The Constructal law is a law of physics that predicts natural design and its evolution in biology, geophysics, climate change, technology, social organization, evolutionary design and development, wealth and sustainability.
The law states that for a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to live) it must evolve such that it provides greater and greater access to the currents that flow through it.
If the second law of thermodynamics is seen as the irreversibility of energy flow, the constructal law describes just how these flows organise across time. The constructal says that as a flow system continues to evolve, its design will change to increase the rate of whatever is flowing through it.
The applications of the law are vast, as I'm sure you can imagine. It explains why rivers form the way that they do, why the vasculature of our bodies and cities manifest in the branching ways that they do, even why wealth inequality arises. It's the physics principle that underpins economies of scale and the Pareto distribution (also known as the Matthew principle), the observation the majority of wealth is normally found within the hands of a few.
If you're like me, you're might be wondering why you've never heard of it before. It might be because it's a relatively new development, but who knows. Regardless, I'm thrilled to have come across it and to share it with you all.
My interest in it, apart from it being something foundational to the world we live in, is what it may mean for how we structure our societies and our moral and ethical viewpoints. Harnessing the flows of energy are foundational to life, from the smallest of organisms all the way to our technologically enhanced species. We do this better than any of the rest. It's our unique capacity to extract energy from the world and put it to use that's responsible for why we've progressed so far, from apes playing with fire to people who can split atoms and channel the awesome power locked within.
As our interconnected global society continues to emerge, we must understand the natural laws that shape our world so that we're better equipped to build societies that not work better not just for those that live within them, but for the planet as a whole.
Joining me to explore this topic is distinguished Professor Adrian Bejan from Duke University, the man who formulated the constructal law in 1995.
To call Adrian prolific would be an understatement. He's authored more than 650 peer-reviewed articles as well as 30 books, one of which being the most widely-used engineering textbook in the English language. His books The Physics of Life, Design in Nature, and his most recent book*, Freedom and Evolution,* were the resources I used to base our conversation on.
He's ranked among the top 0.01% of leading world scientists in the new citations impact database created by Stanford University’s John Ioannidis. He's the recipient of 18 honorary doctorates from universities in 11 countries, In 2018 he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering for his pioneering interdisciplinary contributions in thermodynamics and convection heat transfer, and in 2019 he was awarded the Humboldt Research Award for lifetime achievement for his pioneering contributions to his field and the constructal law. Earlier this year, the French government awarded Adrian with the title of Knight of the French Order of Academic Palms, an award reserved for distinguished academics for their valuable services to universities, education and science.
I feel deeply privileged to have had a chance to speak to someone who has contributed so much to our understanding of the structure of reality.
In our conversation, we cover:
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