Abstract: Culture can be viewed as the means by which a society can live in its surroundings by acquiring and consuming free energy. This naturalistic notion assumes that everything can be valued in terms of energy, hence also social changes can be described as natural processes that are influenced by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This universal law, when formulated as an equation of motion, reveals that societies emerge, evolve and eventually extinguish after tapping, exploiting and finally depleting their resources, which we can say are ultimately valued in energetic terms. The analysis reveals that trajectories of societies are, however, inherently non-integrable, i.e., unpredictable in detail because free energy as the driving force, being finite, is inseparable from the flows of energy. Nonetheless, the universal tendency to diminish energy differences within a system and with respect to its surroundings in the least possible time gives rise to highly economical but seemingly immaterial means of energy transduction that associate with cultural codes, habits, traditions, taboos and values. Moreover, cultural naturalism clarifies that identities develop and mature in interactions, and that class structure results from the quest for maximum entropy partition. While social changes in complex societies are inherently intractable, the profound principle allows us to recognize universal tendencies in diverse cultural characteristics, and to rationalize prospects for the future.
Keywords: entropy; free energy; hierarchy; evolution; natural process; natural selection; statistical physics; thermodynamics
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Annila, A.; Salthe, S. Cultural Naturalism. Entropy 2010, 12, 1325-1343.
Annila A, Salthe S. Cultural Naturalism. Entropy. 2010; 12(6):1325-1343.
Annila, Arto; Salthe, Stanley. 2010. "Cultural Naturalism." Entropy 12, no. 6: 1325-1343.