III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Organic Habitable UniVerse
E. A Thermodynamics of Life
Cross, Michael and Henry Greenside. Pattern Formation and Dynamics in Nonequilibrium Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. In a graduate text in nonlinear science, CalTech and Duke University physicists open with a good statement of why it is important to study and learn these pervasive principles. It is necessary to realize today that cosmic nature in fact resides in a nonequilibrium state throughout, with a stratified self-similar, emergent universality that invites our recognition and comprehension. The abiding cosmos is not dust to dust,nothing to nothing, after all, as a mechanical Ptolemaic physics is wont to conclude, but in some real way winding itself up by these iterative, complex, genetic-like traces that our human phenomenon seems meant to discover.
We can suggest three reasons why nonequilibrium systems are worthy of study. First, observation tells us that most of the Universe consists of nonequilibrium systems and that these systems possess an extraordinarily rich and visually fascinating variety of spatiotemporal structure. So one answer is sheer basic curiosity: where does this rich structure come from and can we understand it? Experiments and simulations further tell us that many of these systems – whether they be fluids, granular media, reacting chemicals, lasers, plasmas, or biological tissues – often have similar dynamical properties. This then is the central scientific puzzle and challenge: to identify and to explain the similarities of different nonequilibrium systems, to discover unifying themes, and if possible, to develop a quantitative understanding of experiments and simulations. (xiii)
Damiani, Giuseppe. The Fractal Borderland Between the Deterministic Order and the Unpredictable Chaos. Benci, Vieri, et al, eds. Determinism, Holism, and Complexity. New York: Kluwer Academic, 2003. The chapter title catches the theme of still another volume which tries to express our nascent encounter with a radically different cosmos where the entire Universe is a complex dissipative system, in a non-equilibrium state. Damiani also floats a “Binary Theory of Everything” by way of an innate self-similar universality.
Davies, Paul. Emergent Complexity, Teleology, and the Arrow of Time. Dembski, William and Michael Ruse, eds. Debating Design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. A notable article because it definitively sets aside the old heat death model in light of a new expansive universe which innately develops into viable complexity. Physicist Davies own words exemplify the imminent cosmic Copernican Revolution.
The history of the universe, then, is one of entropy rising but chasing a moving target, because the expanding universe is raising the maximum entropy at the same time. (200) As I have explained, the rapid expansion of the universe just after the Big Bang created a huge entropy gap, which has been funding the accumulating complexification ever since, and which will continue to do so for a long while yet. Thus the history of the universe is not so much one of entropic degeneration and decay as a story of the progressive enrichment of systems on all scales, from atoms to galaxies. (203)
Deffner, Sebastian and Christopher Jarzynski. Information Processing and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Physical Review X. 3/041003, 2013. In a paper highlighted by the journal, a University of Maryland biochemist and a biophysicist offer novel insights into the communicative essence of nature’s fundamental generative energies. And to reflect, it ought to be noted interest, and concern, that a century and half after Ludwig Boltzman, projects like this abound on arXiv and the professional journals, for we still do not have a sufficient theoretical handle on what is really going on. Some inhibiting reasons might be that scientists can’t figure out what the universe may actually be doing, if anything, or a main mindset that cannot even imagine or accepts its default denial.
We obtain generalizations of the Kelvin-Planck, Clausius, and Carnot statements of the second law of thermodynamics for situations involving information processing. To this end, we consider an information reservoir (representing, e.g., a memory device) alongside the heat and work reservoirs that appear in traditional thermodynamic analyses. We derive our results within an inclusive framework in which all participating elements—the system or device of interest, together with the heat, work, and information reservoirs—are modeled explicitly by a time-independent, classical Hamiltonian. We place particular emphasis on the limits and assumptions under which cyclic motion of the device of interest emerges from its interactions with work, heat, and information reservoirs. (Abstract)
Boltzmann, Darwin and Directionality Theory.
The author has a doctorate in mathematical biology from the University of Chicago with currents appointments at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics. This extensive, theoretical, wise contribution proceeds in the 21st century to conceive an integral unity of thermodynamic forces with life’s sequential emergence. A capsule for Ludwig Boltzman (1844-1906) is given as “Thermodynamic entropy increases as the composition of the aggregate changes under molecular collision.” For Charles Darwin it is “Fitness increases as the composition of the population changes under variation and natural selection.” As the Abstract notes, a “directionality principle” is then advanced to join these areas of statistical energetic interactions with populations of reproducing, evolving organisms.
Directionality theory is a quantitative model of the Darwinian argument of evolution by variation and selection. This mathematical theory is based on the concept evolutionary entropy, a statistical measure which describes the rate at which an organism appropriates energy from the environment and reinvests this energy into survivorship and reproduction. According to directionality theory, microevolutionary dynamics, that is evolution by mutation and natural selection, can be quantitatively explained in terms of a directionality principle: Evolutionary entropy increases when the resources are diverse and of constant abundance; but decreases when the resource is singular and of variable abundance. We exploit this analytic relation between the thermodynamic and evolutionary tenets to propose a physico-chemical model of the transition from inanimate matter which is under thermodynamic selection, to living systems which are subject to evolutionary selection. (Abstract excerpts)
Dewar, Roderick, et al, eds. Beyond the Second Law: Entropy Production and Non-equilibrium Systems. Berlin: Springer, 2013. With co-editors Charles Lineweaver, Robert Niven, and Klaus Regenauer-Lieb, a volume from a series of workshops, especially 2011 at Australian National University, Canberra, about the Maximum Entropy Production principle. To wit “(MEP) states that systems are driven to steady states in which they produce entropy at the maximum possible rate given the prevailing constraints” (search Kleidon). Sample chapters could be “Use of Receding Horizon Optimal Control to Solve MaxEP-Based Biogeochemistry Problems” by Joseph Vallino, et al, and “Earth Systems Dynamics Beyond the Second Law,” Axel Kleidon, et al. In regard I heard Joe Vallino, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, speak at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in December 2013, about these efforts which are broadly intended to get a better theoretical handle, with consistent terminology, on the evident presence of an energetically driven cosmos, fertile earth, and lifekind.
Dyson, Freeman. How We Know. New York Review of Books. March 10, 2011. Within a review of James Gleick’s new book The Information, the octogenarian philosopher physicist goes on to deftly set aside an entropy doom touted in the current science press. If to think about it, life’s ascendant evolution is characterized by increasing degrees of complex structure, and most of all embodied information. Such an emergent vector counters disorder which thus repeals the old “heat death” fate, the paradox is removed. Since gravitation is the dominant form of energy, temperature differences in space will not equilibrate out but rather their wide range enables a universe hospitable to life wherein vital communication and content can ever grow.
Gravitation reverses the usual relation between energy and temperature. As a result, temperature differences in the astronomical universe tend to increase rather that decrease as time goes on. There is no final state of uniform temperature, and there is no heat death. Gravitation gives us a universe hospitable to life. Information and order can continue to grow for billions of years in the future, as they have evidently grown in the past. The vision of the future as an infinite playground, with an unending sequence of mysteries to be understood by an unending sequence of players exploring an unending supply of information, is a glorious vision for scientists.
Endres, Robert. Entropy Production Selects Nonequilibrium States in Multistable Systems. Nature Scientific Reports. 7/14437, 2017. The Imperial College London biophysicist (search) continues his multidiscipline project to describe these nonlinear qualities of microbial and cellular entities and systems. This paper serves to emphasize active thermodynamic properties.
Far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics underpins the emergence of life, but how has been a long-outstanding puzzle. Best candidate theories based on the maximum entropy production principle could not be unequivocally proven, in part due to complicated physics, unintuitive stochastic thermodynamics, and the existence of alternative theories such as the minimum entropy production principle. Here, we use a simple, analytically solvable, one-dimensional bistable chemical system to demonstrate the validity of the maximum entropy production principle. To generalize to multistable stochastic system, we use the stochastic least-action principle to derive the entropy production and its role in the stability of nonequilibrium steady states. This shows that in a multistable system, all else being equal, the steady state with the highest entropy production is favored, with a number of implications for the evolution of biological, physical, and geological systems. (Abstract)
England, Jeremy. Dissipative Adaptation in Driven Self-Assembly. Nature Nanotechnology. 10/11, 2015. The MIT thermodynamicist continues his studies (search) which show how this field, after two centuries from Carnot and Boltzman to Prigogine and Tsallis, is still open to conjecture and advance. An overview would be that the second law and equilibrium closure is being superseded by open, far-from-equilibrium systems that increasingly imply an innate animate development.
In a collection of assembling particles that is allowed to reach thermal equilibrium, the energy of a given microscopic arrangement and the probability of observing the system in that arrangement obey a simple exponential relationship known as the Boltzmann distribution. Once the same thermally fluctuating particles are driven away from equilibrium by forces that do work on the system over time, however, it becomes significantly more challenging to relate the likelihood of a given outcome to familiar thermodynamic quantities. Nonetheless, it has long been appreciated that developing a sound and general understanding of the thermodynamics of such non-equilibrium scenarios could ultimately enable us to control and imitate the marvellous successes that living things achieve in driven self-assembly. Here, I suggest that such a theoretical understanding may at last be emerging, and trace its development from historic first steps to more recent discoveries. Focusing on these newer results, I propose that they imply a general thermodynamic mechanism for self-organization via dissipation of absorbed work that may be applicable in a broad class of driven many-body systems.
Gell-Mann, Murray and Constantino Tsallis, eds. Nonextensive Entropy – Interdisciplinary Applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Proceedings from an April 2002, Santa Fe Institute conference discuss how the non-equilibrium thermodynamic theories of the Greek-Brazilian physicist Constantino Tsallis apply to living systems everywhere from genomes to societies to galaxies. The intent is to move beyond 19th century Boltzman-Gibbs equilibrium statistics to a 21st century version to express nature’s universal scale-free, self-organized criticality. But as Buiatti above reflects, a ‘non-‘ terminology is used since life seems alien to the reigning mechanical model. “Nonextensive” is a term to distinguish nonlinear systems of emergent, creative complexity from the predictability of linear cause and effect. The posting by Graham next is a good introduction to the subject. A popular article on Tsallis' novel insights is "Breakout" by Mark Buchanan in the New Scientist for August 27, 2005.
The nonextensive alternative is proposed, instead, as a way of dealing, through mathematical methods that are quite similar to the usual ones, with anomalous systems. (xiv)
Gour, Gilad, et al. The Resource Theory of Informational Nonequilibrium in Thermodynamics. Physics Reports. Online May, 2015. Some two centuries since Sadi Carnot, Ludwig Boltzman, and many others, in this era of global collaboration, scientists with postings at the University of Calgary, Perimeter Institute, and elsewhere, including Markus Muller, continue the project to comprehend nature’s substantial, evolutionary, programmatic reality.
We review recent work on the foundations of thermodynamics in the light of quantum information theory. We adopt a resource-theoretic perspective, wherein thermodynamics is formulated as a theory of what agents can achieve under a particular restriction, namely, that the only state preparations and transformations that they can implement for free are those that are thermal at some fixed temperature. This body of work also demonstrates that the standard formulation of the second law of thermodynamics is inadequate as a criterion for deciding whether or not a given state transition is possible. (Abstract excerpts)
Graham, Rex. Constantino Tsallis: Describing a New Entropy. www.santafe.edu/publications/bulletin/fall00/tsallis/.php. An introduction the person and his thermodynamic theories of a self-similar, temporally developing, open universe.