“The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.”
During high summer 1721, while rioters and bankrupts protested outside the British Parliament, Robert Walpole’s new government passed a bill to clear up the wreckage left by the stock-market crash of the South Sea Bubble. In early August the President of the Royal Society Isaac Newton, a major investor in South Sea stock, learned of a new commercial scheme promising apparently automatic profits: a project for a perpetual motion. His informants were a young Viennese courtier Joseph Emmanuel Fischer von Erlach, who was recently engaged in industrial espionage in northern England; and the Dutch physics professor Willem ‘s Gravesande. They reported that they had been summoned to a remarkable series of demonstrations in the castle of Weissenstein, the seat of the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. In a carefully guarded room of the castle there was a hollow wooden wheel set up and covered in oilcloth. It was about 12 feet in diameter and 18 inches thick on an axle 6 feet in length. Its designer, a Saxon engineer and clockmaker Johann Bessler, had been in Kassel for four years. The landgrave, well-known as a patron of advanced engineering schemes, commissioned him to build a new machine and put it on show before expert witnesses.
“Δ𝑈=𝑄−𝑊” , “ΔS > 0”
The first law of thermodynamics states that, when energy passes into or out of a system as work, heat, or matter, the system’s internal energy changes in accordance with the law of conservation of energy. Hence, energy cannot be created or destroyed. The second law of thermodynamics states that in a natural thermodynamic process, the sum of the entropies of the interacting thermodynamic systems never decreases. Entropy, i.e. the level of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty can only increase and never decrease, forcing elements to, through infinite time, reach equilibrium.
“There might be one or two among you who think that my inventions are a bit ahead of their time; a shade fantastic perhaps.”
Two centuries after Newton, the American cartoonist Rube Golldberg is seen signing his name under a sketch for a Rube Goldberg Door Opener Upper. He then explains the inner workings of the extremely complicated Rube Goldberg machine, connecting cats, mice, candles and dynamite to open a door to a waiter. Narrating a 1940 short film commissioned by the U.S. Patent Office, Goldberg explains its policy regarding perpetual motion and the power efficiency (and vast abundance) of gasoline.
“Mechanics cannot die because it has no soul. To a mechanic the paradox is incomprehensible because it transcends the laws of mechanics. The paradox is a leap from mechanics into life.”
In 1925, the Slovenian constructivist poet Srečko Kosovel sets grounds for the transcendence of the mechanical (and epistemically impossible) into the humanist (and subjunctively possible). Leaping into the discursive space of art , where everything is possible, scientific ideas become a far greater driving force than when they were boxed into the laws of physics. The influences of perpetual motion and related ideas in art are particularly present in the avant garde movements of futurism, expressionism and constructivism, but also later in the Situationist International.
“The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart.”
Made in Germany during the Weimar period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia. It follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city mayor, and Maria, a saintly figure to the workers, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes in their city and bring the workers together with Joh Fredersen, the city mayor. The film’s message is encompassed in the final inter-title. Social movements, revolutions, or the erosion of traditional hierarchies, resulting in a more distributed and unpredictable political landscape can be seen as actions of entropy, similarly to the natural forces of corrosion, erosion, fire and explosion. The process of achieving equilibrium will only be successful if the changes happen slowly. Rapid changes e.g. wars, natural disasters or unfinished revolutions throw the social system into chaos, unless and until a new equilibrium can be reached.
“An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted.”
The immortal and invincible nature of ideas described by Victor Hugo, an unbreakable entropic disruptive force, once introduced, is practically impossible to totally eradicate. It disperses freely, without any energy needed, from one mind to another. Artworks can often break away from conventional expectations, leading to new and unconventional forms of expression, embodying entropy by introducing novelty, experimentation or chaos into established systems or social conventions. Art, like entropy, is a transformative force, breaking down existing ideas, forms or materials, resulting in the creation of new and different configurations.
No avantgarde started in the beginning.