Monday, April 10, 2017

What if implicit order is more fundamental than explicit order?

We all carry some notion of order in our everyday life. For example, when our room is in a mess, we say that it is disorderly. Alternately, if the dinner table is arranged properly with the plates, spoons, glasses, we say, things are in order. When we refer to order (or disorder) we are mostly referring to only one type of order – explicit order – order perceived through our senses. There is another type of order which is called implicit order. When we see a seed sprouting, we assume that the tree-ness – with all its characteristics of the shape, color, size - was implicit in the seed. Otherwise, how would it know what kind of a tree it should turn into? That information about tree-ness which is embedded in the seed is an example of the implicit order. Sprouting of the seed is an example of how an explicit order (the tree) comes out of the implicit order inside the seed. When the tree bears a fruit containing a seed, the explicit order gets transformed into an implicit order. So in nature, things are going back and forth between implicit and explicit order. Traditionally, science has assumed that explicit order is more fundamental than implicit order. But what if implicit order is more fundamental? That is what we will explore in this article.

Let’s first try to get a better idea of what an order is. David Bohm defines order as similar differences and different similarities. For example, when we classify all living organisms into animals and plants, we are observing different similarities – animals and plants as different among similarity of living organisms. And when we see that one principle such as the law of gravity governing so many types of motions, we are observing similar differences – law of gravity as similarity among different types of motions.

When we fail to observe any order, we call it disorder or randomness or chaos. Sometimes, what appears to be random has some order implicit in it. For example, computers are known to generate random numbers. However, what is underlying this random sequence of numbers is a program that generates this sequence. Thus, if you know the program and the input it takes (called seed), then the sequence is no longer random. Similarly, when we observe a coastline in a map, say that of Mumbai, it may appear random. However, it is known to carry the property of a fractal dimension – an order, an example of similar differences, implicit in it.  Thus what is random in the explicit world, may have an order in its implicit counterpart. For a cool demonstration on how explicit order turns into implicit order and vice versa, check out this video on ink droplet in glycerin experiment.

For the past several centuries, especially since the scientific revolution of 16th century with discoveries from Galileo, Newton, Descarte and later Darwin, Einstein, Watson-Crick etc. science has considered explicit order as primary. But, what if the implicit order is really more fundamental? And the explicit order is just a reflection or unfolding of an implicit order – like the tree-ness in a seed unfolding into a tree? Science, after all, hasn’t cracked the theory of everything yet, has it? So, it is possible that implicit order is more fundamental. If so, what is its biggest implication?

The biggest implication is that knowledge is always incomplete. Why? Because, it is always based on explicit order. Any knowledge is similar to knowing some characteristics of a tree based on its outer features without knowing the underlying program that generates the tree from a seed. By design, we won’t know implicit order, EVER.

If you really see what this means - i.e. knowledge is always incomplete, then it may come to you as a rude shock. Because it would mean there won’t be a theory of everything, EVER. Moreover, EVERYTHING that you know or believe, especially values you cherish as absolutely true, in science, religion, arts, society, in family relations is incomplete. It is tentative. It may be relevant in your current context, but it may be irrelevant in some other context.  If you really see that every knowledge as tentative, why would you ever be upset about anything?

All this is true, if implicit order is more fundamental than explicit order. Of course, explicit order may indeed be more fundamental than implicit order. Then, fighting for my knowledge, what I value, may be really worth it.

Hope you at least consider the question open: What is more fundamental, implicit or explicit order?

For more information on implicit vs explicit order (or implicate vs explicate order), check out:


  1. Dear Vinay,What I understand from your article that explicate order is determined by perception of senses and therefore that knowledge from that observation is incomplete whereas implicate order
    is unknowable to the senses and hidden in the process of nature and therefore fundamental. I have not followed what is relationship between explicate and implicate order. pl.clarify. Baba.

    1. What is the relationship between implicit and explicit order?

      The relationship between implicit and explicit order is that of unfolding and enfolding. To understand this better, the best place to start is the ink droplet experiment:

      After 4 clockwise rotations of the outer jar, the ink droplet (explicit order) gets mixed in the glycerine. We can say that the droplets are enfolded in the glycerine and represent implicit order. After 4 anti-clockwise rotations of the jar, the droplets are back in their original position. Implicit order unfolded into explicit order.

      So we can say that:

      1. Implicit order contains the information that unfolds into explicit order

      The information about the kind of a tree a seed is going to turn into is embedded in each cell of the seed. It is like a program that knows when to start growing which type of cells and when to stop it etc. The program also knows how to nourish each cell and how to get oxygen through photosynthesis.

      In human thinking process, implicit order is contained in the perceived meaning in each moment. If the meaning is that of threat, say somebody is hiding behind the door, then the meaning unfolds into a set of neurons firing that would increase the heartbeat, secrete certain hormones, increase tension in the muscles etc. The meaning is the implicit order and the firing of neurons leading to action is the explicit order.

      2. Explicit order enfolds the information back into the implicit order

      Tree bears fruits and fruits contain the seed where the information about the tree gets enfolded back into the seed.

      Storage of long term memory involves protein synthesis. Also long term memory is stored throughout the brain and not localized in one part. Emotional content is also stored in the long term memory. This is an example of how thoughts and emotions (explicit order) enfolds into chemicals (implicit order). This is similar to the ink drops when they are distributed after the 4 clockwise rotations.

  2. Dear Vinay,

    As usual very interesting topic and great treatment.

    While reading this article, I kept thinking if this is usual science bashing article that generally focuses on science doesn't know everything. But never gets acknowledged that it knows somethings, if not everything.

    But I completed reading the article and your reply to uncle's question, it became clear to me that it is about keeping in mind that we don't know everything. While what we know, helps us make decisions, it also makes us rigid in our opinions. We try to reduce everything to explicit order, if we can't do it, we call it random/outlier/undesirable etc. If we keep open mind to implicit order (your random number example is case in point), we will be at ease with everything around us and not get bounded by explicit orders.

    Question is how to recognize limits of explicit order. Or we reject explicit order completely because it is a partial knowledge. There are dangers of staying with only explicit orders without realizing its limitation. But I can't imagine life without explicit orders. Thinking about it is very unsettling.

    Another question is about implicit order contains the information that unfolds in the explicit order. It would be great to know about implicit order, but what we know in explicit order is very valuable as well. Isn't it?


    1. Dear Malpi,

      Really appreciate you reading this blog. You have summarized your understanding very nicely.

      Indeed, the cause-and-effect thinking that has been at the heart of scientific temper has been very helpful to us. In particular, it has helped us in predicting the movement in the material-world. It is a case where focus on explicit order alone has been sufficient for all practical purposes. Unfortunately, cause and effect thinking doesn’t extend very well in predicting the movement of thought which, in turn, creates intentions resulting in actions. However, we have a tendency to extend cause and effect thinking to thought-world as well. E.g. “My boss always does that to me” etc. This is a mistake. In reality, the meaning of boss’ actions is stored in my long term memory as an implicit order and it unfolds as a blame-thought in my mind in the explicit order.

      One question you have asked is: How to recognize the limits of explicit order? I feel one way to acknowledge the limits of explicit order is by treating our beliefs as assumptions (or “hypothesis” in scientific terms). Any time we get a result which doesn’t match our expectation it is an opportunity to check if the assumption behind the expectation could be incorrect or perhaps too rigid. So, we are not rejecting the explicit order. We are treating it as tentative – all the time. So going back to the boss example, I might interpret boss’ action as follows: Under certain situations boss has a tendency to react this way and it has come out from implicit order. Unless the meaning of the situation changes for him, he would continue to react this way. One could, of course, try to discuss this with boss. And it might bring about a change of meaning for him or it might not. Alternately, it might bring about a change of meaning for me and I may not hold a grudge against him anymore.

      Now, implicit order by definition is undefinable and immeasurable. We could, of course, try to know more about the implicit order. However, no matter how much we know, it will always be incomplete. So in the thought-world, which is manifested in the form of our interactions with people, it might not help much by insisting my meaning of the world (i.e. my knowledge) is more accurate. It may be more helpful to see if there is a common ground or at least acknowledge that the other person’s meaning is coming from an implicit order and for the moment rigid. He can’t help it. That is where compassion comes from.

      Hope this was helpful.