But how could this be? The value of stuff is determined by our brains. How do our brains somehow "know" collectively how fast we consume energy? How do we comprehend how a psychological construct like money can be tied to a thermodynamic construct like energetic power? Doesn't economic value go only so far as human judgement?
As a clue, even with no one home and all the utilities turned off, a house still maintains some worth for as long as it can be perceived as being potentially useful by other active members of the global economy. Real estate agents talk about "Comps" for determining the value of a home. Comps are based on the recent sale value of other homes in the neighborhood. Comps were determined by people with brains (though arguably less so in a real-estate bubble) who in turn are connected through social and work connections to other people with brains, and with several degrees of separation, everyone on this planet with a brain.
Individual brains process a wealth of information from the rest of civilization using extraordinarily dense networks of axons and dendrites. Patterns of oscillatory neuronal activity lead to the emergence of behavior and cognition. Powering this brain activity requires approximately 20 % of the daily caloric input to the body as a whole. Arguably this number is 100% since neither the body nor the brain could survive without the other.
And we are connected not just to each other but, by definition, all other elements of civilization, including our transport and communications networks. We and civilization also couldn't survive without each other. Dissipative neuronal circulations along brain networks may implicitly scale with dissipative circulations along civilization networks. Our collective perceptions must reflect global economic wealth.
Individually, our brains may seem very personal, and a small part of the whole. But they are also connected to each other. They are part of a much larger "super-organism" that includes not just our bodies but our stuff. Our brains collectively march to broader economic circulations along global civilization networks that are sustained by a dissipation of oil, coal, and other primary energy supplies.
Summing wealth over all the world’s nations, 7.1 Watts is required to maintain every one thousand inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars of historically accumulated economic production. This relationship may seem unorthodox by traditional economic standards, but it may also be seen as a type of psychological constant that ties the physics of human perception to the thermodynamic dissipative flows of energy that drive the global economy.