By Despina Williams Parker
Renowned writer and thinker Howard Bloom challenged physicists to abandon the theoretical equivalent of “stone tools” in describing a universe that contains the messy, irrational yet strangely compelling thing we call human sexuality in a provocative lecture delivered on Oct. 9 in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium.
Bloom’s lecture, intended to demonstrate how “sex defies the laws of physics,” challenged two basic scientific assumptions within the framework of sexual reproduction: the Principle of Least Action and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The former holds that nature takes the most economical course of action, while the latter describes entropy as being in constant increase in the universe.
Using examples ranging from biology to Longfellow’s epic weeper, “Evangeline,” to the suicide of a gay friend, Bloom said that “sexuality does not comport” with the Principle of Least Action’s vision of a thrifty universe. The principle, argued Bloom, does not explain the 19 trillion sperm produced in a man’s lifetime, a literary heroine’s lifelong search for her lost lover, or the tragic death of a brilliant 22-year-old in a time when homosexuality was taboo.
Bloom challenged the validity of a principle derived in 1746 from the study of light, which does not illuminate the complexities of human behavior and desire exemplified by a man’s fetish for women’s shoes or a loveless couple’s attempt to hold it together for the kids.
Nor was Bloom content with the Second Law of Thermodynamics’ vision of a universe falling apart. How, he wondered, did entropy explain the genome’s remarkable game of mix and match, the shuffling and exchange at the heart of human reproduction?
“With 22,000 genes shuffled, how many permutations and combinations would that be?” Bloom asked. “How many ways of things going wrong could there be and how many ways of things going right?” If entropy applied to sexual reproduction, Bloom argued, we would not have a population of unique men and women, but “soup.”
And if the Principle of Least Action and the Second Law of Thermodynamics do not explain the complexities of sexual behavior and reproduction, perhaps scientists have not accomplished much at all, Bloom proposed.
“Which is more real in this cosmos – light, or Glenn?” quipped Bloom, nodding at Glenn Geher, Chair of the Psychology Department and Director of the Evolutionary Studies Program. “You are as real an aspect of the cosmos as light. What you represent is as important to understand as physics. Until physics can understand you, physics doesn’t have a clue.”
An avowed atheist, Bloom argued that the “challenge of science is to explain these things, not to put them off on a god.” His work in pondering these grand questions will form the basis of a new book.
Bloom has authored The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates,The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, and The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism.
New Paltz’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Club, the School of Fine and Performing Arts, Major Connections and the Honors Program sponsored the lecture.