Thermodynamic principles explain how an energy basis for both man and nature governs both the hierarchical self-organization and devolution of complexity in systems through physical laws.
The principle of natural selection reveals itself as capable of yielding information which the first and second laws of thermodynamics are not competent to furnish. The two fundamental laws of thermodynamics are, of course, insufficient to determine the course of events in a physical system. They tell us that certain things cannot happen, but they do not tell us what does happen (Lotka, 1922).
We thus arrive at the conclusion that any sort of perpetual motion is impossible. A continuous stream of fresh energy is necessary for the continuous working of any working system, whether animate or inanimate. Life is cyclic as regards the material substances consumed, and the same materials are used over and over again in metabolism. But as regards energy, it is unidirectional, and no continuous cyclic use of energy is even conceivable. If we have available energy, we may maintain life and produce every material requisite necessary. That is why the flow of energy should be the primary concern of economics (Soddy, 1926, p. 56).
Geologic processes, atmospheric systems, ecosystems, and societies are interconnected through a series of energy transformations . . . each receiving energy and materials from the other, returning same, and acting through feedback mechanisms to self-oranize the whole in a grand interplay of space, time, energy and information. Processes of energy transformation throughout the biosphere build order, degrade energy in the process, and cycle materials and information in networks of hierarchically organized systems of ever increasing spatial and temporal scales (Odum, 2001, p. 4).
The first 3 laws below explain what happens in single processes, while the proposed additional 4 principles relate power processes between scales, over time.
- The First Law of Energy Conservation states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; rather, the amount of energy lost in a steady state process cannot be greater than the amount of energy gained. That is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved. Thus, the energy flowing into a system (and a systems diagram) must either be accounted for in outflows out of the boundaries of the system or in storage within the system. As restated by CP Snow: You cannot win
- The Second Law, Entropy, states that entropy in an isolated system at equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium; systems have a tendency to increase their entropy over time. Energy is transformed by work. Thus, dispersed energy cannot do any more work and leaves the defined system degraded, depicted in diagrams as a heat sink. You cannot return to the same energy state during work, because there is always an increase in disorder; some heat is wasted in all processes as the availability of potential energy is lost. As restated by Snow: You cannot break even
- As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy change of a system also approaches zero, so it is impossible to reduce the entropy of a system to its absolute-zero value. Entropy is temperature dependent and leads to the formulation of the idea of absolute zero, which is unattainable. In other words, you can’t change the system, or, as Snow restates: You cannot get out of the game
Proposed Laws or Principles
4. You cannot play for long unless you steal your opponents’ game pieces
A fourth proposed law of energetics, the Maximum Power Principle: “In the competition among self-organizing processes, network designs that maximize empower will prevail” (Odum, 1996). “Because designs with greater performance prevail, self-organization selects network connections that feed back transformed energy to increase inflow of resources or to use them more efficiently” (Odum, 2000). Termed as the Maximum Power Principle and a corollary, Maximum Empower, this idea, adapted from Lotka (1922), explains why systems such as civilizations can self-organize out of the universal tendency towards entropy. Energy drives complexity by transformation through work into higher and higher hierarchies of complexity and order, reinforcing production through maximized available energy acquisition. The reformulation, Maximum (Em)Power, describes the maximum rate of emergy acquisition. “In time, through the process of trial and error, complex patterns of structure and processes have evolved…the successful ones surviving because they use materials and energies well in their own maintenance, and compete well with other patterns that chance interposes” (Odum). Energy quality factors (transformities, below) offer more precision in understanding how systems self-organize. This idea is also important in explaining the reciprocal balance between power and efficiency and how energy is used by systems. When energy supplies support accelerating growth, maximum power fosters competition. When energy is flow-limited, growth levels off and more cooperative, diverse units are favored (Odum, 2007). This idea of succession becomes important in explaining how systems stop growing, mature, and even devolve, through pulsing. Systems’ first priority is to maximize energy intake; their second priority is to maximize efficiency in energy processing.
5. You shorten the cumulative length of the game the more you steal
A fifth proposed principle of energy hierarchy or Transformity states that the energy quality factor increases hierarchically. Simply stated, “Energy flows of the universe are organized in an energy transformation hierarchy. The position in the energy hierarchy is measured with transformities” (Odum, 1996). Why? Because this design maximizes empower. From studies of isotopes in ecological food chains, Odum proposed that energy transformations form a hierarchical series measured by Transformity increase. Flows of energy develop hierarchical webs in which inflowing energies interact and are transformed by work processes into energy forms of higher quality that feedback amplifier actions, helping to maximize the power of the system” — (Odum 1994, p. 251). This transformation can be measured as the amount of energy of one type required to make a unit of energy of another type. Feedback amplifiers, or autocatalysis, creates amplifying flows of increasing energy that creates pyramids of complexity such as food chains.
6. The object of the game is to make the game last as long as possible
A sixth proposed energy law states that material cycles have hierarchical patterns measured by the emergy/mass ratio that determines its zone, amplitude, and pulse frequency in the energy hierarchy. Materials are coupled to the energy transformation hierarchy and circulate towards centers of hierarchical concentration, recycling to dispersed background concentrations.
Additionally, the law of conservation of matter states that inputs of inorganic raw materials have to be accounted for in either storages or outflows through cycling when described in systems, similarly to energy, as depicted below by the materials flows.
7. The money for the game is counterfeit
Odum also proposed the Hierarchy of Money as a 7th law (Odum, 2000, p. 12). Money is coupled to energy transformation series (energy hierarchy) and is constrained by the properties of the hierarchy. Its properties change in passing to higher centers of concentration, the cities. At the low levels on the left are free environmental transformations with no money. At each higher step there is value added, and thus the money concentration increases as does the energy/money ratio. The energy per unit money decreases, and vice versa, the money per unit energy (price) rises. In the centers, the circulation of money is more concentrated but the buying power of money is less (Odum, 2000, p. 11).