Trophic Levels in Society

Trophic Levels
Image from Keith Wigdor

As societies and civilisations become more complex, they develop into trophic levels. The term trophic level originally came from ecology, denoting the position in the food chain, as determined by the number of energy-transfer steps to that level. The simplest forms of social trophic levels are in economy, where it denotes the distance from direct physical sustenance. Level 0 activities directly deal with the production of physical goods, level 1 activities do not directly deal with the production but at most level 0 activities (such as accounting, distribution etc), level 2 activities at most deal with level 1 activities and so on.

As economies become more complex the number of trophic levels increases. The maximum number of trophic levels depends on factors of available technology (the number needs to increase if it is highly specialised and many middle-men needed to combine it, while general assembly lowers it) and information processing (the available information processing limits the efficiency and manageability of economic interactions, limiting the maximum number of levels).

The metasociologist Xmutex org Ultraviolet introduced reality trophic levels, sometimes called reality layering, in his analysis of the complexity dynamics and sociology of advanced societies with many virts. A rl entity is said to exist in reality layer zero. So does a virtual entity that interacts with physical reality. A layer one entity interacts with level zero entities and its own information environment. Layer two entities interact at most with layer one entities, not with any level zero entities, and so on. A high layer entity exists in an environment that is far removed from physical ('baseline') reality. The Xmutex index denotes the average reality level of inhabitants (more correctly, this is the first Xmutex index; the variance is the second Xmutex index and so on with higher order moments; these are needed to analyse societies with complex reality structures).

Among the empires, Cyberia and Keter have the highest Xmutex indices, 4.1 and 3.9 respectively. Most have an index of around 1.4, with the lowest being the Sophic League with 0.4. The Paradigm is estimated to have an index of almost exactly 1, with a large population living in a total level 1 reality and a very small population at level 0.

Metasociologists have known for a long time that there is a strong correlation between the second Xmutex index (the variance of reality layering) and the number of trophic levels in the economy. A simple economy cannot sustain a society of many reality levels. More surprisingly, a simple reality levelling cannot sustain the hypereconomies that reach 10 trophic levels. This observation, sometimes called the Xmutex Law of Reality Economics, has been a major source of investigation among economic eschatologists. There is an extensive history of Realist criticism of the Law, but it remains a firmly established empirical finding.


Xmutex org Ultraviolet, Reality Trophic Levels of Interstellar Societies, Reviews in Metasociology, 33:(4) node 12 (2677)

Many ac Denix, Orestia Menstel & Xmutex org Ultraviolet, The Economy of Reality, Eden Metasociological Revelations, Eden, (4712)

Kumbertism Bol ed.,Trophic Levels in Ecology, Economy and Technology: The State of Trophic Theory, Solaria Kemstor-Khylia, Fons Luminis (8300).

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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg

Initially published on 23 January 2001.