The Anatomy of Entropy


You asked:
> Actually is entropy the right word for you? In a way you are asking
> about anti entropy, about the ability to construct structure, how that
> increases, plateaus then decreases. THat might make it clearer ??
> Charlie

I think the energy consumed by an energy flow process (entropy) can generally be divided into three main parts. Because it takes a system serving as the channel to do it, there’s the part of the energy used in collecting the resource from the environment, the part used in changing and channeling it into an output, and then the part used in distributing the products.

A secondary energy consumption needed for each of those three is the investment of some of the output for building and maintaining each of those three parts of the system. Those investments are secondary ‘losses’ of the process (diversions from the product stream) but there are also smaller scale tertiary losses from both the primary and secondary processes. So, I see all those 9 types of losses as part of the total entropy of the system, i.e. what’s “lost in translation”.

Measures of any of them over time will increase and decrease, along with the whole energy flow, and reflect the development and decay of the whole process. That way changes in any one measure somewhat reflect the behavior of the whole system.

From the view of the resource used, the rate of use tends to get faster and then slower as a subtraction from the original total. The quality of resource being used also first gets better and then poorer. If you think of the system as a hurricane, the eye of the storm wanders to the hottest water as it finds it’s ’sweet spot’ and then uses it up and is finished. The same general principle applies to a business entering a new market. It wanders around looking for the best part for it’s own approach, and then tends to find out how much is available by using it up.

In considering how the system connects with the resource I think the “main’ waste” or ‘entropy’ is what is discarded in getting your EROI, the ‘investment’ itself, the 1/EROI that you consume to get your resource ‘return’. One shouldn’t forget about all the other process and investment ‘losses’ that need to be ‘thrown away’ to build and run the system. The ESP principle (equal strain principle) essentially means that whole systems tend to balance their EROI’s throughout the system for all their different resources at once. Still, the cost of primary resources is one of the losses at the front end of the process that all the others depend on. As it changes over time, that EROI starts by improving some and then turns toward terminal decline resulting in diminishing returns for increasing investment… and that’s what we’re trying to find a way to explain.

I guess normal physics ignores all this “anatomy” of entropy, the various costs and coordinated steps needed for building and running any process… Looked at this way it’s the ‘entropy’ being discarded that is principally responsible for producing the ’syntropy’.

Does that help?

Phil Henshaw
NY NY 1/13/09

Then, in 1/16/09 reply:

Charlie, responding to your comments,

> Lets start with this:>
> “the energy consumed by an energy flow process (entropy)”
> Which I interpret to mean Entropy = the energy consumed by an energy flow process
> I would call this fuel used, not energy.
[ph] using a more narrow term in trying to widen the understanding of general principle is not what I would do, but the possible inadequacy of that may point to reasons to go back to the more general term.

> American College Dictionary : Entropy = a measure of the unavailable energy in a thermodynamic system … so if it is unavailable how can it be consumed?

[ph] the trick I use is to look at change over time, looking at it’s uses before it becomes lost and unavailable to use, per se. It seems to often have become lost by being used to support the process. An example is the energy used to build the ion channel on which a spark or lightening travel. Those structures seem to leave a *residue* of heat in their wake indicating where the path of energy flow occurred, but no permanent structure. Is it possible that it took energy to build the temporary structure of the ion channel that then decayed when it’s energy flow collapsed?

> Or Wikipedia:
> In many branches of science, entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system And Entropy, historically, has often been associated with the amount of order, disorder, and/or chaos in a thermodynamic system. The traditional definition of entropy is that it refers to changes in the status quo of the system and is a measure of “molecular disorder” and the amount of wasted energy in a dynamical energy transformation from one state or form to another.[19]

[ph] I’m aware that the term is often defined in terms of a “thermodynamic system” having to do with kinetic energy of heat. The quote says “often associated with” because the wider principle that any process takes more inputs than can be accounted for in the outputs. For strictly heat driven systems with no complex organizational behavior (i.e. excluding storms or sparks, etc., which need to build their own complex orderly system to operate) I think the standard definitions of physics seem fine.

> SO it is a measure of the DEGRADED energy, not the energy that can do work nor the total amount of energy that enters the system to do work nor the energy before it is degraded. In your definition you imply it is all the input energy (some is left as usable energy).

[ph] Yes, it’s the energy that becomes degraded, that is measurably absent in the output and had been part of the input.

> You might clarify by saying it is the amount of energy DEGRADED, but would you then say it is the amount degraded to collect resource? That would be more accurate. Used just seems weird to me.

[ph] We need to define the “black box” before deciding what’s in it perhaps. I’m using entropy as that catch-all energy and organizational loss others do, in much the same way it has been used, “the disorder of a system” etc. I’m also pointing to a way to extend the term to apply to open systems (which one can presumably locate with some sort of closure) rather than just to “closed systems”.

What if, in the process of being lost, some of the thermodynamic energy of a system provided a necessary function for it, say the heat lost to the pistons of an engine serving to fluidize the lubricant necessary to protect the metal from wear. Is that part of the entropy for the whole engine “unavailable” and “degraded” as it is for the output, or is it part of the engine’s products? It would seem to be some kind of energy investment of the system that is necessary for the function of the system, no?

> Or I would use “used” and avoid entropy and all is baggage. Also entropy is often used to imply disordered materials…..

[ph] I guess I’m more concerned that the valid greater generality is then lost, such as that the entropy of a resource exploitation system necessarily increases as the limits of the resource exploitation system approach.

For natural systems one usually can not define the totality of their relationships and so need to understanding that input losses increase as the system approaches its limits of development. The point at which increasing investment produces increasing waste and diminishing returns provides an easily observed way identifying the natural limits of a system. If one can measure the inputs and outputs one can observe the rate of change of losses, and so integrate all the ‘undefined’ features of the whole system without knowing what they are. It’s that larger generality of the principle, for all physical systems, definable thermodynamic processes as well as undefined development processes, that is the real usefulness of it.

It would be logical if the physics definition for thermodynamic systems were a special case of a more general principle for all physical systems. Systems that emerge from their own environments like economies, display the same kinds of limits as the efficiency limits for machines we build, but are presently defined as limitless because our definitions are. The physical systems themselves are not, though. The principle that wastes increase as a limit of development for any process seems a simple way to say what the natural limits of systems are, in general.

Phil 1/16/09



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.