The Second Law and Self-organization revisited

James J. Kay

© Copyright July 1996

The emergence of self-organizing structures provides an avenue for dissipation that otherwise would not exist. In this way the emergence of order and organization paradoxically increases the overall disorder, from the perspective of the bigger system in which the self-organizing structure is embedded. Thus the second law, in the form "that the overall direction of thermodynamic processes is toward equilibrium", is respected by the emergence of self-organization and life. In fact the emergence of life hastens the progression to equilibrium.

So if we state the second law a little more strongly, "nature endeavours to find pathways which hasten the progression to equilibrium", then the emergence of self-organizing (dissipative) systems necessarily follows.

It is this realization which gives rise to our corollary to second law of thermodynamics (Kay and Schneider):

The more exergy there is, the greater the propensity, that is the more like it is, that a self-organizing dissipative system will emerge to take advantage of the exergy. For biology, the more exergy accessible, the more likely some organism will make use of the opportunity.

If self-organizing systems are to emerge, as is mandated by the second law, then autocatalytic cycles are necessary[1]. If these cycles are to link up and persist as systems, then the adaptability/survival vs. efficiency problem must be dealt with[2] as must the need for holarchic structures[3].

Of course, these requisites for self-organizing systems lead us immediately away from the possibility for classical scientific explanations of these systems, because of the problems of

None of these can be dealt with by the classical scientific approach. Hence the need for post-normal science to deal with this emergent complexity [4].


[1]Ulanowicz, Maruyama

[2]Conrad, Giampietro, Kay

[3]Koestler, Allen, Regier, Günther and Folke.

[4]Funtowicz and Ravetz

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