THE LAW OF COSMIC UNIFICATION
In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. Astronomer and author Carl Sagan1
Before time, the universe was naught, and, according to the Christian Bible, “the earth was without form, and void.”2 Then, according to current scientific thought, there arose a great cataclysm, the “big bang,” and so was created a supremely harmonious and logical process as a foundation for the evolution of matter, wherefrom the universe was born. So began the impartial process of evolution, a proceeds that flows from the simple to the complex, from the general to the specific, and from the strongly bound to the weakly bound.
Although I suspect many people have at least some familiarity with the concept that evolution moves from the simple toward the complex and from the general toward the specific, I doubt as many people are familiar with the notion of moving from the strongly bound toward the weakly bound. To understand the latter, envision a functional extended family. The strongest bond is between a husband and wife, then between the parents and their children. As the family grows, the bonds between the children and their various aunts and uncles and their first, second, and third cousins become progressively weaker as relationships become more distant with the increasing size of the family, not to mention the continual inclusion of marriage partners from heretofore unrelated families.
Taking this notion of the strength of a bond one step further, into a town or city, there is a definite limit to the number of people that can live together with a sense of community. This limit is brought about by the necessity of having frequent face-to-face contacts as a continuing bond of recognition. As a town, and particularly a large city, loses its unifying center, where people congregate, it commences to splinter into socially disjunct downtown areas and neighborhoods that often compete with one another for resources based on special interests.
Returning to the creation of the universe, it is necessary to examine its basic building blocks and the way they evolved into organized systems. The big bang created particles of an extremely high state of concentration that were bound together by almost unimaginably strong forces. From these original micro-units, quarks and electrons were formed. (Scientists propose the term “quark” as the fundamental unit of matter.3) Quarks combined to form protons and neutrons; protons and neutrons formed atomic nuclei that were complemented by shells of electrons.4 Atoms of various weights and complexities could, in some parts of the universe, combine into chains of molecules and, on suitable planetary surfaces, give birth to life. On Earth, for example, living organisms became ecological systems, wherein arose human communities with the remarkable features of language, consciousness, and a seemingly wide-ranging freedom of choice. Over time, these communities aggregated into societies with distinctive cultures.
In this giant process of evolution, relationships among things are in constant flux as complex systems arise from subatomic and atomic particles. In each higher level of complexity and organization, there is an increase in the size of the system and a corresponding decrease in the energies holding it together. Put differently, the forces that keep evolving systems intact, from a molecule to a human society, weaken as the size of the systems increases, yet the larger the system the more energy it requires in order to function. Such functional dynamics are characterized by their diversity as well as by the constraints of the overarching laws and subordinate principles that govern them.
I say these principles govern the world and our place in it because they form the behavioral constraints without which nothing could function in an orderly manner—especially social-environmental planning. In this sense, the Law of Cosmic Unification—the supreme law—is analogous to the Constitution of the United States, a central covenant that informs the subservient courts of each state about the acceptability of its governing laws. In turn, the Commons Usufruct Law represents the state’s constitution, which instructs the citizens of what acceptable behavior is within the state. In this way, Nature’s rules of engagement inform society of the latitude whereby it can interpret the biophysical principles and survive in a sustainable manner.
UNDERSTANDING THE LAW OF COSMIC UNIFICATION
The Law of Cosmic Unification is functionally derived from the synergistic effect of three universal laws: the first law of thermodynamics, the second law of thermodynamics, and the law of maximum entropy production.
The first law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant, although it can be transformed from one form to another. Therefore, the amount of energy remains entirely the same, even it if you could go forward or backward in time. For this reason, the contemporary notion of either “energy production” or “energy consumption” is a non sequitur. The second law of thermodynamics states that the amount of energy in forms available to do useful work can only diminish over time. The loss of available energy to perform certain tasks thus represents a diminishing capacity to maintain order at a certain level of manifestation (say a tree), and so increases disorder or entropy. This “disorder” ultimately represents the continuum of change and novelty—the manifestation of a different, simpler configuration of order, such as the remaining ashes from the tree when is burned. In turn, the law of maximum entropy production says that a system will select the path or assemblage of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the existing constraints.5
The essence of maximum entropy simply means that, when any kind of constraint is removed, the flow of energy from a complex form to a simpler form speeds up to the maximum allowed by the relaxed constraint.6 Clearly, we are all familiar with the fact that our body loses heat in cold weather, but our sense of heat lost increases exponentially when wind-chill is factored into the equation because our clothing has ceased to be as effective a barrier to the cold—constraint to the loss of heat—it was before the wind became an issue. Moreover, the stronger and colder the wind, the faster our body loses its heat—the maximum entropy of our body’s energy whereby we stay warm. If the loss of body heat to the wind-chill is not constrained, hypothermia and death ensue, along with the beginnings of bodily decomposition—reorganization from the complex structure and function toward a simpler structure and function.
In other words, systems are by nature dissipative structures that release energy by various means, but inevitably by the quickest means possible. To illustrate, as a young forest grows old, it converts energy from the sun into living tissue that ultimately dies and accumulates as organic debris on the forest floor. There, through decomposition, the organic debris releases the energy stored in its dead tissue. Of course, rates of decomposition vary. A leaf rots quickly and releases its stored energy rapidly. Wood, on the other hand, generally rots more slowly, often over centuries in moist environments. As wood accumulates, so does energy stored in its fibers. Before the suppression of fires, they burned frequently enough to generally control the amount of energy stored in accumulating dead wood by burning it up. These low-intensity fires protected a forest for decades, even centuries, from a catastrophic, killing fire. In this sense, a forest equates to a dissipative system in that energy acquired from the sun is released through the fastest means possible, be it gradually through decomposition or rapidly through a high-intensity fire. The ultimate constraint to the rate of entropic maximization, however, is the immediate weather in the short term and the overall climate in the long term.
Now, let’s examine the notion of maximum entropy in a more familiar way. I have a wood-burning stove in my home with which I heat the 1,300 square feet of my living space. To keep my house at a certain temperature, I must control the amount of energy I extract from the wood I burn. I do this in nine ways.
My first consideration is the kind of wood I choose, be it Douglas-fir, western redcedar, western hemlock, bigleaf maple, Pacific madrone, Oregon ash, Oregon white oak, red alder, or a combination. My choice is important because each kind of wood has a different density and thus burns with a corresponding intensity. On one hand, the three coniferous woods (Douglas-fir, western redcedar, and western hemlock) are relatively soft, require less oxygen to burn than hardwoods, burn quickly, but produce only moderate heat. On the other hand, such hardwoods as bigleaf maple, Pacific madrone, Oregon ash, Oregon white oak, and red alder produce substantial heat—of which oak, madrone, and maple probably produce the most, followed by ash and alder. But these hardwoods also require more oxygen to burn than the softwoods, and they burn more slowly.
The second concern is the quality of wood that I burn. Sound, well-seasoned wood burns far more efficiently than either wet, unseasoned wood or wood that is partially rotten. In this case, the quality of the wood also determines the effectiveness whereby it heats my house. Good quality wood is far more effective in the production of heat than is wood of poor quality.
The third determination is the size and shape of the wood. Small pieces produce a lot of heat, but are quick to disappear. Large pieces take more time to begin burning, but last longer and may or may not burn as hot when they really get going, depend on the kind of wood. Split wood has more surface area per volume and burns more rapidly than do round pieces of wood of the same size, such as large branches, because the latter have more volume than surface area.
The fourth decision is how wide to open the damper and thereby control the amount of air fanning the flames and therewith either increase the intensity of burning (opening the damper) or decrease the rate of burn (closing the damper). In each case, the length of time the damper is in a given position is part of the equation. The wider the damper is opened, the less the constraint, the hotter and faster the wood will burn, and the more rapidly heat will escape—the law of maximum entropy production. This law also addresses the speed with which wood is disorganized as wood and reorganized as ashes.
The fifth choice is how warm I want my house to be in terms of how cold it is outside. The colder it is outside, the more wood I must burn to maintain a certain level of heat—how much depends on the kind of wood I am burning. Conversely, the warmer it is outside, the less wood I must burn to maintain the same level of warmth.
The sixth consideration is how well my house is insulated against the intrusion of cold air and thus the escape of my indoor heat—both of which determine the amount of wood I must burn in order to maintain the temperature I want. Another facet of how much wood I must burn depends in part on whether clouds are holding the heat close to Earth, thus acting as a constraint to the heat leaking out of my house, or whether clear skies allow heat to bleed from my home and escape into outer space.
The seventh option is how often I open the outside door to go in and out of my house and so let cold air flow in to replace the warm air rushing out. I could ameliorate this exchange by having an enclosed porch between the door opening into my house and the door opening directly to the outside. A well-insulated porch would act as a dead-air space and would be a functional constraint to the loss of heat from my house as I access the outside.
The eighth alternative is when to heat my house and for how long. I can, for instance, reduce the amount of heat I require at night when I’m snuggled in bed. If I go to bed early and get up early, it is about the same as going to bed late and getting up late. But if I go to bed early and get up late, I don’t need to heat the house for as long as I would if I spent more time out of bed as opposed to in bed. Moreover, if it is well below freezing outside, I might have to keep the house warmer than otherwise to protect the water pipes from freezing.
And the ninth course of action, one that is both influenced by the other seven and influences them in turn, is how warmly I choose to dress while indoors. Whatever I wear constitutes a constraint to heat loss of a greater or lesser degree. Clearly, the warmer I dress, the less wood I must burn in order to stay warm, and vice versa. It’s the same with how many blankets I have on my bed during the winter.
These nine seemingly independent courses of action coalesce into a synergistic suite of relationships, wherein a change in one automatically influences the other eight facets of the speed wherewith energy from the burning wood escapes from my house. This said, the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the law of maximum entropy production meld to form the overall unifying law of the universe—the Law of Cosmic Unification—wherein all subordinate principles, both biophysical and social, are encompassed. With respect to the functional melding of these three laws, Rod Swenson of the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, says these three laws of thermodynamics “are special laws that sit above the other laws of physics as laws about laws or laws on which the other lawsdepend.”7 Stated a little differently, these three laws of physics coalesce to form the supreme Law of Cosmic Unification, to which all biophysical and social principles governing Nature and human behavior are subordinate—yet simultaneously inviolate. Inviolate means that we manipulate the effects of a principle through our actions on Earth, but we do not—and cannot—alter the principle itself.
THE INVIOLATE BIOPHYSICAL PRINCIPLES
Although I have done my best to present the principles in a logical order, I find it difficult to be definitive because each principle forms an ever-interactive strand in the multi-dimensional web of energy interchange that constitutes the universe and our world within it. Moreover, I see a different possible order each time I read them, and each arrangement seems logical. Because each principle affects all principles, every arrangement is equally correct:
Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.
This series of blogs is excerpted from my 2009 book, Social-Environmental Planning: The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 321 pp.