Mini book review on cultural ecology (was: what exactly do anthropologists do?)

Cameron Laird (claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM)
29 Jul 1995 20:11:11 GMT

In article <3tu275$>,
Thomas Kavanagh <> wrote:
>Just a quick note to clarify some language.
[extremely valuable
remarks on Odum inter-
pretation of systemic
energy flows]
>There are some very interesting applications of this model to human
>populations (see David E. Stuart, Prehistoric New Mexico, Background for

I echo all that Dr. Kavanagh has written, but recommend also
that people check out

Wesley, James Paul.
1974 Ecophysics: the application of physics
to ecology. Thomas, Springfield, Illi-

It is an elementary treatment of an even more reductionist
approach to the same theory, which relies on high-school
level algebra to rigorize simple models. Apparently I loaned
out my only copy one too many times, but my memory of the book
is that it is quite readable. I remember it as utterly
neglected when published, and perhaps it's even been regarded
as "fringe", or "crank", science, but it accomplishes pre-
cisely what we honor in the seminal works that have taught
chaos, or fractals, or game theory, or any of the other high-
-profile fashions that have made lasting contributions to the
social sciences: it provides simple, accurate models for
behavior that previously seemed beyond analysis. In this
case, Wesley explains how far-from-equilibrium systems gener-
ate order in maximally dissipating essergy. Nobel
Prize-winner Ilya Prigogine has been trying to explain the
same thing in his books for over half a century now, but the
reality is that most people understand him only second-hand,
through the interpretations of one of his followers. Wesley
is easy to understand; read him, along with, say,

Odum, Howard T., and Elisabeth C.
1981 Energy basis for man and nature
(second edition). McGraw-Hill,
New York City

and decide for yourself the applicability of the analysis
of energy flows in social systems.

By the way, does anyone know Luigi Sertorio? Does his work
apply to this topic?


Cameron Laird +1 713 267 7966 +1 713 996 8546 FAX