Ilya Prigogine

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Ilya Prigogine (1977)

Ilya Prigogine (25 January 191728 May 2003) was a Russian-born Belgian physical chemist and Nobel Laureate noted for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems, and irreversibility.


  • Coherent behavior is the characteristic feature of biological systems.
    • Marjorie Grene, ‎Ilya Prigogine (1971) Interpretations of life and mind: essays around the problem of reduction. p. 2.
  • Given my interest in the concept of time, it was only natural that my attention was focused on the second principle, as I felt from the start that it would introduce a new, unexpected element into the description of physical world evolution. No doubt it was the same impression illustrious physicists such as Boltzmann and Planck would have felt before me. A huge part of my scientific career would then be devoted to the elucidation of macroscopic as well as microscopic aspects of the second principle, in order to extend its validity to new situations, and to the other fundamental approaches of theoretical physics, such as classical and quantum dynamics.
  • My colleague Paul Glansdorff and I have investigated the problem as to if the results of near-equilibrium can be extrapolated to those of far - from-equilibrium situations and have arrived at a surprising conclusion: Contrary to what happens at equilibrium, or near equilibrium, systems far from equilibrium do not conform to any minimum principle that is valid for functions of free energy or entropy production.
    • Ilya Prigogine (1996) "The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature". p. 64. Cited in: Ilya Prigogine at echt info. By Sadi-Carnot et all., Jan 28 2013.

Thermodynamics of Evolution (1972)[edit]

Ilya Prigogine, Gregoire Nicolis and Agnes Babloyants. (1972). "Thermodynamics of Evolution," (part I). Physics Today Vol. 25, November. p. 23-28; And part II in: Physics Today Vol. 25, December. p. 38-44.

  • The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.
    • Part 1, p. 23; As cited in: Meyer, Stephen C. "DNA by design: An inference to the best explanation for the origin of biological information." Rhetoric & Public Affairs 1.4 (1998): 551.
  • The functional order maintained within living systems seems to defy the Second Law; nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes how such systems come to terms with entropy.
  • The ideas of nonequilibrium order and of the search for stability extend Darwin’s concept back to the prebiotic stage by redefining the “fittest”.
    • Part 2; Cited in: Evgenii Rudnyi (2013).
  • In an isolated system, which cannot exchange energy and matter with the surroundings, this tendency is expressed in terms of a function of the macroscopic state of the system: the entropy.”
    • Part 2; Cited in: Evgenii Rudnyi (2013).
  • We have seen that the formation and maintenance of self-organizing systems are compatible with the laws of physical chemistry.”
    • Part 2; Cited in: Evgenii Rudnyi (2013).
  • The evolution of a physicochemical system leads to an equilibrium state of maximum disorder.

Time, Structure and Fluctuations (1977)[edit]

Ilya Prigogine (1977). “Time, Structure and Fluctuations”, Nobel Lecture, 8 December, 1977.

  • The problem of time in physics and chemistry is closely related to the formulation of the second law of thermodynamics. Therefore another possible title of this lecture could have been: “the macroscopic and microscopic aspects of the second law of thermodynamics”
    • p. 1; Introduction.
  • It is a remarkable fact that the second law of thermodynamics has played in the history of science a fundamental role far beyond its original scope. Suffice it to mention Boltzmann’s work on kinetic theory, Planck’s discovery of quantum theory or Einstein’s theory of spontaneous emission, which were all based on the second law of thermodynamics
    • p. 1; Introduction.

Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature (1984)[edit]

Ilya Prigogine, Isabelle Stengers (1984) Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature Bantam Books.
  • The denial of becoming by physics estranged science from philosophy... [and] became a dogmatic assertion directed against all those (chemists, biologists, physicians) for whom a qualitative diversity existed in nature... Today we believe that the epoch of certainties and absolute oppositions is over. Physicists belong to their culture, to which, in their turn, they make an essential contribution.
  • Equilibrium thermodynamics was an achievement of the nineteenth century, nonequilibrium thermodynamics was developed in the twentieth century, and Onsager's relations mark a crucial point in the shift of interest away from equilibrium to non-equilibrium.
    • p. 138 as cited in: Kenneth D. Bailey (1994) Sociology and the New Systems Theory. p. 122.
  • Entropy is the price of structure
    • p. 283-284.
  • Whatever we call reality, it is revealed to us only through the active construction in which we participate.
    • p. 293.
  • The threat lies in the realization that in our universe the security of stable, permanent rules are gone forever. We are living in a dangerous and uncertain world that inspires no blind confidence. Our hope arises from the knowledge that even small fluctuations may grow and change the overall structure. As a result, individual activity is not doomed to insignificance
    • p. 313; Cited in: K.C. Laszlo (2001) The Evolution of Business: Learning, Innovation, and Sustainability for the 21st century. p. 10.

Quotes about Ilya Prigogine[edit]

  • We are at a very exciting moment in history, perhaps a turning point, said Ilya Prigogine, who won the 1977 Nobel prize for a theory that describes transformations, not only in the physical sciences but also in society—the role of stress and "perturbations" that can thrust us into a new, higher order. Science, he said, is proving the reality of a deep cultural vision. The poets and philosophers were right in their intimations of an open, creative universe. Transformation, innovation, evolution—these are the natural responses to crisis.
  • Prigogine's great contribution lies in his successful development of a satisfactory theory of non-linear thermodynamics in states which are far removed from equilibrium. In doing so he has discovered phenomena and structures of completely new and completely unexpected types, with the result that this generalized, nonlinear and irreversible thermodynamics has already been given surprising applications in a wide variety of fields.
    Prigogine has been particularly captivated by the problem of explaining how ordered structures - biological systems, for example - can develop from disorder. Even if Onsager's relations are utilized, the classical principles of equilibrium in thermodynamics still show that linear systems close to equilibrium always develop into states of disorder which are stable to perturbations and cannot explain the occurrence of ordered structures.
  • Prigogine was also concerned with the broader philosophical issues raised by his work. In the 19th century the discovery of the second law of thermodynamics, with its prediction of a relentless movement of the universe toward a state of maximum entropy, generated a pessimistic attitude about nature and science. Prigogine felt that his discovery of self-organizing systems constituted a more optimistic interpretation of the consequences of thermodynamics. In addition, his work led to a new view of the role of time in the physical sciences.


  • The statistical probability that organic structures and the most precisely harmonized reactions that typify living organisms would be generated by accident, is zero.
    • Ilya Prigogine (Chemist-Physicist) Recipient of two Nobel Prizes in chemistry I. Prigogine, N. Gregair, A. Babbyabtz, Physics Today 25, pp. 23-28
      • The statement is misquoted and removed from context so as to inaccurately simplify and overstate the authors' statement.
      • The exact phrase is (see also above):
        The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred...

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