, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 57-88

Thermoeconomics: Beyond the Second Law

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Abstract

Physicist Erwin Schrödinger's (1945) What is Life? has inspired many subsequent efforts to explain biological evolution, especially the evolution of complex systems, in terms of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concepts of ‘entropy’ and ‘negative entropy’. However, the problems associated with this paradigm are manifold. Here some of these problems will be highlighted and briefly critiqued. ‘Thermoeconomics’, by contrast, is based on the proposition that the role of energy in biological evolution should be defined and understood not in terms of the Second Law but in terms of such economic criteria as ‘productivity’, ‘efficiency’, and especially the costs and benefits (or ‘profitability’) of the various mechanisms for capturing and utilizing available energy to build biomass and do work. Thus thermoeconomics is fully consistent with the Darwinian paradigm. Economic criteria provide a better account of the advances (and recessions) in bioenergetic technologies than does any formulation derived from the Second Law.