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Alfred Lotka nsIn evolution thermodynamics, Alfred Lotka (1880-1949) was an Austrian-born American physical chemist and mathematician noted for his 1922 articles “Contribution to the Energetics of Evolution”, “Natural Selection as a Physical Principle”, which introduced the term trigger action, and his 1924 book Elements of Physical Biology, in which he used thermodynamics and energetics to explain evolution. Lotka was one of the first to explain collision theory in biology. [2] Lotka coined the term "biophysical economics" in his Elements. Lotka is the eponym of the of the Darwin-Lotka energy law.

Lotka seems to have been one of the first to take note of the relatively unknown 1919 work of American economist Julius Davidson, one of the first to attempt to explain facets of economics in terms of Gibbsian thermodynamics and equilibrium chemical reactions models. [8]

Influential to Lotka was the 1921 work of English oceanographer James Johnstone. [3] Lotka's work later came to be influential to those as American mathematician Norbert Wiener, Russian-born American mathematical biologist Nicholas Rashevsky, founder of mathematical biophysics, American biophysicist Jeffrey Wicken, and possibly to Belgain thermodynamicist Ilya Prigogine in his dissipative structures theory in relation to equilibriums in biology.

Free energy | Available energy
Lotka seems to use both the terms "free energy" and "available energy", though possibly not in the absolute correct sense, e..g speaking about the conservation of free energy (below). This is evidenced by the fact that in his section on the "world engine" he seems to equates the boiler to the working substance.

Working outside of academic mainstream, Lotka began his studies of the energetics of evolution in the early 1900s; in this isolation he soon came to the view that there was no distinction between biology and physical systems, but that life existed in terms of the exchange of energy. [4]

Lotka proposed that natural selection was, at its root, a struggle among organisms for "available energy"; organisms that survive and prosper are those that capture and use energy at a rate and efficiency more effective than that of its competitors. Lotka extended his energetic framework to human society. In particular, he suggested that the shift in reliance from solar energy to nonrenewable energy would pose unique and fundamental challenges to society. [5]

In commentary on Johnstone’s 1921 entropy retardation logic, in particular that “in living processes, the increase in entropy is retarded,” Lotka tells us, in his 1922 "Contributions to the Energetics of Evolution" article, “he points out that this is true, primarily, of plants; but that among animals also natural selection must work toward the weeding out of unnecessary and wasteful activities, and thus toward the conservation of free energy, or, what amounts to the same thing, toward retarding energy dissipation.” [4]

Lotka began his study at Birmingham University, England in 1898 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1901. He then spent a year studying chemistry at Leipzig University from 1901 to 1902. During this period, he developed his interest in the mathematical theory of evolution, which would be the foundation for his life's work. [6] Lotka came to the United States in 1902, where he worked as an assistant chemist at the General Chemical Company in New York until 1908. While there, he published his first papers on the mathematical theory of evolution and on population analysis.

He entered Cornell University as a graduate student and assistant in physics in 1908 and received his M.A. degree in 1909. Following his education at Cornell University, Lotka worked as an examiner at the United States Patent Office (1909), assistant physicist at the United States Bureau of Standards (1909-1911), and as an editor of the Scientific American Supplement (1911-1914). He received his Doctor of Science degree from Birmingham University in 1912. Lotka then returned to General Chemical Company, where he worked as a chemist from 1914 to 1919. While he held these various positions, Lotka continued his investigations into the mathematical theory of evolution. From 1922 to 1924, he accepted a temporary research appointment in Raymond Pearl's Human Biology group at Johns Hopkins University to focus on his studies. The result of his work was the publication Elements of Physical Biology (1924). [6]

The following are notable quotes:

“In the struggle for existence, the advantage must go to those organisms whose energy-capturing devices are most efficient in directing available energies into channels favorable to the preservation of the species.”
— Alfred Lotka (1922 (Ѻ)

The following are noted tributes:

“In the era BC (before cybernetics) it [Elements of Physical Biology] was an important source of education and encouragement for few souls who had gleam in their eyes about the prospective mathematization of the social sciences. It had a substantial influence on Henry Schultz and Paul Samuelson, and, I am sure, many others besides myself. As a matter of fact, most of the ideas of [Norbert] Wiener emphasizes—for example, the relation of entropy to organizational behavior—can be found in Lotka, and I have felt some annoyance at the lack of recognition of the latter’s contributions.”
— Herbert Simon (c.1990) (Ѻ)

1. (a) Lotka, Alfred J. (1922a). “Contribution to the energetics of evolution” [PDF]. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 8: pp. 147–51.
(b) Lotka, Alfred J. (1922b). “Natural selection as a physical principle” [PDF]. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 8, pp 151–54.
2. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One), (pg. 98-103). (preview), (Google books). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
3. Johnstone, James. (1921). The Mechanism of Life in Relation to Modern Physical Theory, (pgs. 192-203). New York: Longmans, Green & Co.
4. Whitfield, John. (2006). In the Beat of a Heart: Life, Energy, and Unity of Nature, (pg. 97-98). The National Academies.
5. Alfred Lotka – Encyclopedia of Earth.
6. Alfred J. Lotka Papers (1881-1966) – Princeton University Library.
7. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One), (pg. 98-103). (preview), (Google books). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
8. Lotka, Alfred J. (1924). Elements of Physical Biology (Julius Davidson, pgs. 304, 356) . New York: Dover.

Further reading
● Lotka, Alfred. (1924). “Biased Evolution”, Harpers Magazine, May.
● Lotka, Alfred. (1924). “The Intervention of Consciousness in Mechanics”, Science Progress, Jan.

External links
Alfred Lotka – Wikipedia.

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