Competition or Friction?

One of the ideas that places my way of looking at nature farthest from the mainstream is my belief that there isn’t a competition between animals and that therefore this can’t be THE driving force of evolution. There is indeed pressure when forces collide, and one will “prevail” to be sure, and there is friction between animals, but underlying this is a principle of conductivity that will ultimately resolve the conflicts as an improvement to the flow of the system at large. My argument is that unless we understand this distinction we will reflexively accord a psychological motive to a behavior and thereby miss the underlying flow principle around which any given behavior is actually configuring. I am currently working on an ebook applying my understanding of Constructal Law to the nature of the canine mind and below is a draft of the introduction. I want to emphasize that this is my understanding of Constructal Law and errors in its application are mine alone as well. Challenges are welcome.

INTRODUCTION

The body evolved to move from Point A to Point B. And while the competitive pressures of other organisms or the lethal hazards of the environment may be pressing concerns in the evolution of an organism, the problem of locomotion is more fundamental, far more fundamental, it is the central “design” criteria. Furthermore, running as fast as possible toward something one wants, or as fast as possible away from something one fears, is the prime means of dealing with competitive pressures and environmental hazards and so even these demands would merely reinforce locomotion’s primacy in evolution.

Locomotion evolves in response to gravity, laws of motion, electromagnetism and especially, thermodynamics, specifically the Constructal Law. Logically speaking therefore these must be the chief selective forces that shape an organism’s evolutionary trajectory.

While avoiding objects of resistance is important to efficient locomotion, it’s not enough to just avoid things. Organisms must also affect objects, and do so coherently. Because systems evolve by improving access to flow, coherence means importing objects of resistance (O-R) into the configuration as an improvement to said flow. The capacity to affect objects coherently also evolves in response to gravity, laws of motion, electromagnetism and especially, thermodynamics.

The movement of mass and the manipulation of objects shape the genes of an organism. Competitive advantages over other organisms are not yet (if at all) relevant.

The third problem before survival and reproductive strategies can be said to enter the formula, is persistence. The capacity to move from Point A to Point B and to affect objects coherently over the long term invokes a capacity to persist. This capacity also evolves in response to gravity, laws of motion, electromagnetism and thermodynamics.

Thermodynamics is especially relevant because of the Constructal law which speaks directly to the nature of persistence. The Constructal law states:

“For a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to survive) its configuration must evolve (morph) in time in such a way that it provides easier flow access.”

Adrian Bejan, author of “Design In Nature” and discoverer of the Constructal Law

The Constructal law follows from Bejan’s observation that the preexisting laws of Thermodynamics are incomplete. Thermodynamics up until the Constructal law articulated that energy is always conserved and that energy always moves from warm to cool, but it failed to specify the manner by which things move from warm to cool, from high to low, from up to down. Such movement is not amorphous or random, rather it follows a predictable structure observable in the design of all things, inanimate as well as animate. This structure is the template on which all design evolves. Structure is always a hierarchy of branching channels that vascularizes a field so as to improve the access for the current that animates the structure. Otherwise the design cannot persist. It must always be improving.

What does it mean to improve? In addition to spreading its reach through vascularization, it also means that objects of resistance which impede the flow, are incorporated into the configuration that facilitates the flow. For example a flash flood scours a creek bed. Obstacles of resistance; soil, rocks, trees, etc., are deposited farther downstream or embedded in the new walls of the deepened waterway. The design has improved because it can conduct more water and is thereby more likely to persist.

If an animal evolves to move faster and farther with the least expenditure of energy, and to manipulate objects coherently so as to improve the configuration through which it is sustained, at some point it becomes fit and can compete in the survival and reproductive derby relative to other organisms. Of course if competition is a word we must use, this means that we are seeing any given animal as a self-contained entity and agency of evolution without a fundamental connection to the prime channel which animates nature in general. But even if this were to ultimately emerge to be the case, until that advanced point in its evolution, this capacity to improve will not be driven by competitive pressures because the improvement of flow is already inherent in the nature of any system, from the inanimate configurations of natural flow systems that morph toward optimal flow, to the animate domain of living organisms that must do work to live. Their configurations will always be improving as this is the nature of flow, a principle of physics.

One might say in rebuttal that there are internal competing demands within any organism and this inner struggle gives rise to the optimal flow configuration of its body. However the conflict will always be resolved by a principle of conductivity, like the rules of a game already in effect before two teams ever take the field. The resolution can only happen in conformance with a principle of conductivity. One side doesn’t prevail over another and thereby set a new and arbitrary standard for excellence. The results of the “competition” are a foregone conclusion, improvement of the flow by virtue of a principle of conductivity. The rules evolve and the game changes over time in accord to this principle and without regard to the individual psyche’s. Internally and externally when forces collides the rules of resolution are the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, motion and most especially thermodynamics. I believe that it would be more accurate to simply call such a state pressure because the word competitive is freighted with a human psychology which will ultimately be inscribed as a principle of the animal mind. This is why we see this wherever we see treatments of animal behavior. Yes human beings can be competitive and no nature isn’t a pacific wonderland, but nevertheless the term compete in its larger meaning requires a capacity to compare one moment in time with another, and/or one point of view with another. Humans ask such things “Am I better than You, and what will happen to me if I’m not, or am.” I don’t feel animals can compete in this sense of the word.

Before we consider the term competition we must first exhaust the capacity to explain complex behavior by way of the laws of nature. Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian factors are not yet in play as to how organisms evolve to move and affect objects. It is in the evolutionary interest for any organism to evolve the most efficient means of locomotion independent of the need to get away from predators or chase down prey. It does not require competitive pressure to effect this evolution because until the system flows efficiently it will be burdened with excess “heat” and resolving this is an innate driving force irregardless of extrinsic factors. The laws of nature are the selective criteria because there is only one way to move the body and manipulate objects effectively. Any genes that don’t encode for effective movement and manipulation are of no consequence. A competition between organisms will not improve the manner and method of movement or manipulation. It’s an innate impulse of natural systems to move and manipulate more and more mass with less and less energy. This is a feature of nature itself.

Published August 27, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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8 responses to “Competition or Friction?”

  1. Christine says:

    At this point in the discussion: “While avoiding objects of resistance is important to efficient locomotion, it’s not enough to just avoid things. Organisms must also affect objects, and do so coherently. Because systems evolve by improving access to flow, coherence means importing objects of resistance (O-R) into the configuration as an improvement to said flow. The capacity to affect objects coherently also evolves in response to gravity, laws of motion, electromagnetism and especially, thermodynamics”…I thought of a Star Trek episode where the “sling-shot” effect was used to go back in time. The organisms (humans) affected and object (the sun) in a coherent manner, thereby improving access to the flow of time going backward! 😉

  2. Good stuff. Two things:

    1) I feel like the last two paragraphs aren’t as clear as they could be.

    2) The term locomotion doesn’t apply to plants. I think you need to address that with something that discusses how the motions of plants involves the ways they branch up toward sunlight and down to nutrients in the soil.

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    Any editing suggestions about the last two paragraphs are welcome. As per plants, in addition to the universality of photo and geo tropism, the motion to which they must most attune is the syncopated movement of the earth, moon and sun and I believe we can find this having evolved into temperamental values in the mind of an animal as well.

  4. I attempted a rewrite of the last two paragraphs for more clarity.

    I broke it down into 5 paragraphs.

    If an animal evolves to move faster and farther with the least expenditure of energy, and to manipulate objects coherently so as to improve the configuration through which it is sustained, at some point it becomes fit and can compete in the survival and reproductive derby relative to other organisms. Of course if competition is a word we must use, this means that we are seeing any given animal as a self-contained entity and agency of evolution without a fundamental connection to the prime channel which animates nature in general. But even if this were to ultimately emerge to be the case, until that advanced point in an organism’s evolution, this capacity to improve will not be driven specifically by competitive pressures because the improvement of flow is already inherent in the nature of any system, from the inanimate configurations of natural flow systems that morph toward optimal flow, to the animate domain of living organisms that must do work to live. Their configurations will always be improving as this is the nature of flow, a principle of physics.

    One might say in rebuttal that there are internal competing demands within any organism and this inner struggle gives rise to the optimal flow configuration of its body. However this kind of conflict will always be resolved by a principle of conductivity, like the rules of a game already in effect before two teams ever take the field. The resolution can only happen in conformance with a principle of conductivity. One side doesn’t prevail over another and thereby set a new and arbitrary standard for excellence. The results of the “competition” are a foregone conclusion: improvement of the flow by virtue of a principle of conductivity. The rules evolve and the game changes over time in accord to this principle and without regard to the individual psyches involved.

    When forces collide, internally or externally, the rules of resolution must be the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, motion and most especially thermodynamics. I believe it would be more accurate to give the idea of competition a new name: pressure. That’s because “competition” is freighted with values and valences related primarily to human not animal psychology. As a result, it will eventually (and mistakenly) be set in stone as a basic, natural function of the animal mind. This process is in play wherever we see explanations of animal behavior. Yes, human beings can be competitive and, no, nature is not a pacific wonderland. Nevertheless the term compete in its larger meaning requires a capacity to compare one moment in time with another, and/or one point of view with another. Humans ask such things “Am I better than You, and what will happen to me if I’m not, or if I am.” I don’t feel animals can compete with one another in this way.

    I think that before we consider using the term competition to explain the underlying process of evolution we must first exhaust the capacity to explain complex behavior by way of the laws of nature. Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian factors do not yet explain how organisms evolve to move and affect objects. It is in the evolutionary interest for any organism to evolve the most efficient means of locomotion independent of the need to get away from predators or chase down prey. It does not require competition to effect this view of evolution because until the system flows efficiently it will be burdened with excess “heat.” And resolving this physical (not mental) thermodynamic problem is an innate driving force of evolution, regardless of extrinsic factors.

    The laws of nature are the selective criteria for how organisms evolve because there is only one way to move one’s body and manipulate objects effectively. Any genes that don’t encode for effective movement and manipulation are of no consequence. A competition between organisms will not improve the manner and method of movement or manipulation. It’s an innate impulse of natural systems to move and manipulate more and more mass with less and less energy. This is a feature of nature itself.

    One question about the last bit: Couldn’t it be argued that competition between species would actually improve a species’ fitness. By competing with others an organism would have to develop new abilities to move through space and manipulate objects of attraction?

  5. Skip Skipper says:

    In true competition, one winner, one loser or one + one -. Wouldn’t they just make flow neutral. In a competitive hunt, the winner expends energy, gets the fuel (energy). The loser expends energy, doesn’t get the fuel and is now depleted. Wouldn’t cooperation increase flow? Both get some fuel, both increase fitness, both acquire more skill.

  6. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, emotional coupling, coupling two waves into one wave amplifies force and this is what is going on when dogs differentiate in order to fit together and then are able to do more work together.

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks Lee, I’m going to digest the revisions and then paste them in. My point is that the competition can’t increase the fitness per se because the new improvement (fitness) is merely a further extension of the underlying principle of conductivity. In other words, only by contributing to the network does a species become more fit. This is what I mean by nature evolving as a whole, not as a system of disconnected parts jostling with each other and which then causes an ecosystem of interconnections to emerge. An analogy would be to see the internet as being a foregone conclusion the very moment Turing’s logic statements were married to the semi-conductive properties of silicon. The resulting computer evolution immutably moved from self-contained self-standing units to a world wide web of interconnected units. But this web was already present as a principle of conductivity in the very first instance of merging Turing to silicon. The competition between microsoft/atari/windows/IBM/Texas Instruments etc., etc., is actually irrelevant as the driving force. All that jostling between all those players was merely the friction out of which the fully formed principle of conductivity would find expression as the internet. In this view of nature evolving as a whole, organisms don’t evolve new ways in order to become more fit, they simply elaborate upon an underlying principle of conductivity as determined by gravity, laws of motion and thermodynamics.

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