Friday, October 26, 2007

Week 11: Energetics, culture, and society



These papers discuss the importance of energy in governing the dynamics and self-organization of complex systems. Howard .P. Odum, Leslie A. White, Boltzmann , Schrodinger (Schrödinger 1992), and Lottka (Lotka 1922) were some of the pioneers in researching the importance of energy in biological and human systems. Such scientists have sought to develop general principles of complex systems and evolution, often framed within the context of thermodynamics. Odum has had a profound influence in several scientific fields, including ecological economics, ecosystem ecology, general systems theory, ecological modeling, environmental engineering, and education. Tim F.H. Allen has been an important thinker in the development of ecological theory (e.g., Allen 1992). However, many of the ideas in these papers have yet to be rigorously developed and tested. In your writings for this week try to:

(1) carefully evaluate their reasoning and mechanistic explanations

(2) describe connections between these authors' ideas and other papers in the course

(3) and think of ways that these ideas could be built into more testable hypotheses.

Jordan



Please read the following for the coming week:

* White, L.A. 1943. Energy and the evolution of culture. American Anthropologist 45: 335-356.
* Odum, H.T. 1988. Self organization, transformity, and information. Science 242: 1132-1139.
* Tainter, J.A. et al. 2003. Resource transitions and energy gain: Contexts of organization. Conservation Ecology 7:  4 - 17.
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Additional references

Allen, T. F. H. 1992. Toward a Unified Ecology. Columbia Univ Pr.

Lotka, A. J. 1922. Contribution to the Energetics of Evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 8:147-151.

Schrödinger, E. 1992. What is life? Cambridge Univ. Press.


24 comments:

tlvandeest said...

In his paper, White states that advances in technology are needed when energy is constant in order for cultural development to occur, since it would allow for greater efficiency in the extraction of the available energy. But he is taking for granted the fact that technology drives cultural change. This is a constant chicken or the egg type of debate, in that which drives which? Is it the chance discovery of a new technology that will cause cultural change or is it changes within a culture that allow of advancements in technology? Since changes in technology can be more readily seen in the archaeological or modern record, it is easier to see how culture changes in response to technological changes rather than quantify the amount of cultural change that occurred before the implementation of new technology.
Also the advancements he sees in the technology, wouldn't one expect to need a significant amount of social organization and cultural complexity for the "advent" of agriculture to take place?

dodegard said...

What attention has been paid to resource conservation in third world nations? How would resource conservation in third world nations change the outlook for the planet? Does Tainter's idea shift focus away from a bigger problem?

Fred Whiteman said...

White equates amount of product produced with cultural evolution, and therefore implies that the wealthiest cultures are also the most advanced. To me this sounds like some nasty social Darwinism, but I'm anxious to hear what others think.

Wenyun said...

For tlvandeest's question: "Is it the chance discovery of a new technology that will cause cultural change or is it changes within a culture that allow of advancements in technology?" I thought the improvment should come from needs, which means if mankinds desired for more P they had to either increase E or F. And actually, to increase E, you need better technique because of constant energy from sun per area. Thus, we have to increase F anyway to make the culture change happen. Do you think so?

Steven M. said...

Do you think that White's model is overly simplistic?

In the begining few paragraphs white argues for ignoring various factors of culture. For example he claims that differences in habitat can be averaged across all human culture. While this may simplefy things, cultures in relatively dense habitats may progress differently from cultures in ralatively sparce habitats. White has ignored the possibility of measureing this in his paper.

It should be noted: most good models ignore some complexity and details of the modeled system. As has been brought up in class, a sufficiently advanced model is nothing short of a replica.

So, is white's model too simple, or just simple enough.

Deepta said...

My take on White's paper is that he is implying that in order for culture to develop, there must be enough energy to drive technological advances. However, wouldn't some amount of culture already be in place? In order for a group to use technology to make their energy production more efficient, the group, and therefore culture, must already be in place.

Michael said...

White states: “…we know that peoples often resolutely oppose technological advances with a passionate devotion to the past and the gods of their fathers” (340). I’m having problems understanding the context of this statement outside of pre-war imperialism and, along the same lines as Fred’s comment, the White Man’s Burden.

dodegard said...

Fred,

One of the biggest issues I have with White is his approach to culture. He follows Morgan and Tyler's ideas of a cultural hierarchy with industrial nations such as England more civilized. It has implications on how these anthropologists looked at non-industrial populations

Justin Smith said...

Fred,

I was thinking about that too--it does sound kinda funny reading it at first. But it would be even weirder if wealth and cultural development were independent. White essentially defines "advanced" as "more productive." Do cultural innovations move more rapidly from rich to poor societies or the other way around? Blue jeans and rock'n'roll were more effective at permeating the Iron Curtain than much of our military hardware, while I don't recall many Americans longing for borscht with anywhere near the excitement that was met with the opening of the first McDonalds in Moscow.

helen elizabeth said...

It seems White is suggesting that energy capture is accomplished through one element of culture (technology). So, this one element could then lead to more energy capture or maybe a better, more effective way to capture energy, ultimately changing culture. So, it fits nicely with Holling's argument/model that we read last week. Here we see energy and technology following its own adaptive cycle where progress and development are effected by improvements in the tech that is harnessing energy, and by the amount of energy that is being utilized.

Senorita Myra said...

Odums paper makes interesting distinction between energy and emergy (Emergy is a measure of value in the sense of what has been contributed). Even though he talks mostly about solar energy it would take to produce, I wonder if anyone has done a similar model to measure the initial investment into the development of the human brain vs. the amount of energy it produces and can be preserved for the individual and the society.

Tracy Brannan said...

The graphs on energy were interesting unfortunately I felt that they indicated a lack of change away from the oil and coal technologies. With oil production expected to decline it is even more important that we develop alternative ways of developing surplus energy.

Tracy Brannan said...

Sorry my first posting was a little off. We are in a situation where technology is working to prevent cultural change. By implementing the use of new energy sources the oil and gas industry stands to lose billions of dollars a year. It is only crises situations that will leverage cultural change.

paul said...

From Odum, there’s a clear analogy between ecosystems and despotic human societies. Despotisms are similar to trophic systems, in that some individuals produce while others (higher up) feed off of them. These systems usually end up looking tree-like/pyramidal/hierarchical (hierarchy specifically in the tree-like sense).

Once you think of it this way, it’s clear why the degree of stratification (the length of the hierarchy, or the height of the tree?) would increase as you make the system bigger, and why resource inequality would increase; as you add ‘higher quality’ energy levels to the ecosystem, the difference in the total energy capture of those levels and those at the lowest level will grow. So this fleshes out the analogy between animal body distributions and wealth distributions as they scale with total system resource availability.

We should recognize that there are ecological and economic factors that can shape the system’s potential for despotism, its potential to look like a trophic system. Circumstances can prevent individuals from feeding off others. As we know from models of reproductive skew and economic defensibility, these despotism-inhibiting circumstances are a lack of circumscription, low resource patchiness, and low variance in competitive ability. Once you do have some potential for trophic dynamics, then you should see the scalar effects at work. And I think this is what we see in the Polynesia data. If individuals aren’t getting resources from others, but rather only from the external environment, then you shouldn’t expect to see these scalar effects (I think), at least by this pathway.

An exchange economy is another system where one derives wealth from others' wealth, but not necessarily through coercion or control. So it could also be like a trophic system and show these scale effects.

Dan said...

According to White, the third great era did not begin with the orgins of writing, instead it came with the harnessing of fossil fuels. So, according to this line of thought would the computer revolution we are currently in not be considered a motive for cultural evolution? Is our development still confined by the motives which propelled us into this third great era? what is on the horizon?

paul said...

Is White calling Boas' anthropology planless hodge-podge-ism hilarious, or what?

helen elizabeth said...

Could the high and low-gain systems that Tainter discusses be discussed in terms of human social organization and populations dynamics within the tropics as compared to regions further from the equator?

Wenyun said...

For EMERGY and transformity, does Odum assume that the sum of EMERGY*transformity for the system will be a constant?

tlvandeest said...

In the example of the fungus-farming ants, Tainter et al. state that the emergence of the fungus-farming to begin with began by chance with the ants using the fungus that appeared on their own excrement or that of others, "to start the exploitation of a resource from high-gain material." This seems to imply that high gain exploitation is the manner in which organization begins. Is it not also possible to build a self-organized system from low-gain resources when it is more profitible for cooperation between the members holding those resources, as in the water temple article from last week? Or is organization always a top-down sort of process, from the high-gain which then degrades into the low-gain system?

Fred Whiteman said...

After thinking over White's paper, what's really irritating me about his argument is this: he states that culture cannot evolve without advancement in energy acquisition/use. He then says that culture essentially stayed the same from the time of ancient Greece until 18th century Europe, because no major advances in agriculture were made. It's circular logic. Culture changed drastically during that time without drastic advances in enery use. Is White referring to a specific aspect of culture that I'm missing, or is this as circular as I think it is?

Senorita Myra said...

Is it just me or is an example of a low-gain system in human society much like communist ideals, while high-gain has capitalistic ideals? I think what Tainter's hypothesis says is great and should not be taken to these extremes in practice; but by speaking about society in the way he does---it kind of is inevitable to think human society can only be either communist or capitalistic and not a mix in between. Agree or disagree?

Michael said...

Along the same lines as Dan’s posting, it seems that while the exploitation of fossil fuels does not directly line up with a supposed computer/internet revolution according to White, Morgan and Taylor espouse writing as the third cultural era. Both writing and computers/internet has created efficient means of disseminating information, the latter creating immense globalization. As this globalization has affected all of those within reach, I would argue that computers/internet have begun a new cultural era.

dodegard said...

Myra,

I think you have an interesting point here. I think that a case study of energy use in Cuba would clear this stuff up. They are a closed system with wat I would consider a shallow energy gradient.

Complex Event Processing said...

ACDCA White Paper 5-13.

In this paper we discuss the input sinusoidal signals for a centrally-controlled domain of semi-structured data. Ontologies have become central to being an algorithm for finding the fractional differential equations or mixed information domains required for aggregating entropic information re-normalization groups. For example, if at least some simple chaotic flows locate the data when they have become confused, the domain of semi-structured frequency stability margins provides a reusable structure for describing the fairly rigid and natural-language systems.

 
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