In an evolving near equilibrium thermodynamic (NET) system the Maximum Power Principle (MPP) is adhered to, shaping competitive dissipative structures into successful acquirers of energy and resources for growth, maintenance and reproduction. Those structures that are most successful in a given environment will grow in extent and number and their evolved structures and behaviors will predominate and be conserved.

How is it that cells can cooperate to limit individual enrichment in order to maintain an organization that works for all the cells? Even though the cells of a body are clonal and one would not expect them to eat each other, it would be expected that they would pursue the MPP if they were uninhibited by limiting communications and relationships occurring between cells in the body. If they were free-living they would grow exponentially, given the resources. Cancer cells no longer pay attention to the “law” of the body.  Humans have similarly evolved the cooperation necessary to form their own massive and complex structures or societies (encoded in a rather complex accumulation of laws, regulations derived from an evolved sense of morality) where no single human RNA is allowed to behave in a manner that is not in the interest of the whole. Where humans fail is in pursuing the Maximum Power Principle with the technological system while ignoring the pathological effect upon the ecosystem. The quasi-species of nations will not have many millions and billions of years of competition as found in the ecosystem. Just a few more decades and the entire ecosystem should be all shot to hell and the human RNA within the technological cells will be poisoned and/or starved.

Even though humans have different DNA and compete for rewards, they have evolved a degree of cooperation, especially inside  tribal and family groups, that creates a cohesive evolutionary unit, even as inter-tribal competition rages. The differential flow of energy and resources within the cooperating group is determined by the shared adaptive hierarchical behaviors. Cohesion in human populations is accomplished by sharing, albeit unevenly.

Japanese Sumo wrestlers compete for rewards but can remember their common tribal identity if necessary.

Human social behaviors with co-evolved communication can, without further development of technological tools or external recorded information, enhance survival. This also happened in Canus sp., Orcas and other species practicing coordinated hunting. These cooperating species evolved means of communicating and to some degree an analog mind, but were not in a fortuitous stage of evolution to have both a large communicating brain and free hands for bonding with potential tools found in the environment. Only humans could take the next step along the MPP road. Initially the competition among human tribes would have been for the natural abundance within the boundaries of a claimed territory. But the creative analog mind and free hands catalyzed the utilization of external tools. Once the association areas in the human brain had developed, it set the stage for the fastest possible evolution. Instead of having to wait millions of years for organic evolution to provide a novel organ, the proto-human could use images captured from its surrounding to match against seemingly useless objects in the environment. Therefore the sharp tooth of a saber tooth tiger would bear a striking resemblance to a sharp lancet stone found on the ground. The human equipped with the sharp stone acquired much of the effective power of the saber tooth tiger in just a fraction of the time it took the tiger to evolve its dentition. The new fast evolution had begun – technological evolution. Eventually, with enough experimentation and tool development, energy gradients would be opened-up for the new technological human being and technological evolution could progress, slowly at first and then systematically with recorded information and modern science.  A found tool, as long as you don’t have to search too long, is always better than one you have to expend energy creating, but the energy invested in creating some tools could be repaid with a very high energy-return-on-energy-investment (EROEI). Personal risk could also be reduced by creating tools, a spear for instance, that puts combative prey at a greater distance.

Well-equipped pre-industrial man with spear. The idea for clothing also likely emerged from an association area in the brain.

The tribally competitive humans, held together by familial bonds, would proceed to share common languages, common belief systems and often a central, symbolic edifice which could bind together large numbers of humans into a cooperative whole, not only the typical one-hundred humans thought to be the maximum for a stable tribe. Even today vast national tribes exist, held together with common identities, symbols, tribal chiefs (a President usually occupying the biggest pyramid or edifice) as in Washington, D.C. “We’re all (fill in your nationhood) and we believe in…….” and the ideas and symbols fill the mind acting as a social, tribal glue.

Sailor saluting at 2005 presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.  Humans have evolved altruism and self-sacrifice in response to threats to the welfare of the tribe.

The increasing net energy, beyond the metabolic needs of the body, provided the extra fuel enabling the building of structures and distribution channels like roads. Complexity advanced and humans came to function as cellular RNA, the intermediary between the store of information and the tools that are produced from that information. The level of the complexity depends upon both the flow of energy from the energy/resource gradients and the effectiveness and efficiency of the tools doing the work.  The tools produced must not only cover their own production costs, but they must be good enough to cover the system costs which fosters the production of the tools. There must be energy for the education of the human RNA, building of houses, factories and roads, trucks, cars, medical systems, immune systems…….. If the energy gradients are depleted and/or the total net energy is inadequate to provide for basal metabolic activity (including repairs), the entire system is likely to enter a period of decay and eventual collapse. It remains to be seen if the low-grade energy sources like tar sands will be able to meet the base energy needs of a world civilization in overshoot while growth stops and interest is paid in an ever-increasing tsunami of fiat currency.

Having built a civilization based upon the consumption of limited stores of energy and somewhat renewable natural stocks and being competitive by the MPP in their depletion, it seems that a new massive gradient must be opened with novel tools or the existing, highly complex human civilization must begin starvation with eventual collapse. Pursuing the MPP in an aggressive and competitive manner using warfare in an attempt to acquire more resources will only result in a more rapid collapse and potential poisoning of the environment.

The only other option, and some say the opportunity has passed, is to transition to solar energy through a metamorphosis that leaves much of the current infrastructure abandoned. Due to natural human instincts and the Maximum Power Principle, most owners of the existing infrastructure will resist abandoning it until it is bankrupt and then there will be very little energy remaining with which to adjust. Our task is similar to asking a starving Bengal tiger to rearrange itself into a fern without letting the cellular RNA starve or suffer inordinately. Instead it seems like the tiger is going to eat the last gaur, the last sambar, and then civilization dies. Any process of metamorphosis would likely have to occur simultaneously world-wide, with greatly diminished military budgets, if not a one-world government so that no area undergoing conversion would be vulnerable to those maintaining powerful fossil-fuel fed militaries.

Wax model. Photo from Wellcome Trust.

Humans have one of the largest and most capable brains on earth, the most complex structure in the Universe. I asked the specimen above, “What is the meaning of life?” He responded, “Hey dude, where’s the party?” The dopamine was surging in his brain as he imagined the raucous good times and the lovely girls at the imagined destination. I couldn’t bring myself to inform him that his legs were gone and that it was far too late, that the party was almost over. As the last of the glucose was burned he fell asleep still dreaming of good times and then decay set in.

It may be that the technological fossil fuel ape will burn its last BTU with a bang and the survivors, if any,  be forever trapped within the ecosystem, whatever remains of it, to cyclically emerge, grow, party and collapse until something eventually causes extinction of the species.