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Thermodynamics and Living Systems

Updated on April 4, 2017
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Part Five

Continued from: https://hubpages.com/education/General-Systems-Theory

Researchers Gibson, Turvey and Shaw conceived of the ecological connection of living things, but placed more importance on the variables of macroscopic flow rather than on individual particles within that flow. They note that flows of chemical, optical, and mechanical energy inform living systems of their environment and this information can be intentionally used towards a particular end. In other words, living systems sense motion in their environment and this allows them to make choices to move against or along with the path of least resistance. Whereas non-living systems are subject to the whims of gravity, living systems can move against it by choice.

When Boltzman reduced the second law to one of probability as a result of the random collisions between particles (following Maxwell’s earlier work with gas molecules), he assumed that these collisions lead to more and more disorder, and since there are more disordered states than ordered states, a system will always be moving towards maximum disorder if it is not already in a state of maximum disorder. Boltzman saw a dynamically ordered state as “the most improbable configuration of energy.” Since this was readily accepted by his contemporaries and those following behind him because of the prevailing Cartesian Dualism, the disconnect between physics and biology was strengthened. In other words, living systems seemed to be disordered states moving towards ordered ones in violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Kant called for separation between physics and biology, Darwinism has no physics in it; Neo-Darwinist founder, Fisher, said that entropy leads to greater disorganization but evolution leads to higher organization, and today Dawkin’s buddy, Daniel Dennet’s definition for life includes the statement that living things defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Yet Bertalanffy, Schroedinger, and Prigogine showed that many dynamic systems arise as soon as they can and every time the conditions exist for them to do so. In order to satisfy the second law, a self-organizing system must decrease potential or increase entropy production within the system and its environment. That being the case, then ordered flow must be more efficient than disordered flow. What they did not address is, “Which path will a system take to maximize entropy production?” According to Swenson, the answer is: the path or paths that maximize entropy the quickest. This is called by Swenson the Law of Maximum Entropy Production. I’ll refer to it as the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics.

Swenson’s Law of Maximum Entropy Production, the Fourth Law of Thermodynamics

When a system has multiple pathways through which to minimize potential (heat difference between the system and its environment) heat flows through all of them and does so as soon as it can. Consider my old beat up thermos. I accidentally stabbed a hole in with the ice pick. Although I put some tape over the hole, heat can still flow through that leaky spot and also around the old, partially missing, rubber seal around the lid. Heat can also flow through the adjustable pour spout which never has been able to close securely. However, whenever I remove the lid, the system flows reconfigure and the heat flows mostly through the large opening. When the lid is screwed back on the top of the thermos, heat will then flow through wherever it can, as soon as it can. With or without the tape, the pour spout opened or closed, or the lid off or on, the system will quickly adjust so that heat can flow in a way that will minimize potential (maximize entropy) at the fastest rate possible.

We can see that with ordered flow, maximum entropy production occurs faster than with disordered flow. If a system moves towards entropy, in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and does so at the fastest rate available to it, then we can expect systems to be in the business of producing order, NOT disorder. Therefore the Law of Maximum Entropy Production should be seen as a uniting principle between physics and biology. Furthermore, if living systems are better at producing order than non-living systems, then life is encouraged by the laws of thermodynamics. So, living things should not be characterized as defying the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, the law of conservation of energy, simply put, means motion is eternal. The second tells us that matter assembles and disassembles forever. These are the unifying principles that underlie all other laws of physics.

Helmoholz “demonstrated” that heat is a form of energy and Einstein that matter is a form of energy. But experiments and math offer no explanations as to what this actually means. However, the concept of all matter being interconnected, and eternally in motion does give us some insight as to how Mother Nature runs her shop.

The second law is seen to follow from the first as observed in Joules paddle wheel experiment, because it shows the one way action. Certainly the thermometer doesn’t make the paddle wheel move pushing the weight back up. My coffee never did spontaneously heat back up when I put the lid back on the thermos. This one way flow, or symmetry, is seen throughout all measurements taken to demonstrate the first and second laws. BUT, keep in mind that there was no beginning to motion itself.

We segment matter in motion using memory devices to order our lives and our experiments, but eternity has no use for time, and science has little use for experiments. We conceive of separation between objects where there really is none because all H-atoms are connected to all other H-atoms which form all matter. At the macro scale of monkeys and men, this separation is crucial for survival. At the fundamental level of H-atoms, ropes, and threads there is no separation. In the end, the mountains will crumble to the sea, and there will not be you and me, Jimmy. Matter assembles, disassembles and reassembles forever. Some things never change (first law), and some things never remain the same (second law).

Maxwell modeled gas molecules as ping pong balls bouncing around and randomly bumping into each other, and following from that Boltzmann viewed this as increasing disorder due to the law of probability distributions. In the end these stochastic collisions (diffusion) would lead to order (spread out) at a macroscopic level and disorder on a microscopic level. Further, since there are more disordered states than ordered ones, a system’s end state will either be moving towards maximum disorder, or will be in maximum disorder. Boltzmann saw order as “an infinitely improbable configuration of energy.”

None of this takes into consideration the assumption that all atoms are interconnected so there really are no open, closed, or isolated systems as envisioned by the particle physicist. There are fundamental and composite objects, however, and these are subject to scale of size, function and form differently. Since all atoms are interconnected by EM ropes, gravity, electricity, magnetism, and light are common to all objects. With this in mind we can understand the different types of movement, or “energy” and the different types of paths of resistance.

We talked about the disconnect between biology and physics, but there is another disconnect and that is between living things and their environments, i.e., ecology; particularly human ecology.

Today, persons use terms like intention, purpose, information, choice, and entropy, in order to make commensurable the fields of biology and physics. But, for example, the use of entropy in Shannon’s Information Theory is not the entropy of physics. What is common to living and non-living or biology and physics, is the assumption of interconnecting ropes. What is different is that living things can move with or against gravity and the path of least resistance, whereas non-living things can only move as a result of them. Although dynamically ordered systems can include living and non-living systems, clearly there is a significant difference between the two, but it is not that living things are not connected to their environments.

The very fact of increasing levels of atmospheric oxygen, put there by life, and maintained by life, is clearly a move away from thermodynamic equilibrium on a global scale towards one that is moving towards order. Evolution, however, is typically seen purely as trial and error (natural selection) rather than an end-directed process.

See Rational Scientific Method Vol. I, Chapter Thirty, Creation Science Isn’t, Chapter Thirty One, Intelligent Design Isn’t, Chapter Thirty Two, Emergent Complexity, Chapter Thirty Three, Creation Vs Evolution, and Chapter Thirty Four, Darwin’s Black Box

Haeckel coined the term ecology, which is the relationship between living things and their environment, but Kant called for separation between biology and physics. Swenson sees “…end-directed behavior prospectively controlled, or determined, by meaning, or information about (of which "end-in-mind" behavior is a lately evolved kind).” His explanation of terrestrial evolution as the “world being in the order production business” is excellent, and I highly recommend it. He clearly describes the difference between what he calls “end-directed” behavior of non-living and “intentional dynamics” of living things, and shows how current Darwinism’s natural selection does not account for planetary evolution.

By definition of natural selection, the planetary system can not be a “unit” of Darwinian evolution because there are no competing Earth systems. In other words, the “Earth evolves as a population of one.” Another way of saying this, and it is what sticks in the craw of my nemesis the Kat, is that natural selection is “a process internal to the evolution of the planetary system.” But if natural selection is responsible for life, then natural selection at a planetary level is needed to explain how life began here in the first place. Life is not merely a random result of laws of probability. Instead, in an eternity of matter in motion, anything that can happen, did happen, does happen, and will always happen…forever. Keep in mind that the fundamental unit of life, the cell, is alive when it first begins to move (against gravity and the path of least resistance), and that even though life here began here, life “itself” did not have a beginning anymore than motion had a beginning.

What of cultural evolution? Richard Dawkins says cultural evolution "is not really evolution at all." So an underlying mechanism for both evolution on a planetary level and on a human cultural level is needed. Swenson’s Law of Maximum Entropy Production, along with the first and the second law, seem to make life inevitable, and physics commensurable with biology in principle, but what is missing is an underlying PHYSICAL mechanism, a grand unified theory of everything unifying light, gravity, electricity, and magnetism.

In other words, eternal matter, forever in motion “seeks out” life because the “Laws of Thermodynamics” operate, not only on a planetary scale, but on a Galactic and a Cosmic scale as well. What we need is a physically unifying mechanism.

Rope Hypothesis offers just such a physical mechanism.

Next up: https://hubpages.com/education/Thermodynamics-and-Evolution-on-a-Cellular-and-Planetary-Level


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