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Infodynamics, a Developmental Framework for Ecology/Economics

Stanley N Salthe, Biological Sciences, Binghamton University


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Infodynamics, for our purposes, is a developmental perspective that animates information theory by way of thermodynamics. The isomorphism between Boltzmann's statistical interpretation of physical entropy as disorder and Shannon's formulation of variety as informational entropy signals a deep connection between information and entropy production. Information is any configuration that might have been different, providing that it delays energy dissipation so that the energy is dissipated more completely. The entropy production of individual dissipative structures increases at first but eventually decelerates. I consider the questions: why do these structures grow? And why don't they keep on growing? As the universal expansion of the Big Bang accelerated, matter precipitated from disequilibrated energy. In its own search for equilibrium, matter clumped, signaling further disequilibrium. The only way these clumps can be destroyed is by others, and this role of gradient degradation entrained the evolution of complexity, all the way to living systems. This serves universal equilibration because, generally, more of an energy gradient must be lost as heat than can become reembodied in its consumers, and so it can be said that these structures grow to serve gradient degradation, taking the second law of thermodynamics as a final cause. I suggest that energy degradation is harnessed by growing systems because that process allows the fastest eventual dissipation in the direction of the lowest grade of energy. Three stages of development of dissipative structures are described: immature, mature, and senescent. Growth is limited by senescence, which I take to be a consequence of information overload. I suggest that ecosocial systems harnessed by human population growth impose less information on ecological transformations than do typical mature ecosystems, thereby tapping more powerful energy flows and producing more wastes of a higher grade than heat, which act as pollutants. Warfare is interpreted as a mechanism to prevent ecosocial senescence. I suggest that ecosocial systems should be planned in the direction of maintaining system maturity as long as possible.

Key words

Big Bang, Minot-Aoki law, development, developmental trajectories, dissipative structures, ecosocial systems, energy gradient dissipation, entropy production, information, senescence, second law of thermodynamics

Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087