own purposes, not ours) and so humanity has permanently moved to this plane of informational shorthand to do our computations of human motivation. As William Dembski observes, neurobiologists sometimes call our descriptive words "folk neuropsychology," indicating that they will eventually be replaced by a much more descriptive language of brain states. But what they may not realize is that such a language will never be the primary language of human beings. They are uncovering the primitives from which a more precise AI language will emerge, but again, that language will most certainly be a powerful informational abstraction. The messy MEST details are abstracted out wherever possible, accessed only as needed.
We note that information has its own motivating capacity--if I hear someone has poorly treated a friend, another compact piece of information, I engage in shock, anger, and other MEST-based responses. It is true that it always takes MEST to communicate information, so there is no need for invoking a vital substance, as we never lose a materialist connection. But even MEST encoding gets significantly more efficient with time, in a process apparently directed by information flow, as allowed by the physics of the universe we inhabit. Something curious is afoot.
Can we say that information, like space and time, is a dimension of the universe? Such speculation is certainly interesting, but lacks conviction at the present time. On the supporting side, consider that we can move to environments of greater and lower information, or lower and higher meaning levels, just like near and far, or past and future events. Furthermore, we see a particular accelerating trajectory to local information-processing, just as we see a particular arrow to one of the spacetime dimensions (e.g., the forward flow of time).
Alternatively, rather than (or in addition to?) a dimension, we can consider information a particular pattern, or restricted arrangement of MEST. Information can thus be understood as a constraint on MEST, and physical law a more fundamental form of such informational constraint. Matter and energy constrain space and time (e.g., warp it or shrink or dilate it in high-matter zones). Information may primarily constrain matter and energy, and only secondarily constrain space and time. Thus we get I-->M-E-->S-T for our acronym of hierarchical emergence and constraint. This is alluringly simple, but we can also envision ways that space and time constrain matter, energy, and information, depending on what we mean by "constraint." As William James so carefully observed more than a century ago in Principles of Psychology, 1890/1995, the maddening dualism between mind (information) and body (MEST) will likely be with us for some time to come.
Another careful observer, Timothy Ferris, has proposed that a fundamental advance in our understanding of information theory is perhaps both the most needed and the most expected new breakthrough on the horizon for twenty-first century science. As a scientific concept, information (and its correlate--meaning, or value) is even more nebulous than time and gravity, truly one of the outstanding riddles and challenges for materialist description. Nevertheless, we should be on the lookout for a future "Einstein of information theory." As the inevitability and trajectory of the coming singularity become much clearer to scientific observation in coming decades, such a simplification may finally be reasonably expected to emerge.
As Carl Sagan observed in his groundbreaking Cosmic Calendar metaphor, when we look back over our own evolutionary development in informational terms, we are struck by the clearly accelerating succession of information processing emergences (e.g., galactic, stellar, planetary-molecular/chemetic, cellular/genetic, neurologic, cultural/memetic, and technologic/technetic "intelligence" eras) in universal time.
Explaining this accelerating succession may be the most important challenge of our era. We live on the threshold of a coming singularity in these successions, as observed from our unmodified biological perspective. As evidence of this, technological change has already become near-instantaneous at the circuit-electron level in a variety of our silicon sytems, and in coming years is sure to become effectively (never actually, of course) instantaneous at progressively higher levels of machine intelligence.
It is now becoming clear that that technological acceleration is simply the latest manifestation of a universal developmental trajectory of continually increasing MEST compression, MEST efficiency, or MEST density of computation (each appear to be closely related perspectives on the same process) within each new substrate emergence in universal history. I'll explore these processes, and their implications for our near-term future, in greater detail in future publications on this website and in my forthcoming book.
Locality, or Space Compression: A MEST Compression Example
Inner space, not outer space, is the apparent constrained developmental destiny of increasingly complex systems in the universe (also known as the "Law of MEST Compression, MEST Efficiency, or MEST Density").
A black hole-equivalent transcension, not lightspeed expansion, may be the developmental destiny for the future of local intelligence on our planet, our Destiny of Species, as in the title of my book. Life's history has been doing more and more (universal computation) with less and less (physical resources, MEST per standard computation), and here on Earth we will soon be doing almost everything with virtually nothing. I call this driver MEST (Matter, Energy, Space, and Time) -compression, -efficiency, or -density, and it appears to be an unrealized developmental attractor for all complex systems.
An important extension of this is what may be called a "Law of Locally Asymptotic Computation" (another of a set of apparent laws of universal development). We can discuss the "asymptotic" portion of this law later, but for now, let's consider the "locality" part, the "space compression" (the "S" in MEST compression) of intelligence that has occurred in the universe's developmental record. Consider the evidence that every hierarchically emergent new computational system over at least the last six billion years has not only accelerated its computation over time, but also emerged within a substantially more restrictive spatial domain than its parent substrate.
I've yet to find any violations of the increasingly local emergence rule, though there are several misconceptions that may have taken scholars off the trail. Let's briefly explore three:
First, consider biogenesis, the emergence of life on Earth. It once looked like life emerged in a warm pond and expanded outside its original computational environment into a larger spatial envelope. But more recent evidence (read Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle, 2000 for an accessible account) strongly suggests that the cooling Earth, in toto, is best thought of as a catalyst for the emergence of archaebacteria, presumably in geothermal vents. Sulfide using life sprung forth as the Earth's crust itself was cooling, implying the entire planetary system was a geological catalyst primed for this emergence. Exactly where did life emerge in this complex adaptive geophysical system? In an exceedingly local subset of the space, specifically on this "sliver of surface," between magma and vacuum, that we call home.
Second, consider the emergence of plant life. In another popular misconception, plants (and then tetrapods) "pioneered" the Earth's crust. But in reality, aerobic, anaerobic, and archaebacteria were there long before them, running perhaps miles deep all across the planet, as well as miles into the atmosphere. So where did the computationally accelerated new forms arise? Within a further restricted subset of the original developmental space.
Third, consider the emergence of human civilization. In perhaps the most obvious misconception, we sometimes think of humans as spatial "pioneers" in comparision to the biota that spawned us. But intelligent humans have not, and if I am right, will never autonomously venture beyond the biosphere. The difficulty of creating autonomous ecosystems was well demonstrated by the problems we had with the Biosphere projects. An enormous degree of sophistication seems necessary to make a perennially resilient, self-adapting ecosystem, and I'd bet that we'll need to see the emergence of human-surpassing AI before we could have systems capable of this feat.
If humans are also seamlessly merging with and being encapsulated by our technological carapaces, as I and others (Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Greg Stock, Peter Russell) have argued elsewhere, then where humans go ultimately will be determined by the trajectory of the AI's desires, not humanity's present simple dreams. If the AI's must stay on a MEST compression trajectory, as I have argued, then it looks like an accelerating inner space transition is the true developmental direction for all local intelligence, as far as I can tell.
Has anyone seen any violations of this law of "Locally Asymptotic Computation" over the last six billion years of the universe's lifespan? If so, please let me know. MEST compression, efficiency, and density are the apparent drivers of this fascinating phenomenon.
5 Apr 2005 @ 03:42 by hgoodgame : Fascinating reading -
;-) Without time, things could get pretty MESI.. interesting stuff, vax.
5 Apr 2005 @ 05:39 by : thanks...
Heidi san, this is right up your alley and I'm glad you can see into the phenomenon...MESI! Aha! ;)
6 Apr 2005 @ 01:35 by : Wow...
one whole comment for this most interesting of subjects. I am so glad that there are so many Luftbaloonen and that they are red!
"Better red than dead!"--Felix the nanopig
6 Apr 2005 @ 04:10 by astrid : Well, Dear Vax,
time to celebrate: at least two "Saved" Souls out there, eh? who would care to read every word here: NOT CLINICAL ENOUGH!!!.... NOR ENOUGH LEFT BRAIN BRAIN, NOT FAR ENOUGH REMOVED FROM ANY HEART CONNECTION!!! Gee weez... Vax!..... EINSTEIN et Co would fallen asleep while trying to read this! Ever heard a two hour lecture by KISSINGER( and his VOICE) ?????.... that's how this all sounded at least to me!... SORRY DEAR!.... Yawn!... ^0^. ( HOW could anyone so lovely and fascinating as YOU, produce anything this booooring????????!!!???? )Oh , Honey.... forgive me... but that is how I felt 'bout this all!....I wasn't gonna tell you, but now that you feel a little hurt and felt the need for sarcasm, n'all!... I decided to lat you know how IIIIiiii felt.
Your Little Airhead... no, not the Blonde one...
6 Apr 2005 @ 06:06 by : Hurt?
No, not in the least. Those who can understand will understand and, besides, I didn't produce the article. I see an 'oops' coming on! Oops! Gee, the purists will have a friggin fit and I'll be...
I'll be absolutely NADA. What is above written, en el articulo, has to be understood to be appreciated and it, you are right, is not for everybody. It was meant for those who...
Oh, never mind. Glad you read it. You will now be shunted to our pyramid base on Mars 4 and reconditioned, slowly, for ten aeons then clustered with about a billion billion other nanopees. Then we shall turn you all over to Felix Mendels' son and after that to Ron Hubbard who awaits this delicious experiment in a metaverse far, far, far away from where all the green shrubs grow. He is there conjuring a gigantic fart that became known, in your time, as the 'Big Bang!' But that is only a theory. However, a theory does not have to be true to be workable as every good scieno-tist knows. Don't be. Don't do. And for GoD's sake don't have!
Incidentally I lit a match and put it under R's ass whilst he was conjuring that big fart and that is really what happened and why it is now known as the 'Big Bang!' But you knew that, of course...
In a galaxy, on a planet, in a place, so very far, far, far away....
6 Apr 2005 @ 06:12 by : Box Rebellion
"We were hired by the government, 'Hey go in that little box over there. There's something in that box we don't have the hair to go into.' So they hired a bunch of college kids to go in there...then they said, 'Don't let them go back in that box!"
-- Ken Kesey on the U.S. government's experimentation with LSD-25
And, no, I did not say that NCN reminded me of the Fabian society but now that I think about it does seem to be so...Fabian.
9 Apr 2005 @ 06:16 by : broadband...
yes, i said broadband! Taraxacum Officinalis!
next installment nta.
9 Apr 2005 @ 15:32 by astrid : Taraxacum Officinalis
is a MUST in life!... whole FIELDS of Taraxacum! 'Broadband', i guess, is a way to put it. You can play music with them too, did you know that? You're the BEST! : ) ( see; the Best MESt is BEST!...an'THAT'S YOU;the BEST!...got it? : ) )))))))
10 Apr 2005 @ 23:09 by : I read top to bottom and vice versa
You take the first and last four paragraphs and you can make sense of it all. A little shorthand goes a long way.
27 May 2013 @ 08:15 by CarverFrancis34 @126.96.36.199 : re
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