Heaviside pointed me to Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems by Ilya Prigogine, which is the sort of book I always feel I ought to be reading but it’s too difficult for a proper reading marathon. But hey, I’m six pages in (such zmart branes, wow) and I’ve got some stuff to report.
The essence is illustrated in two examples:
A situation to which this linear nonequilibrium thermodynamics applies is thermal diffusion. When we apply a thermal gradient to a mixture of two different gases, we observe an enrichment of one of the components at the hot wall, while the other concentrates at the cold wall.
Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems
Hrm hrm hrm, interesting. Diverse elements self-segregate into more uniform groups under unidirectional stressors. Prigogine did promise in the general introduction that population dynamics would come up. I can also see that this is the general principle behind smelting and elemental separation in centrifuges. Similarly, if you want to separate wheat from chaff, you throw it into a stiff wind and the grains fall only a couple inches away while the chaff gets carried far downfield.
As a result, the entropy is generally lower than it wold be in a uniform mixture. We see later that Boltzmann’s order principle associates low entropy with order and high entropy with disorder. Therefore, we have here an example of a situation where nonequilibrium may be a source of order.
Heaviside also said “life is an eddy current in a stream”. It is quite unlikely that a stream of sufficient force to create an eddy current will create only one eddy current. Essentially, this suggests that alien life on other planets is downright inevitable.
What is the nature of the rushing stream? Well, maybe it’s the universe rushing toward its eventual heat death and maximum entropy. This is not unlike the observation that all water heads downhill to a lower resting state.
Here’s the other example:
Such behavior has long been known to occur in hydrodynamics. A well-known example is a pan of liquid heated from below. When the temperature gradient remains small in respect to some characteristic value, heat passes through the liquid by conduction. As the heating is intensified, however, at a certain well-defined temperature gradient regular convection cells appear spontaneously.
Bubbles. He means bubbles.
These correspond to a high degree of molecular organization and become possible through transfer of energy from thermal motion to macroscopic convection currents.
On a macroscopic level, what looks like uniformity in a mixture is a high-entropy, disordered state. If all the protons and neutrons in the universe break down and decay into more fundamental particles, and all these spread out farther and farther in space, there is nothing really meaningful that can be said to describe them. There are no longer pockets of greater order like stars, planets, caffeine molecules, or iron atoms, there are only places where density and heat fleetingly become slightly higher due to simple statistical fluctuation, and just as quickly these fluctuations disappear. No prediction is possible, and we lose the ability to make generalizations because they no longer have any meaning.
But as long as the second law gives meaning to an arrow of time, and entropy rushes toward its global maximum at a high enough rate, and radiation keeps spilling recklessly away from the sun and buffeting the terrestrial planets, then we should expect pockets of order to appear as a matter of course, like bubbles in the heating pan.
The rivers rushing toward the ocean analogy also suggests there is more going on than meets the eye. Is there something like evaporation that makes clouds, and rains, and refills the mountain pools? Where does the information go? Life is a strange place.