Wind-Rubble Thought: Discourses on the Anti-Cartesian Mind

The Neo-Cartesian says to find a thought, look for a mind.
The Entropist says to find a mind, look first for a thought.

The wind chatters quietly through silent buildings, winding through hallways and around cracked windows against the nearly starless sky. It pushes on a long-rusted window—moving it slowly, imperceptibly, but over centuries, enough. The wind, freed, creeps through the opened window into some archaic courtyard, skimming over broken stones. There are none to witness its arrival except the empty courtyard itself.

The nature of intelligence is the outflanking, for a time, of the progress of entropy. While the universe tends, as a whole, to disorder, an intelligence may carve out for itself—or have carved out for it—a small, temporary fief where it may order its thoughts via the expenditure of energy.

Outside the high-energy domains that vivo- and silico-intelligences as we know them have developed, some Entropists have speculated that, via random chance over long periods of time, intelligence can assemble in a low-energy domain...

The newly opened pathways of the courtyard cycle minute currents of air around and back. A window, stuck shut for a century, is opened by a new flow, blocking another current in turn. Two windows dance together, the wind flowing through either to hold closed a third, until both, nudged shut, divert the wind elsewhere, and the third creaks open again, a complex logic of effect and cause, interlocked and cyclic.

These Entropists are clear to emphasize how unlikely such an emergent system is—without the evolutionary selection pressures or design processes characteristic of the high-energy domain, a random step towards order is far more likely to be followed by a step backwards than one further forward...

An external observer, if one could be found on such a timescale, would see the windows in the courtyard and the surrounding building-scape first randomly chatter, then settle into ordered waves, then returning to chattering. With patience, one would see those quick changes of merely millenia as a simple sub-structure. Subtle variations in rate of change form a wave that sweeps through the windows, bouncing between unchanging regions and ones of slow, grinding movements.

Critics of the idea of emergent intelligence have countered that, even in the unlikely scenario that any complex system were to arise in the low-energy domain, it would be unlike life as we know it: lacking a motor-force, it would be fundamentally reactive. Unable to act to prolong the lifetime of its low-entropy order, it would be only able to observe as its entropy gradually increased and it returned to equilibrium with its environment...

This planet and its star are old, far older than the wave or its substructure. This light, almost imperceptible wind of a dying star is all that remains of the once-copious energy that had nurtured the peoples of this planet. Those who had risen up these now-abandoned towers and laid down these once-bright courtyards are gone, and there is nothing to hamper the wave’s progress as it creeps through the husk of their civilization.

The Neo-Cartesians despair that as the universe ages, the high-energy domains that nurture life will decline, and with them will go consciousness itself. As the energy output of the stars fades, so too will the minds expending that energy for their own preservation through the reduction of local entropy.

But the Entropist counters that, as the stable, eroding forces of the high-energy domain fade, more favorable conditions for the emergence of low-energy intelligences may arise. For many times longer than the universe supported a small number of high-energy intelligences, random fluctuations in energy distribution could support an uncountably larger number of emergent minds…

Over empty eons the wave progresses. For a long time, this progress is random, bouncing back and forth without form or meaning. Until suddenly—a shift. The buildings, still chattering away as before, seem unchanged, and a naive observer would notice nothing. But the wave, for a brief moment, takes on a different character. A character that an experienced Entropist, well trained in the discovery and diagnosis of exotic minds, could notice and read instantly. This knowing observer, if one were present, could watch as this mind awakens after millennia of randomly-guided preparation to think its first, last, and only thought.

For a fleeting moment, the wind-rubble mind turns, and with that thought greets the familiar darkness of a starless sky.