The Thermodynamics of Emotion

On this blog and in my talks you will hear me refer often to the Thermodynamics of Emotion. Well, perhaps not that often – it does depend on the crowd. In fact there is a special conference I’m hosting just on this topic to make sure the right crowd is there.

“The Thermodynamics of Emotion” refers to a theory of animal (human animal included) behavior called Immediate Moment theory. It is not about cognition, it is about the behavior we helplessly express before we even have a chance to think. It is about what our body and limbic system do right now, in the present moment, before we have a chance to censor.

Remember that this is a model, and as the statistician George Box said (here it comes…), all models are wrong, but some are useful.

I have found this model to be profoundly useful and have tremendous explanatory value. YMMV. Onward.

complex_adaptive_systems_cardLiving systems, including human ones, are complex no matter what the scale and so we greatly benefit from analyzing them through the lens of complex adaptive systems.


These premises are some of the main requirements for stepping into the complexity space. (“Prophecy” is a reference to the cyclically focused nature of useful forecasting. Dates and times rarely apply)

thermodynamics_of_flow_systemsThe physics principle the Constructal Law tells us, given that we know where energy moves (high to low),  we now must ask how does it get there? Flow systems!


This means everything we know about flow systems, both scientifically and from our own personal observations every day, applies to our search for patterns in the movement of energy.

So emotion is physical energy that flows through us and organizes our behavior into flow configurations in accord with Thermodynamics.


The “conchoidal” (conch=shell) fracture in your windshield from a pebble is telling you how your team “works”. For me this is a thrilling point of view.

These fractures illustrate both the wave-like ripples and branching fissures, the laminar and turbulent flows, fundamental to flow configurations.


The Constructal Law is always asking “what is flowing?” when it looks at a system. Hence, the origin of land animals is that a salt-water wave from the ocean discovered how to flow across land.

emotion_is_force_of_attraction_cardAnother answer to what is flowing is emotion. Emotion, from this perspective, is like gravity, a monolithic force binding and flowing through all life.

emotion_is_a_currentEmotion, as defined here, is simply physical energy moving through animal bodies.


Free movement feels good.


Like any flow, animal bodies encounter resistance which changes their flow configuration – trails, lays, homes, streets, etc.


Do internet search for “how wolves change rivers” for a compelling example of this. We (animals) vascularize our environments with our flows


In animal bodies it moves from high to low, avoiding resistance.


And so the predator flows towards the prey!

Good resources and due credit: Adrian Bejan for discovering the Constructal Law, Kevin Behan for developing Immediate Moment theory, the animal behavior model driven by the paradigm of the Constructal Law.

This is just a tiny bite of the model. If it has left you wanting more, join us October 2017 in Portland, OR for the Thermodynamics of Emotion Symposium.

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