Off the Keyboard of A.G. Gelbert
Discuss this article inside the Diner
This article is about scientific bullshit and how it is used to distort our view of sustainable energy transfer mechanisms in the biosphere by wrongly relegating them to a position of lesser importance than the vaunted rapid oxidation of hydrocarbons.
Humans are, the last time I checked, living organisms governed by biochemical reactions involving complex energy transfer mechanisms. Life, like the machines man has invented, requires energy in order to function. Life, as opposed to an ICE (internal combustion engine) or a nuclear reactor, operates in a Goldilocks energy transfer zone; too little and death results; too much and death results. Homeostasis is the name commonly given to this phenomenon.
Some creatures with less sophisticated energy transfer biochemistry, like reptiles, need to position themselves in or out off a photon shower to assist their energy transfer biochemistry but, regardless of the method, rapid oxidation is never used to preserve, prolong and protect life. There are some beetles out there than can perform rapid oxidation (small explosions) to defend themselves or propel themselves a short distance but that is rare and is not favored by evolution for reasons I will get into later.
Electricity used by eels is not rapid oxidation so no one can point to that as a high energy use process in nature. However, the process by which an electric eel can generate 500 watts to kill prey is an excellent example of what 19th century scientists missed in their zeal to measure energy transfer. More on that later.
Neurotoxins and various other life terminating, as well as protein denaturing (digestive enzymes), chemicals in nature are prevalent because they are a defense and a tool for capturing and digesting prey. For some reason, evolution didn’t design humans with brick fireplaces or nuclear reactors in our stomachs to achieve energy transfer (i.e. digestion) through rapid and explosive oxidation or fission. Why not? Because nature is geared toward the most efficient method of energy transfer to preserve, prolong and protect life WITHOUT destroying the environment that provides a supply of more energy (prey). This is important. This is math. This is nature’s Homeostatic logic at the biosphere level. This is the Goldilocks energy transfer mechanism that the scientific priesthood that worships at the enthalpy altar of “more = better” NEVER understood.
Without the sun’s energy, the Earth would be a frozen planet. Any life on it would probably be some version of microscopic extremophiles such as cryophiles (extreme cold loving) and/or endoliths (underground rock dwelling). While the sun’s energy is absolutely essential for most life on this planet, the biosphere can only “handle” an extremely small percentage (.000000045%1) of the sun’s total radiant energy output. The Earth is in a Goldilocks orbit with the moon keeping the winds on earth from being routinely in excess of 200 mph and Jupiter has blocked untold meteors from slamming us. Those are facts. But the “scientific” mind has a fascination with gobs of power like those the sun possesses that could burn us to a cinder with one well aimed burp.
This is where I am convinced the “science” of physical chemistry went off the deep end into masturbatory exercises in calculus jabberwokky to define energy in search of more methods of transferring energy at faster and faster rates, consequences be damned. The bias of physical science towards measurement “admiration” of massive, lifeless energy transfer mechanisms like those in stars and planetary cores on some glorified number line with positive values as “better” while “low” values on the energy number line from natural physical forces like capillary action, evaporation and counterintuitive energy miracles like frozen water occupying more space than liquid water (no miracle, they say, just a random chance – that life would be impossible without) are given little notice as a potential power source. Negative value substances (endothermic) are a curiosity good for this and that industrial process but not worthy of the worship due the ill defined “powerful” energetic processes.
Spiders don’t die from eating something they killed with their venom because eating the venom is harmless outside the bloodstream in the digestive tract. Spiders deposit digestive enzymes that help denature proteins (remember that denaturing a protein requires ENERGY) along with the venom but that’s just fine tuning the energy transfer mechanism. Cats have a pH of aound 1 (VERY high acidity) in their stomachs to aid digestion and kill most disease causing bacteria in the food they eat. Acid is another way that nature facilitates energy transfer.
Scientists say, yeah, sure, anabolism and catabolism in metabolism is important and all that. It’s wonderful that water floats when it freezes and evaporation is nice too. Learning about that helped us design air conditioners! But hey, those are puny energy transfer mechanisms. We need to power jets, tanks, cars and make bombs and provide electricity to millions of homes, etc.
How in the hell do you expect us get that kind of power from this puny shit you are talking about here? As for the moon, it’s really cool the way the lunar orbit keeps the winds down and provides tides but hey, that’s a given! The energy the moon is using to keep those winds down and promote ocean life through tidal activity is just a big math equation we don’t use much; it’s not centralized enough but, don’t worry, we are looking into some tidal power mechanisms just as soon as we can figure a way to SCALE UP tidal power generation.
I say they are wrong on all counts. I say they have a bias towards death WORSE than the entropic processes that lead to absolute zero on the negative part of their number line that they fear and work to avoid by going in the other extreme. They say energy is energy. Nineteenth century scientists took care of all that with the work on enthalpy. I say the only RIGHT use of energy in a closed system is to be in the ZONE, not reaching for more raw extremes in energy transfer.
So where do we begin? The Homeostatic biosphere energy transfer Goldilocks model doesn’t sound too scientific, now does it?
So lets get down to the brass tacks of energy transfer. The sun shines, a plant grows, something eats it and you eat the plant and/or the animal, transfer energy from the food to your body with the indispensable help of your gut microbes and then YOU provide FOOD for the plants and tiny microbes by depositing your nitrogen rich plant food known to us as urine and feces back onto plants. It’s not race car sexy but it ain’t optional.
Before I get to the neanderthal and primitive pig poison spewing invention known as the ICE, lets talk about how biologists figure out the “efficiency” of a life form in transferring energy (i.e. getting it out of food). They take an identical portion of food being fed to an animal, weigh it and burn it. Hello, enthalpy! They measure the energy of rapid oxidation as best they can. They weigh the droppings in a continual cycle making sure the droppings correspond to the measure of food eaten. They burn the droppings. Hello enthalpy again. Now they get real scientific and anal about all this because carbohydrates, fats and proteins burn differently. Mineral content is studied to see what is no longer there.
The point is that there is an ASSUMPTION made that doesn’t have beans to do with the energy transfer process known as digestion. WE DO NOT BURN OUR FOOD! All that CRAP you and I learned about caloric content is based on physical chemistry leaps of faith (not math) about enthalpy and the “lets burn it and see how much energy it has” boys. Of course this stuff is only partial bullshit in nonliving energy transfer processes so they were quite objective in determining MJ of energy transferred in burning hydrocarbons and many other substances but catalysts messed with their results so they invented a fudge factor called “energy of activation”. More on that later.
What is it that living systems DO if they don’t BURN the food? Something similar to what they do to move muscles; they use catalysts (substances that affect a chemical reaction BUT do not gain or lose energy or are degraded in a chemical reaction) to keep HEAT and pH from getting out of the Goldilocks zone of life. How do they do that with those enzymes (biochemical catalysts)?
The physical scientists with their knowledge of molecules and the different kinds of chemical bonds will tell you that enzymes DO NOT rig a chemical reaction so it uses less energy. They say it can’t be done. They say the enzyme just lowers the “energy of activation” so the reaction can proceed at lower temperatures. They claim the reaction itself will ALWAYS produce a certain amount of heat once it begins. I disagree. I believe the enzymes affect the speed of the reaction AFTER it has been initiated to keep the heat emitted below the normal reaction rate of the chemicals involved. I believe they do this by temporarily distorting the shape of the reactants during the reaction. This is physical chemistry heresy!
This the scientific concensus: Question: Do enzymes lower the energy of the overall reaction? Answer: Enthalpy, entropy, and Gibbs free energy are all state functions. This means they depend only on the initial state and the final state. Anything that happens between those states is irrelevant. So no, enzymes have no effect on the enthalpy of a reaction.
I see enthalpy is back right there with the word enzyme. I see that really fascinating term “state function” as a rationale for the “no effect”. This is all quite valid and true in nonliving energy transfer mechanisms. This is bullshit in living systems. Why? Because the biochemical reaction DOES NOT release the same amount of HEAT that it would in the absence of the enzyme. That HEAT that wasn’t emitted is an amount of energy that is CONSERVED! That means that the figures for caloric content based on brute force rapid oxidation are WRONG. Enzymes (BILLIONS OF THEM!) are constantly operating at an efficiency level no ICE could ever approach. It’s not just sweat that keeps you from overheating, folks.2Furthermore, they have a “slight” problem you probably were never told about in measuring enthalpy (Especially if you work with hydrocarbons).
Although enthalpy is commonly used in engineering and science, it is impossible to measure directly, as enthalpy has no datum (reference point). Therefore enthalpy can only accurately be used in a closed system. However, few real-world applications exist in closed isolation, and it is for this reason that two or more closed systems cannot be compared using enthalpy as a basis, although sometimes this is done erroneously. 3
So, as you can see, “scientists” can have a ball with fudge factors and tell YOU they are doing science.
Even now the myriad chemical reactions in the human body are not fully understood. Scientists can write these calculus formulas for “work” done in a reaction that include the different state functions along the way and dazzle us with numbers and “empirical” evidence OUTSIDE living systems. Inside living systems, they still do not understand how gamma radiation can upregulate (cause them to accelerate activity) Tyrosine Kinase enzymes that, as a consequence of upregulation, tell cells to divide like crazy and simultaneously turn off apoptosis (cell death clock) so the newly multiplied cells don’t die. It’s called cancer (Almost all kinds have this same trigger – radiation just does it faster than other toxins out there). Cancer, boys and girls, is caused by too much energy slamming a tyrosine kinase enzyme. This is what happens when you depart the Goldilocks zone towards higher energy.
Plant foods contain many of the same enzymes that humans use to metabolize different kinds of macronutrients. Proteases and peptidases, which help digest protein; lipases, which help digest fat; and cellulases and saccharidases, which help digest starches and sugars are examples of the kind of digestive enzymes that would normally be secreted in our digestive tract or in nearby organs like the pancreas or liver. However, these same digestive enzymes can be found in the plant foods that we eat. 4
How do the enthalpy boys deal with the above reality? You were lacking some of those enzymes that help you transfer energy and you ate some vegetables. How EXACTLY does that translate to “state functions”, enthalpy and WORK that you can quantify as MJ of energy? It doesn’t! They BURN that stuff to see what the caloric content is. That’s mechanistic reductionist science at its most neanderthal. Sure, it works “great” (not really but it looks that way from a distance) for engines and rockets but it’s a FAIRY TALE as far as humans are concerned. Consider that the enthalpy of a human body with all its carbon, nitrogen oxygen, hydrogen, potassium, sodium, sulfur compounds and all the rest of the trace elements that make up what it is one second before it dies and 10 minutes later is, according to the enthalpy measurers, the same. Do you believe a dead body has the same energy content as a live one? You’d better if you believe the published stats on caloric food content.
Let’s compare an electric eel with a human manufactured battery.
When the eel locates its prey, the brain sends a signal through the nervous system to the electric cells. This opens the ion channel, allowing positively-charged sodium to flow through, reversing the charges momentarily. By causing a sudden difference in voltage, it generates a current. The electric eel generates its characteristic electrical pulse in a manner similar to a battery, in which stacked plates produce an electrical charge. In the electric eel, some 5,000 to 6,000 stacked electroplaques are capable of producing a shock at up to 500 volts and 1 ampere of current (500 watts). 5
The electric eel is really not an eel but a type of catfish. It lives, eats, mates, lays eggs and dies. It serves a viable and useful function in the biosphere in life and in death. It’s in the Goldilocks zone.
Now for a 20th century product of our “vast” understanding of energy transfer mechanisms, chemical reactions and, of course, enthalpy.
Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling
Lead acid batteries are rechargeable batteries made of lead plates situated in a ‘bath’ of sulfuric acid within a plastic casing. They are used in every country in world, and can commonly be recognized as “car batteries”. The batteries can be charged many times, but after numerous cycles of recharging, lead plates eventually deteriorate causing the battery to lose its ability to hold stored energy for any period of time.1 Once the lead acid battery ceases to be effective, it is unusable and deemed a used lead acid battery (ULAB), which is classified as a hazardous waste under the Basel Convention.6
Throughout the informal recycling process, there are opportunities for exposure. Most often the battery acid, which contains lead particulates, is haphazardly dumped on the ground, waste pile or into the nearest water body. As the lead plates are melted, lead ash falls into the surrounding environment, collects on clothing, or is directly inhaled by people in close proximity. Soil containing lead compounds can turn to dust and become airborne, enabling the lead compounds to be easily inhaled or ingested in a variety of ways. Lead can also leach into water supplies. Children, in particular are often exposed to lead when playing on the waste furnace slag and handling rocks or dirt containing lead, while engaging in typical hand-to-mouth activity, as well as by bringing objects covered with lead dust back into the home. The most common route of exposure for children is ingestion, as lead dust often covers clothing, food, soil and toys.
Acute lead poisoning can occur when people are directly exposed to large amounts of lead through inhaling dust, fumes or vapors dispersed in the air. However, chronic poisoning from absorbing low amounts of lead over long periods of time is a much more common and pervasive problem. Lead can enter the body through the lungs or the mouth, and over long periods can accumulate in the bones. Health risks include impaired physical growth, kidney damage, retardation, and in extreme cases even death. Lead poisoning can lead to tiredness, headache, aching bones and muscles, forgetfulness, loss of appetite and sleep disturbance.
This is often followed by constipation and attacks of intense pain in the abdomen, called lead colic.5 Extreme cases of lead poisoning, can cause convulsions, coma, delirium and possibly death. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults and may suffer permanent neurological damage. Women that are pregnant and become exposed to lead can result in damage to the fetus and birth defects.6
I’m just curious, but what “state function” in physical chemistry applies to the above? How about the enthalpy, entropy or energy of a stack of battery casings? What’s the “energy of activation” needed to brain damage a kid? Where are the “elegant” calculus equations to show the “energy” used to make, use, discard and poison the biosphere, HUH!!? Anyone? How about someone from The Oil Drum? Can you explain the superiority of the car battery over the electric eel? I can’t. BUT, if you worship DEATH; if you worship energetic processes above the Goldilocks zone, then it is fucking OBVIOUS why the battery is head and shoulders above the electric eel!
Which brings us back to the BANKRUPTCY of the physical sciences in describing energetic processes in living systems. The cells in an electric eel function as a group of many, many individuals, each producing a tiny change in electric potential. In order to have an energetic process that doesn’t harm the people using it (e.g. humans) you are SUPPOSED to keep each individual process tiny so as to maximize efficiency and minimize or totally avoid biosphere damage. The moment you exit that zone into “bigger is better explosive energy output”, for every single MJ/L of energy you extract above the Goldilocks zone of life, you are generating life destroying entropy with waste heat and poisonous chemicals. The blind, greedy fuckers that built the ICE refused to see that. Most people today STILL refuse to see that.
THIS is what the IDIOTS in science never get. For many decades they were scratching there moronic heads about why a dolphin can swim as fast as it does (Gray’s paradox). The dolphin didn’t match their equations so they went TILT. The arrogance is breathtaking. The same thing is going on today with the slavish devotion to oil and nuclear as some great and glorious energy process. LOOK AROUND! Look what all this “cheap” energy has produced. Don’t you get it? There was NO WAY you could exit the Goldilocks zone in energy output and NOT produce untold garbage, poison and waste. The two things go in opposite directions in equal vector strength! The “externalized” effects of oil and nuclear CAN be quantified in NEGATIVE MJ/L of entropy and poisons. THAT is what the early scientists studying energy failed to see. The blindness just accelerated from then. For every bomb, car, truck, tractor, tank, plane, train, ship or powerplant high energy transfer device the Industrial Revolution IDIOCY of brain dead mechanistic reductionism worshippers brought us, we received a corresponding equal and opposite reaction in the biosphere.
For a viable society, absolutely every energetic process must be measured in the total cycle. Every ICE out there NOW, if the TOTAL enthalpy, entropy and poison generating math was done, would never have been built because NONE of them were EVER cost effective compared to living system energy transfer mechanisms, PERIOD! Everybody that likes cars should lock themselves in their garage with one and start the engine. After an hour or so, you will experience the part oil EROI worshippers and the scientists like those at The Oil Drum fail to mention. The fact that these oil energy loving FUCKS that call themselves scientists can believe it’s wrong to run your car in a garage but a mark of “advanced civilization” to do it outside is proof that they are SERIOUSLY math challenged idiots. The killer combination for mankind is a love of science and a lack of consideration about its place in the world. Have a nice day.
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