Energy, aesthetics and knowledge in complex economic systems
It is argued that the fact that economic systems are dissipative structures must be taken fully into account in economics if we are to understand the nature of the economic–ecological interface and how to deal with emergent environmental problems, such as global warming. Such problems are a product of economic growth, which is widely accepted to be the outcome of the acquisition and application of knowledge. Drawing upon disparate literatures within and outside economics, it is argued that economic growth should be more properly viewed as the outcome of a co-evolutionary process that involves the autocatalytic interaction of new knowledge and access of increasing amounts of free energy to do increasingly specialized forms of work. Specifically, the relevance of the ‘energy hypothesis,’ associated with Erwin Schrödinger and, more recently, revived by Eric Schneider and his collaborators, is assessed. This hypothesis states that all dissipative structures have, as their primary objective, the reduction of accessible free energy gradients. It is concluded that such a hypothesis cannot be rejected in the context of economic behaviour and that this opens up an important research agenda for economists.
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