Can a Man’s behaviour be compared or even explained by a physical and scientific phenomenon like Entropy?
In 1978, Alan Parker directed the successful movie entitled Midnight Express. In a particular scene, a man that has been sentenced to 4 years in a Turkish jail for trafficking drugs, is seen in a space full of people walking clockwise around a wheel. The man starts walking against the flow, bumping against others coming from the opposite direction even while they try to persuade him that he is walking the wrong way. Why are there a right and a wrong way to go around a circle? What phenomenon makes people follow each other? This metaphor for the rules of society shows how the attraction for the forbidden could dissolve into anarchy, which relates to the high level of entropy that a society can reach.
Comparing that particular moment in the movie with a real life example, imagine London at rush hour, more specifically Piccadilly Circus, crowded with people coming from different cultures. The perceptive space is limited by its architecture and the square is similar to a roundabout made-up of people. The space is limited by road routes around the circus, forcing the pedestrians into a confined pattern.
In this paper a tripartite relation between Entropy, the film Midnight Express and Piccadilly Circus is explored to further our line of questioning.
Order is a necessary condition for anything the human
Mind is to understand (…)
“When nothing superfluous is included and nothing indispensable left out,
One can understand the interrelation of the whole and its parts,
as well as the hierarchic scale of importance and power by which
Some structural features are dominate, others subordinate.”
Rudolf Arnheim, 1971.
Why is it so important for human beings to see apparent order in everything around them?
Order is normally apprehended, first of all, by the senses and the observer tends to limit himself to see the space superciliously. In one single look we can be perceptive to the arrangement of forms, shapes, colours and even materials. Usually this sense of order is identified as functional and workable.
The functional order depends on a specific structure, normally ruled by geometrical concepts and patterns connected to an old legacy imposed as a prerequisite of survival, that is easily identified or recognised by the observer and we normally tend to refuse to accept the ambiguity that this signifies. For example like Arnheim says, “The child’s playroom can indeed serve as an example of disorder, especially if we do not grant the child a hearing to defend the hidden order of his own toy arrangements as he sees them” (Rudolf Arnheim ,1971, p.12).
Structure tends to be manifested and understood as a reflection of an underlying order, even if both depend on each other. If the structure of particular system is different from another, it is inevitable changes will occur and transform the visual aspect in the superficial visual layer. Mainly, this means that order must not be evaluated by itself and form could seem quite orderly and yet be misleading, because its structure does not correspond to the order it stands for: “Those who make antitheses by forcing the words are like those who make false windows for symmetry’s sake: their rule is not to speak right but to make right figures”, Blaise Pascal observes in his “Pensees” ( p. 27).
This corresponding gap between outer and inner order, and even misunderstandings with the application of the right structure definitely produces a clash of orders, introducing an element of disorder. “Disorder is not the absence of all order but rather a clash of uncoordinated orders “, Rudolf Arnheim, Entropy and Art 1971(p.13).
Disorder means, on first impression, something negative and chaotic, but if we look forward and think about the concept of evolution, that one can only make sense of if we acknowledge the need for the revolution and destruction of the given order and its replacement with a new one, creating a change of paradigm.
The new Modern Ages, between the 19th and 20th Century are an example of when a transformation of orders occurred. The new paradigm brought us new attitudes in several areas. For instance, in the Fine Arts, a rupture occurred on the level of traditional crafts techniques, these values were displaced by a new age of spontaneous processes with chaotic results. Those changes were interpreted and studied as part of a necessary evolution of the human mind. At the turn of the century working techniques take on a new perspective, that includes experimentation with spontaneous techniques; collage and gratagge.; “The collage technique is the systematic exploitation of the accidentally or artificially provoked encounter of two or more foreign realities on a seemingly incongruous level – and the spark of poetry that leaps across the gap as these two realities are brought together.”, Max Ernest, 1919. Artists like Mário Cesariny (b.1923), refused to learn any classical techniques, afraid of producing some mimesis, something purely beautiful to his eyes that could corrupt his hands. Instead he created the famous blowing figures paintings. Jackson Pollock became known for his uncontrolled, eccentric, and disordered paintings. Supposedly they are cathartic but underlying this they seem to show a structural process and pattern. Artists, writers, and psychologists tried to understand the structure of man’s dreams to establish an order and at the same time, the 1st World War was bringing us the highest level of destruction. .
In the 70s, Land Art, a new concept for the object being affected by the ephemeral in the natural environment gave to the work of art (earthworks) a life ending, a death caused by Entropy. Robert Smithson says; “…the urban sprawl, and the infinite number, of housing developments of the postwar boom have contributed to the architecture of entropy” in Entropy and the New Monuments, 1972. This piece is know flooded by the sea and today the big question is about removing the work to a museum that offers conditions of preservation. But for Smithson´s the real power of this work is to be left out to the unpredictable Nature. But history and knowledge is made by collecting and preserving objects, so the paradox happens once again.
Photo © Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. Long-term installation in Rozel Point, Box Elder County, Utah. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni. Collection Dia Art Foundation.
Picture from: http://www.spiraljetty.org/
A few years later Modernism tried to impose and re-establish patterns of order based on functional structures, progressing on to Post-Modernism. Therefore, it seems the human mind needs both situations.
Information is normally identified as a state of order and has been defined as the opposite of Entropy. This seems reasonable, since Entropy is a measure of disorder, however, as information grows so does its improbability. So what happens when we reach a state, saturated by the maximum amount of information? Paul Virilio says, in his essays about urban information velocity, that what happens is that the information becomes blurred and all detail is flattened out, or the answer could be a very disordered entity. On the other hand, if we think about the amount of information that created this new entity you could conclude that total disorder provides maximum information. In addition, if information is the basis of knowledge, maximum disorder could provide knowledge and progress. If Entropy is the measure of disorder therefore it could be said that progress is only possible with Entropy? Like Rudolf Arnheim said in his essay in 1971, “…this is a Babylonian muddle. Somebody or something has confounded our language. “, Arnheim, 1971.
The 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which refers to the conservation of energy, stating that energy maybe changed from one form to another but neither created nor destroyed, is contested by Arnheim ; “ …so this law it excludes creation? – More positive interpretation prevailed to the conservative minds, the law assumed the theologises theory of creation (…)“,Arnheim (1971) and in opposition to the 1st Law, the 2nd Law has been interpreted several times as a prediction that the world is striving towards to a maximum level of entropy, increasing in such a way that can only end in Armageddon. The current world economic crisis and speed could be seen as a symptom of this phenomenon. Like Paul Virilio says; “…we are obsessed with generating speed in all aspects of life and we never think about slowing down.” And Adrian Gargett says “ I am sure if one had the chance to take a look in Paul Virilio’s toolbox one could find a speedometer and velocity measuring devices. I asked the question: “Is there something more important than speed to analyse our society?” [Virilio just answers] “No. For me speed is factor number one for analysing. [..] I would not have called the discipline Dromology, if I would not have been convinced that speed is an indispensable moment in the analysis of the world’s history.” He divides speed into three steps or ‘revolutions’ ; transport, transmission and transplantation”, Adrian Gargett 2000.
Virilio is also famous for being the apocalyptic Philosopher, “One day the day will come when the day does not come“ and “The attraction to speed is ultimately suicidal, a rush towards disintegration”, Paul Virilio citied by Adrian Gargett, 2000.
Since the 1980s, globalization has affected our lives, interrupting individual society structures. In a social system, the structure defines the relationships between the components which integrate a concrete machine or organism. These structures define a pattern of behavior, normally associated with the order I described above. There are rules and laws that every different society imposes, hoping that citizens will follow them.
For example, in London, from a wide perspective at a macro sociological level the pattern of the city can be viewed as a new structure. The combination of many cultures and societies living together is appealing to many as this mix of diverse individuals allows for maximum levels of creativity, and therefore knowledge. This situation also creates a veil of homogeneity that decreases entropy. On the other hand, at a micro sociological level this fact creates a clash of different cultures reflected in different individual behaviors creating a maximum level of entropy. For example, you can see in the urban environment, isolated communities existing in very close proximity to each other.
In 1978, Alan Parker and Oliver Stone produced their widely acclaimed film, Midnight Express. Adapted for the screen from the original book, this film has several different portraits of social structures. The story begins when a US citizen, Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) goes to visit Turkey (Istanbul) on 6th October 1970. On the way back to the U.S.A, he decides to leave the country with almost two kilograms of hashish bricks taped to his body. Turkish police arrest him during an alert of terrorist attacks. Billy is sentenced to spend four years and two months in Sagmalcilar prison on the charge of drug possession. Apart from this general story there are particular scenes in the film that can be structurally analysed in terms of social entropy. When Billy is arrested, the group of Police starts to destroy all his belongings in an extremely exaggerated way, creating such a disorder in the room that in the end, the Police officers lose control when one of them starts to snap at the others. The point is that the entropy in the room was initially related to the objects (Billy’s belongings) but dramatically changes to a maximum amount of entropy brought about by the behavior of the Police officers. The most interesting part is that Billy was the one who broke the law and he stays calm while the Police officers, that should represent order, clash resulting in a state of chaos. This paradox is the point of interest, how can a single moment or second, almost invisible in the moving image, change order into a state of disorder?
The next notable instance is Billy’s speech. He is in court being judged and his words constitute a fantastic description of the differences between structures and how rules can change across societies and even within the same society across a period of time. However, what was a convincing defense ends suddenly in an uncontrolled, emotional and rude outburst about Turkish society.
“…So it’s time for me to speak, what’s there for me to say? When I finished you will sentence me for my crime, so let me ask you now; what’s a crime? What is punishment?
Its seems it vary from time to time, place to place, what’s legal today suddenly is illegal tomorrow, because some society says its so. And what was illegal yesterday is suddenly legal because everybody is doing it and you cannot put everybody in jail. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, I’m just saying that’s the way it is. But I have spent 3 years and a half of my life in your prison; I think I have paid for my error. It’s your decision today to sentence me for more years. My lawyer, that’s funny my lawyer, that’s a good one!, Says; be cool Billy, don’t get upset, be good and I will get you a pardon, amnesty, an appeal, and this, and this being alone for more than 3 years and I have been playing it cool, I have been good. And I’m then tired of being good, you people gave me a believe that I had 53 days left, you hung 53 days in front of my face and you just threw those 53 days away (…) mercy, what you don’t know is that a concept of a society is based on the quality of that mercy, its sense of fair play, its sense of justice … for a nation of pigs, its funny you don’t eat them, Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can’t! I hate you, I hate your nation, and I hate your people … “, Billy Hayes, in the movie.
It is worth noting that, 25 years later, in 2004, Oliver Stone visited Turkey and made an apology for the film. He admitted that did no research for the script, despite labeling the film ‘the true story of Billy Hayes’. This film had a detrimental effect on the relations between America and Turkey and affected Turkish tourism.
Billy is sentenced to life in Jail, and after some escape attempts, loses control and kills the prison guard. So, finally he ends up in Section 13 for the criminally insane.
Inside, he meets some other prisoners, in a circular room, which contains a stone wheel. He observes everybody walking around the wheel in a clockwise direction, in an orderly fashion, with the same rhythm, but for apparently no reason. They just do it because is the right thing to do. Travelling in this direction is a metaphor for following the direction of Time. Initially Billy joins the group, but later in a subsequent scene, Billy returns to the same room and finding it empty he begins to walk anticlockwise against Time. Immediately, the other prisoners come to warn him against doing this:
Man: – “Good morning my American friend, there will be trouble if you go this way! A good man just walks to the right, left is communist, right is good! You see, you must go to the other way, the other way is good! Where you going, why you don’t walk the wheel with us? What’s the matter my American friend? Did I upset you? Oh, a bad Machine doesn’t know that’s he is a bad Machine, you still don’t believe it. You still don’t believe that you are a bad Machine. To know you, is to know God my friend! The Factory knows why they put you here, you will see, you will find out, in time you will know.”
Billy: – “Oh, I know …I already know. I know you are a bad Machine, that’s why the Factory keeps you here. Do you know why I know? I know because I’m from the Factory. I make the Machines!”
The Machines that the characters speak about in the film are the perfect metaphor for human structure and behaviour because inside a Factory the Machines always work together perfectly to produce, with no space for mistakes. Like Ian R. Douglas says in his essay about theory – ‘Vírilio´s debt to Foucault’ “A properly constituted state must be exactly analogous to a machine, in which all the wheels and gears are precisely adjusted to one another; and the ruler must be the foreman, and the main-spring, or the soul .. which sets everything in motion.”
If a malfunction happens the Machine in question has to be repaired. This draws a parallel to society in general, where if an individual makes a mistake or commits a crime they are removed from the system and punished, much like the Machine is repaired. A man in this situation is considered as pollution in the system, but we are amazed by the unpredictable nature of his actions. This moment of pollution allows the entropy to grow.
In conclusion, I am making a triangular relationship between entropy, the film Midnight Express and Piccadilly Circus as a representation of social anarchy. By drawing these subjects together I am attempting to show visual connections of states of entropy. At Piccadilly Circus, people from a diverse range of cultures are all doing different tasks, for example, talking on the phone, eating, waiting etcetera, they are isolated Machines from the Factory. This is a representation of social anarchy because humans need to disrupt the geometric order, but this is a paradox as at the beginning of my paper I mentioned that men need order but they also need disorder, in a cyclical way. Piccadilly Circus is a public space, in contradiction to the circular room in Midnight Express, which is extremely confined and enclosed, but in both situations they are considered non-spaces, transient. They are suspended in Time, waiting for a transition of orders, like the people within the space are in a transitional state. The urban landscape is defined by the surrounding buildings, which channel the pedestrians. The way people move in, around and then out of the space, shows a direct parallel to the prisoners in the circular room. Sometimes, in rush hour, when Piccadilly Circus is really crowded it is very difficult to walk against the flow of people you are forced to follow the dominant direction, even if this is not the direction in which you wish to go. If you decide to go against the flow, you’re effort of turning around will create a clash with other people, polluting, in a microscopical way, the system.
My point of interest is to draw attention from one point to other, this moment of suspension between states. The people in Piccadilly Circus, by doing the individual tasks they are generating their own energy, within their own isolated systems, which could be said to be a state of Negentropy or as an explanation, negative entropy, meaning free energy.”…in which the potential degrees of freedom are maximized over all space-time domains are effectively coupled to a single actual degree of freedom.” Mae-Wan Ho (1994).
My outcome from this paper is to try to identify and capture with the moving image the moment of transition between different orders, the turning point. Believing that the turning point is a resistance to entropy, a visual illusion that is attempting to reverse the order of things. Obviously, this is physically impossible as entropy always happens in irreversible systems. But by observing Piccadilly Circus from a high perspective it is possible to see the action inside the geometrical circle and create visible situations of that turning point. By inviting a person to circulate, interrupting the flow of pedestrians in the space, they can then define the others. By their action, they will impose a new direction creating a clash of action in the space.
Arnheim, Rudolf, 1971, Entropy and Art, an Essay on Disorder and Order , First published by the University Of California Press, Berkeley.
Virilio, Paul, 1977 (1986), Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. New York: Semiotext(e),
Gray, Robert M.,1990, Entropy and Information Theory, Information Systems Laboratory Electrical Engineering Department Stanford University, Springer Verlag. Revised 2000, 2007, 2008 .
Hokikian, Jack, 2002, The Science of Disorder: Understanding the Complexity, Uncertainty, and Pollution in Our World.
Callen, Herbert B, 1947, on the theory of irreversible processes, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT press.)
Parker, Alan, 1978, Midnight Express, Oliver Stone from the Billy Hayes book.
Ian R. Douglas , The Calm before the Storm: Vírilio´s debt to Foucault, and some notes on contemporary global .
Adrian Gargett (PhD), May 2000, Melatonin, The fictions of Brett-Eason Ellis and the theories of Paul Virilio
Dr. Frank L. Lambert, Professor Emeritus (Chemistry) of Occidental College, Los Angeles;