The Mystery of Dissipative Structures
Our existence is a miracle. If the world is moving in the direction of increasing chaos and disorder according to the second law of thermodynamics, how is it possible for living organisms, which are the very essence of order, to be born and evolve? This was one of the most difficult questions in science. Many people have tried to prove the existence of God by doing this. The study of the structure brought about by the flow of energy provided the answer to this conundrum.
A system like the earth that continuously receives energy from the outside and finally releases it is called an open or nonequilibrium system. In a world with such energy flow, a structure with a specific order may locally emerge in a one-way process from order to disorder. A good example is hurricane, which spontaneously arise and grow by capturing the heat of the tropics. The hurricane receives its energy supply from the warm waters of the tropics and creates a swirling structure. Eventually, as hurricane make landfall or move to areas with higher latitudes and lower sea water temperatures, the energy supply from the sea water is reduced, and when it is no longer possible to maintain the structure, the typhoon naturally dissipates. The ultimate example of this order is us, “living things.
Ilya Prigozhin, a scientist born in Russia in 1917, discovered through his studies of open systems through which energy flows that order can emerge locally. He named it “dissipative structure. This discovery explained that in open systems, such as the Earth’s environment, which continuously receives energy from the sun, order in the form of living organisms can spontaneously arise.
Prigogine’s great work on dissipative structures earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 and gave us scientific confidence in our own existence. We organisms are born into the great flow of energy produced by the sun. By greedily absorbing the energy released by the sun through photosynthesis and predation, we not only passed on our lives to the next generation, but also gradually began to ascend the ladder of evolution. We are living, or rather being kept alive, in the great flow of energy.
Civilization is a dissipative structure itself
As we consider the dissipative structure that Prigogine carved out, we realize that it also contributes to our thinking about the future of our civilization. This is because the civilization we have built is the very structure of dissipation that has emerged in the great historical flow of time.
The story of mankind’s rise to civilization and prosperity was brought about by the accumulation of knowledge. The accumulation of knowledge is first made possible by the invention of language. The invention of language made it possible for individual experiences and skills to be passed on from generation to generation, whereas previously they had to be dispersed after only one generation. Myths and folktales passed down orally in many parts of the world are a way of transmitting experience and knowledge to the next generation through words. They used rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. Homer’s epic poems are a prime example of this.
The transmission of skills was supported by repetition of actual work in addition to verbal explanations. An extremely interesting ritual has been handed down to the present that hints at the way technology was handed down in ancient times. It is the “fire-starting ceremony” that takes place every morning at the Ise Jingu shrine. The fire is started each morning in a way that has remained unchanged since ancient times: a cypress board is frictionally ignited by a wick made from a mountain loquat. It is believed that this method was devised to ensure the transmission of the advanced technique of “fire-starting” to the next generation in an age when there was no written language.
# Ise Jingu is a Shinto shrine located in Ise City, Mie Prefecture, Japan. Ise Jingu is the collective name for 125 shrines. The main deity, Amaterasu Omikami, is also compared to the sun. It is said that the origin of the shrine dates back to about 2,000 years ago, when Yamahime-no-mikoto built the Inner Shrine, the seat of Amaterasu Omikami, on the banks of the Isuzu River, in accordance with a command from Amaterasu Omikami.
Eventually, writing was invented, and later paper was born. The method of writing also changed from the rhythm-driven rhyming style, which retained a strong oral tradition, to a prose style that allowed for freer expression, and the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation became more precise and complex. Here the foundation for a multilayered accumulation of knowledge is completed.
For example, the full-scale development of philosophy, which is difficult to transmit orally, began when Plato wrote down the words of his teacher, Socrates, in the form of prose dialogues. Considering that Socrates did not write down his own words throughout his life, and that his disciple Plato chose the dialogic form for his writings, this period can be considered as a transition from oral tradition to documentation. As Plato’s disciple, Aristotle, known as the founder of all learning, appeared on the stage of history.
All this accumulation of knowledge by mankind is expressed as an order-giving, or dissipative structure. When the accumulation of knowledge exceeds a critical point, civilization emerges and begins to shine. Human civilization emerges as a dissipative structure in the great flow of historical time. In order to maintain the dissipative structure, it requires a continuous supply of energy from the outside. If the energy supply is interrupted, the structure will disappear instantly. Urban civilizations that began in ancient Mesopotamia used an abundance of human energy to build buildings and roads, creating the urban order. However, as the land became desert due to soil erosion caused by forest loss, and as people began to abandon their cities, the order was lost.
In order to maintain a certain order in the real world, where the second law of thermodynamics governs, there must be a constant supply of energy from the outside. This is one conclusion that the dissipative structure argument draws. Human beings have continued to accumulate knowledge from the ancient world, where civilization originated, to the present day. In order to maintain and develop the accumulated knowledge as a “structure,” more energy needs to be invested. This is the reason why the consumption of energy by mankind has been growing consistently and steadily from the past to the present. More energy input is required to maintain more complex and diverse “structures. There is no other way to maintain and develop our modern social civilization, which is built on the accumulation of knowledge, than to continue to increase energy consumption.
As long as quality energy is finite, these societies are unlikely to escape the fate of many ancient civilizations that eventually collapsed. How should we approach energy issues in order to realize a sustainable society?
The first thing to consider would be to refrain from innocent expectations of solving problems through technological innovation. We live in a modern age where we are witnessing the ever-evolving evolution of information and communication technology, and we have come to have the illusion that we can eventually solve all problems through technological innovation. The world of energy, however, is a world governed by the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Neither the technology to create energy from nothing nor the technology to reverse the deterioration of energy quality is feasible. In addition, the development of energy-saving technologies does not solve the problem at its root.
Therefore, the attitude we should take is to confront energy issues head-on at a deeper level, rather than to put off conclusions by easy solutions through technological innovation and other means. This is the first step toward thinking about energy issues. What does it mean to confront energy issues head-on at a deeper level? It means looking back at the history of humankind and considering why we have increased our energy consumption. Once we understand the reasons for this increase, we can get hints on how to reduce it.
# “The Science of the Nobel Prize, Chemistry Prize Edition, Yazawa Science Office” (Gijutsu Hyoronsha)
# “What Prigogine Has Considered: Kazuo Kitahara” (Iwanami Shoten)
In 1977, Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This prize is said to be one of the most important awards for research on a very difficult subject that science still cannot face with confidence and certainty.
At the time, Prigogine’s work was perceived as an eccentric field outside the mainstream of science and was not viewed by other scientists as serious empirical science. Those who came into contact with Prigogine himself, however, immediately realized that they had underestimated his work. Prigogine was simply ahead of his time.
The hope was that the new science, “complex systems theory,” would revolutionize existing science and provide answers to many fundamental questions in biology, chemistry, and physics. The fundamental questions were, “How did life come into being?” How does the brain, with its billions of neurons, generate emotion, thought, and consciousness? These are just a few of the questions. Other questions include, “Is there something more than chance events at work in the evolution of organisms as Darwin posited?” “Is the whole more than the mere sum of its parts?” and so on.
Prigogine’s great contribution to thermodynamic theory, as the Nobel Committee pointed out, was to extend the scope of this theory from thermodynamic equilibrium states to a much broader range, namely to nonequilibrium states. Non-equilibrium states occur when an influx of matter or energy, or both, occurs in an open system. Such an open system can exist only in connection with its external environment, which is why Prigogine called it a “dissipative structure.
Prigogine himself created various terms such as “dissipative structure” and “correlation pattern”. Some of these have already become firmly established in physics. Moreover, Prigogine himself made such terms as “instability,” “fluctuation,” and “self-organization” permeate not only the physical sciences, but also the humanities and social sciences. The methods used to study the stability of the dissipative structure of Prigogine’s generated tremendous public interest. For example, they made possible the study of extremely diverse problems, such as urban traffic problems, stability in societies created by insects, the development of biological order structures, and the growth of cancer cells.
Self-organization in dissipative structures is common in the biological world, but it also occurs in the nonbiological realm, the best known example being the so-called “Benard vortex.”
# Benard’s cell
# Reference URL(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58acnTB2M18)
Another famous example of non-equilibrium thermodynamics in the non-living world pointed out by Prigogine and Harken is the “Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction.”
# Reference URL(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXL6jhe8S-w)
Prigogine wondered early on “why order and structure exist in the world.” From now on, he argued, we need a science that studies how we choose our future, and the integration of the natural sciences and the humanities was Prigogine’s youthful desire. When I think of Prigogine’s activities since his youth, it seemed that he was trying to synthesize physics and philosophy instead of making them two separate disciplines.
The latest findings, Jeremy England’s “Dissipative Adaptation”
# This is a quote from the website, “Why life was born: A new theory that unravels the physics of life.” (https://k-okabe.xyz/2017/10/01/biophysics-england/#_edn8)
# This is a quote from the website, “A Conversation with Jeremy England, the Physicist Who is ‘Redefining’ Evolution.” (https://wired.jp/2016/08/21/interview-jeremy-england/)
# This is a quote from “Every Life Is on Fire: How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Living Things, Jeremy England, Kindle English edition.”
(Using the web translation software “DeepL“)
# This is a quote from “Origin” Upper and Lower (Novel) Dan Brown (KADOKAWA Co., Ltd.).
|Biography of Jeremy England
Jeremy England’s mother was the daughter of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, and his father was a non-conservative Protestant Lutheran. He was born Jewish in Boston and raised in the school town of New Hampshire. But it was not until he entered graduate school at Oxford University that he learned about Judaism, and he now considers himself an Orthodox Jew.
England earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Harvard in 2003. After being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he studied at St. John’s College, Oxford, from 2003 until 2005. He earned his Ph.D. in physics at Stanford in 2009.In 2011, he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Physics Department as an Assistant Professor.
In 2019, he joined GlaxoSmithKline as a Senior Director in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
For more than 150 years, since the publication of the theory of evolution by Darwin and others, we have recognized that evolution is true and natural selection is its driving force. We are still struck by the qualitative differences between living and non-living things, and yet we still feel a pang of awe in the face of the fact that living things are made from the same lifeless raw materials as everything else.
We need to be a little more specific about what answers we can offer to the question, “Where did life come from?”
For example, in an attempt to understand the Big Bang, astrophysicists came up with a beautiful formula that describes an expanding universe at some point in the past or future. But when we try to go back to the moment of the Big Bang, the moment when time equals zero, or the singularity, the formulas all fall apart, giving us only a mysterious point-like object of infinite heat and density. The evolution of living organisms is just the same, in that it is impossible to look far into the distant past and see how evolution began. We don’t know how the first life forms emerged from a sea of lifeless chemicals. It is impossible to see the first frame of this story.
To elaborate, if we look at two development paths with slightly different initial conditions, the differences will continue to grow over time. As a result, unless we have 100% control over the initial conditions, we cannot accurately predict future conditions. Development is always probabilistic, and future possibilities open up in abundance. What does a probabilistic worldview mean?
We think of the world as a single trajectory of a system consisting of an enormous number of molecules, but in fact the motion of those enormous number of molecules is extremely complex, so we thought that a probabilistic description would be better than following a trajectory. In other words, the idea is that the probabilistic description is rather the substance. This is the reason why the history of the world, from the beginning of the universe to the evolution of living organisms and everything else, has been so diverse and complex.
Can we make a movie about what happened by recreating, from data collected today, the puddle in which a special chemical reaction first occurred in the far distant past? And can we have the boyish hope that that film will prove to be an accurate and faithful recreation of what happened in the past? There are several reasons why such an approach is fanciful. The most basic reason is that there is no modern evidence of exactly what happened on Earth billions of years ago. And it means that we cannot look for them in the future.
When all the clues at a crime scene or archaeological excavation are trampled, tampered with, and rearranged as appropriate, it leads to unreliable results in a scientific investigation. In the same way, the earliest signs of life must have been confounded to the point of unrepeatable. DNA, RNA, and proteins are macromolecules that are central to life in the cell. But all of these macromolecules are shattered in water on a time scale of less than a few million years. And it is folly to try to reconstruct the molecular origins of life as we know it by detecting its remnants.
England proposed a set of ideas based on a branch of physics called non-equilibrium thermodynamics to describe the stepwise process of life’s emergence in a way that breaks it down into easily understandable units. Life, when viewed from a physics perspective, can be recognized as an omnibus of different phenomena with a particular but precise physical definition. From now on we thought that we could study them simultaneously as small, restricted outcomes of life’s unique self-organization.
Central to this discussion is the idea of “Dissipative Adaptation.” This “dissipative adaptation” implies that matter changes to its optimal form in order to respond to patterns in its surroundings.
In his book Every Life Is on Fire, Jewish Rabbi Jeremy England says this. “What lies behind the physics that gives rise to the phenomena of life is all too often downplayed by common sense.” This is what Jeremy England describes as the breath of God rippling particles.
England thought the story of Moses’ journey to bring the Israelites back from Egypt might be as follows. That is, to explain the transformation of objects into living beings, the story is about replacing the mechanical image of “enslavement” of obeying physical laws with “liberation,” in which people choose their own way of life.
The serpent in this story, presented to Moses, reminds us of at least two things. First, that the seemingly mute natural world may actually be saying something meaningful, and second, that one can choose to do what the Creator does not want. He says that the significance of the serpent’s appearance is that it tells us that there is meaning in the seemingly meaningless and that there is an ethical significance to what we “should” do, not what we “can” do.
We cannot understand the events of this world only through scientific explanations. It may be that the existence of something like morality from the very beginning of life is the reason why we have been able to maintain biological life up to the present day. The emergence of life is not an everyday phenomenon.
It has been said that Jeremy England may have discovered something even more fundamental to evolution than natural selection. Something that drives development in inanimate as well as living organisms. It is something that leads mere matter to life, and then to life’s more efficient use of energy.
Jeremy England argues that life needs to be described in terms of biology and physics. What physical conditions are necessary to ensure that life-like behaviors emerge in matter that did not initially exist?
In the previous section, I introduced Ilya Prigogine’s achievement, “dissipative structure,” but even Prigogine, who made such a discovery, states that “dissipative structure theory” alone does not explain the birth of life. This is because, at least in an open system in a non-equilibrium state, the kind of order and structure that emerges from chaos is entirely a matter of pure probability.
Even the slightest difference in temperature or microscopic introduction of foreign matter, the slightest difference in the initial values of the system is likely to drastically change the structure of the self-organization. Thus, the birth of life may be described as “God rolled the dice.” In other words, God may be described as having created unique initial conditions that man could never have imagined.
Jeremy England began teaching at MIT. He began to delve deeply into the theoretical aspects of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics, which is very difficult to understand. He says that the abstract formulas seem to have hidden “meanings that do not appear on the surface,” similar to the behavior of “something like life.
He states. It was a gradual process that started with a lot of faulty assumptions and culminated in the current theory.” His bold and concise idea is called “Dissipative Adaptation,” a mathematical expression of how all things adapt to their given environment. From the emergence of early “life-like” things to the “evolution” advocated by Charles Darwin, it must be as obvious a physical phenomenon as a stone rolling down a hill. There must be some universality there that would be applicable extraterrestrially.
By the way, physics can only describe living things in terms of their “distance, position, time, number of particles, energy, temperature,” etc., and we can hardly feel the breath of life in them. All living things are made up of atoms and molecules, and we may not be able to read any biological function or life into their physical description. However, if we can get rid of our “preconceived notions about living things,” we will find that the laws of pure physics are at work there.
I believe that there are features of what physics describes that are clearly recognizable as being unique to living organisms. One of these is the “search for energy sources.” Other characteristics, such as detection and prediction, would be specific to life activity. There must be some universality there that would be applicable extraterrestrially.
So what physical steps are involved in “adapting to the environment,” which is what all organisms are good at in evolutionary theory? In other words, how do they find, consume, and diffuse energy from their environment?
Ilya Prigogine’s “dissipative structure theory” is indeed a physical phenomenon that is also found in biological activity. Jeremy England took the “dissipative structure theory” one step further and considered the following.
As energy (electromagnetic waves like sunlight) is poured into the earth from the outside world, it adds “heat” to the atmosphere and oceans. As the irreversibility of such continuous heat increases, the open system is forced to “evolve” in a certain direction. That form of evolution is a structure that allows matter to absorb and dissipate free energy more efficiently. In other words, we thought that the mass of particles would be encouraged to absorb more energy and self-organize in such a way as to create a structure suitable for the smooth flow of energy. That is, a group of molecules that orderly align themselves to become a structure that disperses energy more efficiently.
England’s succinct explanation is that tornadoes, for example, are nature’s mechanism for converting pressure into rotational force that dissipates, thereby obliterating concentrated areas of high pressure. The same is true for finely undulating riverbeds, whose shape interferes with and dissipates the energy of fast water currents. Another example is snow crystals, whose multifaceted structure reflects light in all directions in a chaotic manner, dispersing the sun’s energy.
When particles resonate against the flow of energy from the outside world, they are able to dissipate more energy into their surroundings. In other words, the mass of particles will naturally orient itself along the direction of the energy flow. This idea of England is very intuitive.
So matter creates its own order in order to better distribute energy. Nature creates small pockets of order to promote disorder. Such pocket-like systems have structures that enhance chaos, thereby increasing entropy. In other words, to efficiently create chaos, some order is necessary.
He described this set of conditions with a physical formula, which he called “dissipative adaptation”. What this means is that in a heat bath, such as the atmosphere or the ocean, a mass of atoms will, over time, successfully resonate with the energy sources of mechanical, electromagnetic, and chemical “work”.
To define this property more clearly, we must consider the difference between fine and coarse behavior in a collection of particles, and how the rarity and diversity of that behavior is determined by the interaction of countless combined fine fragments.
Thus, we have found that exploring the space of how matter can be put together is a process best understood by looking at it in terms of the flow of energy through it. Specifically, how the structure of a substance affects the absorption, deployment, and dissipation of energy.
A whole organism can be viewed as a single, unified phenomenon that stands on a hodgepodge of simpler parts. Dissipative adaptation means that a system composed of many parts changes its properties depending on the arrangement of those parts. In essence, Jeremy England argues, absorbed energy is optimized to consume more energy by changing the arrangement of the pieces over time. Life is not the core of a series of phenomena. The series of systems may be thought of as bringing life into existence in order to dissipate more energy.
Now, there is a jarring cacophony of piano notes, as if a child is hitting the keys in a mess. Rearrange the same notes, add order, and instead of coherent noise, it turns into Debussy’s soothing melody. Despise chaos, create order, this is the basic programming of our brains. Humans have a tendency to do exactly this. We dislike chaos and prefer order. We feel the same pleasure in creating order that makes us want to put together a jigsaw puzzle or straighten a picture on the wall.
The need for order is engrained in our DNA, so it is no wonder that the greatest invention of the human spirit is the computer. Computers were originally designed to help create order out of chaos. In fact, the Spanish word for computer is “ordenador.” It literally means “the thing that creates order.”
Jeremy England also says that there are numerous and important parallels between machine learning (AI) and dissipative adaptation mechanisms that are currently being discussed. He predicts that phenomena similar to machine learning, done by computers, may be taking place in living organisms. In the last decade, the performance and versatility of so-called machine learning techniques have improved dramatically. We can now find ways to computationally accurately model complex relationships that were previously thought to be only possible by the human brain.
Face recognition and language processing are prime examples. The principle common to many of these applications is that a long list of numerical parameters describing how to map computational inputs to outputs is trained using a large data set of face pictures or text. The program’s algorithm explores the high-dimensional parameter space and optimizes itself to find a selection of distinctive and outstanding parameter choices that allow the computational model to make high-quality matches with the data used for training. As one can see when one actually experiences the task of artificial intelligence, physical phenomena alone can perform tasks that seem intelligent.
Can we then assert that all driven multiparticle assemblies are a type of machine learning? Probably not, unless we overextend the definition of the term. However, when we compare them side by side, we find that the mathematical structures occurring in each case are similar in multiple ways. This suggests, says Jeremy England, that somewhere between these two poles there may be an as yet unexplored spectrum of possibilities, an evolved construct that does some useful computation in dispersion and regrouping.
We have been taught that the birth of life is a miraculous event born out of chaos, but the “miracle of the birth of life” expressed by “dissipative adaptation” is the result of the action of multiple layers of physical laws. But, I see, it may be very “natural” that the dissipation of energy creates order and structure in the soup of atoms in an open system.
Over time, the self-organized mass of atoms will evolve into more complex structures as probability dictates, and perhaps “something that behaves like life” will emerge emergently from among them. Defined in evolutionary terms, “dissipative adaptation” favors “things” that can diffuse energy more efficiently in a given system. The reason for reproduction, which is an essential part of biological evolution, may be explained as a way to increase the number of individuals that can dissipate more energy into the surrounding environment. According to England, the most efficient way to dissipate energy is to make duplicates of oneself.
In this light, physics and biology are not, at this point in time, disciplines that study the first steps in the birth of life yet. We can extract wisdom from phenomena in the world, but at this stage, we can only apply and use the phenomena that are actually occurring. Life phenomena are still miracles from the viewpoint of science. Even those of us who actually experience these miracles do not understand the first step.