hot_spotThinking about Evolution & Economics and Some Notes on the Evolution of Ideas

Part 12 - The strange tale of the 2nd Law of thermodynamics and potentials, flows, work eddies & exhausts.

Emergence & evolutionary ecology.

 

Now God said, and I agree with him - 'Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. The whole earth is of one language, so do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth ...'

What on earth is going on? ... how do folk choose between alternatives? ... I kid you not, I have serious doubts about my understanding of evolution & economics ... it is all very difficult ... first there's Murphy's Law, then delusions, illusions, unintended consequences, hidden flaws, things falling apart and all manner of worms in folk's heads called myth & magic ... and also, why are other folk always tying my shoelaces together? ... why me? ... why taxes? ... and yet ... Darwin's 'entangled bank' and Jessica's blue eyes and Louis Armstrong's 'West End Blues' are incredible structures of beauty ... there is 'stuff happening' in this world which is way beyond the capacity of my brain to understand ... esoteric, recondite, arcane, abstruse ... so ... like everyone else all I can do is try ... experiment ... wiggle my muscles ... and see what happens ... and ... learn ... perhaps I learned a bit about entropy & spontaneous change as a Chemical Engineer ... and then I learned something about synergy & creative destruction as an Economist ... perhaps there are some universal laws of nature ... empirically testable ... which 'just happen' ... which can help survival against the odds ... and enable 'stuff' to evolve ... and help folk choose? ...

Sadi CarnotThe Thermodynamics of Heat Engines and the Mystery of Entropy 

In 1776 Jimmy Watt stuck a condenser on his steam engine, intensified the energy flow from his boiler and powered the Industrial Revolution. But it was 1824 before an envious Frenchman, Sadi Carnot, attempted to explain the science of how all imaginable heat engines work ... by producing kinetic & potential energy from heat ... heat lifted water out of the mines? ... you're kidding!

Carnot's cycle was an ideal reversible engine cycle where energy flowed & work was done & nothing was lost ... perpetual motion? ...

heat input  = internal energy rises and gas expands as work is done by the system on the surroundings (U + PV)

further expansion = lowers temperature (- PV)

heat out = internal energy reduces and gas contracts as work is done on the system by the surroundings (- U - PV)

further contraction = raises temperature (+ PV)

Carnot's thermal efficiency - the conversion efficiency of heat (energy as high temperature potential) to useful work (cycling kinetic energy & the potential raising of weights) - increased as exhaust temperatures (heat wastes) were reduced ... this involved only temperature! ... only temperature? ... no wonder Jimmy Watt needed his condenser! ... but however brilliant the rest of his design the work output was limited by temperature? ... real real strange that ...

But Carnot's reversible cycle was pie in the sky ... James was in trouble ... not only did he fail miserably to exhaust his engine at absolute zero but also he found it very difficult raise the temperature of his steam without blowing a gasket ... and as he struggled spontaneous failure seemed to be everywhere ... he felt like he was paying an energy tax! ... leaks, frictions, decays, losses, iron rustings, roofs sagging, paint peelings, woodworms & rot ... but then some things were as solid as a rock ... what on earth was going on? ...

and James was not alone ... however hard they tried nobody else ever managed to get back to the start of Carnot's cycle ... why? ... something was being lost? ... was it the fall of heat from one level to another that motivated the steam engine? ... and perhaps that fall was irreversible? ... in 1848 Rudolf Clausius insisted heat never flowed from cold to hot ... and at the same time Lord Kelvin surmised heat could never be completely converted into work ... so James needed his cold condenser ... but something was being lost ... energy was on the move but it wasn't lost ... heat in = heat out ... there was no way round that as James Prescott Joule was to suss that out a bit later in 1850 ... so if it wasn't energy that was being lost what was it? ... temperature was being lost? ... yes ... but ... James knew about heat flowing and ice melting in his whiskey and he knew temperature didn't budge an inch? ...

James was at his wit's end ... he mulled, was 'potential' being lost? ... potential for doing work ... was potential being minimised? ... he was losing the very thing he wanted ... but what was this damned lost potential? ... and more important what could he do about it? ... and what really irked him, the losses were spontaneous but James had to work ever so hard to extract useful work from his engine ... nature seemed to be woefully asymmetric ... the world was against him ...

The Laws of Nature

The four Laws of Thermodynamics - the laws of heat change - the laws of energy flow - the ultimate, universal cause of everything - why there is something rather than nothing ... and why 'stuff happens' -

0th Law - Temperatures are always different and indicate that systems will tend to move spontaneously towards thermal equilibrium as high temperature energy flows to low temperature energy (a principle of universal difference) ... temperature - T - measures the Boltzmann distribution of molecules over the available quantised energy levels within a system ...

1st Law - Energy is always conserved and indicates the capacity of a system to do work (a principle of universal continuity) ... as high temperature energy flows to low temperature energy work can be done ... useful work is motion against an opposing force ... energy as heat (kinetic energy) can be converted into energy as work (potential energy) ...  energy is conserved but changes its form  ... work, waste heat, light, sound, electricity, mass ... internal energy - U - measures the quantity sum of all the kinetic & potential energy stored in a system ... 

2nd Law - Entropy always increases with any spontaneous change (a principle of universal change) ... energy at high concentration tends to flow to energy at low concentration ... dispersing, diffusing, dissipating, decaying, spreading out ... the quality of the energy in a system degrades ... the potential for doing work is minimised ... entropy - S - measures the change in the distribution of energy, from concentrated to dispersed among the large number of molecular microstates accessible at a given temperature ...

4th  Law - Absolute Zero temperature is approached as heat capacities, energy holding capacities & entropies of all pure substances converge to zero as temperature decreases ... zero Kelvin - K - molecular motion stops - translation, rotation, vibration ... zero is an asymptotic impossibility ...

The Behaviour of Energy

Getting your head around these law is painful but the economic problem is that useful energy is lost.
In thermodynamic systems energy dissipates.
Energy is distributed between molecules as movement; spin, vibration, speed.
Each molecule has quantized energy states.
Energy disperses into space through available microstates and becomes more dispersed when more microstates are available.
Entropy is the measure of the number of different microstates = more molecules, more volume, more energy (higher temperature).
Boltzmann's microstates are not equally probable and there is a distribution of probabilities.
The highest probability is the most dispersed state. The most spread out energy.
As numbers increase it become highly unlikely (impossible) for special states to exist.
High entropy is the most likely state.
But we need temperature gradients to run engines and use useful energy.
In this way there is a differential survival of microstates.

The giants of thermodynamic science around the latter half of the 19th century pondered, mulled and tentatively suggested -

entropy always increases - there exists a spontaneous tendency for concentrations of energy to disperse ... for hot spots to heat up surroundings ... for volumes to expand ... any entropy decreases in a local system is always associated with bigger entropy increases in the surroundings ... the same energy flow has a bigger entropy increase impact at low temperatures or tight volumes ... the impact of a sneeze in a quiet library is bigger than with the same sneeze at Hyde Park Corner ... as entropy increases there is increasing uncertainty over which of the increasing number of available quantised energy levels any molecule occupies ... because there is an increasing number of ways that molecules associated with the same total energy can be arranged in space time at that temperature ...  

Maximum Entropy Production is the business of nature ... energy that was once concentrated tends to disperse ... uneven distributions to become more even ... energy tends to become delocalised ... energy flows are always trying to rapidly erode concentration gradients ... minimising the potential to do useful work ... this energy flow is the driving force of nature ... system energy provides the potential ... the availability of more micro states provides the action ... how much energy is dispersed? how widely? ... entropy measures the progress of energy dissipation with time ... heating, expanding, mixing/dissolving, phase changes & chemical reactions ... a spontaneous tendency for energy to spread out over all accessible microstates ... not only does nature have direction but also speed ... always trying to push faster ... nature has 'purpose' in 'time' ... phew! ...

And there's more ...

useful work can be done - some of this universal spontaneous energy dissipation is diverted into work and creates structures ... but some must exhaust to a sink above absolute zero and some is lost confronting the surroundings ... some of the energy flow from big weights falling can be converted into work which can raise smaller weighs ...

Focus on work - energy is the capacity to do work ... the 'downhill' driving force of energy dissipation is diverted into useful work to force 'uphill' energy concentrations ... work is the interesting thing ... work is the basic cause of all structures emerging in the universe ... as entropy increases and potentials are minimised, dissipating energy flows in local open complex systems continuously produce novel structures that survive ... evolutionary change is driven by useful work which emerges from energy flows which are ordered by the way the energy involved behaves as it spreads out ... spontaneous energy dissipation has a tendency to produce dispersion patterns and local eddies ... dispersion pathways always emerge and these routes are apparently 'chosen' spontaneously ... producing patterns of flow ... patterns emerging in profusion as the potential is minimised ... these are the pathways Boltzmann discovered ... quantised microstates ... 

dissipating energy doesn't just tumble into the universe ... energy dissipates into evermore complex emergent structures as energy gets trapped and locked into an increasing number of possible quantised microstates

... activation energy hinders change and hinders entropy increase ... work hinders entropy production ... no useful work = maximum entropy ... more useful work = less entropy and more ordered structures ... work captures energy and delays dissipation by building survival structures ... these surviving patterns are real physical structures of real particles and molecules ... and some these structures and molecules in turn interact and react and some replicate, structures at time t+1 are different from at time t ...

Flows 'opportunistically' filling available microstates and niches 'as if' intentional ... expansion, reactions, phase changes, growth, muscles, ideas, steam, electricity ... thus complexity is increased and the dispersion process speeds up as energy flows intensify ... work is 'stuff' happening ...  complexity must emerge out of this work ... evolution 'just happens' ...

But useful work is never exactly proportional to energy difference there is always energy dissipation ...

energy dissipation is the economic cost of building structures ... and structures have economic value only if they survive ... obvious isn't it! ...

And there's more more ... there are discoverable 'rules' for all these energy dispersion patterns ... energy and matter ... e=mc2 ... then hydrogen & helium ... and then the other elements of the periodic table ... the Pauli Exclusion principle ... then the reaction products they spontaneously produce ... eventually including the emergence of the metabolism of life & human brains ... on to all the useful output from brains and muscles ... creative ideas and useful tools ... 'know how' and all human artefacts including steam engines and 747s ... and ... cures for cancer ... in this way history unfolds as a series of 'emergences' and new interactions associated with the emergent structures … new interactions resulting in more complexity ... all without any discontinuity or supernatural design nor divine intervention ...

Soooo ... there is something rather than nothing ... order emerges spontaneously ... evolution moves towards increasing ‘complexity’ ... from the big bang of maximum potential to the unreachable frozen state of absolute zero ... from cephalisation to the urban trek ... 'stuff happens' ... 'events emerge' ... so it's not all 'apocalypse now' ... 'imminent catastrophe' ... 'inevitable disaster' ... it is 'as if' evolutionary copy/vary/select algorithms search for new survival structures ...  it seems all structures are 'as if' a steam engine ... not only engines that pump but also chemical reactions that work ... and ... chemical reactions that think ... not only James Watt and his steam engine ... but everybody ... and everything ... nothing can be excluded ... there can't be any miraculous discontinuities ...  this is the survival & failure of everything ... a final cause?

... and with it an expanded view of thermodynamics suggesting that the spontaneous production of ordered patterns from energy flows is the expected consequence of the basic laws of nature ... this puts evolution in its universal context and shows the reciprocal relationship between living things and their environments ... wow! ...

So Jimmy Watt was experimenting with the laws of nature ... but then what else could he do? ... he was trying to create some semblance of new order out of the propensity of energy to disperse ... but how could he extract more useful work from his energy gradients? -

more energy - intensifying the energy flow through his system (thus increasing the entropy gain in the surroundings) ...

less dispersal - capturing more energy as work and increasing the thermodynamic efficiency of his system (thus decreasing the local entropy gain but always at the expense of a larger gain elsewhere) ...

... but always entropy gain ... always waste ...

James' found his steam had to expand to produce work, there was no way round that ... and expansion used up potential ... and he couldn't manage without his condenser because it was there, in his condenser, where the entropy of the universe was increasing ... the 'orrible truth dawned ... not all the heat energy going into James' engine was usefully stored in molecules as internal energy (U) some was used up making space in the surroundings (PV) and not all the internal energy could be captured as useful work, some remained dispersed in the system (TS) ... every bit of success always came with a cost ... energy just wasn't as useful when it was spread out ... steam engine economics was all about wining the maximum quantity useful work from nature's spontaneous energy flows ...

Jimmy's suspicions were well founded ... he confronted a double whammy ... and all because energy spontaneously flowed in only one direction ... because nature was asymmetric ...

only by hard work is order, survival and life itself possible - irreversible eddies in the relentless dispersal of energy ... the small weights rising

and the surviving structures of life are always threatened - the ongoing relentless dispersal of energy ... the big weights falling

James discovered the economic truth - there was no free lunch - there was no perpetual motion - useful work was only available if waste was produced ... and there were always those damned leaks! ...

willard gibbsFrom Steam Engines to Life

In 1906 Josiah Willard Gibbs had another go at helping Jimmy Watt to understand his engine ... most folk just didn't get it, even though by that time it had powered the self-sustaining economic growth of the 'industrial revolution' ... Gibbs pinned down 'free energy' as the 'potential' for doing work ... the potential driving all spontaneous change ... the same 'potential' ... not only driving steam engines but also other systems where there was no cycle and pressure was constant ... chemical reactions ... mixing ... phase changes ... but the trouble was Gibbs Free Energy wasn't 'free' and it wasn't 'energy' ... it was a universal potential and it was decreasing at every opportunity ... folk had to get their mind round abundant 'energy' which was conserved and wasteful 'entropy' which was increasing ... the 1st Law & the 2nd Law -

the total potential in the universe for doing work (Gibbs G) is the energy which can flow to the surroundings from a system (1st Law Enthalpy H) (this asset equals the internal energy of the molecules (U) plus any expansion work done to create space for the system (PV)) MINUS the energy that must remain dispersed in the system at the end of the process (2nd Law Entropy - TS)

G = (U + PV) - TS

... 'potential' tends to decrease in all spontaneous processes which produce work ...

Entropy of the universe = Entropy of the surroundings + Entropy of the system

... 'entropy' tends to increase in all spontaneous processes ...

... the quantity & spread of energy in the universe ... the quantities must BALANCE but the spread must INCREASE ... what was fooling folk was the apparent DECEASE in entropy when work was done in a system ... when something interesting happened ... when a structure emerged ... when elements and molecules appeared ... when a crystal formed ... when DNA split ... when a plant grew ... when an idea was hatched ... when a muscle wiggled ... but there was always an associated GREATER environmental cost somewhere ...

With all this interesting 'stuff happening' no wonder folk thought it was all the work of the Gods! ... or the Bishops! ... or the Kings! ... or the Generals! ...

... but Jimmy Watt was following a path well trodden by nature ... but then James Watt was nature! ... there was no doubt about that? ...

Free EnergyPhotosynthesis - James himself was powered by the most important heat engine on earth ... the same engine energising all of human civilisation ...

 ... the biggest falling weight imaginable ... solar energy flows into the surrounding universe and some is intercepted by chloroplasts in green leaves and converted into into work which can raise small weights as energy concentrations are synthesised in carbohydrates & oxygen ... these carbohydrates & oxygen in turn provided the energy flows to move AdenosineDiPhosphate to AdenosineTriPhosphate and ATP is necessary to fuel the synthesis of proteins for life ... and here are some numbers -

a massive spontaneous generation of energy from nuclear fusion in our sun tumbles into the universe dramatically increasing entropy - in 1 second the sun produces enough energy to last 500,000 years of current consumption ... the reaction started some 4.5 billion years ago and is estimated to continue for another 5 billion years ... and some folk think our problems are a shortage of energy! ... it appears there's lots of time before we run short ... however economists suggest living off the 'interest' from the sun is very different from living off the 'capital' of past accumulations? ...

the earth is a small dot circling the sun and only a diminutive 0.000002% of the suns concentrated energy is intercepted by planet earth ... some folk think the important problem is not conversion efficiency and waste but intercepting more of this abundant energy ... more energy from the sun hits the earth in one hour than the world uses in a year ...

of this intercepted energy 30% is reflected straight away and 70% is absorbed, with 50% of the absorption immediately converted into heat ... then there are water cycles, atmospheric winds, ocean waves .... more & more folk think what a waste! ...

only 0.03% of the intercepted energy goes into the work of exciting electrons which split water releasing oxygen & fixing carbon dioxide as carbohydrates and so capturing energy ... what an opportunity! ...

then there is a respiration cost accompanying the useful synthesis as energy has to be provided for plant growth ... that growth is also dependent on carbon dioxide concentrations, water availability, temperature, necessary nutrients and catalysts ... a complex opportunity! ...

this leaves a diminutive % stored as carbohydrates in grains, fruits & nuts ... available for new plants next year! ...

and there's more ... lots of grains, fruits & nuts are unavailable, lost, wasted or unsuitable for human consumption ... only a diminutive diminutive % are fuel & fodder for us folks ...

and there's more more ... only diminutive diminutive diminutive % ends up as brain activity and muscle movement which is needed for wiggling ...

and only a diminutive diminutive diminutive diminutive % of the brain activity and wiggles were useful for powering steam engine designs ...

and as James himself knew well, most brain activity and wiggles seemed to go into passing on the genes for the survival of the next generation ... James married twice! ...

at each and every cascading stage ... massive entropy gains ... inevitable wastes ... carbon dioxide & water, even human wastes can be used again ... but ... potential is lost forever ...

Making 1 kg of human biomass takes 10kg of beef and 100kg of grain is required to make that 10kg of beef ... captured free energy is imported as food and then processed into a lower entropy state of energy captured as AdenosineTriPhosphateas with high entropy wastes thrown out ... the higher you go in trophic levels, the more of the energy captured at lower trophic levels is lost as entropy increases ...

In this way us folk are collections of eukaryote cells, open dissipative systems with local complex molecules & membrane boundaries ... chloroplasts synthesizing glucose ...  mitochondria releasing captured ATP energy for growth ... and for thinking ...

... us folk are vehicles for some chemistry - ADP + P = ATP + 30 kj/mol ... and that's it ... some concentrated energy ready for dispersal !!

The laws of thermodynamics are expressed in nature 'as if' discovering pathways for dissipating energy .. this was the way James Watt's brain hatched ideas ... little eddies in energy flows as an ongoing cascades of big weights falling raised small weights ... as ideas were hatched, muscles were powered and steam engines were built ... captured energy from the sun, stored as coal, which released the fire which generated the steam which pushed the engine which pumped water out of the mines ... the flow, storage and exhaust of energy was balanced as demanded by the 1st Law, with the whole malarkey ordered by the Boltzmann's pathways of the 2nd Law ... by a spontaneous tendency to maximise the speed at which the energy potential was minimised ...

What magic! Evolution building the self organised structures of life ... from energy flows ...

The Ontology of Economics

 So ... everything is really thermodynamics? ... including economics! ... what else can it be? ... and this is ontology not analogy ... don't even start to think that economic principles are something 'different' ... science has not discovered any alternative route to complexity ... and it is complexity that always confuses folk ... energy flows, heat exhausts, synapses fire, muscles contract ... life is a heat engine ... no one has ever heard of a cold brain? ...  

Boltzmann discovered the physical structures associated with energy dissipation and entropy increase - order from chaos ...

Darwin discovered the process of copy / vary / select associated with energy dissipation, entropy increase and work - order from inheritance ...

Schrodinger brought it all together in 1944 'What is Life?' - emerging structures (DNA) spontaneously replicate (copy) with mutations (vary) and some of the inherited modifications have better survival chances than others (natural selection) - order and life don't contradict the 2nd law, order comes from work as a inevitable consequence of energy dissipation ... a response to energy dissipation ... Le Chatelier's Principle ...

But Jimmy Watt faced a dilemma ... a choice ... he was powerless to stop his synapses firing but he was not helpless ... powerless but not helpless? ... fired by photosynthesed fodder he found that his internal heat engine could change the environment by 'wiggling' muscles ... but every wiggle had an entropy cost ... he had to eat ... and unfortunately no one, not even James himself, knew the effects of his wiggles ... for sure a lot of them were completely fruitless ... but he kept at it ... an avalanche of his individual wiggles over time interacted with a series of other wiggles made by other folks ... and intriguingly most of the other other folk were long dead! ... all the time he remembered what worked and forgot what didn't ... he learned ... and he learned about the past ... he was a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants ... others had already tamed fire, mined coal, raised steam, cast iron and machined metal ... and years before in 1710 Thomas Newcomen had even made an engine ... James wasn't starting from scratch ... his wiggles were building on the successful ancestral happenings from the past ... dependent on unknown wiggles of unknown others and their unknown ancestors ... all his ideas and wiggles became inspired best bets for improvement ... experiments ... not self conscious intentional, rational, purposeful plans but neural experiments ... after all most of his muscle wiggles were completely subconscious ... he didn't even plan his heart beats ... did he? ... driven by deep survival instincts he tried to discover & accumulate 'know how' at the margin ... productive wiggles ... economic wiggles ... because all the time ... just like short necked giraffes all his uneconomic wiggles were discarded ... eventually it all emerged as an immensely complex messy whole shebang & caboodle ... resulting in a massive variety of unknown possible futures ... but out of this mess some things worked! ... and when they did James retained them and used them again ... he muddled through ... grumbling about his endless failures ... but smiling when something worked ... in this way he cobbled together his condenser ...

There was no grand design ... this was 1776 ... Carnot's theory on engine design was not available until 1874 ...

Jimmy's response to complexity, scarcity, change & conflict ... was adaptation ... discovering & accumulating cultural 'know how' the only way he could ... by experimenting ... by chasing profits & cutting losses ... it was not all the work of the Gods! ... or the Bishops! ... or the Kings! ... or the Generals! ... the steam engine evolved ... 

James Watt's supercharged self conscious brain was a result of evolution not a cause of evolution ... it was the Laws of Thermodynamics that caused the way energy flowed in his brain ... that caused him to think ... time passes ... stuff happens ... iron rusts ... but never forget James could wiggle ... and he could remember ... and learn ... and choose ... just like his ancestors ... and in this way 'know how' accumulated ... and cultures evolved ... and James Watt benefited and built his new steam engine ... and Joe Sixpack & his mates benefitted and used the steam engine ... to power the industrial revolution ...

Peter Atkins - 'no scientific law has contributed more to the liberation of the human spirit than the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics' - 'Four Laws that Drive the Universe' - Oxford University Press, 2007.

john p birchall

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