The most important force in the universe that you probably haven’t heard of.
It’s an idea that has remained in such a narrow niche of human thinking that there’s not even a satisfying wikipedia article about it.
The term was popularized in the last century by R. Buckminster Fuller, whose life was dedicated to making “the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous collaboration, without ecological offense or to the disadvantage of anyone.” He was an engineer, a poet, a polymath, and a prophet, and he was aware of the mechanisms of living systems enough to be able to articulate things that humanity had never been able to see before. It’s time for this concept to become a meme. It’s time for us to see at least glimpses of what Bucky saw.
If you ever hang out with physicists or have personally dabbled in nihilism, you probably have encountered syntropy’s counterpart, entropy. Entropy is well known as the continuous expansion of the universe and the source of a lot of people’s existential dread.
That expansion is a process of decay. Entropy is what brings something like a solar system which at one time had an order and a harmony and a rhythm that was predictable into a disordered and chaotic field of decaying space objects. Syntropy on the other hand, is the force that takes scattered space dust and compresses it into a new star, new planets, a new arm of a spiral galaxy. Both processes are happening, just in different places in the cosmos, and at different times.
As above, so below, so let’s bring the metaphor down to earth a little bit.
Think about a tree. If you can, take a look outside and if you can see a tree, great. This is the tree you’re thinking about. At its peak, a tree is beautiful, luscious, thriving with birds and possibly flowers, teeming with life. It certainly at one point or another will have leaves. The leaves of a tree fall off frequently. Maybe it’s every year, maybe it’s a few every day. It depends on the tree and its ecosystem, but parts of the tree do fall. This falling off, or falling apart happens so that the tree can grow and expand, the leaves need to fall off the branch because the branch will grow a tiny bit further in the place where the leaf had been. The leaf, which we would say is now dead, has only one job now- decay.
In our hyper-sanitized world, a lot of people will look at a pile of rotting leaves and be disgusted. They might rush to rake them all into big black plastic bags and leave them on the curb to be picked up by the garbage collectors on Tuesday. This is an error that points to the many errors of human civilization at this time.
To reject and sequester rotting leaves is to deny the soil and all the species who depend on it the return of the nutrients which make life possible.
Syntropy is not only the opposite of entropy, it is its dancing partner. One cannot exist without the other.
Syntropy is the coming together of life.
Syntropy is the potential for new life, new meaning and new ways of being which emerges from the chaos and decay of entropy.
In our cultural obsession with order, predictability, and cleanliness, we have become repulsed by any sign of entropy. This is the fatal flaw that we are fucking ourselves with in a really bad way. In the example of leaves and soil, we see a microcosmic example of one of the most urgent threats to human life on earth now: the massive degradation of topsoil. Every food we have ever eaten came into existence because there was topsoil on the earth that took around 500 years per inch to develop. This topsoil developed because leaves and all kinds of biomass decayed there. It existed because worms and insects and fungi all helped to break down what used to be alive, and turn it into another form of life: fertile soil, rich enough in the nutrients that we need that it provided for the creation of the entire population of humanity to date. That creation is a syntropic process, and you exist because of it.
In space, syntropy is gravity.
In time, syntropy is evolution.
Among humans, syntropy is love.
As a response to a culture of extraction, syntropy is regeneration.
See, syntropy is happening. It’s happening all around us, and you are participating in syntropy, even when you can’t see it.
But it’s hard to see when things are going well. Elementary schools rarely get calls from parents telling them what a good job they’re doing. When my body is not sick or in pain I often forget to notice that it’s there at all. When things are working the way we like them to, we don’t pay attention. This is understandable, it makes sense that our awareness is usually primed to focus on what’s not working, what needs healing, what is falling apart. But if we didn’t have a word for health, all we would be aware of is sickness and death.
This is one of the reasons we don’t know much about syntropy in our culture. But we find ourselves in a human civilization that is falling apart at nearly every level, so we need to know what healing looks like. We need to understand the process of evolution which made all this life on earth possible even after 6 massive extinction events.
We can develop an embodied and conscious relationship with syntropy. We can make every element of our work and lives be consciously participating in syntropy and entropy all the time.
One of the beautiful things about syntropy is that unlike many other memes that people share to generate a sense of hope in the face of despair, this is a force of nature. Syntropy is undeniable, and when we begin to see it we realize that it is going on everywhere, all the time. Not only is syntropy always unfolding in what we call nature, that wild landscape outside of us, but it’s happening in human communities as well:
- The community garden at the end of my street is syntropy.
- Whenever women gather together to connect and make anything, from a quilt to a social movement, that’s syntropy.
- The ongoing work of indigenous peoples everywhere to preserve, celebrate, and bring forward their culture in the face of so much destruction, harm, and abuse is syntropy.
- Whenever a neighbor does a kindness for another neighbor in need, that’s syntropy.
- Every form of regenerative practice, from land management to business to culture creation is syntropy.
- The joy and creation and inspiration being generated by the Extinction Rebellion movement is syntropy.
- Every organization that has ever won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge is operating at peak syntropy.
- The organic growth and spread of permaculture knowledge is syntropy at play, and even if they don’t know it, all permaculturalists are students of the entropy-syntropy dance.
We would do well to pay attention.
We would do well to participate.
The urgent and deep need for a humanity which understands and embodies syntropic principles has never been greater. This is the motivation behind my work and so many others’ work in the world.
One of Buckminster Fuller’s closest friends, J Baldwin said that
Our purpose and duty as humans is to be syntropic.
So what does being a syntropic human look like in your life? The answer will be as unique as your fingerprints, and as universal as the air we breathe. I invite you to bring this question into your life. And, if you would like to receive support, reflection, and companionship in that question, reach out. I’d love to know how I may serve the vision that you are serving.
You can reach out through the form on this page.