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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Most Important Idea You Probably Didn’t Know About

For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it. –Adrian Bejan and S. Lorente, “The Constructal Law and the Thermodynamics of Flow Systems with Configuration”

Okay, this is wonky. But please hang in there. This video is a tidy overview of the constructal law and how it’s manifested in the world. Bejan and J. Peder Zane write about it extensively in Design in Nature. And, indeed, I explore this idea in considerable depth in a chapter called “The Physics of Wealth” in my book.

Here’s a sliver:

Constructal theory sounds highfalutin, but the idea is this: Systems survive when things flow better—all kinds of systems, from natural systems to human systems—and when things flow better, we start to notice patterns in nature that are products of good flow.

To some, the idea is deceptively simple. To others, it’s too abstract. But if Adrian Bejan is right, this is one of the most important—and, indeed, undeniable—features of the world. It takes the insights of Hayek, the mathematics of Mandelbrot, and the biology of Darwin to a new, unified level. But how?

First, it means that evolution has some directionality. That is to say, there is a tendency for systems to evolve in certain ways over time. This extends Darwinian evolution in ways that have implications for both biology and society.

Second, it means that the “fractal” patterns in nature are not random as greats like Ilya Prigogine thought, but have true explanatory backing in constructal theory. Fractal patterns tend to accommodate flow.

Third, free market economics has a whole new functional justification rooted in the nature of the universe. The idea of natural law has been somewhat of a patchquilt concept for classical liberals in their attempts to justify free markets. Hayekian spontaneous orders are familiar to us and take the functional justification of laissez-faire very far indeed. But we can now build on Hayek. Now, I don’t want to derive an “ought” from an “is,” but I want to suggest that we have a whole new set of reasons for questioning the interventionists. Interventionists constrict, distort, or destroy economic flow systems which develop from the bottom up according to the constructal law.

As Adrian Bejan himself writes: “Freedom is good for design” (where design is a noun, not a verb).

  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.