Advances in Human Ecology, Vol. 6, 1997, pp. 1-47, Editor: Lee Freese Copyright 1997 JAI Press, Inc.
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Autocatakinetics, Evolution, and the Law of Maximum Entropy Production: A Principled Foundation Towards the Study of Human Ecology

Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action, University of Connecticut
Abstract: Ecological science addresses the relations between living things and their environments, and the study of human ecology the particular case of humans. However, there is an opposing tradition built into the foundations of modern science which separates living things and particularly humans, from their environments. Beginning in modern times with Descartes' radical separation of psychology and physics (or "mind" from matter), this dualistic tradition was extended into biology with Kant's biology versus physics (or living thing versus environment) dualism, and into evolutionary theory with the rise of Darwinism and its grounding in Boltzmannian thermodynamics. If ecological science is to be about what it purports to be about, about living thing-environment relations, it must provide a principled basis for dissolving Cartesian incommensurability. A deeper understanding of thermodynamic law, and the principles of self-organizing ("autocatakinetic") systems provides the nomological basis for doing just this, for putting evolution back in its universal context, and showing the reciprocal relation between living things and their environments, thereby providing a principled foundation for ecological science in general, and human ecology in particular.
The word "ecology" was coined by Haeckel, and used in his Generelle Morphologie in 1866 to refer to the science of the relations between living things and their environments (Bramwell, 1989), and human-environment relations, by this general definition, constitute the central subject of human ecology. The idea of the separation of humans from their environments, however, is deeply embedded in the foundations of modern science. It was Descartes, who, promoting a psychology vs. physics dualism where the active, epistemic part of the world (human "minds") was incommensurably separated from what was taken to be the "dead", mechanical, physical part of the world ("matter" or "other"), provided the world view that became the basis of modern science, and which, at the same time, supernaturally separated humans from the world (see also Dyke, this volume).
Later, arguing that the active end-directed striving of living things in general could not be accounted for within the dead, mechanical world of physics, Kant, calling for the autonomy of biology from physics, promoted a second major dualism, the dualism between biology and physics, or between living things in general (not just human minds) and their environments (Swenson & Turvey, 1991). The Cartesian tradition was carried into evolutionary theory with the ascendancy of Darwinism, which, making no use of physics in its theory, provided an explanatory framework where "organisms and environments," in Lewontin's (1992, p. 108) words, "were totally separated." Strong apparent scientific justification for these postulates of incommensurability came with Boltzmann's view of the second law of thermodynamics (the "entropy law") as a law of disorder‹a hypothesis which he developed during the last quarter of the last century in an attempt to save the Cartesian, or mechanical, world view.
According to Boltzmann, physical systems are expected to become increasingly disordered or run down with time, and the spontaneous transformation of disordered to ordered states is "infinitely improbable" (Boltzmann, 1886/1974, p. 20). This view effectively set living things, as expressed, for example, in the fecundity principle, perhaps the sine qua non of Darwinian theory (the idea that life acts to produce as much biological order as it can), and in the progressive ordering that characterizes the evolution of life on Earth as a whole (from bacterial ecosystems some four billion years ago [4 GYA] to the rise of civilizations and the global proliferation of culture going on today), against the apparent otherwise universal laws of physics. The world, on this view, was supposed to be running down according to the laws of physics, but biological and cultural systems seemed to be about "running up"‹not about going from more orderly to less orderly states, but about producing as much order as possible. It is "no surprise," under these circumstances, in the words of Levins and Lewontin (1985, p. 19), "that evolutionists [came to] believe organic evolution to be a negation of physical evolution." As Fisher (1930/1958, p. 39), one of the founders of neo Darwinism expressed it, "entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world...while evolutionary changes [produce] progressively higher organization." This view is still found at the foundations of the Darwinian view today, as evidenced by Dennett's (1995, p. 69) definition of living things as things that "defy" the second law of thermodynamics.
Cartesian incommensurability precludes an ecological science, and as a consequence, ecological science, if it is to be about what it purports to be about, about living thing environment relations, requires a theory that dissolves it. The postulates of incommensurability came into modern science on the issue of the active, epistemic dimension of the world, and this is precisely the battle ground where they must be defeated. In particular, the confrontation must occur at the interface of physics, psychology, and biology, and the distinguishing characteristic of this interface is that it is defined by intentional dynamics, the dynamics that, not coincidentally for ecological science, distinguishes the living thing-environment relation. By intentional dynamics, I refer to end-directed behavior prospectively controlled, or determined, by meaning, or information about (of which "end-in-mind" behavior is a lately evolved kind).
Rivers flowing down slopes, or heat flowing down temperature gradients from hot to cold, for example, are end directed systems, but they are not examples of intentional dynamics because they do not require meaningful relations to determine the paths to their ends. Their behavior is explicable in terms of local energy potentials and fundamental physical laws. In contrast, when a bacterium swims up a concentration gradient, a bird flies above the Earth, or opens its wings to effect a landing on a branch, a human drives a car, puts a satellite in orbit around the Earth, or moves some food from her plate to her mouth, this behavior is seen to go in directions that are different from, and oftentimes opposite, those that follow causally from local physical potentials and laws. This kind of end directed behavior, the kind that is meaningfully, or epistemically determined with respect to non-local potentials, is what characterizes intentional dynamics. Terrestrial evolution shows the world to be in the order production business, characterized, not by progressive disordering to equilibrium, but by the production of increasingly higher states of order, and the way the production, to use Calvin's (1986) felicitous phrase, of this "river that flows uphill" takes place is through meaningful, or epistemic relations (see Figure 1).
human ecology is seen to develop as part of a process of globalization or planetary evolution seen as a proces of spontaneous order production

Figure 1. The production of progressively higher states of order as function of increasing levels of atmospheric O2 in geological time (PAL is present atmospheric level). Atmospheric oxygen was put into the atmosphere by life, and has been maintained at present levels for some hundreds of millions of years by life at the planetary level. The transformation of the Earth's atmosphere from oxygenless to oxygen-rich, as well as the forms, including human cultural systems, that have systematically arisen as a consequence of it, are measures of the terrestrial system's departure from thermodynamic equilibrium, or progressive ordering. This runs counter to the widespread conception of the second law of thermodynamics due to Boltzmann which predicts that the world should be becoming increasingly disordered. This has led evolutionists to believe that biological, and cultural evolution defy or negate physical evolution, a belief, in effect, of two incommensurable "rivers", the river of physics which flows down to disorder, and the river of biology, psychology, and culture which flows up. From "Engineering Initial Conditions in a Self-Producing Environment" by R. Swenson, in M. Rogers and N. Warren, eds., A Delicate Balance: Technics, Culture and Consequences, p. 71, 1989a, Los Angeles, CA: Institute of Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Copyright 1989 by IEEE. Reprinted by permission.