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Energy landscapes and kinetic theory as they apply to social revolution.

Very little of any particular interest is happening in my life at the moment. I'm still plugging away. Six days a week. Needless to say, Shabbat is well appreciated.

I did see something cool on ebay though. I was having a look at ebay auctions ending soon, and I had a look at religious items. There were 4 items I can remember. Before reading on, see if you can guess them. One of them was a jade Buddha. Another was a ketuba (I'm not sure whether it was used or unused). Another was a burial plot. The 4th was a copy of Linux Ubuntu operating system. I like Linux. I think it is a good system and a good idea. I don't think it is a religion quite yet.

In light of the lack of interesting events in my life, I thought I might try merging a couple of my interests. Professionally, I'm a scientist. While my field is rheology, and I don't tend to work in hard-core thermodynamics, I have had a bit of exposure to it. Another hobby of mine is commenting on society and the social state. Really? You hadn't realised?

Anyway, for those of you who haven't turned off yet, I will probably included some cynicism and a couple of cheap attempts at humour. Not too dissimilar from most of my posts, really.

So what is the energy landscape? The energy landscape describes how likely or otherwise something is to either occur or persist. Imagine I have a sheet of play-doh or clay or plasticine or whatever. Now, I push down in a few places, so that there are some pits in it and no flat space left. I then allow it to harden. Now let's say I drop a bit of fluff on it. It will drop in a random pit, and it will go to the bottom of it. The reason it will go to the bottom of a pit is because that is where it is most energetically favourable - it will drift there.

Now I'll drop something solid but soft. It is able to bounce only very slightly. It will still go down to the bottom of a hole, and stay there. Now we'll drop something which is able to bounce over a centimetre for about 10 bounces, but it can only bounce up to about 5 cm. Now, if it bounces into a pit less than 1cm deep, it has a good chance to bounce out, whereas if it lands in a pit 10cm deep, it will stay there. It is still more likely to end up in a deep pit than in a shallow one.

The deeper the pit, the more bouncy a ball needs to be to bounce out. If the ball is likely to stay in a pit, we'd describe that as stable. To move from one pit to another requires energy to overcome the barrier between the two pits, but you get it back when you enter the other pit.

So, the deeper the pit, the more stable it is, and the bouncier the ball, the more energetic it is and the more chance it has of moving from one locally stable state to another.

The landscape, however, is not set in stone. While the depths of the pits tend to be fairly stable, you can play about with paths between two pits. This is how catalysts work - they don't make the final product any more favourable. All they do is push down on the peak between two troughs, so that the ball doesn't need to be as bouncy to get between the two troughs.

Why is this relevant? I'm not sure. I just liked the idea of the title and thought I'd see if I can develop a post around it. Or not. Here's the basic idea. Society has lots of different states which are relatively stable. On a basic level, we can take society's states as things like a totalitarian communism, a socialist democracy, a capitalist democracy, monarchy, a tribal society etc.

Some states may be easy to move between. It is not to difficult to imagine the social structures moving from a socialist democracy to communism or vice-versa, or from a despotic monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and on to democracy. It is a little more difficult imagining society moving between a tribal society and a federalist democracy directly.

There are also lots of sub-states in between, too, although given that this is a simplistic generalisation post rather than an in-depth analysis, I'll keep it broad. And I'm not going to calculate effective relative energy states of different systems. I'll save that for if anyone with a professional interest in such things thinks that this is sufficiently interesting an idea to try to turn into a paper. Do I have any philosophers amongst my readership? (Do I have a readership?)

So how do we determine how bouncy the ball is? How energetic it is? I think that it is partly a measure of the discontent of the non-ruling classes, partly a measure of their subjugation and partly a measure of what other options they see.

Why did monarchies last for so long? Looking through medieval Europe, there weren't any other options. You were under a monarchy. If you moved to another town, or city, or country, your options were still the same. Consequently, there weren't a lot of other options to raise popular talk of revolution. Also, people's lives tended to be characterised by working hard, decreasing the amount of time or energy they had available for talk of revolution. Add to that a low level of education, and you have a system where there is a very low social energy to change.

How did it end? It sowed the seeds of its own downfall. By not supressing science, it allowed inventions and advancements. These did a few things. It created a middle class who neither ruled nor had any requirement for maintaining the status quo - they general benefitted from changes to the status quo, and, in some cases, they could even see a possibility for them to become the rulers. It also pushed people into jobs where, in some cases they had more time and could envision a better life, but in many other cases, people were now working in jobs which saw them in appallingly bad conditions. This fomented discontent and led to popular movements. If business wants to blame anyone for the prominence of the unions in the 20th century, they have themselves to blame.

A well-run democracy should actually be quite a stable system. By giving people what they want and what they think they want, you act quite effectively in removing the seeds of discontent. It also encourages people to spend their leisure time on leisure, which is another effective means of subjugation. If I have someone coming home, opening a beer, watching TV, eating dinner, going to bed, getting up and going to work, they are not a threat to the system. Therefore democracy works to keep the energy low enough that people can't move out of a democratic system.

On the other, hand the energy is generally high enough, because people with limitted freedoms have a better access to see people with greater freedoms, a more stable democratic society is one with greater equality. Consequently, there have been shifts towards equal rights for women, for people of different ethnicities etc. Those groups with lower status find themselves in more socially energetic modes, and will push society into states with more equality, which are in deeper pits in the energy lanscape, and so are more stable. I hope. We'll see.

Anyway, I've got to get back to work. I'm sure I'll develop this later. I hope. We'll see.


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