DISSIPATIVE STRUCTURES EXPLAINED: PART 3, MODERN THERMODYNAMICS

DISSIPATIVE STRUCTURES EXPLAINED: PART 3, MODERN THERMODYNAMICS

In this series of five posts, I explain the workings and implications of dissipative structures that regulate kinetic activity (wars) in our System. The series consists of five parts and is based on my latest research On the Thermodynamics of war and Social Evolution.

For this research, I have made use of thermodynamics, and in particular modern thermodynamics.

Before applying concepts from modern thermodynamics to the phenomena I discussed in the previous paragraph, I explain in this paragraph several thermodynamics concepts.

According to Kondepudi et al. is thermodynamics “a theory of states, while modern thermodynamics is a theory of irreversible processes”. “Thermodynamics is in particular confined to initial and final states, while the processes that transform a state are not central to the theory.” “In modern thermodynamics, however, entropy-increasing irreversible processes are central to the theory. In it, we find additional tools, such as the rate of entropy production, to characterize and analyze nonequilibrium systems (…)”. According to Kondepudi et al. “Entropy and entropy-producing irreversible processes are generally thought of as agents of disorder (….) under far-from-equilibrium conditions, irreversible processes are, in fact, the drivers of self-organization (IP: emergent structures, also called dissipative structures) and order we see all around us in Nature.”

In (modern) thermodynamics a distinction is made between equilibrium, near-equilibrium and far-from-equilibrium states and systems. All laws of thermodynamics apply to these systems, however, depending on the state of the system, the systems (can) behave differently.

For this research, in particular the second law of thermodynamics and related principles far-from-equilibrium are relevant. The second law is also referred to as the entropy-law.

According tot the second law of thermodynamics, entropy cannot reduce in isolated systems, and always increases in due time, until a maximum amount (level) of entropy is reached far that system. To say this differently: A system always develops towards a state with maximum entropy. 

Entropy is a somewhat elusive concept, despite the fact that the entropy of s system (like energy, for example) is a physical property that can be quantified.

Entropy can be considered an unavoidable “byproduct” of irreversible processes; all natural processes are irreversible and consequently produce a certain (minimum) amount of entropy.

In (classical) thermodynamics, entropy is sometimes referred to as “degraded” energy, meaning that this energy is not transformed into “work”, and is (from that perspective) considered as lost or “waste”. From this perspective, entropy can be considered a measure for efficiency.

In statistical (thermo-) mechanics, entropy is considered a measure for disorder, new possibilities, and uncertainty; the amount/level of entropy of a system determines the number of configurations the system can adopt, within a certain macroscopic condition. More entropy means more possibilities (and disorder), and more entropy also means more diversity.

Prigogine has demonstrated that in open and far-from-equilibrium systems, entropy can serve as a source of order; for his work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, in 1977.

The order these systems can “spontaneously” acquire under those conditions, require the exchange of energy, entropy and matter of these systems with their environment(s). The development – tendency – of the system to a state of maximum entropy must – so to speak – be “halted”, to be able to maintain order, which requires energy and entropy transfers (with the environment), and the accomplishment of work (as defined in physics).

Prigogine et al. have pointed to the possibility of the emergence of so-called dissipative structures in certain systems, for example in liquids, that are in a state far-from-equilibrium.

A dissipative structure is a form of organization (order), which means that the entropy (disorder) of the system concerned is not maximum.

A dissipative structure is initiated by a bifurcation (assuming several requirements are met, including the availability of a suitable environment to exchange energy and entropy with). A bifurcation implies a change in the structure of the system, as a consequence of the gradual change of a parameter of the system.

In Europe, a bifurcation occurred in 1480 and consequently a first dissipative structure emerged. Europe constituted the dissipative structure (I refer to as the core during the period 1480-1945), while the rest of the world (referred to as the non-core) served as the environment of the first dissipative structure, required for e.g. entropy and energy exchanges, to maintain order in the core.

Dissipative structures are nonequilibrium systems that continuously exchange energy, entropy, matter, but also information, with their environment(s), to ensure their organization – a state lower than maximum entropy – can be sustained.

Dissipative structures are macro-structures, in which certain “parts” (components off its structure) maintain long-range correlations. Long-range correlations are for example needed to establish and maintain mode-coupling in dissipative structures, required for the (organized) exchange and regulation of energy flows and transfers.

Hurricanes, with their highly regulated and optimized energy flows (e.g. heat and wind), are dissipative structures, that emerge when certain conditions in the atmosphere prevail (see figure 6). In case of the presence of a hurricane in the atmosphere, the entropy of the system (atmosphere) is not maximum.

Hurricanes – these dissipative structures – require a minimum temperature gradient (a minimum temperature difference between the ocean and the atmosphere). A hurricane can be considered a heat-engine.

The moment the temperature gradient is below a certain minimum value – which happens when the hurricane makes land-fall – the (organization of) the hurricane disintegrates: The hurricane – its organization – can no longer be sustained.

Dissipative structures can contribute to the accelerated eradication of gradients (differences in temperature in case of hurricanes), in other words to the establishment of a new equilibrium in accordance with the “demands” of the second law of thermodynamics and related principles far-from-equilibrium.

These laws and principles always have so to speak always “the last word” and impose restrictions on dynamics and processes that (can) occur.


Figure 6: Schematic representation of a dissipative structure: A hurricane. A hurricane is a dissipative structure that can “spontaneously” emerge in the atmosphere in a state far-from-equilibrium, and when there exists a minimum temperature gradient.
(Source figure: www.atmo.ttu.edu)


Figure 7: Schematic representation of the first and second dissipative structures in the System. The System produced a first dissipative structure, during the period 1480-1945, with Europe as its core. This dissipative structure was instrumental in a phase transition that resulted in (1) thermodynamic equilibrium in the core (the eradication of the European state-system) and (2) in the globalization of the state-system. The second dissipative structure started in 1945, at a global scale, and became fully operational in 1989. The second dissipative structure now drives the global state-system to thermodynamic equilibrium, and also depends on kinetic activity (war) for its operation. For the emergence of a dissipative structure a minimum entropy-gradient is required. In the end, this gradient is eradicated by the dissipative structure and equilibrium is achieved.

To be continued.