Ecology, from its very inception, has been concerned with temporal direction. Ecological communities are perforce open systems, and thus are subject to the imperatives of the second law, but there is yet another, internal drive within ecosystems, efforts by evolutionary theorists to deny directionality notwithstanding. Ecosystem dynamics are rooted in configurations of autocatalytic processes, which respond to random inputs in a non-random manner. Autocatalytic processes build on themselves, and in the process give rise to a centripetal pull of energy and resources into the community. Such centripetality is central to the very notion of life and is more basic than even competition, on which conventional evolutionary theory is built. Configurations of processes can select from among complex chance events, any of which can exhibit its own, accidental directionality. Ensuing directionality can be quantified as an increase in an information theoretic measure called Ascendency. This directionality opposes the tendency of the second law to disorder systems, but healthy ecosystems need a modicum of both trends in order to persist. The resulting dynamic resembles that of a natural dialectic. Finally, although evolution over the longer span might appear adirectional, selection in the nearer ecological timespan always provides the ecosystem with an inherent direction that is an obligate element in a complete description of any particular evolutionary scenario.

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