Energy Hierarchy

Energetic principles drive development of systems complexity. Complex systems self-organize over time by transforming energy (and the cycling of materials) using maximum empower, creating a hierarchy of systems. The environment and the economy are supported by various types and amounts of renewable and nonrenewable energies. These energies are transformed in a series of steps, converting one kind of energy to another kind, creating a hierarchy of systems. For example, coal is burned in a power plant to create electric power. We can explain those transformations of energy create diverse, complex systems in terms of metabolism and spatial hierarchy. Optimally functioning systems pulse over time in cycles of growth and contraction. The economy is inextricably linked to and dependent on the environment, although fossil fuels have allowed us the appearance of independence to some.

When the actions of a large number of units of one type contribute to forming a few of another, a hierarchical relationship results. Convergence of energy in steps of transformations results in energy hierarchies. With each transformation many joules of energy of one kind loses its availability (potential, or ability to drive further processes) to produce fewer joules of another kind. This is a consequence of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Since there is energy in everything including information and since there are energy transformations in all processes on earth and possibly in the universe as well, all energy processes can be regarded as part of an energy hierarchy (Odum, 2001, p. 4).

Brown and Ulgiati describe the reinforcing feedbacks that amplify hierarchies. “In addition, some energy is fed back, reinforcing power flows up the hierarchy. The reinforcing feedbacks by which each transformed power flow feeds backward so that its special properties can have amplifier actions” (Brown & Ulgiati, 2009, p. 314). The energy hierarchy is suggested as a 5th Law of Thermodynamics (Odum, 1996).

S. Ulgiati, M.T. Brown / Communications in Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation 14 (2009) 310–321

The Siphonaptera (Fleas) nursery rhyme is derived from On Poetry: a Rhapsody (Swift, 1733): 2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples -of-fractals-in-nature/

Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.

And the great fleas, themselves, in turn
Have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still,
And greater still, and so on.

Lewis F. Richardson adapted
the poem to meteorology:
Big whorls have little whorls
That feed on their velocity;
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.

Mandelbrot’s idea of fractals can be viewed as energetic transformations that are self-organized at different levels of scale and time. Energy shapes patterns over time and scale in the work processes of nature.

Odum, 2007, p. 111 Transformation chain for whirl cell units in Earth atmosphere

Thus, energy flows through webs of successive work transformation, changing in form, concentration, and ability to feedback and produce amplifier effects. Actual calorie flows decrease, but the quality of energy and the concentration of information increases. Energy transformations can be measured in terms of efficiency as to what percentage of energy is transformed. Most transformations are controlled by small inputs of high quality energy, which can have great impacts. Information such as genes, books, media, human culture, art, political interaction, and religious communications have the highest energy transformation ratios. High emergy values have the greatest amplifier and control effects per calorie, and are much more valuable when shared.

Simply stated, energy hierarchy as the proposed 5th energy law states that “all the energy transformations known can be connected in a series network according to the quantity of one kind of energy required for the next” (Odum, 1987).

Transformity verse: Odum meets Seuss by Linda Leigh, 2002

And so my friends,
I ask you please
to give your thoughts to me
on these:

How much sun
is in a cat?
How much sun
is in a bat?

How much sun
is in the flower
That feeds the bugs
the bats devour?

How much sun
is in the rain
That rises, makes clouds,
and falls again? erin/erin3.html Supercell!

How much sun
to drive the winds
That make a hurricane
blow and spin?

And while the forests
grow so tall,
In springtime
smell so sweet

The prairies grow
their grasses, green,
Soils deep beneath
our feet.

The sun gives us all
these things for free!
Its warmth, its light,
its energy!

Without the sun
we would not be
Creating dance
or symphony.

Your t.v. set,
your house, your car,
Without the sun
you’d not drive far.

Sun shines on earth
from day to day,
Giving all life
a place to stay.

And so my friends,
I ask you please
to give your thoughts to me
on these. . . .

E.A. McMahan, 1989: El Yunque/El Verde AEC Research (from Heart and Sinew)

Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept. For something is possible in the realm of these schemata which could never be achieved with the vivid first impressions: the construction of a pyramidal order according to castes and degrees, the creation of a new world of laws, privileges, subordinations, and clearly marked boundaries — a new world, one which now confronts that other vivid world of first impressions as more solid, more universal, better known, and more human than the immediately perceived world, and thus as the regulative and imperative world. . . . One may certainly admire man as a mighty genius of construction, who succeeds in piling an infinitely complicated dome of concepts upon an unstable foundation, and, as it were, on running water. Of course, in order to be supported by such a foundation, his construction must be like one constructed of spiders’ webs: delicate enough to be carried along by the waves, strong enough not to be blown apart by every wind. –Frederick Nietzsche

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