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This can be advanced as a statement characterizing the physical world generally.
That world in our time happens to be far from thermodynamic equilibrium and replete with
energy gradients. In the physical world, energy dissipation is carried out as a dispersion of
heat energy; that is, a spreading or broad contagion of microscopic motion. At bottom, energy
that binds masses together becomes released in a form that spreads away from a source where
it was bound, some of it then agitating other energy gradients, disrupting some of them as
well, releasing more “freed” energy, and so on as the original energetic force weakens and
radiates into space (Annila, 2010).
Energy dissipating from a gradient can become causative if it is once again
concentrated in some way. Photosynthesis is a good example where chemical reactions can
be fostered by solar photons, resulting in a build-up of glucose, which can serve as substrate
for the energy source used in chemical reactions in biological systems (Haynie, 2000). Such
reactions will be involved in various forms of work by living systems, from cell division to
muscle contraction. Thus, we have:
{energy gradient dissipation {energy flow harvesting {biological work}}}
On the causal template of:
{global Second Law
{local energy flows
{biological activities}}}
We now have the Second Law represented as in a causative, rather than an explanatory role.
This requires some further background. An energy gradient could itself be causative only
within a thermodynamically isolated system. It can indeed be viewed as causative in our
world as understood in the cosmological model of the Big Bang. In any version of the Bang,
it will have produced a far-from-equilibrium universe. Even without a Bang, our universe is
manifestly far from thermodynamic equilibrium, and a not unreasonable assumption is that it
(or our portion of it) is an isolated system. The Second Law in such a system “calls for”
global (universal) thermodynamic equilibration, which must involve matter dispersion. We
may note that in this view, energy gradient dissipation pre-exists energy flow utilization.
It has recently been urged from observations on physical systems that this law further
calls for the most rapid dissipation of energy gradients possible under local constraints – the
global Maximum Entropy Production Principle and the local Maximum Energy Dispersion
Principle (e.g., Annila and Salthe, 2010; Kleidon, 2010). In this view, all energy gradients
would explode if it were not for various constraints holding them together, like gravitation,
chemical bonding, and the “strong force.” Now we have as an emended causative statement
of the Second Law:
energy gradients are all intrinsically unstable, and tend to dissipate as
quickly as possible given local constraints.
The Second Law does not specify what routes among the many possible in a natural