World History as a Thermodynamic Process

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Peter Pogany:

"The present analysis is interfused with the thermodynamic theory of world history, which is briefly summarized below. Human population and produced artifacts together may be perceived as a material entity, an aggregation of atoms or, even more generally, that of subatomic particles. This entity, culture, has undergone exponential growth through human activity (extended reproduction both biologically and economically), a process called cultural evolution.

As elaborated by Ilya Prigogine, the father of modern disequilibrium thermodynamics, a material entity that gains in size while becoming increasingly complex (where complexification is defined as growing volumes of information generated and transmitted among the entity’s decision centers) must undergo an alternation between relative (dynamic) steady states and bifurcations (chaotic transitions).

By the end of the 18th century, cultural evolution demanded global-scale organization to maintain its accelerating mode. The chaotic transition that began with the French Revolution and ended in the early 1830s led to the establishment of the world’s first global system (GS1), characterized by laissez faire and metal money. It lasted from approximately 1834 (the “birthday of the industrial proletariat” [Polanyi], a year of intense legislation in Britain concerning the poor) until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The period 1914-1945 was another chaotic transition that brought the second and current global system (GS2) -- mixed economy/weak multilateralism -- into existence. (Until the end of the Cold War, socialism remained an unsuccessful alternative for global self-organization.)

At present, physical limits are beginning to slow cultural evolution. Its demand for free (accessible) energy (in the form of low entropy matter and energy carriers), and capacity to absorb pollution are coming into conflict with non-expendable terrestrial constraints. As a consequence, the world has either entered or is on the verge of entering another period of chaotic transition. A new global system (GS3), two-level economy/strong multilateralism, will be needed to create a sustainable balance between culture and humanity’s ecological niche. Micro-activities will have to be made legally subject to globally-determined and nationally allocated macro-constraints. The required transformation of individual behavior and institutions will be vast. " (