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Thermodynamics And Other Things Best Not Discussed At Dinner Parties


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The subject matter of this thread is how physical constraints and the laws of large numbers place constraints on what kind of political economies can be acheived.

Lets kick it off with a few basic postulates, which relate socio-economics with life thermodynamics.

1. Human beings sit at the top of an hierarchy of complex systems and their purpose in the grand scheme of things is like all other complex systems, to generate entropy and dissipate energy gradients. In this we are equivalent in purpose to an ameoba or a non living complex system such as a Benard Cell, just a good deal more efficient (at dissipating energy).

2. The ecosphere is an instance of a non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system, maintained far from (thermodynamic) equilibrium by the solar gradient, and moved further from equilibrium by human efforts to dissipate sequestered fossil fuels. NET systems are constrained in the forms they can take and in how they can evolve. This applies to imagined polities including socialism, the concept of singularity, and ideas such as full reserve banking and "true capitalism". The inestimable mysteries of the human mind or collective behaviour do not over the long or even medium run, grant an exemption from these constraints.

3. The inequality and social structure inherent in human societies ancient and current is closely related mathematically to the distributions found in phenomena like river delta formation, the structure of capilliaries on a leaf, and the distribution of velocities in an enclosed gas. Human directed attempts to move social structure very far from such distributions will, for a number of reasons, fail.

4. Our financial system has evolved to mimic natural processes of entropy production, entropy maximisation and is itself, like all life on earth, a large Dissipative Structure. Attempts to create a financial system that does not align with these processes will always fail catastrophically. This is over the long run. In the short run, changes to constraints can and do create shocks and violent transitions, following which the system returns to a dynamical steady state, though not to the prior state.

5. Information, energy and entropy are closely linked. All information is physically manifested, ergo all information is subject to the second law of thermo. Our financial system, being mainly one of information, is likewise constrained. It then follows that the financial system exhibits Irreversibility.

What does everyone else think?

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The subject matter of this thread is how physical constraints and the laws of large numbers place constraints on what kind of political economies can be acheived.

Lets kick it off with a few basic postulates, which relate socio-economics with life thermodynamics.

1. Human beings sit at the top of an hierarchy of complex systems and their purpose in the grand scheme of things is like all other complex systems, to generate entropy and dissipate energy gradients. In this we are equivalent in purpose to an ameoba or a non living complex system such as a Benard Cell, just a good deal more efficient (at dissipating energy).

2. The ecosphere is an instance of a non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system, maintained far from (thermodynamic) equilibrium by the solar gradient, and moved further from equilibrium by human efforts to dissipate sequestered fossil fuels. NET systems are constrained in the forms they can take and in how they can evolve. This applies to imagined polities including socialism, the concept of singularity, and ideas such as full reserve banking and "true capitalism". The inestimable mysteries of the human mind or collective behaviour do not over the long or even medium run, grant an exemption from these constraints.

3. The inequality and social structure inherent in human societies ancient and current is closely related mathematically to the distributions found in phenomena like river delta formation, the structure of capilliaries on a leaf, and the distribution of velocities in an enclosed gas. Human directed attempts to move social structure very far from such distributions will, for a number of reasons, fail.

4. Our financial system has evolved to mimic natural processes of entropy production, entropy maximisation and is itself, like all life on earth, a large Dissipative Structure. Attempts to create a financial system that does not align with these processes will always fail catastrophically. This is over the long run. In the short run, changes to constraints can and do create shocks and violent transitions, following which the system returns to a dynamical steady state, though not to the prior state.

5. Information, energy and entropy are closely linked. All information is physically manifested, ergo all information is subject to the second law of thermo. Our financial system, being mainly one of information, is likewise constrained. It then follows that the financial system exhibits Irreversibility.

What does everyone else think?

Stop smoking the joints man, and buy a tracker.

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What does everyone else think?

I think if we are going to have this discussion you are going to need to describe things more in layman's terms so that those who are of reasonable intelligence but lack a science background (such as myself) can participate. I think this is an interesting topic worthy of debate but it would be a shame to exclude people from it. I am going to write my understanding of what you wrote below, apologies in advance for being a time wasting dummy.

1. Human beings sit at the top of an hierarchy of complex systems and their purpose in the grand scheme of things is like all other complex systems,to generate entropy and dissipate energy gradients. In this we are equivalent in purpose to an ameoba or a non living complex system such as a Benard Cell, just a good deal more efficient (at dissipating energy).

Maybe it is my own ignorance, but I think you need to make it clear what you mean by entropy. To a layman such as myself entropy means decay and/or the taking of something concentrated and orderly and spreading it out over a large area in a reasonably uniform manner. Basically I would understand this as a move from order to chaos.

2. The ecosphere is an instance of a non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system, maintained far from (thermodynamic) equilibrium by the solar gradient, and moved further from equilibrium by human efforts to dissipate sequestered fossil fuels. NET systems are constrained in the forms they can take and in how they can evolve. This applies to imagined polities including socialism, the concept of singularity, and ideas such as full reserve banking and "true capitalism". The inestimable mysteries of the human mind or collective behaviour do not over the long or even medium run, grant an exemption from these constraints.

I think I understand what you are saying here. The planet earth is naturally not in equilibrium, due to the presence of the energy flows from the sun and the energy flows we are creating through our own society.

3. The inequality and social structure inherent in human societies ancient and current is closely related mathematically to the distributions found in phenomena like river delta formation, the structure of capilliaries on a leaf, and the distribution of velocities in an enclosed gas. Human directed attempts to move social structure very far from such distributions will, for a number of reasons, fail.

This is where we hit a problem. You appear to be arguing here that inequality is a natural state with concentrations (or hubs perhaps, if we look at social networks for example) occurring naturally. Again I think this is reasonable. Nevertheless my understanding of (1) is that a move from order to chaos (increasing entropy) should lead to a uniform flatness, not concentrations. There is clearly something I am missing here, could you please explain.

4. Our financial system has evolved to mimic natural processes of entropy production, entropy maximisation and is itself, like all life on earth, a large Dissipative Structure. Attempts to create a financial system that does not align with these processes will always fail catastrophically. This is over the long run. In the short run, changes to constraints can and do create shocks and violent transitions, following which the system returns to a dynamical steady state, though not to the prior state.

Understood

5. Information, energy and entropy are closely linked. All information is physically manifested, ergo all information is subject to the second law of thermo. Our financial system, being mainly one of information, is likewise constrained. It then follows that the financial system exhibits Irreversibility.

Gotcha. I hope you can clear up the problems with entropy definition so I can participate in the discussion.

Coming from a social science/humanities background I have come across ideas which relate to this. Have you read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel? He basically argues from a standpoint of geographic determinism, where the environment in which a society evolves determines its culture which I think marries into your ideas somewhat (though you appear to be pursuing a universal theory of behaviour through a physics framework, which is a interesting angle)

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This is where we hit a problem. You appear to be arguing here that inequality is a natural state with concentrations (or hubs perhaps, if we look at social networks for example) occurring naturally. Again I think this is reasonable. Nevertheless my understanding of (1) is that a move from order to chaos (increasing entropy) should lead to a uniform flatness, not concentrations. There is clearly something I am missing here, could you please explain.

There was an entire thread on this recently. Whether it's true or not (I suspect it is) its probably the hardest to "get" intuitively.

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What does everyone else think?

It's a bold hypothesis! I don't get all of it but maybe I get the gist. Could this make a case for socialism, though? In a gas at a certain temperature the distribution of velocities of identical molecules has a long tail, so there are always a tiny number of molecules at some point in time that have a velocity that is many times higher than the average. If I understand you correctly (perhaps I don't) in your human-society-as-thermodynamic-system idea these high velocity particles are analogous to people with very high wealth. Now when a particle in a gas has high velocity it's not because that particle is special or talented, all the molecules are the same. It's just the random interactions of the molecules that occasionally transfers a lot of energy to the occasional particle. So could you argue that the very wealthy exist because they have to exist, not because they have done anything special but just because they were in the right place at the right time. Therefore, their high wealth and status is not thanks to their talents (as most highly wealthy people claim) but due to the nature of the bigger system that they live in that is bound by mathematics. Hence, taxing them of their wealth and redistributing it is not penalising them for hard work and talent but merely redistributing their 'luck', which politically is more palatable.

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1. Human beings sit at the top of an hierarchy of complex systems and their purpose in the grand scheme of things is like all other complex systems, to generate entropy and dissipate energy gradients. In this we are equivalent in purpose to an ameoba or a non living complex system such as a Benard Cell, just a good deal more efficient (at dissipating energy).

Yes this seems uncontentious. Eat to live. Move or die. etc.

2. The ecosphere is an instance of a non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system, maintained far from (thermodynamic) equilibrium by the solar gradient, and moved further from equilibrium by human efforts to dissipate sequestered fossil fuels. NET systems are constrained in the forms they can take and in how they can evolve. This applies to imagined polities including socialism, the concept of singularity, and ideas such as full reserve banking and "true capitalism". The inestimable mysteries of the human mind or collective behaviour do not over the long or even medium run, grant an exemption from these constraints.

Yes and I have thought of this before from an energy policy point of view. Long term only solar energy is in any way "sustainable" I would think. Fossil, nuclear, all put extra energy into the system; wind and tide extract solar energy inefficiently secondhand and mess up the natural cycles in the process. The bigger that Human manufactured systems become the more they impinge on the natural systems of the Earth. But this analysys of yours gives a hard headed rational explanation of this, rather than wooly gaia-thinking.

3. The inequality and social structure inherent in human societies ancient and current is closely related mathematically to the distributions found in phenomena like river delta formation, the structure of capilliaries on a leaf, and the distribution of velocities in an enclosed gas. Human directed attempts to move social structure very far from such distributions will, for a number of reasons, fail.

This one is the subject of the other thread and hopefully won't take over this thread. On its own it seems an outrageous suggestion but in the contaxt of everything else perhaps it's more like "what else did you expect? What mathematical principle did you think it would follow?".

4. Our financial system has evolved to mimic natural processes of entropy production, entropy maximisation and is itself, like all life on earth, a large Dissipative Structure. Attempts to create a financial system that does not align with these processes will always fail catastrophically. This is over the long run. In the short run, changes to constraints can and do create shocks and violent transitions, following which the system returns to a dynamical steady state, though not to the prior state.

Hmm I need more info here.

5. Information, energy and entropy are closely linked. All information is physically manifested, ergo all information is subject to the second law of thermo. Our financial system, being mainly one of information, is likewise constrained. It then follows that the financial system exhibits Irreversibility.

Yes of course. You can't get the bank bailout money back once you have given it to the losing gamblers. They already spent it on their foreign houses and yachts.

Is this why inflation is inevitable, to keep putting more money into the system? Is it impossible to have a perfect circulatory financial system where the same amount of money goes round and round with no losses or friction or degredation?

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I think if we are going to have this discussion you are going to need to describe things more in layman's terms so that those who are of reasonable intelligence but lack a science background (such as myself) can participate. I think this is an interesting topic worthy of debate but it would be a shame to exclude people from it. I am going to write my understanding of what you wrote below, apologies in advance for being a time wasting dummy.

Yes I agree. I stated those initial postulates using scientific terms for brevity. However they certainly merit explanation.

Let me define entropy in terms of the earth. Increasing entropy is on the one hand the decreasing ability to perform useful work. A ball at the top of a hill may peform useful work by rolling down it, if we contrive a contraption to harvest the gravitational potential energy that is dissipated in the roll down. A ball in a valley at the bottom of the hill cannot perform further useful work, unless an external source of energy is applied to move the ball back to the top of the hill.

As far as the ecosphere is concerned, the suns radiant energy hits the earth as low entropy high frequence radiation, is degraded by the life and ecosphere processes (including non living aspects like the weather) that perform work (everything from atmospheric moisuture cycling to building skyscrapers), and then radiated back to space as high entropy low frequency infra-red radiation less useful for doing work. One high frequency solar photon is degraded to about 20 low frequency low energy infra-red photons.

Entropy also has an informational aspect. If a system has N possible microstates (for example positions and velocities of gas particles, with each microstate corresponding to a particular arrangement of the particles in a box) then the entropy is basically described by how many of those microstates are indistinguishable to a macroscopic observer. If the particles are in gas form, many microstates equate to the same pressure, volume, temperature. Relatively speaking very few microstates correspond to the particles laying in single ice layer. Consequently the ice configurations have low entropy. The more microstates are essentially equivalent from a macro perspective, the higher the entropy.

Because there are many many macroscopically indistingusihable microstates and many less distinguishable ones, the system is statisticlly likely to end up in a high entropy microstate.

A little thought should suggest how the same concept can apply to the macroeconomy.

I think I understand what you are saying here. The planet earth is naturally not in equilibrium, due to the presence of the energy flows from the sun and the energy flows we are creating through our own society.

Correct. Within the earth are many separate systems that exchange energy matter and information with each other accross their boundaries. Such systems move one aother further and closr to equilibrium, and the sun ensures that the whole ensemble never achieves equilibrium. If a subsystem is forced into equilibrium with all its neighbours and could no longer export entropy to its neighbours, it will die or contract.

This is where we hit a problem. You appear to be arguing here that inequality is a natural state with concentrations (or hubs perhaps, if we look at social networks for example) occurring naturally. Again I think this is reasonable. Nevertheless my understanding of (1) is that a move from order to chaos (increasing entropy) should lead to a uniform flatness, not concentrations. There is clearly something I am missing here, could you please explain.

Think about the entropy as microstates I describe above. Describe all possible income distributions as the total number of microstates, for a given level of aggregate income. Is the total number of microstates equating to perfect equality larger or smaller than the total number equating to inequality? Obviously, the non equal states are more numerous, so the system statistically is likely to occupy a state of inequality.

Its a common misconception that high entropy==smootheness.

Coming from a social science/humanities background I have come across ideas which relate to this. Have you read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel? He basically argues from a standpoint of geographic determinism, where the environment in which a society evolves determines its culture which I think marries into your ideas somewhat (though you appear to be pursuing a universal theory of behaviour through a physics framework, which is a interesting angle)

Yes I have read GG+S. It does talk about the inevitable diffusion of culture and the geographical barriers to that. Thermodynamically, two human systems with a significant geographic barrier are loosely coupled. The same two systems with roads, trains, planes, electronic comms are obviously more tightly coupled and will tend to achieve a greater (but not perfect) level of equlibrium much faster.

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Is this why inflation is inevitable, to keep putting more money into the system? Is it impossible to have a perfect circulatory financial system where the same amount of money goes round and round with no losses or friction or degredation?

I think you've homed right on on the key question. If the financial system is 'closed', then it can't export its entropy anywhere else can it.

But is it closed, an tail-eating-snake?

Is the financial system an abstract entity of numbers that cannot possibly exchange anything with the real world?

Is the financial system a circular flow? I would say that it probably isn't. In the real world, energy flows and gets dissipated. Energy doesn't circulate it just gets degraded and radiated to space. Matter circulates, and is what is organised by energy flow. I'm also disinclined to think it is closed.

Debt seems to be similarly dissipative - it gets created and destroyed. Arguably currency does not get destroyed and continues to circulate, maybe like matter. But isn't currency just collective debt? Has this system been 'designed' like this or has it evolved?

Could a financial system persist which doesn't gel with underlying energy and matter flow? What degress of freedom are opened to a financial system under an increasing energy gradient, compared to one with a steady state gradient?

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There's a constant attempt, usually but not exclusively among economists to wrap up discussion of finance and economics in the language of science. Some economics courses even have the gaul to award degreees with scientific sounding names, instead of calling it a BA, which is all it is. Here's how it works...........

Physics, including it's sub-division theremodynamics and all of the satellite sciences like chemistry and cosmology are about things which are measurable, reliable, predictable and unchanging. Things which will be the same tomorrow as they were a billion years ago. Things which can be elegantly described by single laws and equations.

Finance and economics are the application of second rate statistics to the outlying domains of social psychology, group theory, game theory, recent history and half a dozen other airy fairy disciplines. There is no predictablility, no reliable repeatbility and even when looking historically it is dificult to get two practioners to agree on what actually happened. To award a Nobel prize for this tosh is an insult to science.

And now we have the introduction of scientific principles like entropy into a discussion about global economics, social systems and the like. This is like a comparison of astronomy (science) and astrology (hogwash). Even if you know where the planets are going to be, there is no causal link to what the future holds. Social order and entropy are as alike as a camel and a kitchen table - they both have a leg at each corner but there the similarity ends.

Leave science to the scientists. Leave sociology to the sandals brigade. And leave economics & finance to the people who couldn't make a valid contribution to either of the two spheres and will continue to steal and misuse jargon from both.

p.s. yes I've read Jared Diamond's book and could predict the entire thesis after reading half the first chapter. Civilisations grow, get lucky or get subsumed by others, get "infected" with bad things or great ideas, eventually get too big or too static, have problems, might collapse, might not. Everything is sublty linked, nowhere is isolated enough to stand alone.

But I can recommend The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets by Mandelbrot as a fascinating description of the way that pseudo science hogwash maths have got us into the mess we're in.

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Physics, including it's sub-division theremodynamics and all of the satellite sciences like chemistry and cosmology are about things which are measurable, reliable, predictable and unchanging. Things which will be the same tomorrow as they were a billion years ago. Things which can be elegantly described by single laws and equations.

How very 20th century. The field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics (NET) is the emerging science of complexity and life. Its the science that deals with ecosphere processes, aspects of cosmological evolution (yes, the cosmos is a NET system, not an ideal gas), evolution and non-linear adaptive systems.

NET is to the 21st century as quantum physics is to the 20th.

Your statement above is very much a product, IMHO, of an outmoded view of science. This happens all the time of course, each time a new advance in general understanding happens, as with newton, Clausius et al, Einstein, Schrodinger etc.

Finance and economics are the application of second rate statistics to the outlying domains of social psychology, group theory, game theory, recent history and half a dozen other airy fairy disciplines. There is no predictablility, no reliable repeatbility and even when looking historically it is dificult to get two practioners to agree on what actually happened. To award a Nobel prize for this tosh is an insult to science.

What about biosphere physics? Where shall we categorise that? Is that hogwash?

And now we have the introduction of scientific principles like entropy into a discussion about global economics, social systems and the like. This is like a comparison of astronomy (science) and astrology (hogwash). Even if you know where the planets are going to be, there is no causal link to what the future holds.

OK, at exactly what point in the hierarchy from quarks to CDOs/derivatives would you care to specify the line at which science ends and hogwash begins?

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I think you've homed right on on the key question. If the financial system is 'closed', then it can't export its entropy anywhere else can it.

But is it closed, an tail-eating-snake?

Is the financial system an abstract entity of numbers that cannot possibly exchange anything with the real world?

Is the financial system a circular flow? I would say that it probably isn't. In the real world, energy flows and gets dissipated. Energy doesn't circulate it just gets degraded and radiated to space. Matter circulates, and is what is organised by energy flow. I'm also disinclined to think it is closed.

Debt seems to be similarly dissipative - it gets created and destroyed. Arguably currency does not get destroyed and continues to circulate, maybe like matter. But isn't currency just collective debt? Has this system been 'designed' like this or has it evolved?

Could a financial system persist which doesn't gel with underlying energy and matter flow? What degress of freedom are opened to a financial system under an increasing energy gradient, compared to one with a steady state gradient?

The second law requires a closed system, and that's how you can be confident of the tendency to increased entropy. But if the financial system isn't closed, you can't assume the second law applies to it. Seems logical. Maybe the activity within the financial system, the information churn, can inhibit the increase of entropy. And it's difficult to counter the guy who waves his hands and says, "Great, but in the long run we're all dead." That objection seems adequate because the time being is all that matters.

Do you solve that by assuming the financial system is part of a greater closed system? If the answer is Yes, the tricky bit is in explaining that last assumption. Explaining it to me is even trickier.

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How very 20th century. The field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics (NET) is the emerging science of complexity and life. Its the science that deals with ecosphere processes, aspects of cosmological evolution (yes, the cosmos is a NET system, not an ideal gas), evolution and non-linear adaptive systems.

NET is to the 21st century as quantum physics is to the 20th.

Your statement above is very much a product, IMHO, of an outmoded view of science. This happens all the time of course, each time a new advance in general understanding happens, as with newton, Clausius et al, Einstein, Schrodinger etc.

What about biosphere physics? Where shall we categorise that? Is that hogwash?

OK, at exactly what point in the hierarchy from quarks to CDOs/derivatives would you care to specify the line at which science ends and hogwash begins?

How very 21st century - all crystals, smelly candles, "the earth as a thinking, adapting organism". Pass me the holistic herb infused quantum activated water and play me some whale song.

Your premise has all the scientific authenticity of 19th century electrical therapy, radium toothpaste and taking the herbal waters to cure the effects of the miasma. All the answers are out there in the aether if only you have the courage to look. Or maybe your approach is best compared with the pre-renaissance alchemists, who had a very tenuous understanding of a few bits of what would eventually become science but were too keen to deal with the humours and with finding the philosophers' stone.

But worse, you are taking a retrograde approach, misquoting actual science and fitting the words into a hippy dippy conetext.

Non-equilibrium thermodynamics has been the extensively studied state of just about every chemical and physical system since TD was first born. Very few real life systems conform to the idealised picture of the Carnot cycle. Closed systems are rare in real life and non-existant in nature. Your use of the terminology indicates that you have picked up some interesting words, but have a wholly deficient concept of what they actually mean.

Biosphere physics? Please, give me a break. Just another combinatorial description of some bits of geology, climatology, biology, oceanography and all the other sub-divisions of proper science. Soon to be liberally mixed with some new wave mumbo jumbo and sold to the gullable who will worship the earth goddess.

Science begins and ends with things that you can investigate and find underlying certainties about, can postulate sytems and their likely operation then go on to prove or disprove on a rational basis with procedures and results that others can duplicate at another time in other places. Some sciences, like geology and paleontology have to rely on things that can only be inferred rather than firmly proven, simply because they cannot be tested or repeated. But even they depend on the scientific method and have no dependence on wishful thinking.

Stick with the crystals, sleep under a pyramid and stop using words like entropy to describe social systems and discontinuous interactons. Investigate Gaia theory and avoid using proper scientific terminology or it might lead to discolouration of your aura.

p.s. the chances are that M theeory is to the 21st century what quantum physics was in the 20th, but the jury is out so far.

NET (at least as far as you use it) looks to be the 21st century equivalent of cold fusion

The entire cosmos is probably a closed system, unless we have gravity leaking out into other dimensions or dark energy leaking in

.

Edited by Stainless Sam
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How very 21st century - all crystals, smelly candles, "the earth as a thinking, adapting organism". Pass me the holistic herb infused quantum activated water and play me some whale song.

Your premise has all the scientific authenticity of 19th century electrical therapy, radium toothpaste and taking the herbal waters to cure the effects of the miasma. All the answers are out there in the aether if only you have the courage to look. Or maybe your approach is best compared with the pre-renaissance alchemists, who had a very tenuous understanding of a few bits of what would eventually become science but were too keen to deal with the humours and with finding the philosophers' stone.

But worse, you are taking a retrograde approach, misquoting actual science and fitting the words into a hippy dippy conetext.

Non-equilibrium thermodynamics has been the extensively studied state of just about every chemical and physical system since TD was first born. Very few real life systems conform to the idealised picture of the Carnot cycle. Closed systems are rare in real life and non-existant in nature. Your use of the terminology indicates that you have picked up some interesting words, but have a wholly deficient concept of what they actually mean.

Biosphere physics? Please, give me a break. Just another combinatorial description of some bits of geology, climatology, biology, oceanography and all the other sub-divisions of proper science. Soon to be liberally mixed with some new wave mumbo jumbo and sold to the gullable who will worship the earth goddess.

Science begins and ends with things that you can investigate and find underlying certainties about, can postulate sytems and their likely operation then go on to prove or disprove on a rational basis with procedures and results that others can duplicate at another time in other places. Some sciences, like geology and paleontology have to rely on things that can only be inferred rather than firmly proven, simply because they cannot be tested or repeated. But even they depend on the scientific method and have no dependence on wishful thinking.

Stick with the crystals, sleep under a pyramid and stop using words like entropy to describe social systems and discontinuous interactons. Investigate Gaia theory and avoid using proper scientific terminology or it might lead to discolouration of your aura.

p.s. the chances are that M theeory is to the 21st century what quantum physics was in the 20th, but the jury is out so far.

NET (at least as far as you use it) looks to be the 21st century equivalent of cold fusion

The entire cosmos is probably a closed system, unless we have gravity leaking out into other dimensions or dark energy leaking in

.

Someone has looked at a chart of income distribution and noticed that it looks a lot like distribution of velocities in a gas. From this they have concluded that macro economics can be described (or is even governed) by the laws of thermodynamics. my tongue in cheek post above suggests the daft places that you can go with this sort of idea. i think I'm on ignore anyway so I better get back to work.

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Sam and Gimble, its not unexpected that there is debate about all this. There is a significant possibility that I am am wrong, and a significant one that you are wrong. So lets proceed on that basis.

What I would say is that on 'my side' as it were, I can count on the support (in the case of living people) of quite a number of famous scientists including the physicist Sean Carroll. In terms of dead people (whom people always seem to find more plausible for some reason) , I claim thetentative support of Boltzmann and Schodinger and Prigogine.

Boltzmann said:

"The general struggle for existence of animate beings is not a struggle for raw materials – these, for organisms, are air, water and soil, all abundantly available – nor for energy which exists in plenty in any body in the form of heat, but a struggle for [negative] entropy, which becomes available through the transition of energy from the hot sun to the cold earth"

Schrodinger, writing his famour 'what is life' piece said:

"Let me say first, that if I had been catering for them [physicists] alone I should have let the discussion turn on free energy instead. It is the more familiar notion in this context. But this highly technical term seemed linguistically too near to energy for making the average reader alive to the contrast between the two things."

US Physicist Robert Lindsay who said:

"“Man's whole struggle … practically every element in man’s developed civilization, may be interpreted either as an instinctive or conscious and deliberate attempt to replace disorder with order, in other words to consume entropy.” "

The Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine (Physical Chemist) said

"In his 1997 book, The End of Certainty, Prigogine contends that determinism is no longer a viable scientific belief. "The more we know about our universe, the more difficult it becomes to believe in determinism." This is a major departure from the approach of Newton, Einstein and Schrödinger, all of whom expressed their theories in terms of deterministic equations. According to Prigogine, determinism loses its explanatory power in the face of irreversibility and instability."

"Prigogine asserts that Newtonian physics has now been "extended" three times[citation needed], first with the use of the wave function in quantum mechanics, then with the introduction of spacetime in general relativity and finally with the recognition of indeterminism in the study of unstable systems."

All these pioneers of 19th and 20th century physics saw the connection between the second law and life. So the concept is well established by the giants of science alive and dead. A newer and still controversial extension of all the above can be found in this video.

Most of these great men would, I think, reject out of hand the assertion made by Stainless Sam.

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Someone has looked at a chart of income distribution and noticed that it looks a lot like distribution of velocities in a gas. From this they have concluded that macro economics can be described (or is even governed) by the laws of thermodynamics. my tongue in cheek post above suggests the daft places that you can go with this sort of idea. i think I'm on ignore anyway so I better get back to work.

I can't see how one can object to my assertion that unequal distributions of income are more likely than equal ones. Given that, one might ask why the distribution looks the way it does, and why it aligns with distributions of variables in physical contexts.

I fully accept that any explanation for income distributions don't neceessarily extend to other socio-economic matters.

But let me ask you, what reasoning would you cite to try and explain income distribution?

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Science begins and ends with things that you can investigate and find underlying certainties about, can postulate sytems and their likely operation then go on to prove or disprove on a rational basis with procedures and results that others can duplicate at another time in other places. Some sciences, like geology and paleontology have to rely on things that can only be inferred rather than firmly proven, simply because they cannot be tested or repeated. But even they depend on the scientific method and have no dependence on wishful thinking.

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Hey SS, I don't remember Scepticus mentioning crystals, dolphins, pyramids or herbs. Can you point to which post mentions them? Thanks

You are right in your characterisation of science there. And I think we can agree that the economists we see and hear in published media are not up to scratch. I think the question most broadly is, how can we study economic phenomena more scientifically?

Do you have any suggestions, or do you just want to give up?

If you think these suggestions are wrong please point out how and suggest better explanations.

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Hey SS, I don't remember Scepticus mentioning crystals, dolphins, pyramids or herbs. Can you point to which post mentions them? Thanks

You are right in your characterisation of science there. And I think we can agree that the economists we see and hear in published media are not up to scratch. I think the question most broadly is, how can we study economic phenomena more scientifically?

Do you have any suggestions, or do you just want to give up?

If you think these suggestions are wrong please point out how and suggest better explanations.

I think there is a problem with this definition of science. SS is right when he says that some of this NET stuff to some extent forms hypotheses which are very difficult to test exhaustively and hence to definitively falsify. Economics likewise. But then M-theory and very out-there cosmology is to some extent in the same boat.

But this is exactly what the 21st century challenge is. Its less about the next discovery in high energy physics, and more about trying to understand and model very complex, chaotic processes like ecosphere dynamics, network evolution and so on. If we ever want to get humans off this planet and/or exploit the solar system it is life sciences that will do it. Likewise, physical constraints on free energy, pollution and lack of living space will increaingly contstrai us and these things are not tractable with simple equations. Similarly economics, markets and technology touches all of us deeply and this stuff matters, and it is science.

For example, if you live in the West, probably 40% of the nitrogen in your body has seen the inside of a factory - this thanks to the industrialisation of argiculture, with fertilisers etc. If you live in china, its nearer 70%.

Our bodies and our economy is now deeply, deeply embedded in the ecosphere, and we are now a huge part of that ecosphere. Human civilisation power output is I think about 44 Terrawatts. The total geothermal output of the earth due to release of stored planetary core heat (i.e. through springs, volcanoes, carbon exchange etc) is only 70 TW.

Equations like S=K log w and e=mc^2 are unfortunately no longer a sufficient method of understanding to ensure our survival. We'll have to get used to the emerging sciences of the complex being a more empirical, dirtier, less abstract thought process than what we traditionally see as science. More heuristics and curve fitting, and less explicitly falsifiable reductoinism.

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I think there is a problem with this definition of science. SS is right when he says that some of this NET stuff to some extent forms hypotheses which are very difficult to test exhaustively and hence to definitively falsify. Economics likewise. But then M-theory and very out-there cosmology is to some extent in the same boat.

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Isn't that generally true of statistics as well though? I mean statistics works well as a purely mathematical discipline, but is useless once you try to apply it to the real world, exactly for the reasons you say above. Hence the sniggering about it being a useful tool for politicians.

On the other hand when I started studying physics at degree levels* one of our early classes was "data analysis" which was basically a statistics course - to falsify your theory you have to analyse your physics result; to analyse your result you need to quantify the errors and biases in your measurements; to quantify the errors you have to model them statistically.

So even hardcore pure physics rests in very fundamental ways on this messy "heuristics and curve fitting".

*I dropped out pretty quick but that course has really stuck with me, and I still have the course textbook on my shelf here

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Isn't that generally true of statistics as well though? I mean statistics works well as a purely mathematical discipline, but is useless once you try to apply it to the real world, exactly for the reasons you say above. Hence the sniggering about it being a useful tool for politicians.

On the other hand when I started studying physics at degree levels* one of our early classes was "data analysis" which was basically a statistics course - to falsify your theory you have to analyse your physics result; to analyse your result you need to quantify the errors and biases in your measurements; to quantify the errors you have to model them statistically.

So even hardcore pure physics rests in very fundamental ways on this messy "heuristics and curve fitting".

*I dropped out pretty quick but that course has really stuck with me, and I still have the course textbook on my shelf here

You are absolutely right.

Its a coarse-graining problem. Coarse-graining being a description of the point of view and horizon of concerns that is adopted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granularity

The view of a box of gas being represented as a P,V,T description is a coarse graining of the actuality. Sufficient corse graining is required to make statistical approaches reliable, to some defined level. All calculations of entropy require some form of coarse graining assumption to be able to calculate it - how is a microstate defined and what are the macro variables of interest? The larger the degrees of freedom the system has the coarser graining is required to employ statistical descriptions of it.

The issuance of bank debt as money is an example of a coarse graining perspective on the actual underlying loand assets. The coarse graining is required in order to establish a tractable description of the underlying such that it can be used in trades with low transaction and information discovery costs. Without that coarse graining approach we couldn't have money and we couldnt use macro variables like risk free interest rates to describe the economy.

Coarse graining is a deliberate discarding of information to achieve a practical result.

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Think about the entropy as microstates I describe above. Describe all possible income distributions as the total number of microstates, for a given level of aggregate income. Is the total number of microstates equating to perfect equality larger or smaller than the total number equating to inequality? Obviously, the non equal states are more numerous, so the system statistically is likely to occupy a state of inequality.

Its a common misconception that high entropy==smootheness.

But isn't where this is falling down is that income is socially defined (i.e. if you are a high earner I can tax the buggery out of you to smooth the income curve)? Don't you mean human output instead? If social inequality does fit what is seen in nature, has it always done so? And if not, why is that unique?

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But isn't where this is falling down is that income is socially defined (i.e. if you are a high earner I can tax the buggery out of you to smooth the income curve)?

No income is not socially defined. Inequality grows when the economy grows, and it tends to fall when the economy contracts (because we all get poorer but normally the rich take a bigger hit).

To some extent the curve can be smoothed by taxation and benefits, and that tends to truncate the left hand side of the curve (e.g. you don't get incomes at zero). But it doesn't really alter the form of the distribution. It appears to be impossible to create an "arbitrary" distribution and even norway hasn't been able to move the curve far from a basic boltzmann-gibbs distribution. Maybe the taxation can to some extent get rid of the pareto 'long tail' of the "1%", but that still leaves an exponential distribution for the remainder.

An additional problem arises when transfers are funded by borrowing. In this case, the borrowing creates a new financial asset for the private sector which essentially becomes money, which means that the rich segment who "gave up consumption" to fund the benefits, have not actually given anything upo because they can quite happily sell the bond the next day.

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Ooh a sceepy post, how wonderful.

The subject matter of this thread is how physical constraints and the laws of large numbers place constraints on what kind of political economies can be acheived.

Lets kick it off with a few basic postulates, which relate socio-economics with life thermodynamics.

1. Human beings sit at the top of an hierarchy of complex systems and their purpose in the grand scheme of things is like all other complex systems, to generate entropy and dissipate energy gradients. In this we are equivalent in purpose to an ameoba or a non living complex system such as a Benard Cell, just a good deal more efficient (at dissipating energy).

Not really all that important, given most human valuation (i.e. the bit that makes economics work) is done using the brain, which needs feck all power and is completely unconstrained by physical laws as long as it's hosting body is alive.

2. The ecosphere is an instance of a non-equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system, maintained far from (thermodynamic) equilibrium by the solar gradient, and moved further from equilibrium by human efforts to dissipate sequestered fossil fuels. NET systems are constrained in the forms they can take and in how they can evolve. This applies to imagined polities including socialism, the concept of singularity, and ideas such as full reserve banking and "true capitalism". The inestimable mysteries of the human mind or collective behaviour do not over the long or even medium run, grant an exemption from these constraints.

Yep, they do. The only reason socialism fails is it doesn't get the results desired in reality. (Because of the lack of choice) however, people who are free to choose don't notice.

3. The inequality and social structure inherent in human societies ancient and current is closely related mathematically to the distributions found in phenomena like river delta formation, the structure of capilliaries on a leaf, and the distribution of velocities in an enclosed gas. Human directed attempts to move social structure very far from such distributions will, for a number of reasons, fail.

The inequality is doe to the choices of some humans to act on other humans in a hierarchical and negative way. They don't actually have to, it's not a law of nature.

4. Our financial system has evolved to mimic natural processes of entropy production, entropy maximisation and is itself, like all life on earth, a large Dissipative Structure. Attempts to create a financial system that does not align with these processes will always fail catastrophically. This is over the long run. In the short run, changes to constraints can and do create shocks and violent transitions, following which the system returns to a dynamical steady state, though not to the prior state.

More closely linked to a cancer, really. Again, the financial system is a human design with very little connection to reality (if you stop beliving in it.)

5. Information, energy and entropy are closely linked. All information is physically manifested, ergo all information is subject to the second law of thermo. Our financial system, being mainly one of information, is likewise constrained. It then follows that the financial system exhibits Irreversibility.

What does everyone else think?

it takes the same brain power to imagine in a wonderful way as it does to imagine in a poor one. So, erm. Nope.

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