Adrian Bejan’s Constructal Law – introduction


I met Adrian Bejan at the Lions Cannes Festival in June, where I was also introduced to his Constructal law. Here’s a very nicely done video of Adrian explaining his theory.

Here’s the law in Bejan’s terms:

For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed (global) currents that flow through it.”

My understanding of the constructal law – and Bejan may somewhat object to my oversimplification, or intuition – is that it makes a powerful observation about the behaviour of complex systems.

Evolution as system behaviour

The observation – and key insight – is that complex systems evolve in a predetermined way: from “restricted access” to “open access”. Bejan explains this evolutionary mechanism by making use of the concept of “flow”. This flow can be energy, or information, or their various abstractions. For example, in a city the “flow” of people could be reduced to the flow of energy (e.g. cars competing with each other for getting to their destination faster using less fuel) and information (e.g. people optimizing their schedules to make more things happen in a day using technologies like synched calendars and digital assistants).  The more”complex” the system the more “energy” or “flows” it must process, and therefore the more degrees of freedom it creates in order to do so. By moving from less to more degrees of freedom “flows” are also maximized; more flows through more access, and so on.

Constructal Law and Noetics

Looking back at my work on Noetics, I see a Bejan’s law as one that “explains” my intuition about the four different abstraction levels of flows in the human brain and society, as a framework for studying consciousness. Given the profound insight of constructal theory it seems “teleological” that human consciousness will continue to “expand” at the individual as well as the collective level; seeking new degrees of freedom as our society becomes more “complex”, in the sense of becoming more diverse, more democratic and participatory, and ever more empowered by technology.

Artificial Intelligence may therefore be not just a cognitive multiplier of human intelligence but a significant lever for a phase transition on the collective human consciousness. In combination with abundant computation ability once quantum computing becomes commercially available, intelligent machines could accelerate space exploration and colonization, in accordance to Bejan’s law.

Constructal Law and Cryptonetworks

The  Law seems to confirm my insight that open source and open digital platforms are the future of business – possibly enabled by cryptonetworks and token economics, an insight with various implications for the future of capitalism. This idea I have explored in my recent essay in Aeon magazine.


The big bang of the human mind, and our desire to build artificial beings

The “big bang of the human mind” took place around 40,000 years ago, when our prehistoric ancestors developed general purpose language. The reasons why this happened are yet unclear, and probably involve a number of genetic mutations. We know that something changed because of the emergence of art, as well as dramatic changes in hunting methods, tool-making, and the systematic and ritualistic burial of the dead that suggests belief in an afterlife.

This presentation explores the latest findings of cognitive archeology in order to propose an idea: that ever since we developed our modern minds we have become dualists, i.e. we have become hardwired to assume other minds (the so called “theory of mind”) in other people, but also in animals and objects. Perhaps then, it is this faculty of the modern human mind that compels us to engineer machines “in our own image”: intelligent robots and androids that look like us, think like us, and behave like us.

For more on this idea, and how it provides a fresh insight to our technological quest for Artificial Intelligence, see my book “In our own image – will artificial intelligence save us or destroy us?” (Rider Books, 2015).