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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet, Incubator Lifescape

D. Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics of Living Systems

The sterile, mechanical universe of later 19th century theories was conceived as a closed, isolated system tending to quiescent equilibrium. As predicted by the second law of thermodynamics, it must inexorably expire as available energy is spent doing work and converted to entropy. The “noonday brilliance” of the human moment is all for naught per Bertrand Russell in the early 20th century. But a major revision and expansion has been underway since the 1970s whereof life is conceived as an open system infused and organized by a sustaining flow of energy and information. The doom sentence has been repealed and superseded by far-from-equilibrium theories, due much to Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine and colleagues. But in the 21st century the older and newer versions still coexist into our global collaborative revolution. Altogether these efforts serve to explain a vital "physical" source and animation for and impetus to biological and cultural evolution. All of which well bodes for a reunification of organic beings with a conducive cosmos.

2020: As some 100 diverse references cite, this scientific endeavor to learn all about nature’s energies which animate a genesis uniVerse, emergent life and human becomings, has moved far beyond a simple second entropic law to find many intrinsic non-equilibrium formative forces at work in every phase. There is work still to be done such as homing in on a phenomenal proof and how to better understand and align with their Earthly presence.

Beck, Christian, et al. Nonextensive Statistical Mechanics, Superstatistics and Beyond: Theory and Applications in Astrophysical and Complex Systems. European Physical Journal Special Topics. 229/707, 2020.
Conte, Tom, et al. Thermodynamic Computing. arXiv:1911.01968.
Haddad, Wassim. A Dynamical Systems Theory of Thermodynamics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.
Kleidon, Axel. Thermodynamic Foundations of the Earth System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Jeffery, Kate, et al. On the Statistical Mechanics of Life: Schrodinger Revisited. Entropy. 21/12, 2019.
Kempes, Christopher, et al. The Thermodynamic Efficiency of Computations Made in Cells across the Range of Life. arXiv:1706.05043.

Kondepudi, Dilip, et al. From Dissipative Structures to Biological Evolution: A Thermodynamic Perspective. Dambricourt Malasse, Anne, ed. Self-Organization as a New Paradigm in Evolutionary Biology. International: Springer, 2022.
Nigmatullin, Ramil and Mikhail Prokopenko. Thermodynamic Efficiency of Interactions in Self-Organizing Systems. arXiv:1912.08948.
Rovelli, Carlo. How Causation is Rooted into Thermodynamics. arXiv:2211.00888.
Skene, Keith. Life’s a Gas: A Thermodynamic Theory of Biological Evolution. Entropy. July, 2015.
Tlidi, Mustapha, et al. Dissipative Structures Out of Equilibrium from Chemistry, Photonics and Biology: the Legacy of Ilya Prigogine. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. Vol. 376, 2018.
Zenil, Hector, et al. The Thermodynamics of Network Coding. Entropy. 21/6, 2019.


Annila, Arto. www.helsinki.fi/~aannila/arto. The University of Helsinki website for the professor of biophysics, circa 2014, whose integral philosophy is posted next. From that page can be accessed a series of innovative papers, often with colleagues, that seek to integrate living systems with far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics. For an example, Genes without Prominence: A Reappraisal of the Foundation of Biology with Keith Baverstock, in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface (11/20131017, 2014) and Natural Emergence with T. K. Pernu, in Complexity (17/44, 2012). In Natural Games, with Jani Anttila in Physical Letters A (375/3755, 2011), this energetic arrow is seen as an “accumulation of information,” a vast stochastic learning process. Most writings are also available on arXiv.

Holistic worldview: Nature is rich but not random in its diversity. Also complexity of nature is astounding but not arbitrary. We do recognize rules and regularities that we know as laws of physics and chemistry, or those that we refer to as relations in biology, economics, behavioral and social sciences. Disciplinary canons are not disconnected from each other but relate via ubiquitous characteristics of nature. These are skewed distributions that accumulate along sigmoid growth and decline curves which in turn display mostly as straight lines on log-log plots, i.e., follow power laws. These all-embracing commonalities make no distinction between living and non-living or between microscopic and cosmic, which implies that there is a universal organizing principle. Hence, while an observation could be interpreted by some specific theory, all observations ought to be understood by the same general tenet.

Science by submerging to specialties supplies us with detailed information whereas by recognizing universalities it provides us with thorough comprehension. Indeed, as our delusions of uniqueness have narrowed, our worldview has widened toward entirety. Whatever fallacies still remain will vanish in examinations by the natural principle of least time. As apparent from papers below many phenomena, puzzles and paradoxes can be comprehended by this supreme law of nature.

Igamberdiev, Abir. Toward the Relational Formulation of Biological Thermodynamics. Entropy. 26/1, 2024. The Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada biologist and editor of Biosystems sketches an integral unity from Robert Rosen’s organismic view as in Life Itself (1992) so to consider a current natural vitality with a consequent self-making autopoiesic essence and with a biosemiotic code basis.

Classical thermodynamics resides at an equilibrium as the reference frame for the Second Law from which entropy is derived. Non-equilibrium thermodynamics analyzes the fluxes of matter and energy in the general tendency to achieve equilibrium. These two modes may be useful but fail to apply to autopoietic living systems. Here, we discuss a relational biological thermodynamics which then relates an environmental context. Similar to physical domains, this animate synthesis reveals iterative structures formed during the search for an optimal coordinate system by organisms to maintain a stable non-equilibrium. (Abstract excerpt)
The relational concept of biological thermodynamics is focused on the internal causality governing the self-development and maintenance of living systems. Equilibrium and non- equilibrium systems perform work at the expense of their free energy. They possess the ability to transform the external fluxes of energy to support the basic properties such as adaptability, expediency, regulation, and integrity. Living systems maximize of their power via synergistic effects by the maintenance of their autopoietic structure and its expansion into a codepoiesis. (13)

Adesso, Gerardo, et al, eds. Shannon’s Information Theory 70 Years On: Applications in Classical and Quantum Physics. Journal of Physics A. 2018,, 2019. British, Australian and Japanese physicists post a wide ranging collection which can serve as a record into the 21st century as these aspects of energies, quantum phenomena, communication, and more increasingly meld and become united. See, for example, Information-Thermodynamics Link Revisited by Robert Alicki and Michal Horodecki (search), The Stochastic Thermodynamics of Computation by David Wolpert, and Uncertainty-Reality Complementarity by Lukasz Rudnicki.

British, Australian and Japanese physicists post a wide ranging collection which can serve as a record into the 21st century as these aspects of energies, quantum phenomena, communication, and more increasingly meld and become united. See, for example, Information-Thermodynamics Link Revisited by Robert Alicki and Michal Horodecki (search), The Stochastic Thermodynamics of Computation by David Wolpert, and Uncertainty-Reality Complementarity by Lukasz Rudnicki.

Akih-Kumgeh, Ben. Toward Improved Understanding of the Physical Meaning of Entropy in Classical Thermodynamics. Entropy. 18/7, 2016. A tutorial review by the Syracuse University professor of mechanical engineering and director of its Thermodynamics and Combustion Laboratory which reviews the state of this fundamental art some century and a half after its origin. We note this entry, along with Philippe Faist’s doctoral thesis below, as evidence that scientific studies of this basic field, broadly defined, still proceed apace.

The year 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of “entropy” as a concept in classical thermodynamics. Despite its central role in the mathematical formulation of the Second Law and most of classical thermodynamics, its physical meaning continues to be elusive and confusing. This is especially true when we seek a reconstruction of the classical thermodynamics of a system from the statistical behavior of its constituent microscopic particles or vice versa. This paper sketches the classical definition by Clausius and offers a modified mathematical definition that is intended to improve its conceptual meaning. In the modified version, the differential of specific entropy appears as a non-dimensional energy term that captures the invigoration or reduction of microscopic motion upon addition or withdrawal of heat from the system. It is also argued that heat transfer is a better model process to illustrate entropy; the canonical heat engines and refrigerators often used to illustrate this concept are not very relevant to new areas of thermodynamics (e.g., thermodynamics of biological systems). It is emphasized that entropy changes, as invoked in the Second Law, are necessarily related to the non-equilibrium interactions of two or more systems that might have initially been in thermal equilibrium but at different temperatures. The overall direction of entropy increase indicates the direction of naturally occurring heat transfer processes in an isolated system that consists of internally interacting (non-isolated) sub systems. We discuss the implication of the proposed modification on statements of the Second Law, interpretation of entropy in statistical thermodynamics, and the Third Law.

Albrecht, Andreas. Cosmic Inflation and the Arrow of Time. Barrow, John, et al, eds. Science and Ultimate Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Current speculations on the thermodynamic flight of the universe.

Andresen, Bjarne. Joint European Thermodynamics Conference 10. Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics. 35/3, 2010. An Introduction to a special issue of papers from this biannual conference held at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, June 2009. This discipline springs from the lifetime corpus of Ilya Prigogine and colleagues to articulate proper theoretical explanation for open, dynamic living systems that can break free from the closed second law. A select paper from this issue could be “Physical Foundations of Evolutionary Theory” by Arto Annila and Stanley Salthe.

Attard, Phil. The Second Law of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics. Advances in Chemical Physics. 140/1, 2008. A lengthy treatise by the University of Sydney physicist and author of the 2002 text Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics which avers that dynamic living systems which are by definition open to energy and information flows are so special that they merit an equivalent “second law” to counter Boltzman’s that can aptly convey their progressive increase of complex, sentient order.

The philosophical and conceptual ramifications of the non-equilibrium Second Law are very deep. Whereas the equilibrium Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that order decreases over time, the non-equilibrium Second Law of Thermodynamics explains how it is possible that order can be induced and how it can increase over time. The question is of course of some relevance to the creation and evolution of life, society, and the environment. (83) Whilst one can argue about the mathematical analysis and physical interpretation of these studies, there is little doubt that the broad picture that emerges is consistent with the non-equilibrium Second Law. At its simplest, the argument is that life exists on the energy gradient provided by the sun. (84)

Aunger, Robert. Major Transitions in ‘Big’ History. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 74/8, 2007. In a similar approach to Eric Chaisson and Fred Spier, (search) a London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine anthropologist proposes to cast cosmic to cultural evolution in terms of an intensifying, constructive energy usage. See also a companion paper in the same issue “A Rigorous Periodization of ‘Big” History.”

‘Big’ history treats events between the Big Bang and contemporary technological life on Earth as a single narrative, suggesting that cosmological, biological and social processes can be treated similarly. An obvious trend in big history is the development of increasingly complex systems. This implies that the degree to which historical systems have deviated from thermodynamic equilibrium has increased over time. Recent theory suggests that step-wise changes in the work accomplished by a system can be explained using steady-state non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This paper argues that significant macro-historical events can therefore be characterized as transitions to steady states exhibiting persistently higher levels of thermodynamic disequilibrium which result in observably novel kinds or levels of organisation. Further, non-equilibrium thermodynamics suggests that such transitions should have particular temporal structures, beginning with sustainable energy innovations which result in novelties in organisation and in control mechanisms for maintaining the new organisation against energy fluctuations. Big history thus obeys law-like processes, resulting in a common pattern of major transitions between steady-state historical regimes. (1137)

Avanzini, Fransesco, et al. Thermodynamics of Chemical Waves. arXiv:1904.08874. University of Luxembourg systems theorists FA, Gianmaria Falasco and Massimiliano Esposito (search) proceed to quantify vital energetic aspects of these organic transmissions.

Chemical waves constitute a known class of dissipative structures emerging in reaction-diffusion systems. They play a crucial role in biology, spreading information rapidly to synchronize and coordinate biological events. We develop a rigorous thermodynamic theory of reaction-diffusion systems to characterize chemical waves. Our main result is the definition of the proper thermodynamic potential of the local dynamics as a nonequilibrium free energy density and establishing its balance equation. This enables us to identify the dynamics of the free energy, of the dissipation, and of the work spent to sustain the wave propagation. Given the fundamental role of chemical waves as message carriers in biosystems, our thermodynamic theory constitutes an important step toward an understanding of information transfers and processing in biology. (Abstract excerpt)

Avery, John. Information Theory and Evolution. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2003. A biologist views life’s evolution as an open thermodynamic system infused by solar energy which drives it toward greater complexity. As a result, its main parameter is seen as an increase in semiotic information from genetic molecules to language and on to a global culture now able to take over this process.

It seems probable that thermodynamic information derived from free energy was the driving force behind the origin of life. This is the “general law” which Darwin guessed might someday be shown to underlie the principle of life. All of the information contained in the complex, beautiful, and statistically unlikely structures which are so characteristic of living organisms can be seen as having been distilled from the enormous flood of thermodynamic information which reaches the earth in the form of sunlight. (ix)

Babajanyan, S., et al. Thermodynamic Selection. arXiv:2203.10308. SB and Eugene Koonin, National Library of Medicine NIH along with A. Allahverdyan, Yerevan Physics Institute, Armenia post a mathematic exercise with 100 references about the latest theoretical intersects between life’s oriented evolution to our Earthuman observance and a a substantial energetic basis which seems deeply conducive for this occasion So once again it seems, even across imperiled lands, that human beings will be inherently moved and capable wherever possible to accomplish such ecosmic self-quantification.

Overall, we found that simple models with no special assumption beyond the laws of thermodynamics can recapitulate certain features of biological evolution. (12)

Ballesteros, Fernando, et al. On the Thermodynamics Origin of Metabolic Scaling. Nature Scientific Reports. 8/1448, 2018. University of Valencia, Spain complexity scientists including Andres Moya, along with Lucas Lacasa, Queen Mary University, London attempt to resolve of issues over how to quantify life’s energetic basis across small and large animals by way of thermodynamic theories.

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