It is sometimes difficult to visualize the complexity which can arise in complex adaptive systems, systems that preserve information generationally so that tool specifications may be preserved. I found this chart named “Biochemical Pathways” which gives a good idea of the complexity happening within cells. Other dissipative structures, like hurricanes, are quite different, having brief lifespans moving heat from warm ocean surfaces to the high troposphere. They’ll usually be cut-off from their source of warm water after passing over land. If there were no land, one could imagine a storm with a much greater longevity, even without information storage.

The details are too small to see, but it does give you some idea as to the complexity of reactions happening in the cell. A lot of ATP is required.

This is an enlargement of the metabolic cycle you can see at the center of the previous illustration. Even at this enlarged scale details are not discernible.

Now imagine that the Biochemical Pathways illustration above represents the technological complexity of the processes within a nation. In the biological case, a constant supply of inputs must be fed into the metabolic processes. For convenience let’s say the left margin is the cell membrane which must bind and let pass all of the substances necessary to keep the biochemical clockwork ticking. On the right margin is another cell membrane where waste is excreted back into the blood plasma. Everything is in motion. DNA is being transcribed and RNA is being translated into protein tools. Mitochondria are making the ATP with  their high-energy phosphate bonds from ADP, that upon breaking impart energy to processes within the cell. The ATP are made with the sugar glucose which is brought into the cell by active transport (requires ATP) or by facilitated diffusion (ATP not required, accomplished by membrane protein.)

In the both the biological and technological case, energy and resources must constantly be fed into the left margin of the complex dissipative structure to keep things in motion and moving towards the right margin where waste will end-up in a waste dump or be allowed to diffuse into the environment. All along complex metabolic paths waste heat is produced which also diffuses into the environment. (The biological cell is more properly compared to the technological cell which is also often highly complex, but for this example all of the cellular complexity of a nation of cells is exemplified in the illustration above.)

On the left margin we have coal, natural gas, oil, mined metals, biomass and other resources coming into the system. They are processed and fed into the many complex metabolic pathways, many of which are involved in repair of structures, building new structures, refining energy (ATP), shipping goods here and there and  simply for human entertainment. On the right margin, the trash trucks pick-up waste and haul it away to an area where it will not impair the continued functioning of the metabolism. Additionally, the waste water and sewage are piped outside the cellular confines and CO2 is released into the environment.

In order for all of this movement and metabolism to work, resources must constantly be fed into the left margin of the system, metabolic activity will occur and wastes will be eliminated at the other end with heat released as a by-product. This is much the same on the biological and technological levels. In the case of humans, if the glucose levels become too low, hunger will result and often the hunger is for different things the body needs, like sugars, protein or salt. We have built-in sensors that tell us when we need to eat so that the resources are available in the blood plasma for absorption into the cells. If glucose levels are inadequate and cannot enter the metabolism, then there is a chance that complex components within the cell will stop working and the cell will die. We avoid this fate by getting something to eat and drink.

Humans have built themselves a complex dissipative structure much like the cellular one. The glucose of oil, natural gas and coal must continuously be showing up in the blood plasma to be taken-in by the cells. The resources are then fed through the highly complex metabolism and waste is removed at the right margin. Undoubtedly there are control mechanisms for limiting the amount of energy that comes in at the left margin, the operational speed of the cellular metabolism, the growth or fissioning of cells through adjusting the number of receptors and enzymes  controlling the metabolic rate. One can also see within the technological dissipative structure, the nation, mechanisms for control of overall growth and metabolism. With adequate food coming in at the left margin, the central bank of a nation will adjust interest rates to manage the rate of growth. The growth must be coordinated with the provision of energy, higher interest rates putting a brake on metabolic activity and inflation and low interest rates encouraging more metabolic activity. The build-up of wastes is hardly addressed, if at all. The bankers are all about maximizing growth, but doing so in a balanced manner so that high unemployment of high inflation does not occur.

But what happens if, at the left margin, there isn’t enough glucose in the plasma to maintain metabolic activity, let alone create more growth? What is a central bank to do? First, it can lower interest rates. This can, in normal times, encourage consumption or put a negative pressure on the right margin of the cell to get the metabolites flowing through the system. If the economy overheats, it can raise the discount rate. But what happens if the extra stimulus of low rates and ample credit doesn’t seem to be having much of an effect? At this point you might want to look at the left margin of the metabolism where the resources are taken from the environment or plasma. A steady flow of material must pass through the metabolism the keep it in motion and maintain the complexity. The banks have been providing ample debt for a long time to maximize GDP  (the combined total activity of the metabolism) and now the debt receptors are saturated (debt cannot be retired fast enough to allow additional debt).  At the same time that debt cannot create more activity in the metabolism, the concentration of glucose in the blood and cells are falling. Each enzyme is now transporting less and less glucose across the cell membrane and into the system. The answer is to increase the number of enzymes or wells drilled, to keep the minimum operating level of energy flowing through the system. The system becomes more sluggish and profits disappear as net energy decreases.

In the meantime many human RNA are sitting in their home cells along with their children who have recently graduated from the nucleolus. Jobs are scarce or pay so little so as not to motivate the humans.  Fuel storage in the form of fatty acids are converted to glucose just as there are draw downs of the strategic petroleum reserve. This is certainly not enough to keep the economy alive. More debt is provided, but his has very little impact on metabolism as glucose levels are still too remain depressed. Messages are sent to the brain – eat, eat, eat, but what there is to eat provides inadequate energy to support the overly complex metabolism. The brain knows that if it doesn’t find another high-grade source of energy and resources, the outcome is certain, falling below the minimum concentration of glucose in the blood resulting in the metabolism screeching to a halt and death occurring soon thereafter.

There is only one thing to do, predatorily search the globe for new sources of highly concentrated hydrocarbons and eat them. Revisit old sites to lick the last of the hydrocarbons from the ground, eat bark and grass (shale and tar sands), fight others for the last few meals of high-grade hydrocarbons remaining. Then what? Plan an escape to Mars? 🙂

No, next the system begins to starve and unravel as various little tangents of metabolism shut-down. Things become more simple and basic. There is much cognitive dissonance as Muskovian propaganda doesn’t seem to match the surrounding reality where the metabolism has become increasingly idle. The central banks can do nothing but provide credit to the energy producers that increasingly provide less and less net energy to the system.

 

In the end, this overly complex system becomes idle as it has successfully exhausted the resource gradients. Roads and technological cells are empty of their formerly busy human RNA and the infrastructure begins to slowly decay. It really is too bad it grew so fast before it knew what it was doing, not that knowing would have impeded its progress that much. Solar was the only long-lasting source of energy, but the flow rate of net energy is much too low to meet the needs of an overly complex fossil fuel eating system. Harsh adaptation is necessary but the  energy required for change is being consumed to temporarily enrich those that have interests in the existing, soon to be dead,  metabolic machinery and pathways.