Entropy flow - more from Kevin Kelly on "Cosmic Genesis"

Kevin Kelly has another post on The Cosmic Genesis of Technology. I sent him the following comments as corrections or perhaps refinements of the ideas. The introduction is quite poetic, and I think close to correct.

Arthur's comments:

While eloquent, and perhaps productively wrong, there certainly are some wrong things about this post that perhaps you'd appreciate hearing about... Entropy is a notorious sink-hole for fuzzy thinking about the world we live in, but your opening here is actually excellent and physically correct, as far as I can tell. Things start to go downhill a bit when you get to living systems though.

There is no fundamental necessity for the high mass ratio between green plants and the top of the food chain. In fact, the mass ratios are believed to be reversed in the pristine oceans. It is true that "every predator catches less energy that the total energy the prey consumed" but the final mass ratios depend on life expectancy ratios, which can make the numbers quite different.

Next, I think your claim that "the more organized, structured, and complex the organization, the faster the system can generate entropy" and related conclusions is simply wrong. Or at least I can not think of a metric that makes this work. I know there's a lot of theory out there about maximum entropy production etc. which I don't claim to understand, but I am pretty sure it cannot be closely related to complexity, organization, or structure. For a given quantity of energy, creating the most entropy out of it quickly is simply a matter of equilibrating it at the lowest possible temperature. I don't see how complexity, organization, or structure really help with that. Exploding a bomb with that amount of energy essentially thermalizes it in a matter of seconds, and it's hard to get entropy production any faster than that. And a bomb hardly needs much organization or internal structure (a van full of fertilizer will do it).

In this context your claim that "the mammal brain and a laptop PC – are the most efficient producers of entropy we've seen" and "Already the heat per kilo generated by a laptop is nearing the power density of gasoline." ring false. Laptop power is constrained by battery technology which is still far below what hydrocarbons can do. And each generation of processors consumes far *less* energy per operation than its predecessor, there's no inevitable rise in heat throughput there. The mainframes of yesteryear were far more efficient generators of heat per computation!

But I think you are getting at something fundamental here, and it would be worth refining the argument a bit more to get at the real truth of all this. I think the essence is your point about the production of "difference", or "information", vs. production of entropy. I think your idea here is that creation of "difference" counters the downhill production of entropy trend of the universe, but maintaining "difference" requires its own entropy flows, which the pre-existing differences of this universe make available. That is, one level of "difference" (stars vs. void) begets another level of "difference" (life) which is here begetting another level of "difference" (minds and technology), each of these new levels interposing itself in the entropy flow created by the previous level.

That is, a star, just sitting by itself, radiates its energy outwards, producing a flow of entropy from its high temperature (low entropy) surface out into the surrounding high-entropy (microwave background) space. A planet intercepts this flow bringing about temperature differences on the planetary surface, and in any atmosphere or oceans; the workings of the planet capture sunlight (low entropy), use the resulting energy, and then thermalize it, sending the resulting colder (high entropy) radiation off into empty space. Living creatures can interpose themselves into the planetary entropy flow. Etc.

Is this what you're driving at?