Towards a better understanding of the full life-coherence principle

In order to better understand and appreciate the world around us, we build models and theories and apply the rigors of mathematics to make predictions to see how closely these models describe reality.  As has been shown before, through John McMurtry’s lifelong work, almost all of our models and theories of the world have been life-blind (and also death-dumb).  I am left wondering if this is the reason why our systems of thoughts have failed us, and if so, how we can do better, now that we know better.

I submit that in order to better manage our “households” via our laws, policies and economic theories, we need to realign all of our social constructs so that the are also made fully life-coherent.  This would mean coming up with new ways of modeling the dynamics of life on the planet and to see how far these models can explain the life-blind and death-dumb deficiencies in our systems, and what we need to do to correct them.

An individual who in my humble opinion has done the most to provide a better understanding of the world based on principles that are fully life-coherent is Mae-Wan Ho.  She and her collaborators at the Institue of Sceince in Society have provided us with a better understanding of life from the quantum level all the way up to the entire universe. The publications that got the most of my attention were her articles on Sustainable Cities as Organisms, A Circular Thermodynamics PerspectiveCircular Thermodynamics of Organisms and Sustainable Systems, and Is Spacetime Fractal and Quantum Coherent in the Golden Mean? All are worthy of in depth study, analysis and reflection, as her synthesis is still a work in progress in which many of different backgrounds, skills and vision can contribute.

I would like to leave you with an excerpt from her article, Circular Thermodynamics of Organisms and Sustainable Systems, that was inspirational for me and convinces me that she is on the right path to a better and holistic mathematical understanding of the full life-coherence principle.

10. Circular Thermodynamics and Green Living Economy

Thermodynamics is the science of material and energy transformation, the circular thermodynamics of organisms is therefore none other than living economy: the transformation of energy and materials that enable organisms including human beings to survive and thrive.

It is of interest that “circular economy” is in Chinese mainstream discourse [44]; and is actually adopted as a national policy, albeit only in the manufacturing and service sectors; they had neglected to include agriculture [45], the primary production for all economies. Circular economy is also entering the mainstream in the world at large, as championed by Ellen MacArthur, who has started the “Circular Economy 100” for the business world [46], so it is all the more important to understand what circular economy is all about.

There is a world of difference between circular integrated farming and the linear input-out industrial agriculture. It is also the difference between zero-entropy circular economy that some of us aspire to, and the dominant economy of infinite competitive growth and maximum dissipation (entropy generation). I contrast the two in Figure 10.

The dominant linear input-output system grows relentlessly, swallowing up the earth’s resources, laying waste to everything in its path, like a hurricane. There is no closed cycle to hold resources within, to build up stable organized social or ecological structures. That’s the essence of our “boom and bust” economy.


Figure 10. The zero-entropy circular economy patterned after and integrated with the circular economy of nature (left) versus the dominant economic model of infinite unsustainable growth that swallows up the earth’s resources and exports massive amounts of wastes and entropy (right).

The zero entropy circular economy, on the other hand, is embedded within and integrated with the circular economy of the natural ecosystem. It builds up space-time structures within to store and mobilize renewable energy and materials through values added in various ways to the primary productivity from sunlight and photosynthesis.

As argued earlier, the fractal structure of the circular economy (see Figure 2) ensures that all space-times are bridged, and is optimized for capturing, storing, and mobilizing resources efficiently and rapidly while conferring local autonomy on all scales. It also maximizes diversity: numerous small entities scaling up to very few large ones. Old mature forests tend towards this ideal “all size” distribution [47] and are more productive and diverse. It could be that a distribution supporting the greatest diversity is also the most equitable, and makes the most efficient use and mobilization of resources; but this hypothesis needs to be thoroughly examined and tested.

Another key feature (already mentioned) is that activities requiring energy or material are coupled to those that generate them; and the giving and taking can be reversed as the need arises. In other words, the system maximizes symbiosis, reciprocity and cooperation. It is fair and just reciprocal exchange of materials and energy that maintains and ensures the survival of the whole. Perhaps this is the biggest lesson for the commercial sector that has hitherto operated on exploitation and competition.

This raises the question on the medium of exchange. In human economy, money has become the medium of exchange for goods and services, replacing trust and goodwill. Goods and services have their obvious counterparts in living systems as materials and energy. But what is the equivalent of money in living systems? Is there such a thing?

11. Energy in Living Systems versus Money in Human Economy

Energy in living systems is all too often equated with money in economy, and vice versa. This has misled generations of biologists and economists alike. As we have seen, living energy transactions are always tied to real interactions and exchanges between molecules with minimum dissipation. For money to be equivalent to energy, it too, has to be tied to exchanges in real goods and services. Unfortunately, money has become more and more decoupled from real goods and services, and hence more like entropy than energy. It becomes entropy in unequal exchanges when the price paid is too low, as in exploitative labor or between currencies that are grossly overvalued on the side of the purchaser. The money market is especially entropic [25,44,48], because it is not based on any real-valued goods or services; furthermore, it artificially inflates the purchasing power of the rich, leading to greater exploitation of environmental resources. This becomes more explicit when the medium for energy exchange in the living system is considered.

The medium of exchange in the living system is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which many cell biologists and biochemists too, have equated with money. It is the universal energy transducer in living organisms, so much so that its concentration in cells is maintained constant as far as possible by a reserve molecule creatine phosphate, which is allowed to deplete, and its sole function appears to be to keep the supply of ATP constant. ATP has a very special role in maintaining the living state (see [13]).

ATP itself is synthesized using energy from food stuffs or from sunlight, and never from nothing. In other words, ATP, the medium of exchange of goods and services in the living system is never decoupled from material and energy cycles, and that is where the analogy to money ends, at least in the current economic system.

In our current human economy, money is being created electronically practically out of nothing, without limit or control; or worse, out of toxic debt and debt pyramids [49]. It has become completely decoupled from real goods and services, and generates real entropy in Earth’s ecosystem (and contributing to global warming) when used for overconsumption and exploitation of natural resources. That is ultimately the reason why we need to “shut down Wall Street” [50] in favor of restoring the real high street economy.

Contrary to what many economists assume, an economy that genuinely supports livelihood is not just about the flow of money; it is about people making a living transforming and exchanging materials and energy, and is therefore closely aligned with thermodynamics. Money is the means for the exchange of real goods and services, and not the end of economy. It must never be decoupled from the value of real goods and services. Major disasters like the current financial crisis come about because money has been created without control, and because people mistake the means for the end.

The circular thermodynamics of the living state—the science of energy and material transformation in living organisms and sustainable systems—gives ample support to the following features of a truly green economy [44].

  • The green economy is a renewable, closed-loop resource use model that includes agriculture, the energy, construction, manufacturing, and service industries, as well as finance. It is a complete way of life
  • Like nature, the truly green economy maximizes diversity, reciprocity, symbiosis, cooperation and equity; greed and inequity are unsustainable
  • A truly green economy is embedded within nature’s economy
  • It regards nature as the ultimate source of wealth, of “natural capital” [51], which must be regenerated and indeed, increased, in order to feed all sectors of the human economy.”

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