Thermodynamic Basis

In physical terms, the phenomenon of self-organization appears at first sight to be ruled out by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that in any closed system, entropy increases with time. In this sense, living systems seem to fly in the face of thermodynamics by accumulating order. However, self-organizing systems need not be closed. Open systems, including living things, share energy and information with the outside environment.

In the late 1960s, Ilya Prigogine introduced the idea of dissipative systems to explain how this happens. He defined dissipative systems to be open systems that are far from equilibrium. Dissipative systems have no tendency to smooth out irregularities and to become homogeneous. Instead, they allow irregularities to grow and spread. Physical examples include crystal formation. Biological systems, including cells, organisms, and ecosystems, are all examples.

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