Friday, August 01, 2008

Burke's Law of Metadynamics

Burke's Law of Metadynamics

In the course of the chat, Burke came up with approximately the following statement, which has stayed with me since:

"Systems dump excess energy in the form of structure."

It may not sound like not much, but it's rather profound. It essentially says that a system operating in surplus won't stay so, but instead will act to build up its own structure at the expense of the surplus. Looked at the right way, it's a nutshell explanation for the existence of life - an eruption of structure in response to excess solar energy.

I doubt the meat of the statement was original with Burke, but given his gift for a turn of phrase, the formulation may have been. At any rate, I've never seen it elsewhere. It keeps coming up in my own thinking and writing, so I've decided to memorialize it as "Burke's Law of Metadynamics" for reference by myself and anyone else who cares. The 'Burke' is obvious, the 'metadynamic' sets it aside from rules that operate within dynamic systems of fixed structure; it is a statement instead about the malleability of structure.

It's been long since I've done ecosystems work, so that's not the reason it keeps coming up. Experience has show me that the statement applies equally to human organizations and systems, particularly if you substitute 'wealth' by analogy to 'energy'. In that form it's a more succinct statement of several of John Gall's Laws of Systemantics.

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