32 – On Dissipative Structures (Part I) …

We do not think about our bodies, the human body, as a synthesizer of energy, but this is fundamentally what we are. We consume different forms of energy from our environment through our nose, mouth, skin, eyes, then synthesize and release this energy into motion, action, emotion, reproduction, vision, ideas, 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) that explains how, in a profoundly symbiotic relationship with environments, open systems* … like you, and me, and molecules, and cells, and planets, and galaxies … fuel their development through a constant yet balanced intake and release of energy sources. The theory also explains how this process can be the catalyst for transformation into higher levels of complexity as systems adapt to changing environments.

Dissipative Structures are open systems that unfold naturally into relatively pre-determined designs … a seed of an oak tree into an oak tree, a human baby into an adult human being, a cloud of interstellar dust into a solar system, a congregation of stars into a galaxy, 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 in its equilibrium inevitably result as environments and resources change and fluctuate. If the disturbance is minor, the system can dampen it and preserve its structural integrity. But if the disturbance reaches a critical size, a part, or the entire system is disturbed; the system is shaken up and novel interactions are introduced to cope with the disturbance. The old set of connections and the elements of old patterns of organization interact with each other in novel ways to adapt to the new environmental demands. If the system is successful in re-organizing, it is then transformed either into a more complex or a simpler structure with new energy demands, which then may make it more vulnerable to environmental fluctuations. But on the other hand, if the system fails to re-organize, it will begin to disintegrate and ultimately dissipate back into the environment from which it initially came from.

Humankind is facing such disturbance: As an open system, the species has reached a critical point where our numbers and levels of energy consumption are not only overwhelming resources but altering the chemical equilibrium of the environment in which our lives depend. If we are unable to re-organize into a new order in which we are in equilibrium with the environment, we might end up joining the list of extinct species.

The solution is clear: Worldwide acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility for the damaging impact on the relative stability of the environment of our exponential growth and rapacious consumption.

But most of our leadership … political, economic, religious … with no vision for the future of Humankind other than unlimited growth and satiation of their selfish interests, are oblivious to the impending environmental disturbances being created by the unsustainable and destructive economic system they are bent on perpetuating.

It is up to us to spread the knowledge: Humankind is out of equilibrium. We are synthesizers of energy, and the levels of energy we consume and release through our exponential growth are disturbing the chemical balance of the environment that gives us life. We can not continue to exist as we have in the past without the environment we are plundering.

*Open systems come into existence through primal evolutionary processes and interact freely with environments, as opposed to ‘closed systems’ which are generally man-made to fit specific expectations.

Reviewed March 2018

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