Order Out of Chaos

Following are selected citations on the study of dissipative structures from the book, Order Out of Chaos, by Ilya Prigoine with co-author Isabelle Stengers.

Individual Behavior and Optimization

"A system far from equilibrium may be described as organized not because it realizes a plan alien to elementary activities, or transcending them, but, on the contrary, because [of] the amplification of a microscopic fluctuation occurring at the "right moment" resulting in favoring one reaction path over a number of other equally possible paths. Under certain circumstances, therefore, the role played by individual behavior can be decisive. More generally, the "overall" behavior cannot in general be taken as dominating in any way the elementary processes constituting it. Self-organization processes in far- from-equilibrium conditions correspond to a delicate interplay between chance and necessity, between fluctuations and deterministic laws. We expect that near a bifurcation, fluctuations or random elements would play an important role, while between fluctuations the deterministic aspects would become dominant." [Prigogine and Stengers, 176]

"...We can hardly avoid stating that the way in which biological and social evolution has traditionally been interpreted represents a particularly unfortunate use of the concepts and methods borrowed from physics -- unfortunate because the area of physics where these concepts and methods are valid was very restricted, and thus the analogies between them and social or economic phenomena are completely unjustified.

"The foremost example of this is the paradigm of optimization. It is obvious that the management of human society as well as the action of selective pressures tends to optimize some aspects of behaviors or modes of connection, but to consider optimization as the key to understanding how populations and individuals survive is to risk confusing causes with effects.

"Optimization models thus ignore both the possibility of radical transformations -- that is, transformations that change the definition of a problem and thus the kind of solution sought - and the inertial constraints that may eventually force a system into a disastrous way of functioning. Like doctrines such as Adam Smith's invisible hand or other definitions of progress in terms of maximization or minimization criteria, this gives a reassuring representation of nature as an all-powerful and rational calculator, and of a coherent history characterized by global progress. To restore both inertia and the possibility of anticipated events -- that is, restore the open character of history -- we must accept its fundamental uncertainty." [Prigogine and Stengers, 207]

"At all levels, be it the level of macroscopic physics, the level of fluctuations, or the microscopic level, nonequilibrium is the source of order. Nonequilibrium brings 'order out of chaos.'" [Prigogine and Stengers, 286-287]

"The energy of the universe is tending by virtue of its necessary laws toward a death of the universe in which there shall be no force but heat and the temperature everywhere the same....

"But although no force can counteract this tendency, chance may and will have the opposite influence. Force is in the long run dissipative; chance is in the long run concentrative. The dissipation of energy by the regular laws of nature is by these very laws accompanied by circumstances more and more favorable to its reconcentration by chance." [Prigogine and Stengers, 302, quoting Charles S. Peirce in 1892]