Sex Shreds The Rules


Howard Bloom

shredding the rules

More than almost anything else in the universe, sex calls on us to radically reexamine our scientific assumptions.  And to toss some of them away.  Why? Remember, you, a mere land plant 500,000 years ago, used an industrial process so intricate and multi-stepped that even a hedge fund accountant  would have had trouble keeping track of it.  And the process  that you employed does more than merely slap nature in  the face.  It violates two of the most basic principles of science.  Two of the most basic principles that scientists since 1865 have sworn rule the universe. 

What are the two scientific basics you  are violating?  Remember Rudolph Clausius and his rule?  “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum. “  According to Clausius, energy constantly moves from useful to useless.  Disorder is on the increase.  The universe is constantly falling apart.   

There’s an iconic image of entropy that one of the gods of modern science, Lord Kelvin, came up with in 1850, fifteen years before Clausius.  Kelvin predicted that the universe would end in heat death.  You’ve heard of heat death.  The standard example is a sugar cube in a glass of water.  Hold the sugar cube in your hand and it is a well-ordered mass.  Smooth sides.  A surface roughened by crystals.  A nice, uniform white color.  Drop it into the water, leave it, come back in an hour or two, and what do you have?  Just water.  

What happened to the damned sugar cube?  The molecules of sugar have ceased to be a community, they’ve abandoned their unity, and they’ve dissolved.  Why?  Here’s the standard answer.  The entropists’ answer.  Statistically, the number of ways the sugar molecules could hang together in a cube is small.  On the other hand, the number of ways those sucrose and fructose molecules could randomly move around in the water in your glass is vast.  According to the second law of thermodynamics, in the end, the more probable outcome always wins.  And the number of ways your sugar cube could lapse into chaos outstrip the number of ways your sugar cube could hang together by zillions to one.  

Probability dissolved your sugar cube.  Or, more accurately, improbability.  And probability will do that to the cosmos, too.  

According to entropic thinking, order is improbable.   Intricacy is statistically unlikely.  But there are gazillions of ways to achieve disorder, to achieve randomness. Which means that the universe, like the sugar cube, will eventually break down in a random whizzle.  It will relax into its most probable form.  It will turn into a random gas.  A useless gas.  A gas whose energy can no longer be tapped.  That’s heat death.  The universe will fall apart like your sugar cube.

But there’s a problem.  Lord Kelvin thought that the world was only 20 million years old.  

In fact, he’d proved it.  Unequivocally.  Scientifically.  Using thermodynamics.  Using the newly-measured melting temperatures of slate, sandstone, garnet, and granite. And using advanced math, Fourier’s equation for heat conductivity. Today we believe that the planet is considerably older—685 times older.  Today we believe that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, not Kelvin’s 20 million.  And we believe that the cosmos is an age Kelvin would have ridiculed–13.7 billion years old.  Yet we still believe in Lord Kelvin’s heat death.  And in its cousin—the second law of thermodynamics, the theory of entropy.  Why? 

Lord Kelvin’s heat death came from a scientific context that would seem alien and strange to you and me.  As you’ve seen, in Lord Kelvin’s day, science had no deep history of the cosmos.  In Lord Kelvin’s day, there was no big bang to kick things off.  There was no concept of inanimate evolution and the evolution of life. Herbert Spencer wouldn’t invent the phrase “theory of evolution” until fourteen years later.  Charles Darwin wouldn’t publish his theories for another seventeen years.  And In Lord Kelvin’s day, there was no sense of how the cosmos had built up to what it is today.  

Despite all this, Lord Kelvin did something important—he made a prediction.  And in science, your theory lives or dies on the basis of your prediction’s accuracy.   Or, at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Lord Kelvin’s prediction and the prediction of the entropists was that the cosmos would constantly run down.  The history of the cosmos we’ve assembled since then has proven this prediction to be wrong.  Dead wrong.  In fact, the history of the cosmos has refuted Kelvin and the entropists’ prediction dramatically.  The  story of the cosmos we’ve assembled in the last two hundred years indicates a cosmos that’s running up.  And sexuality is one of the most flamboyant forms of running up this cosmos has ever conceived.  

You’ve already seen how sex breaks another supposed law of the universe: Pierre Louis de Maupertuis’ law of least action.  And you’ve seen how sex shatters Aristotle’s dictum that “nature operates in the shortest way possible.”  Sex is an exercise in the opposite of least action.  Sex is a maze of the longest paths imaginable.  With sex nature has invented twists and tangles beyond belief.  And sex takes materialism, consumerism and waste to the nth degree.

So why are you and I addicted to sex?  Why do we obsess over this insanely intricate sin against entropy and the law of least effort?  Sex produces mix-and-matches that make something peculiarly new.  To repeat, sex is not about reproduction.  It is not about duplication.  It is about making gene combinations that are utterly unique.  New gene combinations that are one of a kind.  And what, pray tell, is the value of that?  Each new living being that the sexual process produces is a new feeler in the search engine of the cosmos.  A whole new probe with which to punch open the envelope of possibility.??rep—give examples, tell stories, cichlid fish?  Number of moss species and the new environments each conquered??  A whole new feeler for  a cosmos seeking to find her potential, searching for her next  supersized surprises,  looking for her next moves forward in possibility space, hunting for her next wiggles beyond awe, groping for her next radical impossibilities.

And life’s gamble-placing process,  her exuberant exploration,  her insistence on breaking the rules of the status quo, and her obsession with invention have just begun.  You are part of it.  You are a feeler, a tentacle, an antenna.  You are life’s way of feeling out the next impossible landscape.  You are her way of feeling out the cracks in rock and testing the highest limits of the sky. Whether you are a moss shooting your sperm five inches higher than life has ever gone before or you are a human hungry to read the latest reports from telescopes that hunt for livable planets, reports on gravity balls that softball around distant suns.  You are an extension of the first teaspoon of life’s itch to girdle one poison pill of stone, then to garden an entire solar system and to green an outstretched galaxy.  You are an extension of the cosmos’ itch to  reinvent herself.


Yes, nature uses sex to commit four deadly sins—materialism, consumerism, and waste.  But in a few minutes we’ll see how nature created the most flamboyant sin of all: vain display.