A little bit of quantum physics, chemistry, biology and philosophy all rolled up into one important book. Order Out of Chaos (La Nouvelle Alliance as originally published in French) by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers is a paradigm changing book. The first parts of the book are an excellent overview on the historical development of science – the evolution of dynamics and the discovery of thermodynamics and their relationship is particularly fascinating.

Once the reader gets to the later parts, it becomes somewhat abstract and the reader may not be able to get through it without a background in chemistry and physics. Chapter Nine, when the phrase “Order Out of Chaos” is developed, is difficult. Despite this, it is much more accessible than a scientific paper on the subject. It may take two or three reads to fully absorb the ideas presented. Overall it is one of my favorite reads.

Some important conclusions from the book:

  • The arrow of time objectively exists and it arises from non-equilibrium and irreversibility at the microscopic level.
  • The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics can be understood as a selection principal. It operates as a negative on allowable initial conditions, in other words it restricts systems with certain initial conditions from existing.
  • Time travel to the past is not allowed by thermodynamics because time reversal requires infinite information concerning the initial conditions of the system, an impossibility to an observer in the universe. This implies that information is closely connected to irreversibility and time.
  • Thermodynamics can be expressed from dynamics through the idea of correlations and internal-time operators. Thus, dynamics has been extended once again (general relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory).
  • The universe as a whole is in a non-equilibrium state and it is an irreversible process with pockets of reversible dynamics.
  • In general, one of the goals of the authors is to make dynamics and thermodynamics consistent with each other.