Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thermodynamics in Green Horizon Journal

Proud and pleased to get copies in the post today of Green Horizon, an American journal of green thought and action, which includes an essay by yours truly. The theme of the issue is Disarming the Oligarchs, beginning with a piece going from "nutritionism" to localisation of the food supply; Maynard Kaufman reviews Christianity's relation with the earth - from holy spirit to earth spirit, which is adapted from his new boodk "Adapting to the end of Oil, towards an Earth-centered spirituality". Then there is my bit, on the second law of thermodynamics. Edmund Fowler addresses the near-universal feeling of disempowerment that people feel, and contrasts it with the power that imbues all other living creatures. He sees community self-empowerment as the way out of our box. Next, Steve Welzer puts Green thought in a neither-nor space beyond Capitalism and Socialism. John Rensenbrink spells out the first 100 days of a Green Administration - a very useful exercise given that we need to develop a wish-list of reforms to put on a broad spectrum platform if the current government collapses under the weight of the present corruption scandal. And there are a couple of items giving the Green Parties' situation in Ireland and Canada.

American Greens, like us over here, are effectively excluded from Government by defective electoral system, so like us, they have the leisure to think. Which is good. We here though do not have a journal like Green Horizon to dip into. Resurgence is the nearest we get. I like American green writing, which stands in a great literary tradition which is subtly freer than our more uptight thinking.

My bit was titled "A Unified Philosophy of Work: economics rooted in physics and biology."

It finds that the word "work" means the same thing in its physics and its economics, that is, work means increasing the order in a system. It also finds that work underpins the whole process of life, which is again creating and maintaining order. The really interesting bit is that much of what we know as "economics" (for example arms and motor car manufacture) is in fact "dys-economics", because it leads not to order, but to disorder. The only possible conclusion from the argument in the essay is that green economics is the only real economics, and mainstream economics is deeply in error.

You can read a version of the essay on-line here, or can buy a copy of Green Horizon here.


Anonymous said...

pseudo-intellectual twaddle.

your bullshit detectors should be going berserk

I don't think they really have much of a clue about the Laws of Thermodynamics.

DocRichard said...

Hello Anonymous
Many thanks for your thoughtful and considered response.

Anonymous said...

a pleasure sunshine

you're lucky to get even that though.

The 'Anti-work and the dyseconomy' section is particularly noteworthy.

A shame, as you seem such a nice man.

DocRichard said...

I accept that the piece uses long words and new words, but this is what happens when new ideas come through.

Let's go through the logic and summarise the argument.

1 The word "Work" means increasing order in a system, both in its physical and economic usage.
2 Life processes are also involved in increasing and maintaining order.
3 Human actions that decrease order should therefore be classified as a kind of anti-work.
4 An economic system that decreases the level of order in our physical and biological environment may therefore be termed a dys-economy.

Does that clarify it for you?

Anonymous said...


a focus on entropy as a way of trying to understand a living system is analogous to trying to understand a horse by studying horse manure

try this - it will address some parts of point two

but be warned it's got a lot of big words in it. As Michael Caine said "You're a big man, but you're out of shape, with me it's a full-time job.

Anonymous said...


DocRichard said...

Corning's paper is interesting, and does in fact seem to be moving in the same direction as my paper:
"Thermoeconomics”, by contrast, is based on the proposition that the role of energy in biological evolution should be defined and understood not in terms of the Second Law but in terms of such economic criteria as “productivity,” “efficiency,” and especially the costs and benefits (or "profitability") of the various mechanisms for capturing and utilizing available
energy to build biomass and do work."
If you objected to my use of language, I think to be fair you should also object to his also.

I would be interested to know if you did actually read my paper, via the hyprlink?

There is a real problem for physicists which Schrodinger addressed with his essay "What is life?". The core fact is that life increases order on earth, whereas the Second Law predicts decreasing order. This suggests that Life is an aspect of being that transcends Physics, which is a bit of a challenge to physicists of the reductionist persuasion. (To pre-empt any misunderstanding, I am not trying to establish any "life substance" idea here, just arguing that life is an order of nature that transcends physics).

But apart from the academic ponderings, the idea that true work increases order has practical and ethical implications that will give added impetus to the shift towards sustainable economics that is just beginning worldwide.

Anyway, I shouldn't be doing this, I should be out on the doorstep, canvassing.

DocRichard said...

PS you can learn an awful lot about an organism by studying its faeces.

Anonymous said...

'Life doesn't transcend physics' although the creationists use that line about the evolution of life needing an increase in order (contra Law 2) to promote their weird theories.

It's to do with what is a closed system and what isn't etc and is too dull for a wednesday night before the UEFA cup final down the pub. In fact thermodynamics says not a jot about 'order' as you are interpreting it. It's a very common misconception. Boltzmann new the score though.

Werder Bremen to beat Shaktar

weggis said...

How do we tell if a system is open or closed?

btw it's just about to kick orf!

Shaktar for me.

DocRichard said...

Well, UEFA or no UEFA, I am not a creationist, but neither do I accept that life can be reduced to a physical and chemical description the processes of biology, no matter how full those descriptions may be.

In fact thermodynamics says not a jot about 'order' as you are interpreting it. Did you actually read the paper?

Boltzmann new the score though.Boltzmann sadly ended up killing himself, thus voluntarily transforming the intricate mysterious highly complex ordered system that was Boltzmann into a cold slab of meat that proceeded to disassemble itself into its constituent molecules. If that is not an increase in entropy, then I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

yes, read it a few times.

As I said, thermodynamics doesn't say anything about 'order' as you are interpreting it. You are using order as a metaphor. I see that this will be the sticking point so let's agree to disagree. Good luck.

Weggis - you were right about the final - I forgot the game wasn't a closed sstem and about the external influence of the referee.

DocRichard said...

OK Anon, over and out. Thanks for the stimulation anyway.

DocRichard said...

Weggis, Anon's open/closed system point as I understand it is that some try to explain that evolution does not negate the 2nd Law (which specifically refers to closed systems) because the Earth is not a closed system, because of the solar input. However, the Solar System itself is pretty close to being a closed system, apart from meteorites and cosmic rays. The latter will have accelerated evolution through induced mutations, but I have not read anywhere that they are necessary to evolution.

Therefore it is possible to imagine a sun-earth closed system which still generates evolving life out of mineral elements, CO2, photons, and H2O. (Earth, air, fire, water - they were not totally stupid in the days before modern science).

So we still have a closed physical system which generates a level of being that defies the Second Law of Thermosynamics. I suspect that some physicists feel a bit threatened by this, but if they are, it is only because they are trying to over-claim their sphere of influence.

I do not think our Anonymous friend is right to say that I am using order as a metaphor. I went to some trouble to look at what was conveyed by the word "order" in the original essay.

On the other hand, I was sloppy to say that "life transcends physics". I should have said, "Is transcendental to physics". But hey...

BTW, I think the goal is too small. What you need is a frame set 1 metre outside the present goalposts, in the same plane, and a ball passing into this extra area, or hitting the woodwork of the existent goal, would score 0.1 of a goal, thus reducing the amount of boring and frustrating 0-0, 1-1 draws.
Some psychologists have argued that the lower crowd violence in high scoring games like ice hockey, basketball, and rugby is in part down to the greater satisfaction and release obtained from seeing your team score more often, even if they end up losing.

Anonymous said...

sorry but you have a real misunderstanding of the whole concept.

the flat with the clothes lying around is a classic

keep an eye on pseuds corner...

Anonymous said...

does this help?

Although order/disorder is still present in some elementary chemistry texts as a gimmick for guessing about entropy changes (and useful to experts in some areas of thermodynamics), it is both misleading and an anachronism for beginners in chemistry. It has been deleted from most first-year university chemistry textbooks in the US.. In the humanities and popular literature, the repeated use of entropy in connection with "disorder" (in the multitude of its different common meanings) has caused enormous intellectual harm. Entropy has been thereby dissociated from the quintessential connection with its atomic/molecular energetic foundation. The result is that a nineteenth century error about entropy's meaning has been generally and mistakenly applied to disorderly parties, dysfunctional personal lives, and even disruptions in international events. This may make pages of metaphor but it is totally unrelated to thermodynamic entropy in physico-chemical science that actually does impact our lives. It is as ridiculous as talking about how Einstein's relativity theory can be applied to a person's undesirable relatives in Chicago.

DocRichard said...

Hello again Anon.

I assume that you are the same Anon that has been posting earlier.
If you arguing that the 2nd Law refers only to energetic processes, at an atomic level, then fine. The second law then applies only to energetic processes at an atomic level, as defined. All that has happened here is that the second law has been ring-fenced.

In this case, we can posit a new law which states, "The state of affairs in any dynamic system tends towards disorder, unless work is applied to that environment".

Eppur si mouve. If energy is the ability to do work, this new Law
does still involve energy applied at a macro level, rather than the atomic level.

The new Law is a variant of Murphy's Law and Sod's law. It is exemplified in the Student's Bedroom case, or the case of the cultivated garden which tends to revert to jungle if left, or to the other cases quoted in my original article.

Lambert in the article you mention seems anxious to speak up for the usefulness of the Second Law, but this is unnecessary, since all true physical laws are necessary to our present existence.

It remains the case that Life and Work both are necessary to maintain the ecosphere, and that militarism and stored carbon release will bring about a state of disorder in our environment which threatens our existence.

If Metaphor is "a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity", then I can live with that. There is a remarkable similarity between what is happening in the Student's Bedroom and the dispersal of energy at an atomic level.

Have a nice day. And do apply your physicist brain to the question of whether the soccer goal is too small for the satisfaction of all concerned (except the goalie). In fact, I can see an analogy here. The game begins in a 0-0 no result state. If it ends in a 0-0 or 1-1 state, much energy has been expended with no result. If the object of the game is to decide which is the more skilled team, the game has been a complete waste of everybody's time, which leads to frustration, which leads to violence against people and property, i.e. disorderly behaviour. The proposed secondary goal frame, as suggested, might lead, say, to a 0.1-0.5 result, would reduce this tendency to pointless energy dissipation and disorder.