32 – On Dissipative Structures (Part I)

We do not think about the human body … our bodies … as synthesizers of energy, but this is fundamentally what we are. We consume different forms of energy from our environment through our nose, our mouth, our skin, our eyes, and dissipate back that energy as motion, action, emotion, re-production, vision, ideas, products, waste.

In 1977, the Belgian Physicist and Chemist Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for a Theory he called Dissipative Structures (from the Latin dissipatus: to scatter). His Theory defines how, in a profoundly symbiotic relationship with environments, Open Systems … like you, and me, and molecules, and cells, and planets, and galaxies … fuel their evolution through a constant intake and release of energy sources; the Theory also defines how this process can be the catalyst for the transformation of the System into higher levels of complexity.

Contrary to Closed Systems, which are the artificial and isolated experiments we create in the sterilized environments of laboratories to manipulate Nature into complying with our theories, Dissipative Structures are Open Systems that unfold naturally into more or less pre-determined designs … a seed into a plant or tree, a baby into an adult human being, a cloud of dust into a solar system, myriad stars into a galaxy, organic connections in the brain into ideas, billions of human beings into the species we call Humanity.

As the Open System develops, self-organizes, stabilizes, and attains structural and functional continuity, it innately learns to manipulate  its intake and release of energy sources into relative states of equilibrium. But disturbances to the equilibrium of the System inevitably result as environments and the availability of resources change and fluctuate. If these disturbances are minor, the System can damp them and its structural integrity is not altered. But if the disturbance reaches a critical size, a part, or the entire System is perturbed. The System is then shaken up, and a number of novel interactions are introduced to cope with the perturbation. The old set of connections, the elements of the old pattern, come into contact with each other in original ways and create the new connections necessary to adapt to the new environmental demand. If the System is successful in re-organizing, it is then transformed into a more complex structure. We may then say that the System has been transformed into a higher level of complexity. But on the other hand, if the System fails to re-organize, it will degenerate and ultimately disappear.

We are facing such perturbation: As an Open System, Humanity has reached a critical point where our numbers and our energy needs are overwhelming the resources of the earth. If we are unable to re-organize into a new order of complexity where we are in equilibrium with the environment that gives us life, we might end up joining the list of extinct species.

The solution is clear: Worldwide acknowledgement of the  impact of our overwhelming numbers and of our rapacious level of consumption on the limited environment that allows our bodies to come into existence.

But our leaders … political, economic, religious … with no vision for the future of Humanity other than unlimited growth and the satiation of their own selfish interests, are oblivious to the impending environmental disturbance being created by the unsustainable and destructive Paradigm they are bent on perpetuating; it truly is disgusting to see how irrationally they block efforts by scientists and environmentalists to find a sustainable Paradigm.

It is up to us to spread the knowledge: We can not exist without what gives us life.

Note: Posts are usually published on the 1st and the 15th of each month. Comments are welcome.

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446 Responses to “32 – On Dissipative Structures (Part I)”

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  5. Bill says:

    The article is mostly correct.

    However, the author projects his own nightmarish vision into the future which (he should know by his own theory) he can’t predict!

    This sort of pessimism is typical of the left.
    They always underestimate innovation in a free market (open system) which relies on the exchange of ideas(energy) among creative individuals.

    For an example google the Ehrlich- Simon wager. Or better yet, pick up a copy of Matt Ridley’s ” The Rational Optimist”.

    There is a real threat when our leaders ” progressively”
    close our free market economy by increasing regulation and taxes–
    as they are doing today. Their desire for “fairness” facilitates
    a sickly, sclerotic kind of equilibrium which invites entropy.

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