The Thermodynamics of Civilization

“From what I’ve learned over the last number of months, I’ve concluded that very few people are actually digging down to what I consider to be true root causes of the planetary predicament. The only such researcher I’ve been able to identify for sure is Tim Garrett at the University of Utah, in his recent series of papers treating civilization as a thermodynamic heat engine. But as an academic, even Garrett can’t (or at least doesn’t) take the speculative leap from the way civilization works to why it works that way. Fortunately, I’m not quite so constrained.

“My developing view is that a little-known and unacknowledged implication of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (let’s call it “2LoT” for short) makes the existing structure of civilization essentially a foregone conclusion – not in detail of course, but when considered as a probabilistic whole, as befits a thermodynamic interpretation. This aspect of 2LoT implies that life arises spontaneously and inevitably in response to energy gradients in open systems – given that all the other necessary physical conditions are present, of course. In pursuit of their own survival, living organisms then develop ever-greater complexity in order to become more efficient at dissipating those energy gradients (or to put it another way, in order to access the energy they need to prosper).

“In this view, life on Earth is not simply a lucky fluke, but instead was absolutely inevitable. Where the right conditions exist, the Second Law seems to guarantee that life will appear. The probability is not vanishingly small, but instead is 100%.”

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