Ilya Prigogine, 86, Nobelist for Study of Complexity, Dies. Dr. Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 for insights into how life could arise in apparent defiance of the classical laws of physics. By Kenneth Chang. [New York Times: Science]
The second law of thermodynamics states that in any isolated physical system, order inevitably dissolves into decay. But Dr. Prigogine showed that in a system powered by an energy source — the Earth bathed in light and heat from the Sun, for example — structures can evolve and become more complex.
Prigogine’s insight is key to understanding the challenge of environmental sustainability — and the roadmap toward it, as developed perhaps most elegantly by The Natural Step. For any system, like the biosphere, that is essentially closed to matter and open to energy, the “system conditions” for sustainability are clear: don’t foul the system by introducing and accumulating materials (whether heavy metals or persistent synthetics) that can’t be safely metabolized by living systems; power the system from the external energy source that Priogogene references.
Simple concept. Profound implications.

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