Evolution, Complexity and New Wealth

CERN ATLAS detector

Abstract: The universe resembles a heat engine. It does work while cooling and expanding. The work performed is to create differentiable objects and structures, starting with elementary particles, then atoms, molecules,  bacteria, plants and animals, humans, social  organisms and scientific papers. The differentiation mechanism is called “symmetry-breaking. The selection mechanism – survival of the fittest, is familiar.

The evolutionary process before humans can be regarded as an accumulation of natural wealth. Humans have learned to exploit (and destroy) natural wealth in order to create “new” wealth. Can the new wealth, based on knowledge, compensate for the wealth destruction in order to ensure long term survival? Or are we on a suicidal path?


In the beginning. 1

Stars, galaxies and chemical elements. 4

Geology and chemistry. 8

The arrival of humans. 15

References. 20


In the beginning

In the very beginning, when time began, current theory says that there was a singularity (point source) consisting of pure ylem[1]. – the primordial “stuff of the universe”– at infinite temperature packed into a point of zero size. Or maybe the energy was at a finite temperature, packed into a finite but very small volume, smaller than a proton, or a “Planck volume” which is a lot smaller. In that case the temperature at time zero would have been something in the range of 1040 °K, give or take a few powers of ten.

The notion of time zero is hard to take in. But the notion that there was no starting point at all is also difficult to grasp. If we reject the idea that there was no starting point for time, then the question is “why did the Big Bang happen?” One suggestion is that the starting point of our universe was just the end of a preceding one. That also implies that we are back with the idea of infinite time. Infinite time does fit into a 4-dimentsional framework with infinite space. After all, we don’t think that there is a sharp boundary ad the “edge” of the universe. We prefer to think that there is no outer boundary – no edge—so expansion can continue forever. Infinite time again. But then, if the spatial dimensions have no “edge”, why should the time dimension have an edge? Perpetual expansion would seem to fit with continuous creation.

But continuous creation is a conflict with empirical fact, namely the existence of microwave background radiation, now at a wavelength corresponding to a temperature or 2.7 °K. Extrapolating that rather long wavelength back in time, is like compressing space itself. In compressed space, wavelengths are shorter and frequencies are correspondingly higher. It is like running the clock in reverse. In reverse time the universe heats up as it shrinks. Eventually it becomes a very hot “plasma”, consisting of photons and ionized particles, mainly electrons, nucleons, and all the corresponding anti-particles. When the temperature rises to about 3000 °K the universe become “opaque” to radiation. In that state, photons create particle pairs, which immediately recombine. The particles are absorbed almost as fast as they are produced. This condition is very much like like the interior of a star.

Letting time run forward again, as the hot, opaque early universe cooled and expanded, all the positive and negative particles recombined. Curiously there were the same number of each, so result was an uncharged cloud of hydrogen and helium atoms. As time went on it eventually became “transparent” to radiation. This happened when the temperature fell to 3000 °K. Based on other data (and theory) that appears to have happened when the universe was 380,000 years old. (Some say it was 700,000 years.)

But what happened during the prior “opaque” period? The story according to high-energy physicists, confirmed in large part (but with gaps) by experimental evidence. It says that, at some time (t = 0), there was an event. They call it the Big Bang because it was like an explosion. But, for a very, very short time within the first micro-second the baby universe expanded so fast – much faster than the speed of light (called “inflation”) – that causal linkages between particle-antiparticle pairs were broken.

All of the (several dozen) “known” elementary particles were created by what physicists call “symmetry breaking”, which cannot be explained in a paragraph or even a whole chapter. The first example might be the fact that there are no anti-particles in the universe today. The symmetry between the two was broken, somehow. We now postulate 8 quarks and 8 leptons that interact with the strong nuclear force (called fermions) as well as 6 particles (called bosons) that interact with the weak nuclear force, or electro-magnetism, but not the strong force. All of these have anti-particles (but some quarks are antiparticles of others).

Never mind, the details really don’t matter for purposes of this paper. Suffice to say that there were charged and uncharged particles of various sizes, masses and spins. Most of them have been seen, by now, in high energy particle accelerators, and all but a few are never seen in any other place. A few, like the so-called Higgs Boson, may have been seen only a few times and only in photos of scattering from supercollider events at the high energy laboratory at CERN. See Figure 1.

[1] The word “ylem” was found by Ralph Alpher while thumbing through a dictionary, where the word meant “primordial substance from which all matter was formed”. It was used, by him (and several science-fiction authors) and adopted by his mentor, George Gamow, in their work on origin of elements, in the 1940s. See (Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow 1948, Gamow 1947). They interpreted ylem as primordial plasma.

Table of Figures

Figure 1. Candidate Higgs Boson decay events at the super-collider. 3

Figure 2. Nuclear binding energy (potential) per nucleon (MeV). 5

Figure 3. The cosmic map (NASA). 6

Figure 4. The Milky Way galaxy. 6

Figure 5. Solar system abundances. 7

Figure 6. Dust particles as chemical factories. 8

Figure 7. Composition of the Earth. 9

Figure 8. The Earth’s magnetosphere. 10

Figure 9. Formation of bi-polar membranes. 11

Figure 10. Schematic model of the Chemoton: A self-replicating chemical system.. 12

Figure 11. Phylogenetic “Tree of Life” (J. D. Crofts). 14

Figure 12. The history of Earth – geologic time scale. 15

Figure 13. Evolution of hominids. 16

. . .

      * Photo credit: CERN. Dark Matter at the Large Hadron Collider

* For full paper click to https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B41h-Am2TpUHaXdrV3ZSdURPX1U

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About the author: 

Robert Ayres InseadRobert U. Ayres is a physicist and economist, currently Novartis professor emeritus of economics, political science and technology management at INSEAD.. He is also Institute Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and a King’s Professor in Sweden.   He has previously taught at Carnegie-Mellon University, and as a visiting Professor at Chalmers Institute of Technology. He is noted for his work on technological forecasting, life cycle assessment, mass-balance accounting, energy efficiency and the role of thermodynamics in economic growth. He originated the concept of “industrial metabolism”, known today asindustrial ecology” with its own journal. He has conducted pioneering studies of materials/energy flows in the global economy.  He is author or co-author of 21 books and more than 200 journal articles and book chapters.  The most recent books are Energy, Complexity and Wealth Maximization (Springer, 2016), The Bubble Economy (MIT Press, 2014)  Crossing the Energy Divide with Edward Ayres (Wharton Press, 2010) and The Economic Growth Engine with Benjamin Warr (Edward Elgar, 2009).

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