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vol 8: Many in one
page 5: Fidelity

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1: About
2: Synopsis
3: Development

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4: Glossary
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10: Supplementary
11: Policy



a personal journey to natural theology

This site is part of the natural religion project The natural religion project     A new theology    A commentary on the Summa    The theology company


Lecture 5: Fidelity

Music 1: Talk Talk:


1 We're looking for domestic peace and harmony on earth. There are two approaches to peace. One is authoritarian. It was the approach favoured by the imperial Romans and still exists in the modern police state.

2 In the authoritarian system a central lawgiver tells everyone what to do. Those who fail to comply are punished.

3 The other approach I will call natural. In the natural system, every individual guides himself or herself by looking at his or her environment and steering an appropriate course.

4 We might say that the authoritarian system is based on power. A natural system is based on knowledge. I hardly need tell you I favour the natural approach.

5 My immediate purpose is to eliminate crimes of starvation. I defined this sort of crime last week:

By crime of starvation, I mean all those offences committed because the offender is starved, either of food, or of money, or of affection, or of human contact or excitement. Rape and assault seem to be common crimes of starvation.


6 What is starvation? It is not getting enough to survive. A starving animal is one which finds it necessary to destroy the tissues and structures of its own body in order to survive. The situation if often depicted in those movies about riverboat races where they wreck the boat and feed it into the boiler to keep it going.

7 Starving children are not so pretty. Gradually all their non-essential tissues are broken down and metabolised in a desperate attempt to stay alive long enough to find some food. The end result is a skeleton with almost nothing left but heart, lungs and brain.

8 Our planet earth is at present behaving as though it is starving. If we look at it from space, it seems as though all the forests and soils are being chewed up in a desperate effort to stay alive.


9 Hunger, or desire, as a characteristic of all living things. In normal circumstances a living creature is able to satiate its own desires. The thing that fulfils a desire we call a resource.

10 A resource, says my dictionary, is a means of supplying some want or deficiency; a stock or reserve upon which one can draw when necessary. The desire for food is fulfilled by food; the desire for affection is fulfilled by human contact; the desire for knowledge is fulfilled by vision.

11 Resources limit life. I have emphasised the infinity of the universe, but it does have its limits. Practically, these limits are defined by resources. You can eat no longer when the food runs out. You can get no affection when fear turns everyone cold. You cannot fulfil your thirst for knowledge in a society which has no vision.

12 Life depends upon obtaining the resources necessary for survival. When the resource supply dwindles to the point where life is compromised, starvation sets in. With starvation come crimes of starvation. This is logical enough. The normal consequence of starvation is death, and living things avoid abnormal death at all costs.

13 Resources are limits, but they are not absolute limits. The creative forces of the universe will find a way past any limit, given time.

14 If we are to eliminate crimes of starvation, we have to nurture the creation of resources. To simplify the discussion, I work on the idea that entropy or information is the fundamental resource.

Music 2:

The theory

15 Remember that the universe creates itself out of nothing, and it is that creation which we wish to understand and put into effect. Once we know how the universe makes itself we should be in a far better position to make a good job of making ourselves.

16 Remember also that our approach is by the negative way, through the back door, as it were. I prefer to talk about the nothings that give structure to reality rather than try to talk about the reality itself, which is beyond telling and can only be experienced.

17 The theory of peace is intended to be absolutely squeaky clean and perfect. a mathematical apparition that apparition that shows us in a limiting way how our universe behaves. The theory of peace, is of course, only half the story. There is another extreme, the opposite of clean, which we call dirty.

18 Hot, steaming, fetid, foul, sulphurous, fertile, bubbling like a witches cauldron and promising unimaginable dangers. The sort of scene that might breed AIDS or plague or nuclear was with total disfigurement and microscopic mutilation of its victims. This is the other side of nothing. Between them cleanliness and dirt unite like yin and yang to give us the inexpressible whole.

19 The dirty side of reality is just as real as the clean side. Armed with the theory of peace we are now on our way to the dirty end of the spectrum to, to become engaged in the fight for peace.


20 This plan immediately raises an objection, well captured in that wonderful line fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity. I can answer this objection immediately at the debating level. It is obvious that fucking both creates and destroys virgins, and, since the population is growing we can say that on the balance fucking creates more virgins than it destroys.

21 The same goes for all our peacemaking activities. If, on balance, we create more peace than we destroy, we are doing well. In such a complex universe as this, there is no such thing as an action which has precisely one effect.

22 The deeper question is: how should we manage our affairs when faced with a life threatening situation, like an invading army or a mob of geriatric B grade actors who happen to control a powerful global military machine?

23 This is a moral question. It is not my aim to answer moral questions. You have to do that for yourself. What I am interested in is trying to discover and explain the general laws that control life in our universe.

24 If we know these laws, we can make reasonable decisions about our behaviour. If we do not know them, we are in the dark, and our actions are random, even if we think they are reasonable.

25 We can raise this question and talk about it using the theory of peace. This is the power of the theory, and its fundamental claim to value. It is intended to be a theory of creation, and so must be able to talk about its own creation and propagation.

26 The step from theory to action is called technology. Technology means actual involvement with reality, with all its dirt and danger. You are bound to have experienced the difference between theory and practice.

27 On the one hand you have a quiet office full of engineers designing a tunnel. On the other is the almost unbearable mud, noise, violence and danger of the tunnel face where hard rock is drilled and blasted into the form of the engineers' dream.

28 The difference between the cold sharpness of the theory of peace and the battlefields of the world, bathed in blood and fire, is equally great. But the question is the same. How do we channel violence into the paths of peace? How to beat swords into plough shares? And how to get the swords off the belligerents in the first place?

29 How do we handle violence? This is the basic question in the peace business, and we have to deal with it. It turns out that violence, or energy, or dirt, are one of the basic resources from which the universe is constructed.

30 The other ingredient, of course, is theory. The theory is the ingredient which can explain the violence. It is the violence and excitement of life itself which lead to the expression of theory.

31 The development of theories is just another example of the creative process. What creation does is take the infinity of passion and sculpt it into the outlines of reality. How this happens is the subject of all these lectures.

Music 3:


32 From a physical point of view the first resource for life is energy. The planet earth draws most of its energy from the sun. The only other globally important source of energy is the decay of radioactive elements in the earth. From this we get continental drift, mountain formation, volcanoes and hot springs. The rocky earth itself is a nuclear powered creature.

33 The sun supplies all the other energy on earth. This supply is huge. The sun itself is a star. On the whole, stars get their energy by putting hydrogen atoms together to get helium. We understand this process well enough. We have been able to use variations of it to make thermonuclear weapons.

34 It is hard to describe how much energy the sun puts out. We generally measure the rate of energy flow in watts. A toaster consumes about 1000 watts, a light bulb 100 watts and a powerful car engine 100 000 watts, that is 100 kilowatts.

35 The energy flow out of the sun is an astronomical figure, 4 followed by 26 zeros ( that is 100 million billion billion) watts. The earth, floating in space 150 million kilometres from the sun, intercepts only a tiny fraction of this energy. Nevertheless the total flow of solar energy into the earth is a million times greater than our human energy consumption.

36 A tiny fraction of the sunshine falling on earth is captured by living plants and enters the biological world. Solar energy also drives the weather, the flow of air and water around the surface of the earth. The atmosphere is like a huge living blanket, transferring energy from one part of the earth to another so that on the whole we have a temperate planet well suited to our carbon based style of life.

Music 4:


37 The earth does not actually consume energy. The fundamental physical property of energy is that it is conserved, which means that it behaves like the money in a bank account. The amount flowing into the account, less the amount flowing out, is equal to the change in the balance of the account.

38 Since the average amount of energy stored on earth stays fairly constant, out planet radiates just as much energy into space as it receives from the sun. The difference between the energy reaching the earth from the sun and the energy leaving the earth into space is its temperature. The energy coming form the sun is hot, about 6000 degrees above absolute zero. The energy leaving the earth for outer space is quite cool, about 300 degrees above absolute zero.

39 The earth does not feed on energy, it feeds on information or entropy. Information and entropy are like two sides of one coin, yin and yang. From a mathematical point of view they are the same. The amount of information needed to know about a system with entropy X is X. Entropy is strange food, however, and so we need to spend a few minutes thinking about it.

40 Entropy is measured by the logarithm of the number of states available to a system. A coin has two states, heads or tails. A die, on the other hand, has six states numbered one to six. A die, therefore, has more entropy than a coin. We have more information when we know the number showing on a die that we have when we know whether a coin is heads or tails.

41 The energy entering a leaving the earth is carried by particles of light called photons. The amount of energy carried by a photon is proportional to its temperature. Since the photons coming from the sin are twenty times as hot as the photons leaving the earth, there must be twenty times as many photons leaving the earth as there are entering it. As it happens, twenty times as many photons means about five times times as much entropy. We need five times as much information to describe the photons leaving earth as we need to describe the photons entering.

42 So the earth creates entropy by radiating twenty low temperature photons into space for every one high temperatures photon it receives from the sun. This is the same as saying that a lot more information goes out of the earth than goes in.

Heat Death

43 Some see this as bad news, since most processes in the universe break the energy of the universe into smaller and smaller pieces. Small pieces of energy have a low temperature, so that the whole system becomes cooler and cooler., This has been called the heat death of the universe.

44 You can get the same effect with puppies. They will quickly reduce one foam rubber cushion of useful size into a few hundred small foam rubber cushions spread around the house.The natural increase in entropy can be seen as an increase in messiness and disorder on the planet. From this point of view, the tendency for entropy to increase is a housekeeper's nightmare. More entropy means more dirt.

45 This increase in entropy is an inevitable consequence of our theory. The universe is creative, which means it is continually bringing new particles into existence. More particles means more entropy.

Music 5:


46 The increase in entropy does more than create a mess, however. The universes continually creating new particles and spreading them around, but these particles have a strong tendency to group together into coherent organisms. You and I are both incredibly complex arrangements of particles.

47 In round figures, my mass is one hundred kilograms. The average cell in my body weighs about a hundred millionth of a gram. So I am a living community of about 10 million million cells, twenty thousand times the human population of the earth.

48 Each cell is made of an enormous number of molecules, varying in size from water, which has three atoms to nucleic acids containing millions of atoms. Overall my life requires the coordinated behaviour of a huge number of atoms, about one followed by 32 zeros of them.

49 Of course I am only a tiny cell in the living organism we call earth. The total mass of living tissue on earth is probably about a million million tonnes. That is equivalent to ten trillion of me.

50 Life is not the only manifestation of the organising tendency in the universe. You can see it in the clouds. Even though the atmosphere is a gas of tiny molecules, they readily organise themselves into all the different waves and billows and swirls and striations we see in the sky.


51 Where does this structure come from? It comes from the flow of entropy or information we call communication. The planet as a whole feeds on the entropy carried by solar energy. It does this through photosynthesising organisms, which are able to run on raw sunlight. This flow of entropy is the foundation of all the living structure on earth.

52 Particles form large scale structures when they can all communicate something to one another. The structure of a could is determined by flowing air. Each particle in the flow is constrained to follow a certain path by the particles around it. Constraint is the same as communication. Like fish in a school, each particle watches the others and plots its course to suit the movement of the whole.

53 So far we have defined entropy simply as a static number. Now we must bring the idea alive by bringing in a time dimension and talk about the rate of flow of entropy. In the theory of communication, this is called bandwidth. The bandwidth of a system is the amount of information or entropy it can carry per second.

Music 6:


54 High bandwidth means high fidelity. Our FM radio system gives better quality music transmission than an AM station with the same amount of power because it has more bandwidth. Each AM station has to fit its signal into about 10 kHz of bandwidth. We have 150 kHz at our disposal.

55 If you live close to the transmitter, you will get a very good signal from 2BOB. If you live further way, the reception will not be so good. We can turn this idea around the other way. If you get a good signal, you are close to the transmitter. If you get a bad signal;, you are far away.

56 Now it may happen that you are very close to the transmitter in terms of kilometres, but very far from it in signal strength. This happens because the FM signal travels in straight lines and you may be behind some sort of obstruction like a hill or a big building.

57 From a practical point of view, signal strength is a better measure of your distance form the transmitter than physical distance. Since the signal strength is really just a measure of the flow of information from the transmitter to you, we arrive at the idea that closeness and high entropy flow point to the same thing.

58 This idea makes sense in human communication. You might spend all your time on the phone to your friend on the other side of the planet, and never talk to your neighbour who lives a metre away through a party wall. Which one is closer? In physical terms, it is your neighbour. In human terms, it is your friend.

Music 7:


59 Where does all this lead us? A good radio system gives high fidelity reproduction of sound. A good society gives us high fidelity reproduction of humanity.

60 In both cases the sole requirement is adequate bandwidth, that is an adequate flow of entropy or the right amount of closeness. The natural system automatically delivers the right bandwidth. The authoritarian system leads automatically to narrow bandwidth, distance, and crimes of starvation.

61 All these things become obvious when we consider human reproduction. This process, I believe, takes about forty years. Authorities as diverse as Aristotle and Confucius suggest this figure, and it fits my experience.

62 A human being is an immensely complex structure. The simplest possible expression of our individuality is our genetic code. Our reproductive system is so exquisitely designed that the whole genetic code can fit in the head of a single sperm, which is about 2 microns or one ten thousandth of an inch wide.

63 The human genetic code contains about three billion symbols. When we finally get around to reading it all and printing it out, it will fill one hundred thousand pages of phone book sized print. An average ejaculation contains about 200 million sperm, the information equivalent of about fifty million tonnes of phone books.

64 If we consider that the whole operation takes a few minutes, the bandwidth involved is equivalent to about a trillion FM stations. These numbers don't mean a lot, of course, but they might give you some feeling for the complexity and intimacy of biological processes.

65 The act of mating itself is the closest human beings can get. The bandwidth here is such that individuality is temporarily lost. As the ancients long ago notes, two become one flesh.

66 This is only the beginning. The genetic code is meaningless without the complex decoding system to be fund in the fertilized egg. The flow of entropy involved in the reproduction and differentiation of the trillions of cells in a human being is similar in scale to the act of reproduction.

67 The newborn baby is equipped with millions of sensory cells, all seeking input from the world around it twenty four hours a day. The only way this demand can be adequately satisfied is through continual contact with other human beings.

68 This demand, however, very rarely fits in with our lifestyle. Instead, the starvation begins. We put our children in a cot in the corner with a few bits of plastic to play with and ignore their cries except at feeding time.

69 Then, instead of being breast fed with mother's milk, the odds are that the baby will get a plastic nipple put in its mouth and be filled up with food whose only biologically active ingredients were designed for a calf, a totally different animal. The difference in bandwidth between bottle feeding and breast feeding is immense.

70 From the entropic starvation of bottle feeding, the child is put in a succession of sensory deprivation chambers called preschool, primary school and high school.

71 The result looks to me rather like those trees that have been pruned by the County Council to preserve our sacred electricity wires. The resemblance between a natural human being and the product of our society is as superficial as the resemblance between the content of our mass media and reality.

72 As with our child raising, so with the rest of our society. The starkest contrast I can image is between the pure glass slab sided buildings that infest our cities and the rich diversity of rain forest. Any student of architecture will see the link between the architectural trends of today and the directions of design and thought that preceded Hitler's Germany.

Music 8:


73 Why have we gone this way? Why do we seem set on reducing the entropy of our society to zero, destroying all the complex natural structure of our planet in the process?

74 The answer, in a word, is money. Money is like pure energy at infinite temperature. It has zero entropy. It is the same sort of pure violence as existed in the first moment of the big bang.

75 Because money has zero entropy it can carry no information. A pure money system has zero fidelity, and can communicate nothing. Money, like the pure energy of a thermonuclear weapon, destroys all structure.

76 From an historical point of view money and the authoritarian system needed to make money work have brought about the death of the tribe. The tribe, I think, is the natural system for the high fidelity reproduction of human beings.

77 Next week, I want to begin what I see as the central task of these lecture: the reconciliation of money and tribe.

Music 9:


Originally broadcast on 2BOB Radio, Taree, NSW on 12 July 1988


Brillouin, Leon, Science and Information Theory, Academic 1962 Introduction: 'A new territory was conquered for the sciences when the theory of information was recently developed. ... Physics enters the picture when we discover a remarkable likeness between information and entropy. ... The efficiency of an experiment can be defined as the ratio of information obtained to the associated increase in entropy. This efficiency is always smaller than unity, according to the generalised Carnot principle. ... '  Amazon  back
Buchan, James, Frozen Desire: the meaning of money, Farar, Strauss and Giroux 1998 Jacket: 'In Buchan's view, money is civilization's greatest invention. ... As Buchan explains, money is "frozen desire" - and because money can fulfill any mortal purpose, for many people the pursuit of money becomes the point of life. In a learned and elegant survey, Buchan illuminates the many differnt views of money across the centuries. ... Whether or not money is humanity's greatest invention, its meanings reveal a great deal about human nature; in showing us what we think of money JB shows is who we are.'  Amazon  back
Ehrlich, Paul R, Population Resources Environment: Issues in Human Ecology, W H Freeman and Company 1970 Jacket: 'This book is the first comprehensive, detailed analysis of the worldwide crisis of overpopulation and the resulting demands on food, resources and the environment. Taking a broad ecological approach, the Ehrlichs demonstrate that problems of modern society ... are closely interconnected and that together they constitute a challenge without precedent in human history.'  Amazon  back
Illich, Ivan D, Energy and Equity, Calder and Boyars 1974   Amazon  back
Mazria, Edward, The Passive Solar Energy Book, Rodale Press 1979   Amazon  back
Schumacher, E F, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, 1998   Amazon  back
Thomas, Lewis, The Lives of the Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, Penguin, USA 1995   Amazon  back
Wolpert, Lewis, The Triumph of the Embryo, Oxford University Press 1992 'Essentially the same mechanisms that are used in embryos are used by those animals that can, for example, regenerate their limbs. Thus there is a chapter on regeneration. Similarly there are chapters on growth and ageing, since both are related to embryonic development. Again, there is a short chapter on cancer, treating is as an an abnormal developmental process. Finally the role of development in evolution is given some attention.' [p vi]  Amazon  back


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