The Universe as a Matrioshka Investor
Maximizing Entropy Return on Energy Investment.
My best performing investment hypothesis is also the tool I use to understand the rise and fall of empires. I’m offering it here, for only the admittedly high cost of your attention and consideration, for those interested, curious, and willing to gawk at the inner workings of the belief system that helps me get out of bed in the morning even when I’m really tired and just want to sleep.
I think the physical universe is playing an investment game with itself, with the goal of coming more alive as fast as possible. I think energy flows towards systems that are better at coming more alive, and away from systems that aren’t.
This theory says that the physical universe exhibits the same kind of fractal symmetry as matrioskha nesting dolls. I believe that the universe is playing the same investment game at multiple layers of complexity, with that same game being played from the level of molecules to single-celled organisms, to animals, to human beings, to civilizations.
If you’re wondering “are there any credible scientists who think similarly,” yes. This is simply my own investment-based riff on an idea by MIT Physcist Jeremy England who studies far-from equilibrium systems, like what happens to large balls of rock and water blasted by a continuous flux of energy from some energy source like a star.
I believe there is just one game simple being played, a very similar game, at all these different levels. The game is as follows.
Maximize Entropy return on Energy Investment.
Put succinctly, the universe is generating as much life as possible in any domain, given the energy coming into that domain. The universe acts like an investor that wants to see itself come alive, and thus directs energy flows towards system that exhibit more alignment with that basic principle.
Entropy is commonly misunderstood as chaos, but actually means possibility. Adding energy to a system increases its entropy, which means increases the number of possible microstates accessible to it.
What thermodynamicists call “possible micro-states”, the brave call ‘freedom’, the coward calls ‘chaos’, and the investor, whether cellular, animal, human, or cosmic, simply calls ‘potential return on investment.’
More energy means more atoms and molecules zipping around faster and faster, with more energetic bonds between those atoms, forming longer and more complex molecules that are better aligned at capturing the incoming energy flux of the sun. A feedback loop ensues, and those complex molecules soon find even more effective strategies for investing solar energy: they form organisms.
More energy means more organisms, zipping around, faster and faster, gobbling up the accessible energy stored in energetic chemical bonds. The organisms gobble up solar energy at even faster rates, going bigger, more complex, competing more and more, until they find an even more effective means of re-investing solar energy: they form multicellar organisms.
More energy means more multicellular organisms, swimming, crawling, climbing, flying along, smaller and faster, bigger and slower, at every layer in between and beyond, storing energy in their bellies and wings and carapaces and fins and tentacles and eyes and fingers and wombs and phalluses and projecting their beings forward through time, duplicating themselves and their capacity to harvest solar energy efficiently and turn it into heat even faster than if it were just electromagnetic radiation blasting a ball of empty rock. More energy means more and more multicellular organisms, more competition, until the multicellular organisms find an even more effective strategy for harvesting solar energy: they form human beings.
More energy means more human activity, more building, more creating, more exploring. Humans gobbled up more and more solar energy until they reached enough complexity to figure out how to tap older, previously stored solar energy, first in the form of burning wood by means of that original disruptive technology, fire, forbidden by the regulators, and then by means of ever more complex fires, always hated by fearful regulators trying to maintain a forever-dying status quo, finding and working with fossil fuels that were ever more energy dense, until we finally discovered nuclear power and used it to travel the starswhere the game continued, forever and ever, amen.
Energy can always be invested, by intelligent, brave investors, for a positive return. Whether this means a single celled organism eating enough to replicate, a mother eating enough to feed her young, a human being saving up enough to start an entrepreneurial venture, or a civilization storing enough energy to project its reproductive bits out to other planets and make additional investments in the long-term coming-aliveness of the universe.
Energy is life! It is the banging of drums! The flashing of laser light shows! The roar of rockets and the precision of computers and lasers! Energy is the electric womb which nurses the fragile infant in the ICU, the refrigerator that helps our planet feed so many of us, the plasma torch which safely removes tonsils with limited scarring, and the nuclear incinerator which could safely destroy complex polluting molecules if only we had the guts to build one, instead of whimpering in the cold and dark, like frightened cosmic children who do not understand the game being played.
We Must Invest Wisely In Growth or We Will Atrophy
If we do not invest wisely, for a positive return, at the higher layers of complexity, those higher layers of complexity wither and die. An organism that doesn’t eat enough to reproduce will not reproduce, and will disintegrate back into organic molecules. A species that doesn’t adapt to its changing environment will go extinct, giving up its competition to make way for organisms which are better at generating the entropic ROI demanded by the cosmic investor.
A civilization that does not harvest energy and put it to use to come more alive, will wither and die, fighting itself as it falls apart because it was too afraid to grow bigger and come more alive. YOU ARE HERE NOW.
The riddle of the sphinx wasn’t merely a story about one man growing old and dying. It was a story of animalistic drive converted to upright seeking, eventually converted to a decaying spirit, relying on a technological exoskeleton. The beast that walks on three legs is the old civilization waiting its turn to die, as it feasts on the young.
I get around two thousand calories a day, give or take. My life seems to go better the more I put fear in its place, and see it as the universe’s attempt to see if I’d rather not just give up those calories elsewhere to someone more fit than I. Energy is always dissipating, and fear is what the dissipation of psychic energy feels like if i take my current existence as a given, rather than as something extra special and rare. The sands of time falling through the glass only feel like loss if I have the delusion that they were mine to begin with, rather than investment made by my ancestors on behalf of their original LP, the physical universe, all of us merely temporary stewards of the divine endowment that is the still-unexplained low entropy state at the big bang.
My Personal Investment Strategy
I look squarely upon the swarming chaos that fear tells me to look away from, and place bets to see which points of that mental fog I can penetrate, which places I can see more clearly, where I can better stand in the sun, stand taller, breath more slowly, be more patient with my kids, more loving to my wife, more kind to those around me, and go, calmly and more boldly, into the unknown, the land rising to greet my feet through the fog.
I wake up in the morning, I thank the cosmic investor for my life, which all too often I take for granted, I acknowledge my own flawed and frail nature, and then I set my mind to compute a course for maximizing my ability to become more alive that day.
We will all die eventually. All empires will collapse, all organisms will die, all complex molecules will eventually degrade, and this means my time here, my moments are precious. I want to use them accordingly. Time is not a shitcoin. I could die at any second, and until my Dad died recently, I could recognize this as true but i didn’t really believe it. Nothing makes me feel more alive than a cold shower and the image of my future corpse, or those of my wife and children, all lined up, neatly and orderly, while I whine about things not being the way I want them now. Wake up!
The universe accomplishes its investment objective through a remarkably simple mechanism of making energy come into systems from some source, then always slowly dissipating that energy, however it is ‘stored’ or ‘held onto’. Your ‘forever’ holdings are an illusion, they are all temporary. Even diamond hands disintegrate with time. There are no stable, enduring patterns of energy aside; there are only repeating instances of similar memes which exhibit enormous energy flux through them. Life is the dankest of memes, it is the ubermeme. The only way for a flow of energy to stay alive is for that flow to consist of elements which continuously form and die, like leaves on a tree, or a family lineage, temporarily storing both a portion of the magnitude, and a measurement of the direction, of the sole cosmic energy flow unpacking the low-entropy state at the start of the big bang to see what goodness is inside.
I align myself in the morning, I open myself to life, for possibility to flow through me, and I go off, to construct order in my mind and thus better conduct that flow of energy into the future.
if this tickled your brainhole, put your thing into the thing to get the thing.
This is delightful. "Investment" is a fresh and unexpected metaphor for the unfolding of the universe! Thank you.
“ I think the physical universe is playing an investment game with itself, with the goal of coming more alive as fast as possible. I think energy flows towards systems that are better at coming more alive, and away from systems that aren’t.”
This made me think of HT Odum and the maximum power principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_power_principle). His book (https://www.amazon.com/Environment-Power-Society-Twenty-First-Century/dp/0231128878/ref=pd_lpo_1) I also remember being pretty interesting when I read it many years ago and I think gets at why your observation might be true, how it works, and some of the implications.