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The Second Law
of Thermodynamics

'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave!'

The Eagles, Hotel California )

Work is costly Business

God or no God - there is a fundamental mechanism in the universe.

An organising power, which in itself is The Source of All Life on Earth.

And the opposing force, which messes things up through mixing them up, we call the devil.

Read more: On Minds: 10 points on creation, ongoing as it is.

On Formula Lymphatera (they have difficulty on some applications, as it would seem)


Gravity vs.
Wealth vs Work

Wealth Creation vs. Job Creation:

    View the Prologue

    1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics or

    2. Work is costly Business
      1. The second law of thermodynamics
      2. So why bother with the second law?
      3. This page will try to establish that economics have a real base in physics.

    3. I. Thermodynamics
      1. Motion through heat; from order to disorder in the universe
      2. One could put it this way

    4. II. Gravity
      1. Motion without heat (or heat through motion); from disorder to order in the universe
      2. From chaos to order, from hydrogen to uranium

    5. III. Human Economics
      1. No motion without heat; from order to disorder in the world
      2. Let's consider work

    6. Further Reading

      View the Epilogue

The second law of thermodynamics

allows for different formulations; one statement is that a temperature difference in a thermodynamic system can only ever equalize, but never spontaneously develop or increase.

However, since such temperature differences, which cannot arise thermodynamically, in reality not only exist, but are a precondition for the running of a thermodynamic process, this necessarily requires a mechanism existing outside of thermodynamics and its laws, which spontaneously forms or increases these necessary and existing temperature differences; the same can be said for differences in energy and entropy.

This force outside the laws of thermodynamics, which provides for temperature, energy and entropy gradients, and thus enables thermodynamics, is called gravity.

As necessary as the thermodynamic conversion of energy is, without gravity it would not exist, nor would there be material bodies to implement it; there would also be no order or negentropy, without which life is not possible.

It thus forms the prerequisite of all that exists beyond pure matter; and is - directly and indirectly - the basis of any movement.

So why bother with the second law?

  1. For one thing, it rules much of what happens on Earth.
  2. For another, much of what happens in the universe.

Maybe not everything. But still, it might be wise not to try to work against it.

To avoid this, we must know how the second law of thermodynamics can be used to test the validity of our actions. And there are signs that, some thousand years ago, people, through instinct, experience, religion or science, were more prone to obey it than we are today.

Some of these insights may have even engrained themselves into our mythology.


On the other hand, and contrary to much popular belief, the human economics even of today are not really a science: apart from perhaps some very simple truths, there is no scientific proof that certain economic assumptions are valid.

In fact, the results of some economic experiments in recent history have shown vast aberrations from the predicted outcome and indeed from the results of similar experiments. It seems fairly safe to say that few economic experiments in history have been able to meet the prime criteria for scientific validity: consistent, reproducible results; this perhaps except in failure.

Were this otherwise, a great deal of policy-making would disappear from politics and economics would become an engineering profession with largely predictable results. Betting on the outcome of economic decisions on the stock exchange would loose its importance.

As it is, economics present themselves as more of a religion based on certain beliefs and values and depending on others believing in it as well to keep it going, notwithstanding periodic system flame-out. According to the economists themselves, "trust", belief ('credit'), and "psychology" play a major part in the game. It is a game, and a game of chance at that.

Whatever the reason for this, it is therefore disputed that economics are a science at all, and as it seems, the Nobel Prize for economics is not a real Nobel Prize either. All of this puts economical theories in line with mediaeval alchemy rather than with post-gallilean science; calling some of it "voodoo-economics" therefore does not really qualify as an insult. However, this shall not be the prime subject of this page.

This page will try to establish that economics have a real base in physics.

It may be that the following is a bit jumpy and sketchy, but this is my first, in itself perhaps somewhat crude and alchemistic stitching together of three seemingly complete separate subjects:

I. Thermodynamics   (We cannot live by our own effort),

II. Gravity   (The second principle)


III. Human Economics   (The law of insufficient returns).

The connection between or rather the complementary nature of the first two lays the background for the relation between the first and the last.

There will be no calculations put forward, just some global observations and an attempt of logic.

^ I. Thermodynamics

Motion through heat; from order to disorder in the universe

In the end, the answer to "Life, the universe, and everything" may not be "42", but "gravity".

Bluntly, the second law of thermodynamics seems to stipulate that:

  1. We cannot live by our own effort - And, in consequence,

  2. Since our financial systems are based on this fundamental misconception, they are prone to serial collapse.

However, life goes on regardless of what humans do, it has gone on and - if we are not careful - will go on without any human action to further or disturb it.

This is not trivial; there is a human misconception that life will not go on if we do not make it go on. Even the Bible states that differently.

This misconception is based on, and is expressed in, the popular belief that:

  1. Everything in the universe goes from order to disorder (increasing what is called "entropy").

  2. There will be a heat death when everything in the universe has the same temperature.

  3. We have to work against that to keep it up (which, in reality, is a contradiction to the former, as working levels differences in energy)

One could hold against this that, in reality,

  1. Everything in the universe goes from disorder to order.

    The universe - and our tiny place in it - was already a set of highly ordered surroundings before we came along. We could not have come into existence on a ball of molten stone in a cloud of steam and dust blotting out the light - if there was light. As we know, before God - or whatever - separated light from darkness, and land from water, thereby creating what we call "order" there was not - as expressed in the modern term of 'singularity'.

  2. There will be a cold death when everything in the universe has the same temperature.

    This is a question of definition, but if the universe is still expanding, it is probably cooling off (and also probably becoming still more orderly - if it follows the laws of thermodynamics strictly in this point; this, however, is still under dispute).

  3. The only place there is a disorderly mess is where we, as humans, make one of the highly ordered surroundings we find to our advantage.

    Of course, this goes for any living being, especially one that can move, do, and therefore perform work. It even goes for inanimate objects that can do so.

One could put it this way:

Does it do so by work?

This is a question of definition.

Is 'order' defined by a state of everything being spread out evenly in a hazy cloud of everything, or is 'order' defined by a state of everything being sorted out and separated as far apart as possible? In the first case, even hydrogen atoms would be a disturbance of order, since defining order is a question of definig entities. The second definition seems more viable.

One could also describe any difference in temperature as 'disorder' - or as 'order'. Usually, 'entropy' is used to describe the amount of temperature indifference. Taking into account the above said, an indifferent cloud of everything at the same temperature would be a description of greatest disorder - and it would be a neat description of the beginning of the universe (by Christian religion and by scientific description). The next split second, order began to grow with the universe, by the separation and aggregation of matter, by expansion (creating time and space) and by the separation of different velocities and temperatures from each other.

The result, at this momentary point in time, is a highly ordered transitional state of things, with high differences in temperature, in matter concentration, and in all of the rest, therefore low entropy. It seems to be still evolving in that direction, and certainly has done so without human influence whatsoever.

One could say that the conception that humans think they have to work to clear up the mess they see surrounding themselves is caused by the very fact that this is because that is where the mess always is - it is always right where we are.

We carry disorder around with us. In fact, we create it. Wherever we are, we make a mess. We would die if we did not, and therefore not be there to observe it. Creating a 'mess' or disorder in this case means, by above definition, a degradation of order, i. e. an overall leveling of temperature differences and a decrease of the arrangement of matter. It may not seem so at first glance, but a camp fire does just that. So does the digestion of food, or the operation of a diesel engine.

Every form of work or turnover of energy, almost by definition, follows the laws of thermodynamics in this way.

If in doubt, you may ask yourself for what you would be willing to pay more for: economically: diesel fuel or exhaust fumes, nourishment or body waste, wood or ashes and smoke. This is where we may catch a first glimpse of the connection between thermodynamics and economics: Not the work done is valuable, but the work not yet done, i.e. the energy to do work. Work done leaves a mess which has to cleared up by yet more work, and so on.

What we decline to see is that this disorder we create tends to disappear by itself, to clear itself up, as soon as we are gone - albeit that it might take some time for it to do so.

We can notice this phenomenon only if we move fast and far enough - i. e. if we are able, for a moment, to outrun the mess we have created wherever we happen to be. In a picture, the still morning lake will calm itself only after we have left it; no amount of active "calming" will achieve that as long as we are still in it.

Like the sonic boom trailing an aircraft, the faster we move, the more terrifyingly the disorder we create will build up and overtake us form behind the minute we slow down again - thus causing us, in panic and fright, to move at ever increasing speed to outrun the consequences of what we are doing. But as we know, there is an end speed to everything. When that has been reached, economic, ecologic or thermodynamic collapse occurs.

This prevails until whatever degraded has had time to regenerate itself (not: be regenerated by the degraders), new and greater sources of energy, new and deeper waste deposits or new places to degrade have been found.

This is seen not from an arbitrary, moralistic point of view, but from an inevitable, physical one. One could see it as a description of the collapse of ancient European, South American, or other empires; the deforestation of the Mediterranean area during the Roman Empire for fuel could be seen as one example.

From the other perspective, there is hardly a greater human pleasure than to be the first to ski on a slope of freshly fallen snow, to dig up oil, gold and diamonds which have taken millions of years to form and accumulate (a form of creating order in the above definition), to view a landscape untouched by human hands, to build their house on a green field, to visit the desert, the arctic, uninhabited new places in the universe and on this planet, and so on - in other words: to enjoy what we have not created, and which has not already been used, messed up and left disorderly up by others. And there is nothing more rewarding - in an emotional, and, this is the important correlation, in the financial sense as well.

As has otherwise been stated, the stark beauty of the North American wild led to the insight in Europeans fleeing Europe that maybe there should be places, called nature or national parks, where nature is left to itself and where no human is allowed to live and work (and "create wealth") beyond the absolute necessary (and even that is very difficult to realise, as the debate about regulating wild forest fires has shown). The wealth is there to behold - but, in this case, not to take.

We humans crave order, and we instinctively know that we cannot create it.

What we have not yet understood - or what we have once more forgotten - is that we live off and live by destroying order, and nothing else.

Maybe this is the Original Sin, with which we are plagued ever since we had to leave paradise, where there was abundance, that we are forced - perhaps by our own actions - to live by work, and therefore create a mess of things; and that we can never achieve the status of creator of things, no matter how we try.

In fact, the more we try, the worse it gets, for the more we try, the further we distance ourselves from creation by trying (if one discounts creating a mess from creation itself, which is not at all a trivial distinction).

However, this is not religion; it is religion borne out by the physics, i. e. the workings of the universe, therefore of creation itself. Humans, however much they may try, cannot put themselves outside of creation, as they are part of it. Even attempting to do so can be labeled an act of blasphemy, and there will be merciless punishment of such action in consequence - God or no God.

That, too, is borne out by the laws of thermodynamics.

To understand this, one must understand where the boundaries are between what we may and what we may not do.

Returning to pure physics once more, the laws of thermodynamics state (as can be seen below), among other things, that nothing ever runs by itself (and they do not state that nothing ever runs without humans to keep it running). However, there seem to be some processes which augment themselves, like a forest catching fire or an avalanche rolling down the mountain. What about them? Can we not tap those?

First, a self-augmenting process of the first kind is simply a leveling out of potentials.

Like in lightning, avalanches, forest fires or other runaway processes, these do not really run away. They do not augment themselves forever, but from a state of inertia start quite slowly, build up speed and momentum, but then come to a halt again, sometimes abruptly (thereby usually causing damage or at least change), to then remain inert again in the new state until enough new potential has accumulated for the process to repeat itself. Like ocean waves hitting the shore, they are simply a jerky state of equilibrium or motion.

Second, a self-augmenting process of the second kind, which truly feeds itself, would never stop. It would therefore ultimately destroy not only itself, but everything else within reach.

Maybe black holes in space can be seen as such truly self-augmenting processes, although even this is doubtful, although they might give us a clue on what may ultimately be the cause of that order in the universe which the laws of thermodynamics seem to abhor.

One thing, though, is quite certain: life, in speciality human life, is quite impossible in their presence. Therefore, whatever the consequence, we will have to face our life without them; and so without the prospect of eternity in our lives - if one can call the complete disappearance of everything 'eternity'. And it is no wonder that we came upon the stage only when everything else was ready and order had been created.

However, since something, for the moment at least, obviously does exist, and since we, for the moment at least, obviously do exist, let us look at the details - if only for recreational purposes:

The laws of thermodynamics, which govern all creation (at least all that we know of), state that, since the creation of the universe,


In more detail, the first and second law of thermodynamics therefore stipulate:

  1. Within creation, nothing ever comes from nothing (leaving aside the first creation of everything) or disappears into nothing (leaving aside the final destruction of everything).

  2. Motion depends on energy, or rather on a difference in energy or energy potential.

  3. Motion wears itself out over time through loss of energy, or rather the loss of difference in energy potential.

    This difference in energy potential finally dissolves into the surrounding heat - or the uncoordinated motion of all particles of all matter with the same intensity in all objects at the same time, called entropy - if there would then be objects left in the universe at all, which is the big question (motion itself, as apart from heat, is the directed, simultaneous or coordinated motion of particles of matter, thus forming an entity we call a "body", which can be anything from an electron to a solid rock to an interstellar cloud of hydrogen of galactic size).

  4. Motion (or deformation, which in principle is the same) therefore calls for an input of energy (or negative entropy, negentropy) which is then lost by dissipating into the environment in the very process of that motion, thereby at once decreasing the potential for further motion by increasing entropy (and we can begin to see why humanity is obsessed with states of the environment where this has not recently been done).

    And, in consequence:

  5. There is no such thing as perpetual motion (forget it!).

  6. There is most certainly no such thing as perpetual motion that creates an output of energy to boot (forget it completely!).

This implies that, left to themselves,

And so on.

Whether the universe will dissolve or collapse, whether the universe will suffer from a heat death or a cold death in the end, whether it will burn up or freeze over and whether the heat will ever be distributed evenly, is still an open question - just as open as the question whether one should describe the latter as 'heat' or 'cold' and if such a name makes any sense in this context.

However, if all of this is true - if everything in the universe is self-degrading, does not get done by itself, slowly comes to a halt, get more disorderly over time and does not sort itself out - then where does the potential come from, by which we live? The original order?

How can anything self-degrade, which has not been graded, how can anything exist, which did not get done in the first place? How can something which the Bible so aptly calls "chaos", come to a halt, if it never got moving? How can complete disorder become even more disorderly over time without first sorting itself out?

But even putting aside the theoretical problems of comprehension - one look at your surroundings, at Heaven and Earth, indeed at one's own self, in one word: at creation, at the things that be, will show anyone who believes that he or she is not under delusion of existence (which then would render any thought about said existence superfluous), that the universe, since the days of its creation, is not a chaos, but the complete opposite of chaos.

In Fact, the universe is a veritable parade of gradation, of self-organisation, of energy potential, of order and is characterised by a clear separation of things that are and those that are not (this self-organised order, as it follows possible paths, not pre-determined ones, is what we now call "chaos" - order is chaos and chaos is order).

Furthermore, the universe is clearly and distinctly in motion and as it seems to us, possibly even simultaneously expanding, sorting itself out, picking up momentum and cooling off, in any way seeming to defy the most fundamental laws of thermodynamics which are supposed to govern it.

If these laws, which should govern all creation, have governed it (at least) from the beginning of time (and they would not be the universal laws they are otherwise), then clearly they have not been very successful in doing what they should have done and at what they are so good at when it comes to governing life on Earth.

One solution to this dilemma can be stated thus: Obviously, there are other forces at work in the universe which seem to counteract the laws of thermodynamics or at least balance them out.

^ II. Gravity

Motion without heat (or heat through motion); from disorder to order in the universe

Taking up the old Yin - Yang - idea of necessary complementaries, one could construct a table of opposites which would seem to correspond:

  Crude Table 1

State caused by the universal working of thermodynamics:       The opposing state, in existence or at work at this same moment in time:
Disorder (disorganisation)    -   Order (organisation)
Entropy (loss of potential)    -   Negentropy (gain of potential)
Self-diminishing processes    -   Self-augmenting processes
Dissipation of energy    -   Concentration of matter
Consumption of energy    -   Release of energy
Source of motion:       Source of motion:
Energy    -   Gravity

Crude as this may be, this brings to mind that there is something which is at least as fundamental and powerful in ruling the universe as are the laws of thermodynamics: gravity.

Maybe this could be called the second principle.

This process is self-augmenting, at least as long as there is enough matter to feed it, and possibly even beyond that. Therefore, other than in processes ruled by thermodynamics, in processes ruled by gravity (and even possibly some others, such as electrostatic, magnetic or some forms of subatomic forces; the latter may even be the secret to life itself, but shall not be a matter of discussion here):

There is even creation of energy by motion - this in fact could be seen as the source of all energy. Furthermore, this process is self-accelerating.

In consequence, there could - in principle - be perpetual motion if there was a perfect balance and no creation or release of energy (which is fictional).  

Left to itself, gravity creates a higher state of order by separating matter from non - matter, and while thus concentrating and compressing it, creates or releases mechanical heat and energy, which grades this matter even further (if so by chemical reaction; in this there is a certain order of sequence), possibly even igniting the matter itself to turn it into energy, which then dissipates and is ruled by the universal laws of thermodynamics, or rather, calls them into being - or better still, interaction.

Further concentrations of gravity may or may not then even trap this self - released energy (again), but this need not be a matter of discussion here, as there are even more unanswered questions: The universal laws of thermodynamics rule an expanding universe. Would they rule a collapsing one? If an expanding universe is an open system, however uselessly producing eternity by making time and space travel ever more impossible, and a static one is a closed system prone to thermodynamic heat death, what would we call a once again collapsing one? Is there a third state of being after 'open' and 'closed'? 'Negative'?

This motion is not ruled by the laws of thermodynamics, as there are no thermodynamics involved.

This motion does not need or consume energy.

It creates and releases energy, first by accelerating matter, then by destroying it - while by the way creating waste product matter that constitutes this planet, ourselves and everything in the solar system apart from the Sun (which strangely enough concentrates the lightest and most primordial of all matter in the center of the system). Thermodynamics become involved only in the result of that primary motion.

From chaos to order, from hydrogen to uranium

Apart from the interesting and romantic fact that we are indeed made of stardust, gravity in stars causes the lightest and simplest of matter or element (hydrogen) to gradually turn into they heaviest and most complex one (matter or element, not material), while destroying some of it and releasing it (not using it!) as energy, and that heavy matter at the end of the chain (uranium, plutonium) is so instable as to in itself spontaneously release energy (the question, if the reverse is possible, i. e. the construction of matter by the trapping of energy, shall not be discussed here).

Given what we know, gravity can be looked upon as that source of negentropy which allows the laws of thermodynamics to be and rule the flow of energy.

These intricate interactions of thermodynamics and gravity can be observed in our own solar system: the concentrated mass of the Sun keeps the planets revolving around its center by its very gravity, while on the other hand the energy generated by that same gravity and particles accelerated by this energy released and dissipating from the solar center (what we call 'solar wind' and 'light'), for one thing, by its pressure, keeps a cloud of interstellar dust and debris outside of the planet's paths, thus allowing a time of somewhat undisturbed life on them (if at all possible) and at the same time delivering the energy for that very life exist to by.

Gravity may be at the root of energy, but that is then ruled by the laws of thermodynamics.

The opposite pairs in that first crude table describe the universal preliminaries we live and exist by. (Which, one day, may too be set into some beautifully neat little formula like E = mc2. This would not necessarily make us mightier. We cannot bend the laws of thermodynamics, which rule our life, and we most probably could not control gravity, a property of sheer existence.)

With that mental stumbling block (where does everything come from?) somewhat out of the way, we can now take a closer look at the workings (how does it work?) of thermodynamics:

We are part of a thermodynamic system, consisting of the Sun as a source of energy, dissipating that into the universe surrounding the solar system which acts as an energy sink, and our comparatively small wet twirling granite marble bathing in that energy flow, absorbing a little bit of that energy mostly on the sunlit side and dissipating it again mostly on the unlit side (mostly, since weather and reflection account for the rest).

Anyone who has had the fortune to witness a solar eclipse knows what it feels like when that benign dynamo is taken off the power line. The lights are snapped off, and a veritable cloth of death spreads itself over the face of the Earth. The darkest of nights cannot compare to that deep, eternal, cold, darkness. Our dependency becomes very clear, and medieval people would rightly have been frightened to death by such an experience.

The solar energy pouring out of the Sun accounts for life on Earth past and present, it accounts for the surplus of energy we are firing and for almost all energy-driven motion (it does not, for instance, move the tides or tidal power plants; that is down directly to gravity).

The question may be if this is necessarily so.

No, it is not.

The planet Earth itself, being hotter than the surrounding space by its own gravity, could, for instance, account for a thermodynamic energy source, and nuclear energy of any kind puts the copy of an energy source driven by the destruction of matter into the hands of man. That would be a different world, but a possible one.

Would things be very much different otherwise?

Putting aside the problems which such use of energy might create, a simple change in the source of energy would not change much, since either which way, humans and their economy are driven by energy, not gravity itself. So is every other form and action of life on Earth as well as of most of the inanimate motion and deformation on the surface of the Earth (that begins to change a few feet below the surface).

It does not matter if we do not - yet - understand how this happens in detail (and therefore cannot - yet - copy it).

It suffices to say that these are the processes governed by the universal laws of thermodynamics which we can neither change, bend, staple, mutilate or escape from.

Applied to life, in speciality animal life, in even greater speciality human life, on Earth or otherwise, this means, without any possibility of escape:

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that furthermore, in order not to come to a standstill and, if alive, thereby die:

For living and active systems, there is a third:

In everything we do,

And therefore:

It is astounding how often these simple and known facts are put out of the human mind.

As a human being:

In fact,

And so on.

But as we do not like it, we tend to twist the truth to suit our need for self-esteem.

Twisting it back again, we would find that, notwithstanding the fact that the provision and turnover of work is absolutely necessary to survive as energy-driven thermodynamic entities,

  Crude Table 2

the words: in effect really mean:

That person is a source of energy That person consumes a lot of energy
That person is a creator of things That person destroys a lot
That person is orderly That person hides his mess well
That person is a hard worker That person is a great consumer
That person does a lot of work That person consumes a lot of work
That person feeds him - or herself That person is sponging somewhere
That person feeds a lot of people That person may be starving a lot of other people
That person can sustain him - or herself That person most certainly cannot sustain him - or herself

This may sound quite silly at first, and it is only a crude allusion.

But since most people are deeply convinced that not only do they sustain themselves by their own work, but whole families and communities, it is sometimes necessary to remind them that they do not.

No thermodynamic entity in the universe could to so.

Any number of humans put in an enclosed space left to fend for themselves and "sustain themselves by their own work" will inevitably die, and will die even faster for so trying, as, without an external energy source and an external energy sink, the thermodynamic entity called human being will, by working, only use up its reserves faster. But die it will, in any case.

The illusion that humans sustain themselves by their own work is created by happily forgetting the fact that every one of us alive has to have an energy source and a sink, and through the inevitable thermodynamic heat loss will have to consume far more energy than he or she can turn into useful heat and motion, and therefore most certainly will consume more energy than he or she can put to use.

In fact, we put out energy in the dimension of a few percent of the energy we consume. This can not only be measured, but seen in the many tons of biochemicals we have to force through our intestines and turn into waste just to form and keep alive a hundred kilos or so of living matter for as long as we are able to do so. When we cannot any more degrade, i. e. digest, we die.

This, too, is a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics.

To make another point clear: Not even a farmer can feed himself, let alone feed others.

No person in the world, furiously pedaling on a bicycle-driven dynamo feeding at best a 100 watt light bulb, can even dream of coming anywhere close to producing enough light to grow the very food to keep him or herself pedaling, not even under the most sophisticated circumstances. He or she will miss that goal by several orders of magnitude - and perish.

The impossibility of this feat in principle, too, is stipulated by the second law of thermodynamics. It is universally impossible.

What goes for the single person, goes for society as a whole, as numbers do not alleviate the problem.

So let it be said, for once and for all, that, for the reasons described above, no society in the world is able to "sustain itself".

Any economic system conceivable that postulates self-sustainability and more is, has been, and will be doomed to fast and utter failure.

The consequence of such an attempt usually has been mass death by starvation.

And what goes for the single economy, goes for the world as a whole, as, again, numbers do not alleviate the problem.

This, by the way, does not touch the issue of what is termed 'sustainable development' or the like, as that does not mean self-sustainability in the physical sense, but quite the opposite.

What it does touch upon is the issue that, caught in a strait, real or imagined, humans will automatically assume that they can pull themselves out of the swamp by their own hair, as in Muenchhausen's Tales, and tend to propagate this idea to others - blindly overlooking that fact that, even in that context, this was a lie. It is a feat completely impossible, and therefore has never been performed.

Archemedes, to be able to move the world, needed not only a fixed point, but it had to be outside of this world. Just as an engine will not run in a sealed compartment, nor a human live, all thermodynamic entities need an open system to perform, with sources and sinks outside of themselves. The idea that this can be short-circuited to become self-sustained is completely false.

From the eremite to the world economy: What sustains you is the fact that you use up far more energy than you put out (even if this is the wrong expression, because the energy is always balanced), that you have an external source for this energy that you do not have to fill, and that you have a place to get rid of your mess that you do not have to empty, and that it had in certain circumstances better not be the same place.

It is a

* kWh = kilowatt-hours, a measure for physical energy (potential work) and / or work performed. In thermodynamics, the input of energy in a work process is always higher than the resulting output of work; the difference has to be lost as heat to the environment (the energy sink). One kWh equals 860 kcal (kilocalories) or 3400 BTU (British Thermal Units) and will bring about ten liters of water to boiling point.

Even if the material or ideal work output can be deemed as economically more "valuable" than the input (as in "shoes are more valuable than leather" or "a solved problem is more valuable than an unsolved one"), there is always a loss of energy which has to be replenished by an external source which in turn suffers a loss. Furthermore, no work process comes without an added loss in itself: there is always wasted material or wasted energy (such as heat through bending a wire). Without this loss no work would have been performed (maybe even wasted time should be considered, but its passage seems to be undisturbed by a work process; strangely enough, though, while the momentum gained by a body through a certain drop in gravitational altitude depends on that difference in altitude, the time it takes to achieve that momentum does not).

This way, in human economics, (only) a real, physical loss or destruction of energy potential is turned into or calculated as an economic gain. This may be all right - as long as there is something left to destruct.

We pride ourselves in our constructions and the amount of exertion that goes into them. That the destruction of order is an arduous task is no contradiction to the fact that it is a heavily loss-making process; it is important that we cannot (re-)produce the order we destroy in the process of construction, and that, according to the laws of thermodynamics, the original order is worth more than the result of this construction. Our constructions are secondary constructions and on balance constitute a process of destruction.

And as we turn over as much energy as never before, we can imply that thereby as much work is being performed as never before, even if not always by human beings; and that by doing so we are destroying as much as has never before been destroyed in a like space of time.

  Crude Table 3

Rough period of time: Human thermodynamic activity: Highest or sole source of energy:
10 000 years Hunting, fishing and gathering Recent solar energy
5 000 years Intensified hunting and gathering (herding and agriculture) Recent solar energy
2 000 years Agriculture and charcoal forging Recent and stored solar energy
200 years Coal-driven industry and farming Fossil solar energy
100 years Oil- and gas- driven industry and farming Fossil solar energy
? years Nuclear-driven industry and farming Artificial solar or planetary energy

The only thermodynamic difference between individual people and individual societies which are beyond starvation and have not yet suffered waste congestion is the amount of energy they consume, the magnitude of their energy source and the magnitude of their energy dump.

This energy, regardless in what form it is consumed, is measured in calories, kWh, BTU... and other thermal units. For humans, it is usually provided for by nature or agriculture. However, the same fat, oil, corn, rice or wheat we consume can be - and sometimes is - burned to fire a steam turbine.

The great feat of modern agriculture is to have reversed this by turning petroleum (or petra-oleum, rock or mineral oil) back into vegetable oil via synthetic nitrogen compounds, heating and other forms of energy input with the added help of some solar energy.

It is said that modern agriculture thereby consumes more energy than it actually puts at our disposal.

Strictly speaking, it has always done so; following the laws of thermodynamics (at least in this point), only a small part of the solar energy that hits an agricultural field is finally stored in carbohydrates.

Modern agriculture now only uses up more chemical energy resources than it puts at our disposal. From a source of carbohydrates it has turned into a sink for carbohydrates while producing more carbohydrates than ever before. This is one example of what is expressed in the second crude table.

We cannot create.

We can only destroy.

THAT is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Two things should be noted: Up to now, the periods in which a certain energy source remained the primary one and the human thermodynamic activity concentrated on a certain method of turnover seem to be becoming shorter (with no claims to the future).

But of more importance is the fact that to remain stable over a long period of time, growth had to remain at a minimum.

[In fact, a study of the OECD for the year 2000 seems to come to the result that 'economic growth' is quite a young phenomenon in the history of mankind. Looking at the economic growth of the years 0 to 1998, it came to the conclusion that the income per head stayed more or less stable world-wide until about 1800, economic growth keeping more or less in step with the growth of the world population. After about 1780, economic growth becomes independent and increases by a yearly average of about 2%. This is interpreted as an enormous acceleration through the industrialisation of production on the basis of fossilized energy.

It has been calculated that, up to the year 1800, people lived on an average of $3 a day per head, worldwide, and this virtually unchanged for more than 10,000 years ever since humans settled down to farm. In advanced civilizations, as in ancient Rome or the ancient Chinese Empire, this could increase to $6 or $7, to fall back to $3, or even less, once that had collapsed.

In other words, people lived on the edge of subsistence, and that everywhere. This did not change until the eighteenth century - coinciding with the invention of the steam engine. Since then, the average income in OECD countries has risen to about $100 per day per capita, an increase of an incredible 2,900 per cent. Such an increase has never happened before in the history of the world]

Human society, as are all societies depending on a natural environment, is an ecological system which will expand until it reaches its optimum (just below maximum) and stays there as long as there is no change in thermodynamic activity.

Perhaps, also, the period of long-term equilibrium was already cut short during the coal age and will therefore never be reached during the fossil fuel age as a whole; but this is a field of speculation, as we are still in that period and have in our history hardly ever been in true conscious control of our energy consumption.

However, it should safe to assume that by the time these fossil fuels have replenished themselves (if ever), so little will be left of what humans had accomplished by their depletion that terming that achievement "growth" might be called somewhat euphemistic.

In fact, judging from their relative rate of decay, the Egyptian pyramids, built almost solely with recent solar energy, may remain the most reliable sign of human activity on this planet for some time yet.

^ III. Human Economics

No motion without heat; from order to disorder in the world

Apart from the simple and easy, if perhaps romantic proof of human destructiveness in any landscape now uninhabited by humans - even in those places devoid of all life:

Do we not create houses, buildings, cities, bridges, cars?

Indeed we do, and very much more. And so, in their own way, do many other living beings. And maybe even, by now, some inanimate machines.

But whatever we (and they) create, we (and they) leave a pile of mess, waste or disorder behind which is greater than the pile of order we (and they) created - and which has then to be taken care of.

This is not only in form of waste material, but in form of used up, degraded or dissipated energy (which in itself of course is never lost in the momentary phase of creation; it therefore hangs around, making life more difficult, and causing us to use up even more - a self-augmenting process of the first kind).

To stay alive, and to be able to work, people must, by this very work, tap into an energy source which delivers more energy than the work needed to gain this energy.

If the person uses up more energy by working than he or she gains by this work, that person starves.

Cynically speaking, this would not really help, since even while slowly starving that person has been using up energy to the detriment of his or her surroundings. To keep from starving, he or she must use up far more energy, to the even greater detriment of the surroundings.

This may be why, in modern times, the purposeful extermination of people usually begins with their internment in "labor camps", only to be starved to death without further ado or forcefully killed there a short time later. Working people to death is costly; the "labor" in "labor camp" is just an excuse. For the same reason, forced labor is forbidden in societies that value human life (although it tends to creep in).

What is positive for the individual, is negative for the environment. What is negative for the individual, is possibly only less negative for the environment. You cannot escape.

And, again, it does not matter if you count the single person, a single society, or the world population as a whole.

Considering or even not considering the undiscussed added net degradation of materials caught up in the process of human creation:

And there is more:


And this is not negotiable.

That is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

It does not matter either whether gravity sets the thermodynamic preconditions for work on Earth via the Sun, or otherwise, whether by water or wind power, or bioenergy, whether via mills or working beasts or humans, or via gasoline or diesel engines, or aircraft turbines, or steam engines: the result is always the same. Only the form changes, in which energy from gravity is thermodynamically transformed; like the chemical form of the carbohydrates (even though fodder can be converted to gas and burned like mineral oil, and mineral oil biochemically transformed into fodder). It really makes little difference whether an animal or a human is treading the mill - or an engine is running it.

In particular, the issue of "growth" has to be addressed. There has been no overall "growth" on this planet since billions of years, and therefore none in the last hundred.

There has been change, but the overall sum of all changes most probably amounts to zero. The assumption that there have been gains, is just as valid as the one that there have been losses.

It may not even be sure if the overall amount of living matter, or biomass, has risen or fallen, depending on whatever space of time is being examined.

Balanced systems do not grow. An individual tree may grow in a forest, the forest itself, once grown, does not, if circumstances remain constant .

Not only does one thing grow at the expense of another, the growth of a tree, for instance, may be influenced by, but is completely independent of, the "work" of a thermodynamic entity such as a human being - but not of the energy produced in the Sun through gravity.

On the other hand, the growth of a thermodynamic entity such as a human being, again for instance, is completely dependent on the previous growth of entities such as trees or potatoes.

Does a potato "work"?

With all these things in mind, the concept of economic growth, founding on the work of the individual members of that economy, begins to falter somewhat.

Of course, there is no question that things do happen, and that things are done, and successfully so. This is not a question of fantasy or reality. But what does "economic growth" really mean?

Our lives may be more complicated than that of a zebra, and our actions be on a larger scale than that of corals, ants and termites (even if that were doubtful - this is a question of principle, not of magnitude) but in effect we do little else.

Even a wandering, grazing zebra works; it moves, and its muscles consume energy, in the end just to rebuild itself. If it did'nt, it would die and decompose. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for amoeba and bacteria - perhaps not for viruses. Or sometimes even for them? Sceptics may replace zebra with cow.

How would a zebra, an ant, a termite, or a coral define "economic growth"? Or a potato?

And what would be the consequences?

Let's consider work:

Throwing a stone into the sky is work. That stone falling from the sky is not work. Carrying a brick up some stairs is work. Carrying it down again is work as well: both use up energy potential. Letting that brick drop from the high-stair window is not work, but generates energy potential (as can be observed by the ensuing hole in the ground).

Evaporating water is work. That water falling from the sky to run our power stations is not work. Sunlight falling from the sky is not work, but the opposite of work. Both enable work to be done, the latter for example by evaporating the water.

Running mechanical appliances powered with electricity generated by falling water, again, is the performance of work.

Digging a hole is work. Filling that hole again (i.e. undoing it ) is work as well, albeit perhaps less than digging it - it does not replenish the resources consumed by digging it, but consumes further resources. The only consequence of tracelessly opening and closing a hole in the ground is the irretrievable depletion of resources.

Leaving it to forces driven by gravity to, within the passage of time, level the ground again (or in general destroy the artifacts of man, usually erected against the force of gravity, which in turn indirectly delivers the thermodynamic power to do so) reduces the work load by achieving the same effect without thermodynamics.

It seems that, directly or indirectly, all work is performed against the force of gravity. In a way, (constructive) gravity can be looked upon as the one agent which generally tends to destroy work or the result of (destructive) work (or entropy): gravity destroys work and thus enables it to be done, by giving it new room.

Even the clearing of a muddy puddle by the clay sinking to the ground is a result of gravity, and may have given some ancient observers some food for thought about creation and the force that divided the Earth from the waters - or today, when looking at the spontaneous separation, stratification and clarification of water, mud, sand and stones stirred under the influence of gravity in a glass jar. The order is increased without an energy supply; more so, only if energy is not introduced by shaking or stirring the mixture. The process of separation must therefore be actively prevented, i. e. thermodynamically, by an input of energy. Now, is this formation of order, under the influence of gravity, necessarily accompanied by a release of energy? Not as much as a meteorite impact, certainly - but could it still be experimentally measured?

Following the laws of thermodynamics, heated air expands and rises against the force of gravity; gravity on the other hand compresses the atmosphere from top to bottom irrespective of temperature. Air, according to the laws of thermodynamics, should be cool and compressed at ground level and warm and decompressed at high altitudes. As anyone knows, this not necessarily the case. Even if the universe had a common average temperature throughout, the atmospheres would still be seeming to defy the laws of thermodynamics by having, through the forces of gravity, various degrees of pressure at a common temperature.

The one thing that gravity does not directly generate is money - though strangely enough this money, while being the most immaterial of all commodities, tends to self-aggregate like matter: money comes to money, as it is said.

Our economy is driven by thermodynamics.

Only the depletion of energy resources generates (monetary) wealth and debt at the same time, regularly making the country with the highest efficient thermodynamic energy consumption not only the most powerful, but simultaneously the richest and most in debt.

Debt and wealth are generated in equal magnitude by working - although perhaps unevenly distributed, overall they amount to zero.

The intricacies of modern economy on which the adepts capriciate themselves hide one simple fact: To reap gains, the producer has to pass his debt (the original credit) on to his customer, and that is where it usually stays, albeit perhaps parked in the public domain.

One detail of this mechanism is that in an allegedly labour-wage driven market economy, no matter on what scale, the consumer (who else?), through the price of the product and out of his wages, has to pay for his own wages plus overhead and gains. As this is mathematically impossible, it leaves a difference to be covered by debt and insolvency. Of course, the overhead and gains constitute income as well; but that part of them which constitute monetary wealth, constitute monetary debt to the same extent. In a true economy, the paycheck, the bank note or bank account is a loan which has to be destroyed, nullified or written off in the end.

This is not a minor problem, as it forms the backdrop of financial congestion and in-fighting; the inevitable writing off of such debt automatically writes off credit, i.e. monetary wealth in equal magnitude. However, it is a secondary one. Material wealth will remain untouched, if it is not materially destroyed, for instance in an ensuing war.

The real problem is calling this mechanism "economic growth" - by first ignoring debt, and, furthermore, ignoring the laws of thermodynamics it is embedded in.

One of the signs that economics have thermodynamic preconditions is the fact that even economists know the "law of diminishing returns", which states that profits are easiest achieved in new markets, where new sources exist and the costs have not yet built up. The plundering of gold reserves and oil fields accumulated over time is much more rewarding than costly mining. This corresponds to the depletion of the energy source and sink in a thermodynamic process.

In fact, the postulation of economic growth tends to ruin financial systems. It does so by inflating (monetary) surplus and deficit.

The winner may be the one who first (or again) constructs an economic system that does not depend on growth or at least accounts for the losses that balance out the gains, i.e. describes and controls change, not growth. In the end, the customer (the consumer) has all, and pays all.

Our balance sheets do not describe the material change or material wealth generated by applied thermodynamics, but monetary wealth, and tend to forget, for instance, to consider the monetary debt generated in equal amount. In short, they describe inflation. They should describe zero-growth, i.e. balance out to zero.

This change, over time, is only a forced change in the extent and method thermodynamics are applied on this planet. All forced change is temporary. Of course, for that period of time, it makes a noticeable difference if and how for instance fossil or nuclear energy is released.

The trouble with financial systems that concentrate on percentage and growth is that they strangely tend to overlook the absolute, and consequently call relative and temporary developments absolutes in themselves.

However, the "law of diminishing returns" only applies to the economic, i.e. balance sheets concentrating on the relative; an economic system relying on internal profits will stop before it reaches a return of zero. This does not stop the thermodynamic entities within it, who rule their lives by economic balance sheets, from consuming to stay existent, and therefore going into (economic) debt. In fact, this discrepancy (and the debt) is built in from the very beginning, but seems negligible as long as profits outrun the costs, which then accumulate and grow over time, finally overtaking the profits. It stems from the fact that there is no net profit in a thermodynamic process, and work is a thermodynamic process. Therefore, the "law of diminishing returns" should be replaced or supplemented by a Second Law of Economics: The "Law of Insufficient Returns":

No economic system based on work can ever sustain itself, or produce a net gain.

Humans, whatever they do, are always net consumers. Singled out or in their multitude, they are not needed to keep the thermodynamic processes on this planet in action. In fact, they are not even needed to keep their own thermodynamic processes alive.

The inability to accept this constitutes one of the greatest problems of human society and leads to recurring crisis. Human existence can not be justified by its necessity, and it is useless to try to work yourself out of that dilemma.

If this were otherwise, there would be no poverty or starvation in the world, as every exertion would necessarily reap rewards, and the countries with the highest populations would indeed be the wealthiest; in fact, children (or slaves) would be a true source of commercial wealth.

Alas, this would constitute a perpetuum mobile forbidden within the laws of thermodynamics; world population, instead of being fed by ever higher and more efficient use of external energy, would feed itself, with every consequence conceivable.

As it is, human labour is not an asset, but a cost, always has been, and always will be. It is only then economically justified if employing it is to secure access, directly or indirectly, to sufficient external energy resources.

In fact, the underlying cost of human life stems from the fact that the vitally necessary steady work performed by the human body, and be it only the beating of the heart, comes at a price.

Seen economically, humans are indeed "costs on two legs"; seen from the physics point of view, they can even be described as "losses on legs". But then, so are animals and machines; with or without legs.

Following the laws of thermodynamics, no economy can survive that depends solely on service, or, indeed, any other form of human or other labour. No such economy could even come into being. The idea that such an economy ever existed is aroused by ignoring the energy supplied by its surroundings.

Completely ruled by and dependent on thermodynamics as we are, half of what we live by does not constitute "work", and the other half seems to be instigated by something other than work - "work" meaning a thermodynamic turnover of energy.

Apart from the political and sometimes deadly, indeed murderous consequences of the misconception of work as an instrument to ensure a net gain, the thermodynamic turnover of energy instigated by humans has reach a dimension where it is beginning to affect the global energy balance and interfere with the conditions of human existence in itself.

Time has come to sort these things out, to define the meanings of unclear terms and to re-address our balance sheets.

©  JHR 01/2005

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^ Mythology:

The beginning of everything

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Everything has become by the Word, and without the Word nothing has become."

Thus it is in one of the oldest writings of mankind. But what does it mean? Let us look at the following in summary:

In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth; but the Earth was desolate and confused. God separated the light from the darkness; and God separated the water below the vault from the water above the vault. Then God said, "The water below the sky shall gather together in one place, so that the dry can be seen". The dry he called land, and the gathered water he called the sea. God saw, it was good.

The history of creation, in one of the oldest writings of mankind, is the description of the creation of all that is, through order; in which God, or whatever, separates things from each other, sets them apart from each other, and thus defines them and allows them to be named. The power that accomplishes this in the universe is called gravity.

And the opposition to the creator of order we call diabolos, the devil, "he who messes things up". Or Lucifer, the light-bringer: As in thermo-dynamics.

^ Further insights and discussions:

  1. The BBC Archives: Comments on the second law of thermodynamics

  2. Population collapse through surplus Energy: The Seneca Trap

  3. Taken from Ugo Bardi: Entropy, Peak Oil, and Stoic Philosophy:

    Entropy and economy

    So, I am asking you to follow me with this idea; that the bell curve is a "natural" behavior of production for non renewable or slowly renewable resources. With "natural" I mean that it is the way the system is expected to behave when there are no strong interferences from political or other kind of perturbations. Then, I said that we should look at the inner mechanisms that make the economy behave in this way. I believe that we don't need to invent a brand new law, as Newton did for gravity. We already have the laws we need - even though so far we failed to apply them to this case. These are the laws of thermodynamics. Here are the three laws in a simplified form:

    • You can't win
    • You can't get even
    • You can't quit the game

    That is, of course, very simplified! There are even simpler versions. For instance, for economists it would be just a blank slide (sorry, I said no economist-bashing!). Before going on, let me tell you that this is a new idea that is moving forward nowadays- the idea of applying thermodynamics to the economy. More exactly, to apply "non equilibrium thermodynamics" (NET) to the economic system. It is a work in progress. So, what I'll be telling you is still tentative, but I do believe that we are on the right track.

    Now let me show you this image of a waterfall:

    And now let me ask you a question: what makes water fall? You'll say it is gravity; and that is correct. But there is a deeper factor here - this movement is eventually generated by the laws of thermodynamics. Nothing escapes thermodynamic laws. It is a question that I ask to my students, sometimes: how do you explain that water flows down in thermodynamic terms. It is difficult for them to find the answer right away, and yet they have studied thermodynamics. So, let me tell you; water flows down because of the second law - the entropy one.

    - End of citation -

^ Negentropy (a personal comment):

^ Efficiency:


^ Comment 1:


^ Comment 2:


^ Comment 3:

Some undigested thoughts on kryptocurrency, 2017/18

^Back to the top

Further Reading:


Read more:

See also:   The Gravity 'Time Machine'

Go to :   The Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics discussion forum

BBC Archives: Comments on the second law of thermodynamics (Forum)

Listen to:   The Second Law of Thermodynamics - the most important thing you will ever know

From the BBC In Our Time Series on Thursday, 16. December 2004; Comments:

"Gravity produces negative entropy or order out of disorder"
"Energy and Gravity in the universe add up to Zero"
"Gravity stores negative energy"

- so I gather this is not entirely unknown... -

©  JHR 01/2005

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(Of course, this is not TOE -the Theory Of Everything- but A3, the Absolute Answer to All :-))