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BaalChatzaf

Thermodynamic Self Organization

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The readiest models for thermodynamic processes are large aggregates of molecules number greater than Avagadro's number (6.02 x 10^23).  The simplest example is a nice hot cup of tea left out to cool.  After a not so long time the tea is at the same temperature as the surrounding area.  Internally the tea is a roiling riot of molecules bounding about  each arrangement of molecules  along with their kinetic energy constitutes the population of micro-states. Eventually  the population of micro-states is maximized (maximum entropy)  and all the micro-states match the temperature of the surrounding air (the tea has cooled).  And there the population of micro-states will remain (i.e. equilibrium with the ambient has been attained)  and the tea will never (for all practical purposes)  warm up all by itself.  To warm the tea it must be heated from a hotter source of energy.  That is a garden variety thermodynamic process going from a non-equlibrium to an equilbrium state.  It is just about as interesting as a cup of tea cooling off to the ambient temperature   or  (more grimly) a recently deceased human cooling of from 98.6 degrees F  to the ambient temperature of the morgue slab.

But much more interesting things happen in the world.  For example Brusselator Reactions  which cycle through a set of states far from equilibrium and recycle and recycle. This is remarkable because the solution of reactants consist of sevaral mols of the reactants (a number much larger than Avagadro's number)  yet the brew does not settle down to a maximally random population of micro states (maximal entropy).  Nay.  The micro-states actually cycle around and around as long as the concentration of reactants is maintained. In short,  the brew remains far from equilibrium yet exhibits  cyclic  behavior through a very very large population of micro-states.

It is much more amusing if one watches in real time and living color.  Have a look at these you tube videos. 

 

It is self organizing  far from equilibrium processes (somewhat like the above)  that characterize living things.  We can get  self organization out of random motions of large numbers of molecules in a far from thermodynamic equilibrium state system.  And that is just about what living is.  Complex thermodynamic systems keeping themselves from from equilibrium as long as there are external energy sources available to continue the processes.  Perhaps this is what Ayn Rand possibly meant by characterizing life as self sustaining (within limits of course.  There are no perpetual motion processes in physical reality). 

For more interesting insights into these matters  see   "From Being to Becoming"  by Ilya Progogine.

Please  see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilya_Prigogine

 

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