Friday, May 22, 2015

RPM makes obvious what some earlier writers have overlooked.

This post is stimulated by my reading of "The new entropy law and the economic process", by Alan Raine, John Foster, and Jason Potts, Ecological Complexity 3 (2006) 354-360. I refer to this as Raine's paper.

Raine's paper overlaps in significant ways with the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) which is the subject of this blog. But RPM adds important ideas which I do not see in the scope of Raine's paper. Here I copy from Raine's paper (page 355):
A basic puzzle remains: why do biological and socioeconomic systems expand their structure (and populations) with the result that they use increasing amounts of free energy (and associated materials)? Generally, they expand to whatever energetic limits exist and, as Malthus failed to perceive, economic self-organization can keep on extending these limits. The notions that biological populations will expand if they can, and that economic ‘progress’ will continue are taken for granted, but on reflection, it is not entirely obvious why. [emphasis added]

My response: RPM makes it entirely obvious.

Biological and socioeconomic systems can expand to use increasing amounts of resources where those resources exist in large patterns in the environment. These patterns are:
  • larger than can be exploited by individual organisms (or organizations) at an earlier-and-smaller level of development, but 
  • not too large to be exploited by groups of organisms (or organizations) when those groups discover and employ rules of behavior which produce beneficial cooperation among the individual organisms (or organizations).
The above statements refer to resources distributed in large three-dimensional patterns. But the same can be said about resources which are difficult to exploit because specialization is needed. Much of our human flourishing has been made possible because specialization has enabled exploitation of resources which, although nearby in three-dimensional space (fossil fuels, silicon), can be exploited only by individuals who can focus their attention on technical details.

Please do not consider this to be criticism of Raine's paper. That paper has contributed to my knowledge. I write to call attention to the additional contribution of RPM. I thank Jason Potts for calling my attention to Raine's (and Jason's) paper.

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