Dave Lysak mentioned humans “jostling” in the furtherment of their goals a few comments back in the last post, a nervous agitation of human souls and cells seeking fulfillment of their energy requirements. I found this video clip of jostling ruthenium atoms in carbon nanotubes and thought it thermodynamically similar, at a smaller scale, of what humans are up to.
Rhenium atoms in carbon nanotubes.
You can see that the atoms are unsettled, releasing and accepting photons from each other and from what must be an environment turbulent with electromagnetic wave energy. They jostle and jostle, each in competition with the others to reach that position and bonding configuration closest to absolute zero, which might not be very close zero at all, but closer. Waves are incoming from the environment and outgoing and being passed from electron to electron. If they were chilled sufficiently perhaps the Brownian motion would slow and finally stop. No doubt the mechanism that provides the visuals adds heat to the subject and ambient temperature of earth’s biosphere is not free of turbulence thanks to the sun.
But what does this have to do with humans jostling or any organism for that matter? It may seem counterintuitive, but humans are also trying to achieve the lowest energy state. They bounce around the environment motivated by greed and dopamine trying to find a configuration of atoms and molecules to help settle into a lower energy state, to help them reach their most stable configuration where significant amounts of energy has been depleted from their bonded structures and exhausted as heat wave energy. But humans avoid their own equilibrium state, lowest energy level, by helping others achieve theirs, by eating and essentially burning them. In the process they build-up their own complexity and avoid low-energy equilibrium with the environment. Like recharging a battery before it goes dead. In accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics the total energy in bonds that has moved farther away from equilibrium, become more complex, in building the human dissipative structure, is less than the amount of food/bond energy or complexity that was consumed. Some of the food energy lost from the food bonds is exhausted into the local environment and then into space. There can never be one-hundred percent efficiency or conversion of food to dissipative structure. But the entire ecosystem cannot run down to equilibrium as the sun creates electromagnetic turbulence every day to stir the matter, including and especially chlorophyll, which again captures some of the ample energy in bonds, likely later to be released by some other dissipative structure like a caterpillar.
The struggle for existence is the struggle to release energy from other matter that still has the potential to reach a lower energy state. Don’t mind eating the pig, according to the universe it’s not in a optimal state of being. If you eat it, much of the embedded energy will be released and your own structure will be bolstered while a certain proportion finds its way into space. But equally, the human is not in an optimal state either. Nothing that lions and tiger and bears and other humans can’t take care of. The whole biosphere would likely approach its lowest energy state if it weren’t for the sun blasting us daily with wave energy that blows the atoms from their comfortable low-energy states. The complex behaviors of humans and other dissipative structures are no different in essence from atoms jostling to reach the lowest energy state. Humans and other organisms do it at a large scale by eating big chunks of energy rich matter and burning it. The universe thanks you for releasing the heat from the pig, even though you’ve bolstered your own out-of-equilibrium structure.
Squeezing the energy out of fossil fuels is the human’s special project for the universe which has the beneficial side effect of allowing humans to eat much more organic life than would have been possible with the energy derived from their tissues. We can actually eat food that would have traditionally had a negative Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) throughout all of natural history. Fossil fuels have been a nice subsidy while they lasted but have created lots of damage to the coevolved ecosystem. Humans in their rRNA tool-building capacity are desperately trying to come-up with something additional to eat as fossil fuels begin to wane. Even the organic matrix and been stripped bare and has been depleted of nutrients so that even if fossil fuels lasted, the matrix of industrial growth for human food likely would not and fake laboratory meat and meal worms will not make-up for capacities being lost from the natural environment.
A farmer (technological RNA) working a field in Idaho that will likely grow taters. The plants will capture the energy from the sun with chlorophyll and produce some starchy sugars to store in the taters. Humans, knowing that there’s a lower energy state potential for the taters, will dig them up and eat them, maybe at McDonald’s, and release their bond energy back to space while bolstering their own structures. It is often said that there are ten calories of fossil fuel energy spent on every calorie of food produced and eaten. Judging by the diesel eating tractor and the irrigation system along with pesticides, processing and distribution, that might be pretty close. It seems like an impressive economies-of-scale operation though, much more efficient than a backyard gardening effort. If humans were to try to accomplish the same feat, planting by hand, harvesting by hand, picking bugs off the plants and carrying water from the nearest river, I’m sure that in the end they would use more energy than they got from the potatoes. Negative EROEI equals starvation. But at least it would be totally organic.
This is an example of high EROEI living:
And this is an example from Madras, India during the famine of 1877 of negative EROEI living: