Civilizations – Part 1


Civilizations have two important properties:

  1. they are dissipative systems, and
  2. they are creative systems.

A dissipative system is a physical system that maintains its state by turning resources from a usable form into an unusable waste form.

In terms of physics (specifically: thermodynamics) one can describe them as dynamic systems that produce entropy (i.e. they become more disordered) and they maintain their ordered state by transferring that entropy onto some resource that is thus changed from a low-entropy form to a high entropy form (for example: electric energy (low entropy) is turned into heat radiation (high entropy)).

Moreover, civilizations are creative systems. This means that they can invent new ways of interacting with each other and with their environment (i.e. by inventing new technologies). Specifically, civilizations can open up new ways of using new resources that could not be used before.

One could take this as a definition of a civilization: a civilization is a creative dissipative system.

Civilizations can grow. When a civilization grows, the size of the dissipative system that has to be maintained is increasing. As a result, the amount of entropy produced by the system increases. As a result, the amount of resources used and destroyed by the system is increasing. The system will also compete with other dissipative systems using the same resources.

(To be continued.)

(The picture is from



  1. Reblogged this on The Asifoscope and commented:

    An abstract view of civilizations and their basic problems – part 1.

  2. Could this explain why at some given point in time, civilizations eventually die

    1. Looks like you are already seeing in which direction I am heading here.

      1. In that case I am waiting for the continuation of the article

  3. You have put into words what I am seeing.

    But alongside the disordered, I think I see new, ordered, systems springing up.

    1. The ordered systems that spring up are parts of the growing civilization. The disorder is exported (in the form of waste or environmental destruction or, ultimately, as heat radiation sent into outer space). We created order but to do that, we have to consume some resources. And that is a problem because the resources are limited.

  4. Richard · · Reply

    Aha! You’re playing my song nannus.

    I see by your response to makagutu that you know, at some point, you’ll have to discuss the inherently self-destructive nature of civilisations; especially those that become “industrialised“. I especially like the fact that you’ve brought physics into the equation.

    I think you’ll love this:Economics and Thermodynamics

    Since this is “part 1”, I hope that when all the parts are finished you’ll post them together as a single essay, which I can then reblog.

    1. You also see the direction into which this is going. I decided to divide it into parts because according to my experience, short pieces get more readers.
      I can republish the whole thing in one piece and you can reblog it if you want, no problem.

      1. Richard · · Reply

        I remember your advice about short pieces in a comment on one of my posts. I’m looking forward to the next installment eagerly.

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