In Praise of Peter Paul Pogany
Many thanks to Donna Schill for allowing the use of her beautiful etching of Peter Pogany above.
This page is dedicated to promoting the work of an under-recognized thinker whose insights could be critical to successfully navigating the difficult times we are now experiencing, and which may become much worse before they get better. Pogany refers to this as a “chaotic transition.” Pogany’s thermodynamic view of history can be summarized as a pulsing pattern of steady state/chaotic transition/steady state, and was influenced by Ilya Prigogine, Nicholas Georgescu Roegen, Jean Gebser, Ervin Laszlo, and others (my own musing about the Wave/Pulse of Human History here).
Peter Paul Pogany (1936-2014) was born in Budapest, Hungary. As a trained Economist, he taught International Economics in Vietnam, worked as a Senior Economist and Statistician for Petroci in the Ivory Coast in Africa; worked as an Economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission (where he contributed to many high-profile U.S. government studies on foreign economic issues), and was an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University. He lived with his family in Staunton, VA, and was a member of the International Gebser Society and The Alliance Francaise of Charlottesville.
My impression is that it may have been after his retirement that he felt free to more deeply explore and begin writing, relating his expertise in economics to thermodynamics, history, philosophy, and other big picture ideas.
In 2006 Pogany’s major work was published: Rethinking the World, “the result of several years of full-time, independent, transdisciplinary research.”
In Rethinking the World, Pogany delved deep into his understanding of history as a thermodynamic process, and named his approach New Historical Materialism, informed by Hegel and Marx, but quite distinctly different, and heavily influenced also by Nicholas Georgescu Roegen‘s ideas about the relationship between thermodynamics and economics, as outlined in his classic treatise on “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process,” and by Ilya Prigogine’s theories about dissipative structures, order out of chaos, and the irreversability of time (i.e. Order Out of Chaos and The End of Certainty).
From the blurb about Pogany’s book:
“The still expanding human biomass and mindlessly pursued economic expansion are straining against the planet’s physical limits. Oil! Energy! Ecology! Growing vulnerabilities in hyperlinked national economies! The transformation of the current global system, “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” into a radically new one, “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” looks like the only way to avoid drifting toward extinction…
History has recorded two distinct global systems thus far: “laissez faire/metal money,” which spanned most of the 19th century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I, and “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” which began after 1945 and exists today. The period between the two systems, 1914-1945, was a chaotic transition. This evolutionary pulsation is well known to students of thermodynamics. It corresponds to the behavior of expanding and complexifying material systems.
The exhaustion of oil and other natural resources is pushing the world toward a third global system that may be called “two-level economy/strong multilateralism.” It will be impossible to get there without a new chaotic transition. No repeated warnings, academic advice, moral advocacy, inspired reforms, or political leadership can provide a shortcut around it. But if it took “1914-1945″ to make a relatively minor adjustment in the global order, what will it take to make a major one?”
The next phase of Pogany’s post-retirement career is most interesting to me. His 2006 book does not once mention Jean Gebser, but from 2009 to 2013, Pogany wrote a number of insightful articles and essays relating ideas from Gebser’s magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, to the predicament the world is now facing, and the ways in which Gebser’s ideas about stages of consciousness, especially the yet to come stage of the integral structure of consciousness (a universal “intensified awareness”), support Pogany’s own program of New Historical Materialism. Many of these essays were prepared for presentation to the International Gebser Society at their annual conference.
It is this period and these essays that I would like to highlight on this page. See below for links to each of these essays. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes Gebser’s ideas about structures of consciousness:
“Each consciousness structure eventually becomes deficient, and is replaced by a following structure. The stress and chaos in Europe from 1914 to 1945 were the symptoms of a structure of consciousness that was at the end of its effectiveness, and which heralded the birth of a new form of consciousness. The first evidence he witnessed was in the novel use of language and literature. He modified this position in 1943 so as to include the changes which were occurring in the arts and sciences at that time.
His thesis of the failure of one structure of consciousness alongside the emergence of a new one led him to inquire as to whether such had not occurred before. His work, Ursprung und Gegenwart is the result of that inquiry. It was published in various editions from 1949 to 1953, and translated into English as The Ever-Present Origin. Working from the historical evidence of almost every major field, (e.g., poetry, music, visual arts, architecture, philosophy, religion, physics and the other natural sciences, etc.) Gebser saw traces of the emergence (which he called “efficiency”) and collapse (“deficiency”) of various structures of consciousness throughout history.”
Sadly, Peter Pogany passed away on May 25, 2014. His final book, Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order was published posthumously in 2015. This work is a slight alteration and expansion of a paper published in 2013 (see below).
Here is the blurb for this book:
“Just to maintain our standard of living, we need to grow the worldwide economy at an unsustainable rate.
As we seek to hit such lofty targets, we’re bound to deplete our resources and cause environmental crises on a scale that we have never seen before. Revolutions, terrorism, and wars will follow.
Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order.
His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s.
Havoc, They Name is Twenty-First Century, delivers sobering thoughts on where the world is headed, but it also offers a glimpse of a bright future that we can embrace once we get through the darkness to come.”
With the two books above, and the essays linked below, you’ll obtain a good understanding of Peter Pogany’s ideas, which I believe are unique, timely, insightful, important, broadly considered, and with wide application. Even better if you can read this material alongside Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin, and other works and ideas presented on this website (see here and here).
Peter Pogany Papers and Essays
Presentations to the International Gebser Society Conference
“Fifth Structure” – Emergence in Economics: Observations through the Thermodynamic Lens of World History (presented October 2009) [Download pdf]
“Gebser’s archeology of consciousness, augmented by its graciously nonpositivistic (open destiny) eschatology through archaic-originary projection, presumes the epiphenomenon of socioeconomic transformation. Since the history of consciousness is also a history of social consciousness, which is never without economic interpretations, it is mirrored by the history of economic thought.
The thermodynamic conceptualization of the human journey provides further warrant to Gebser’s caveat that the mutation of the prevalent mental-rational structure of consciousness into the integral-arational (“fifth”) constellation is a sine qua non for dignified survival. This crucial moment in collective psychohistory is inseparable from a change in the global socioeconomic system, which cannot occur without transcending mainstream orthodoxy in economic sciences.”
New Scientific Evidence Confirms Gebser’s Concerns about Technological Overreach (presented October 2010) [Download pdf]
“The first part of this presentation details the evidence promised in the title and the second explores why he [Gebser] was so right.
Part I: Big push plus blind faith equals predicament
Perhaps no other thinker besides Gebser has a better record in anticipating the nascent conviction that growing technical prowess entails a cumulative downside. With sober poignancy, and much against the beliefs inculcated in the generations of modernity, Gebser warned that technology cannot possibly bestow on man the omnipotence that he imagines himself to possess. What collective thinking has come to consider progress is indeed turning out to be a progression away from equilibrium between the individual and society, between humanity and nature.
But it is eminently important to underscore that despite all the negatively charged contradictions Gebser attributed to the rationalistic overflow inherent in what he termed “technologization,” he was not against the practical application of the fruits of scientific advancement. Abandoning technology, he stated, is dissolution not a solution (Ever-Present Origin, p. 132).”
Gebser’s Relevance to the Global Crisis (presented October 2011) [Download pdf]
Reprinted as chapter 6 in “Filling the Credibility Gap” edited by Algis Mickunas and John Murphy
“More than half a century ago Gebser foretold the coming of a global crisis.1 Now it is here. The robust sense of continuity that had characterized the postwar era is gone.
Rationalistically-rooted voluntarism keeps spinning scenarios about future developments without respite, but we can probably agree that only a clairvoyant or someone as lucky as a jackpot winner could hit upon the consensus narrative that will satisfy latter-day macro-historians, poring over the first half of the 21st century.
Nonetheless, for a Gebserian, one thing appears to be certain: If the chaos that has grabbed the world by its throat were to lead to a new, more sustainable world, it would entail an intense, mass-scale transformation into integral consciousness.
But we are very far from any collective understanding that current reality will have to make space for another one that is potentially fuller, clearer, and more satisfying for the individual. Few see or are willing to admit that the fundamental material cause of the current convulsive state of affairs is that the interwoven demographic and economic growth has run into constraints. Simple as this process may sound in this reduced, abstract formulation, its phenomenology is stochastic and complex.
At present, global society confronts environmental, energy and other resource problems along with those that an outdated, growth-dependent monetary-financial system represents. While solutions are sought in each of these domains through new policies, reforms, and plans, the most important circumstance is being overlooked. A cluster of inextricably interrelated problems outside the range of familiar experience constitutes a predicament. Whereas a problem or a series of relatively independent problems may be solved through rational maneuvering, a predicament must be lived through; it has to be endured.
This is the case per force because the hallmark of a comprehensive crisis is that the solutions offered to end it correspond to interests so divergent that they cannot be synthesized through negotiated compromise.”
An Aperspectival Opinion on the Future of “Smart Money” (presented October 2012) [Download pdf]
“Right off the bat let me tell you what I mean by “smart money,” “aperspectival opinion,” and “the future.”
Keynes, one of the most brilliant and clear-eyed economists the world has ever seen, used the word “enterprise” to designate financial investments that are based on forecasting prospective yields of productive activities. (“I think that this household gadget has a great future; therefore I will be rich by buying stocks in its maker, Shiny Gadgets International, Inc.” That’s “enterprise.”) In contrast, he called “speculation” all moves on investment markets that are based on guessing what everybody else expects, what others have forecast.
Since the mid-1930s when Keynes published these thoughts, his worst fears came true. “Speculation” has come to dominate over “enterprise.” It has multiplied to
mind-boggling proportions. The world economy has become a gigantic casino. To mark off the current situation, which is both quantitatively and qualitatively different from the one that prevailed three-quarters of a century ago, I have appropriated the meme “smart money” to represent the spectrum of all financial transactions that lack a palpable intention to provide a useful good or service for society. A wager-like derivate on certain mortgage-backed securities is an example. One player bets on default and another on no-default; neither of them has any interest other than possessing more money.”
Tributaries to Gebser’s Social Thought (presented October 2013) [Download pdf]
“Gebser’s archeology of consciousness with its unstoppable gravitation toward its natural immanence contains a vital core of social philosophy.
He despised both Nazism and Communism without becoming an ideological spokesman of Western-style consumer capitalism. He saw crisis coming “big time,” ushering in renewal.
Mutation toward universally “intensified awareness” (Gebser, 1984 — henceforth EPO — p. 335) means the liberation of the individual from anxiety (EPO, pp. 360 and 361) and alienation manifest in “isolation and collectivism” (EPO, p. 358). How could such a portentous transformation occur without a change in the substance and form and politics, without new, hitherto unseen social and economic institutions, without a new statecraft, without a new form of global self-organization? Despite his occasional beatific overtones and his generally theoretic-aesthetic disposition, Gebser was not a pessimistic quietist.”
- Papers at Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA):
What’s Wrong with the World? Rationality! A Critique of Economic Anthropology in the Spirit of Jean Gebser (2010)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/27221/]
“Jean Gebser (1905-1973) was a multidisciplinary thinker whose ideas about human consciousness and the future inspire the following five vantage points for the heterodox critique of contemporary economic anthropology: (1) Characteristic attributes of consciousness and those of the environment surrounding the individual are equivalent, eliminating the possibility of single-minded, seamless, rational control, especially during macrohistoric phase transitions; (2) Diaphaneity as a mode of deep and comprehensive understanding (an approach that excludes latching on to any selectively focused explanation) will be needed to deal effectively with emerging global resource and environmental problems; (3) Costs in the form of irreversibly accumulating inaccessible energy shadow our evolving civilization, which our cultural conditioning portrays as pure progress; (4) Rationality, as the most laudable motivation for individuals, business firms and nations, has led to an unfounded techno-fetish; and, for various reasons, it fuels accelerated movement toward collective self-destruction; (5) Signs of chaos (not the harmless and controllable kind found in standard economic literature) corroborate the notion that we have entered a new period of macrohistoric phase transition as interpreted by the thermodynamic comprehension of universal history.”
Value and Utility in a Historical Perspective (2012)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/43477/]
“Since value and utility are the highest profile abstractions that underlie an epoch’s intellectual climate and ethical principles, their evolution reflects the transformation of socioeconomic conditions and institutions. The “Classical Phase” flourished during the first global system, laissez-faire/metal money/zero multilateralism (GS1); the second, “Subjective/Utilitarian” phase marked the long transition to the current epoch of “Modern Subjectivism/General Equilibrium,” tied to the second and extant global system, mixed economy/minimum reserve banking/weak multilateralism (GS2). History has witnessed the material de-essentialization of value and substantialization of utility. But now the two concepts face a thorough transvaluation as the world’s combined demographic and economic expansion encounters ecological/physical limitations. An extended macrohistoric implosion may lead to a third form of global self-organization: two-level economy/maximum bank reserve money/strong multilateralism (GS3). If history unfolds along the suggested path, not only economics, but also thinking about economics would change. It would be considered an evolving hermeneutic of the human condition expressed through global-system-specific texts. The implied critical alteration, with the recognition of the entropy law’s importance as its focal point, matches the prediction of Swiss thinker Jean Gebser (1905-1973) about the impending mutation of human consciousness into its integral/arational structure. Such extrapolations form the context in which the fourth historical phase of value and utility is hypothesized, leading to the material re-essentialization of value and de-substantialization of utility.”
Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order (2013)
[Available here: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/49924/]
[This is the paper that the book Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! is based upon.]
“The general stream of economic thinking is thoroughly a-physical and a-historic. This direction is becoming increasingly absurd as the nexus between the human biomass and its ecological constraints ripens. Economics will eventually have to absorb apodictically that regardless of scientific-technical development and the intensity of entrepreneurial drive, the aggregate, long-run supply of telluric substance-borne free energy is on a path of declining elasticity. To hasten recognition, it would be helpful to consider the Earth an isolated, rather than a closed thermodynamic system. From the perspective of its evolutionary potential, the world is indeed Under the Dome. This paper argues that (a) the emergence of classical capitalism in the 19th century answered the need for global-scale self-organization; (b) this scheme, interrupted by World War I, was replaced after World War II; (c) the implied transformation has been accompanied by a nonarbitrary, causally determined, irreversible socialization of intranational and international economic relations; (d) contemporary civilization is moving toward a new form of self-organization that would recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion. What will it take to go from the current hostile disgust with the dystopia of tightened modes of multilateral governance to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary guild? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined in the oeuvre of Jean Gebser (1905-1973).”
- Blog Post: Jean Gebser Society Blog
Posted by Peter Pogany 10/02/2013 [introducing the Thermodynamic Isolation… paper above]
“This may come as a surprise to you. Al Gore, Stephen King, and Jean Gebser are related. How? Let me explain. Al Gore keeps warning us about ecological abuse, which we could ignore if we did not live “Under the Dome.” …”
Essays published by Energy Bulletin (Resilience.org)
Peter Pogany: A Quiet Hungarian-American Who Could Have Made the World a Better Place