Entropy Made Visible

Collected Items 29.01.12

This from Robert Smithson’s Interview with Alison Sky, about two months before the artist’s death in 1973. ¬†One wonders what Smithson would have made of the internet.

O.K. we’ll begin with entropy. That’s a subject that’s preoccupied me for some time. On the whole I would say entropy contradicts the usual notion of a mechanistic world view. In other words it’s a condition that’s irreversible, it’s condition that’s moving towards a gradual equilibrium and it’s suggested in many ways. Perhaps a nice succinct definition of entropy would be Humpty Dumpty. Like Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is a tendency to treat closed systems in such a way. One might even say that the current Watergate situation is an example of entropy. You have a closed system which eventually deteriorates and starts to break apart and there’s no way that you can really piece it back together again. Another example might be the shattering of Marcel Duchamp Glass, and his attempt to put all the pieces back together again attempting to overcome entropy. Buckminister Fuller also has a notion of entropy as a kind of devil that he must fight against and recycle. Norbert Weiner in The Human Use of Human Beings also postulates that entropy is a devil, but unlike the Christian devil which is simply a rational devil with a very simple morality of good and bad, the entropic devil is more Manichean in that you really can’t tell the good from the bad, there’s no clear cut distinction. And I think at one point Norbert Weiner also refers to modern art as one Niagara of entropy. In information theory you have another kind of entropy. The more information you have the higher degree of entropy, so that one piece of information tends to cancel out the other.

Robert Smithson, Entropy Made Visible, 1973