dissipative structure
The top view of Bernard cells formation; a type of dissipative structure, i.e. heat dissipation through the liquid, works to form hexagonal "structures:.
In science, a dissipative structure is an organized nonequilibrium state of matter created and maintained due to dissipative processes. [1] The term was proposed in 1967 by Belgian chemist and thermodynamicist Ilya Prigogine to describe the spontaneous appearance of ordered structures in the non-linear domain, far from equilibrium. [2] Classic examples of dissipative structures include: Bénard cells (adjacent), the Belousov-Zhabotinskii reaction, Taylor vortices, cyclones, hurricanes, and lasers. [3] The loose spin-off of the theory is that all life forms, humans included, are, by definition, far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures. [4] A newer variant of the term is "dissipative system".

Life | Prigogine
The contention alluded to by Prigogine, in regards to a thermodynamic theory of life, is that dissipative structures not only maintain themselves in a stable state far from equilibrium, but may even evolve. When the flow of energy and matter through them increases, they may go through new instabilities and transform themselves into new structures of increased complexity. Said another way, dissipative structures grow more complex by exporting, or dissipating, entropy into their surroundings. [3] In 1973, Prigogine stated his views on the matter as such: [12]

“It would be too simple to say that the concepts of life and dissipative structures are intermingled ... But it is not just one instability that makes it possible to cross the threshold between life and non-life; it is, rather, a succession of instabilities of which we are only now beginning to identify certain stages. But let us have no illusions. If today we look into the situation where the analogy with the life sciences is the most striking — even if we discovered within biological systems some operations distant from the state of equilibrium — our research would still leave us quite unable to grasp the extreme complexity of the simplest of organisms.”

In the years to follow, the view soon emerged, for many, that life is a dissipative structure. [3]

The idea of dissipative structures began to seed in Prigogine's 1955 book Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes. [5] Its phraseology is said to have been borrowed from American mathematical physical chemist Alfred Lotka who, in his 1924 book Elements of Physical Biology, discussed how "dissipative effects" and "dissipative forces" related to the process of organic evolution in the equilibrium or new-equilibrium regime. [6]

Prigogine has been particularly captivated by the problem of explaining how ordered structures, e.g. biological systems, can develop from disorder. Prigogine and his assistants chose instead to study systems which follow non-linear kinetic laws and which, moreover, are in contact with their surroundings so that energy exchange can take place - open systems, in other words. If these systems are driven far from equilibrium, a completely different situation results. New systems can then be formed which display order in both time and space and which are stable to perturbations. Prigogine has called these systems dissipative systems, because they are formed and maintained by the dissipative processes which take place because of the exchange of energy between the system and its environment and because they disappear if that exchange ceases. They may be said to live in symbiosis with their environment. [7]

Prigogine first presented his concept of dissipative structures in a 1967 lecture at a Nobel Symposium in Stockholm. [8] Four years later, together with his French physicist Paul Glansdorff, he published the first formulation of the full theory. [9] Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. [10]

1. Kondepudi, Dilip and Prigogine, Ilya. (1998). Modern Thermodynamics – from Heat Engines to Dissipative Structures, (ch. 19: "Dissipative Structures", pg. 427-57). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
2. Perrot, Pierre. (1998). A to Z of Thermodynamics, (pg. 68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
3. Schneider, Eric D. and Sagan, Dorion. (2005). Into the Cool - Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, (pgs. 81-82). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
4. Dissipative structures - ISCID Encyclopedia of Science and Philosophy.
5. Prigogine, Ilya. (1955). Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
6. Lotka, Alfred J. (1924). Elements of Physical Biology, (pgs. 22-24). New York: Dover.
7. Claesson, Stig. (1977). “Presentation Speech” (Nobel Prize in Chemistry). Stockholm: Nobel Prize Organization.
8. (a) Prigogine, Ilya. (1967). “Dissipative Structures in Chemical Systems”, in Stig Claesson (ed.), Fast Reactions and Primary Processes in Chemical Kinetics, New York: Interscience.
(b) Capra, Fritjof. (1996). The Web of Life - A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, (section: “Dissipative Structures”, pgs. 86-89). New York: Anchor books.
9. Prigogine, Ilya and Glandsorff, Paul. (1971). Thermodynamic Theory of Structure, Stability and Fluctuations. New York: Wiley.
10. Prigogine, Ilya. (1977). "Time, Structure, and Fluctuations", Nobel Lecture (in chemistry), Dec 08.
11. Prigogine, Ilya. (1973). "Can Thermodynamics Explain Biological Order", Impact of Science on Society, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, (pgs. 169, 178).

Further reading
● Zeleny, Milan (1980). “Autopoiesis: A Paradism Lost?” in: Autopoiesis, Dissipative Structures, and Spontaneous Social Orders (editor: Milan Zeleny). Westview Press.

External links
Dissipative structure - Cosma Shalizi, self-organization researcher, Carnegie Mellon University.

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