Rod Swenson

Rod Swenson sIn existographies, Rod Swenson (1945-) (CR:6) is a stage music production artist turned evolution theorist noted, in ecological thermodynamics, for his 1980s maximum entropy production theory of evolution.

In circa 1980, Swenson introduced a thermodynamically grounded theory of general evolution and self-organization.

In 1988, Swenson postulated and argued for a ‘law of maximum entropy production’, which he defined as: [1]

“A system will select the path or assemblage of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the constraints.”

In his various publications, Swenson argued that to understand the ubiquity of spontaneous ordering that characterizes the visible world of which biological evolution is a part there had to be a “physical selection principle” to account for it [2]. The selection principle he argued was the rate of entropy production or the rate at which non-equilibrium distributions of energy (“potentials”) are minimized. Because potentials according to the law of maximum entropy production are minimized at the fastest rate given the constraints and because the production of dynamic order increases the rate, the world he argued can be expected to produce as much order as it can opportunistically, whenever it gets the chance [3]. To the extent that this law underpins planetary evolution, it has implications for culture theory, macroeconomics, and human globalization. In Swenson’s view, the universe is thus pocked by local regions of intense ordering, including life, because it is through ordered, dissipative systems that the rate of entropy production in the universe is maximized. [4]

Thermodynamic evolution philosophy
Swenson, in a 2012 interview, stated that he was of the “becoming” philosopher of the Heraclitus “never step in the same river twice” motto over that of a “being” philosopher of the Parmenides school. Swenson goes on to state that around 1977 he began to have a vivid clearness about the following deficiencies orthodox Darwinian theory: [10]

“But now this started to keep me up at night. This, which seemed to me some kind of deeper reality than we are normally taught about, or certainly that finds its way into colloquial or popular discourse, became a pre-occupation for me. Modern science, descending from Cartesian metaphysics, has been built almost entirely on, or reduced to, what Aristotle called “efficient," or proximate cause, and what we’re talking about here, to use terms now more widely known, “self-organizing," “spontaneously ordering," or more technically “autocatakinetic” (ACK) systems are not reducible to efficient cause. Since autocatakinesis is found from non-living through cultural systems where natural selection as an explanatory framework does not work it became clear to me that natural selection was insufficient as an explanatory first principle for a general theory of evolution.”

He the compares a human to a tornado:

“All these systems are flow structures that pull resources into themselves in their own self-production through the coordinated motion of their components with a set of empirically traceable circular relations. They are all self-organizing or ACK systems. The circularly causal relations that constitutes them exist through the dissipation of environmental potentials (or energy gradients) where output feeds back on input to amplify growth from the initial instabilities where they originate. The macrostructure (what we call the “thing”) at one level is constituted by the flux of the lower level components. Dust devils, and tornadoes are non-living examples which make this easy to visualize where can see literally as they come into being that the origin, evolution (or development) of ACK systems, the transformation of some previously less ordered or incoherent set of components into a dynamically ordered or coherent set is inherently a process of selection.”

He then explains his path selection theory, or what he believes is a fourth law of thermodynamics, as follows:

“In short, the second law says potentials are minimized (entropy maximized) in all natural processes but says nothing about rates or path selection. LMEP (or fourth law of thermodynamics) to the contrary answers the crucial question “which path out of available paths will a system take” to minimize the potential or get to equilibrium. It says: “A system will select the path or assembly of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential (or maximizes the entropy) at the fastest rate given the constraints”.”

This last paragraph seems to be a reasonable first-draft, autocatalysis self-organization ontic opening digressions aside, although the correct "thermodynamic potential" for humans is free energy.

Originally trained as an artist, Swenson studied at the Arts Student League and Brooklyn Museum, got a BFA from the University of Denver in 1967, and an MFA at Yale in 1969 where he had traded painting for conceptual art. In 1971, he founded The Good Shepherd Cereal Company with his brother to produce what New York Magazine called the “patriarch” of granolas and credited with the commercialization of granola. [5] One of the first to bring natural foods to supermarkets, the company was sold to Sovex Foods in 1973, and in 1974 Swenson was commissioned to set up and run a natural foods restaurant at America’s largest naturist resort. His guide to naturist resorts was published by Popular Library in 1975, and in 1976 went on to produce an experimental theatrical repertory review in New York dealing with political satire and sexual taboos. During this same time he became involved in the underground New York rock scene where produced videos and shows of the then mostly unknown Patti Smith, Ramones, Dead Boys, Blondie and others, and in 1977 he created the punk-metal band the Plasmatics with and around Wendy O.Williams, the controversial singer and band giving its first performance at CBGB in 1978 and touring and recording for the next ten years thereafter. [6][7]

It was during this time he began to focus in earnest what he saw as the discrepancies between biology and physics particularly as relating to evolutionary and culture theory and became focused on spontaneous order production or self-organization. By 1988 he had “proposed and elaborated the law of maximum entropy production as the missing piece of the physical or universal law that would account for the ubiquitous and opportunistic transformation from disordered, or less ordered, to more highly ordered states,” [8] and in 1991 he and Michael Turvey explicitly connected this thermodynamic account to J. J. Gibson's law-based account of information to build on Swenson’s view of evolution as an epistemic process and argue that the evolution of cognition, intelligence, and knowing follow directly and opportunistically from universal or physical law [9]. From that time until the present Swenson’s work has continued in the elaboration of these principles addressing more specifically the issues of human ecology, the emergence of meaning, and intentionality. Swenson is currently a Fellow at the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action (CESPA), University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connectcut, a center founded in 1987.

1. (a) Martínez-Castilla, L.P. and Martínez-Kahn, M. (2010). The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: The Law of Maximum Entropy Production, An Interview with Rod Swenson, Ecological Psychology, 22: 69-87
(b) Systems Research, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1989 Biographical Notes (p. 271).
(c) International Journal of General Systems, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1992 Biographical Notes (p. 228).
(d) – by Rod Swenson.
2. (a) Swenson, R. (1989b). Emergent attractors and the law of maximum entropy production: Foundations to a theory of general evolution. Systems Research, 6,187-198.
(b) Swenson, R. (1991). Order, Evolution, and Natural law: Fundamental relations in Complex System Theory. In Cybernetics and Applied Systems, C. Negoita (ed.), 125-148. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.
3. Swenson, R. (1991). End-directed physics and evolutionary ordering: Obviating the problem of the population of one. In The Cybernetics of Complex Systems: Self-Organization, Evolution, and Social Change, F. Geyer (ed.), 41-60. Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publications.
4. (a) Barlow, C. (1994). Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life. Cambridge (p. 127). MA: MIT Press.
(b) Margulis, Lynn and Sagan, Dorion. (1995). What is Life? (pgs. 16-17). New York: Simon & Schuster.
5. (a) Vegetarian Times, July 1984 (p. 23)
(b) Good Shepherd Cereal Co. Wholesale Product List Fall 1971
(c) New York Herald, December 26, 1971 (p. 6)
(d) New York Magazine, August 27, 1973, (p. 94)
(e) New York Magazine, September 29, 1975, (p. 87)
(f) Sovex Foods advertisement, Vegetarian Times, October, 1981 (p.79)
6. (a) Sunshine Park Naturist Resort Brochure, 1973
(b) Guide to Nude Resorts and Beaches, Popular Library, NY. N.Y. 1975
7. (a) Ramones : It's Alive 1974-1996 - The Ultimate Double Live DVD, Chapter 6: CBGB, Rhino Records
(b) Dead Boys - Live at CBGB 1977, MVD Music Video Distributors
(c) Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics: 10 Years of Revolutionary Rock and Roll, MVD Music Video Distributors
(d) Plasmatics – Wikipedia
8. Martínez-Castilla, L.P. and Martínez-Kahn, M. (2010). The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: The Law of Maximum Entropy Production, An Interview with Rod Swenson, Ecological Psychology, 22: 69-87 (p. 69).
9. Swenson, R. and Turvey, M.T. (1991). Thermodynamic reasons for perception-action cycles. Ecological Psychology, 3(4), 317-348. Translated and reprinted in Perspectives on Affordances, in M. Sasaki (ed.). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1998 (in Japanese).
10. Webber, Jason. (2012). “Revolution, Evolution, and Rock ‘N’ Roll: an Exclusive Interview with Plasmatics Founder Rod Swenson”,, Sep.

Further reading
● Mahulikar, S.P, & Harwig, H. (2004), Conceptual investigation of the entropy principle for identification of directives for creation, existence and total destruction of order, Physica Scripta, Vol. 70, 212-221.
● Martínez-Castilla, L.P. and Martínez-Kahn, M. (2010) Darwin and the Discovery of a New Law of Thermodynamics. Educación Química, May, pp. 2-9.
● Swenson, R. (1988). Emergence and the principle of maximum entropy production: Multi-level system Meeting of the International Society for General Systems Research, 32.theory, evolution, and non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the International Society for General Systems Research, 32.
● Swenson, R. (1989a). Emergent evolution and the global attractor: The evolutionary epistemology of entropy production maximization. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of The International Society for the Systems Sciences, P. Leddington (ed)., 33(3), 46-53.
● Swenson, R. (1989b). Gauss-in-a-box: Nailing down the first principles of action. Perceiving Acting Workshop Review (Technical Report of the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action) 5, 60-63.
● Swenson, R. (1997). Evolutionary Theory Developing: The Problem(s) with Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Ecological Psychology, 9: 47-96. (Part 1, Part 2)
● Swenson, R. (1997). Autocatakinetics, evolution, and the law of maximum entropy production: A principled foundation toward the study of human ecology. Advances in Human Ecology, 6, 1-46
● Swenson, Rod. (1997). Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Behavior, in: Comparative Psychology: a Handbook (pgs. 207-), by Gary Greenberg, Maury M. Haraway. Taylor & Francis.
● Swenson, R. (1998c). Spontaneous order, evolution, and autocatakinetics: The nomological basis for the emergence of meaning. In Evolutionary Systems, G. van de Vijver, S. Salthe, and M. Delpos (eds.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
● Swenson, R. (1999). Epistemic ordering and the development of space-time: Intentionality as a universal entailment. Semiotica, Volume 127 - 1-4 , pp. 181-222.
● Matsuno, K. & Swenson, R. (1999). Thermodynamics in the present progressive mode and it's role in the context of the origin of life. Biosystems.
● Swenson, R. (2000). Spontaneous Order, Autocatakinetic Closure, and the Development of Space-Time. Annals New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 901, pp. 311-319, 2000.
● Swenson, R. (2009). The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics or the Law of Maximum Entropy Production (LMEP). Chemistry 18, 333-339.

External links – Spontaneous Order, Evolution, and the law of Maximum Entropy Production. – Autocatakinetics, Evolution, and the Law of maximum entropy production.

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