An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: symmetry

Order Out of Chaos – Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers

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.

The End of Certainty – Ilya Prigogine

The End of Certainty by Ilya Prigogine provides insight into the natural processes which give rise to the novelty of life. Despite being published in 1997, there are so many great quotes and concepts which are still applicable today, that I will just say, “Read the book!” It will also help to read Stuart Kauffman’s book, Investigations, either before or after reading Prigogine’s book. Approaching from a different angle, Kauffman explores biological processes of nature which give rise to novelty and creative adaptive structures. Both books talk heavily about the dynamics of equilibrium and entropy. In the words of Prigogine, on page 67, “…matter at equilibrium is ‘blind,’ but far from equilibrium it begins to ‘see.'” Thus, non-equilibrium systems can think and observe the world, whereas systems in equilibrium are ignorant of all outside processes.

The approach of Prigogine lies in understanding the importance of Poincaré Resonances on dynamics and the construction/destruction of correlations at the microscopic level. How these resonances and these correlations behave leads to macroscopic features and the breaking of time symmetry. He deals with solving these Large Poincare Systems outside of the Hilbert Space; this is a concept which is important to biology and human social sciences. Because in these fields, we are always dealing with a system (human beings) which is far from equilibrium and behaves in novel and creative ways.

In other words, life, as  a non-equilibrium dissipative structure emerging from the non-living world, needs to be studied under the auspices of “The End of Certainty.” Irreversible processes and long range correlations are critical to understanding the development of self-organization and the novelty of life.

All social sciences deal with a biological organism (humans), which is a product of non-equilibrium processes. Even Prigogine and the book itself are correlated with the mass of knowledge produced by humanity in the 20th century. In other words, his ideas and those of all scientists are subject to the same non-equilibrium dynamics which Prigogine talks about in his book. Resonances and correlations in the social sphere can lead to amazing discoveries or a lack thereof.

One subject that I think could see development from Prigogine’s ideas is economics. Economics should be considered: “The study of non-equilibirum dissipative structures created by the self-organized social species known as homo sapiens, to reproduce and adapt in the biosphere called ‘Earth.'”

What I thought about the most was the concept of correlation creation and destruction. In terms of self-organizing systems and financial markets, perhaps crashes are correlation destruction events, while bubbles are correlations spreading through time. And after a crash occurs, correlations can be created which makes a crisis even worse.

Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe – Leon Lederman

Anyone interested in modern theories of physics should read Leon Lederman’s book, Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe. In this book Lederman clearly explains how the idea of symmetry has helped physicists understand the universe. Crucial to his explanation is Noether’s Theorem.

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