I have a speculative interest in relating civilizational evolution to the natural life-driven objective function of minimizing entropy locally. Inviting any and all to ideate with me in this area, wherever it may lead...
First, a quick "in the beginning part" -- If we think about it, and very likely you already have, life forms in the universe are things that tend to directionally or "intentionally" counteract entropy in their own local space and time - even in fractal layers (more on that later). This offers a general operational definition of living things. Notice it doesn't presuppose carbon, etc. -- those incarnations and instances likely just localized special cases of life such "as we know it" here. At this point, we only know of such phenomena on Earth, mostly carbon-based. A reasonable hypothesis is that the localized counter-entropy property is a universal characteristic or indicator of all life forms, something to look for in our search, no matter what the "matter" involved.As you probably already know, Schrödinger also formulated a similar set of ideas way back when (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_and_life#Negative_entropy
). The idea here is that Schrödinger's paradox suggested that life forms violate the second law of thermodynamics as they seemingly counteract the tendency of increasing entropy -- a known physical law. The pushback on that assertion of course is that life forms do not operate in closed systems, as they obtain useful energy and resources from the surrounding environment and then discard their products of life externally back into that environment, in a more disorderly form, as a byproduct of maintaining their own internal order. This then nets out so that global entropy and output thermal energy still obey the physical laws. There is also more recent postulation (https://esd.copernicus.org/articles/2/37/2011/
) that the formation of life may be the universe's way of accelerating its natural tendency to increase entropy, as when netted out, the longer-term effects of life forms on the general environment is greater general entropy and at a faster rate. Not to get too much into the thermodynamic science of it, but that's the gist.
Now, reasoning by observational analogy, social structures exhibit similar behavior. While endeavoring towards self-preservation and further advancement, tribes, families, households, organizations, businesses, multinational corporations, governments, nations, empires, political systems, and the like all do the same thing -- maximize and compete for input energy and resources while producing external outputs of higher entropy and of traditionally less concern to internal processes and operations. "It's me who cares about my neighbor dumping garbage on my lawn, not so much my neighbor." For most of human history up to the near present, this "live and let die" or "ignorance of unintended consequences" has been the modus operandi of humanity, but at this point in our history it can no longer be. Perhaps even our evolved "us versus them" divisiveness tendencies are rooted in our need to protect our quantity of minimized entropy local to our groupings.
What then is needed is greater influence, governance, meta-engineering, or whatever we want to call it that deals with these things we in the know call "externalities" -- the overlooked entropy shifted from the internal to the external in favor of promoting the internal. Life forms do it, and so do social structures. The structures grow via successively, fractally, expanding circles of empathy -- radii within which only the internal stakeholders care and outside which only the external impacted stakeholders care. Traditionally, only the former has been precisely measured and managed. Perhaps, in our now increasing level of enlightenment of this wider scope of our effects, we are now technologically, if done right, incubating a framework to enable and operationalize the latter to be precisely measured and managed as well, and to characterize the interactions between the interior and exterior. Serendipitously, as we recognize, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in the ability to quantify and actionalize such social entropy.
These new measurement and management capabilities then enable civilization to innovate going forward in such a way that future technologies and social arrangements developed best utilize free energy (in both the thermodynamic sense and being virtually free from our local star) to do useful work that satisfies both civilizational needs -- transportation, construction, information processing, internal environmental controls, manufacturing, pastimes, and the like -- but also to optimally manage the entropy outputs of all those activities in such a way that their effects are not adverse -- to widen the circles so large that they don't negatively affect anyone, or at least as minimally as possible -- or, more ideally, cycle back as useful resources serving some other circle, fractally perhaps -- analogous to the symbiosis between plants and animals. New ideas and approaches such as "circularity" are along that axis. More generally, socially thermodynamic external entropy considerations can then be input to all decisions of action -- investments, innovations, structuring, building, deployment and the rest. It can also be noted also that there may well be a lot of "doing well by doing good" types of business opportunities that can arise from thinking in this kind of frame.
An additional analogy with life forms is the use of regenerative information (DNA in our local Earthly case) for propagation and generational preservation (again, at risk of restating the obvious to you) -- with this information property being a necessary condition for robustly perpetuating the ability to maintain complexity, counteracting entropy in localized space and time. This also applies to perpetuating social structures,.while its absence conversely causes degeneration (analogous to cancer) resulting from cultural malaise, loss of purpose, rudderlessness, and such -- counteracted by enabling information-driven reinvention and renewal like Darwinian adaptation through information management analogous to biological systems. We note, for example, that technology-centric companies are particularly better at doing this kind of reinventive thing.
The above was also peppered with references to fractals. There has been additional recent study (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259436547_The_potential_for_detecting_%27life_as_we_don%27t_know_it%27_by_fractal_complexity_analysis
) applying this idea to assess the probability of extraterrestrial life forms being present, through implicit observations, as indications of their past existence. Lots of fertile ground there too. For example, the techniques describe spatial analyses, so got me wondering if the techniques could also be applied to temporal observations on exoplanets -- perhaps needing various time series spanning multiple earth years, but still feasible. For example, if a far off observer of Earth could detect changes in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere following curves of fractal dimension greater than a "natural" process background, it could indicate the existence of an ordering process, something living, namely the collective effects of our civilization, reflecting again on your presentation regarding quantifying the characteristics of the "human experiment". More advanced civilizations might also have more pronounced fractal signatures, easier to detect -- and perhaps specify a recipe for how we go about optimally ordering things in our human future.
Overall, there are a lot of things in broad areas to ideate upon in this frame of thinking.