The Law of Maximum Entropy Production or Why the World is in the Order Production Business

The solution to the puzzle is found in two parts. The first is the recognition of an important point found implicitly in the Bertalanffy-Schroedinger-Prigogine contribution not pointed out explicitly by them. In particular, since to come into being and persist an autocatakinetic, self-organizing, or spontaneously ordered system must increase the rate of entropy production of the system plus environment at a sufficient

The discontinuous increase in the rate of heat transport that follows from the disorder-to order transition in a simple fluid experiment similar to that shown in Figure 4. The rate of heat transport in the disordered regime is given by, and is the heat transport in the ordered regime [3.1 x 10-4H(cal x cm.-2 x sec-1)]. (From Swenson, 1989a. Copyright 1989 IEEE. Reprinted by permission).

rate to satisfy the balance equation of the second law, ordered flow, according to the balance equation, must be more efficient at dissipating potentials that disordered flow (Swenson, 1989d, 1997a, b; Swenson & Turvey, 1991). Figure 8 shows the dramatic increase in the rate at which the potential is minimized, for example, in the Benard cell experiment in the transition from the disordered to ordered regime, and the balance equation tells us that this is precisely what must happen.
Now this becomes important only with the second part of the solution which is the answer to a question that did not arise in the Bertalanffy-Schroedinger-Prigogine discourse, nor was it a question that classical thermodynamics ever asked. In particular, it is which path(s) out of available paths will a system take to minimize potentials or maximize the entropy? The answer (the "law of maximum entropy production") is the path or assembly of paths that minimizes the potential (maximizes the entropy) at the fastest rate given the constraints (Swenson, 1988, 1989d, 1991a,b, 1997a,b; Swenson & Turvey, 1991), and like the second law, the law of maximum entropy production is intuitively easy to grasp and empirically demonstrate. Imagine any out of equilibrium system with multiple available pathways such as a heated cabin in the middle of snowy woods (Swenson & Turvey, 1991). In this case, the system will produce flows through the walls, the cracks under the windows and the door, and so on, so as to minimize the potential. What we all know intuitively (why we keep doors and windows closed in winter) is that whenever a constraint is removed so as to provide an opportunity for increased flow the system will reconfigure itself so as to allocate more flow to that pathway leaving what it cannot accommodate to the less efficient or slower pathways. In short, no matter how the system is arranged the pattern of flow produced will be the one that minimizes the potential at the fastest rate given the constraints. Once the idea is grasped, examples are easy to proliferate (e.g., see also Dyke, 1997; Goerner, 1994; Peck, in press).
What does the law of maximum entropy production have to do with order production? Given the foregoing, the reader may have already jumped to the correct conclusion, namely, if ordered flow produces entropy faster than disordered flow (as required by the balance equation of the second law), and if the world acts to minimize potentials at the fastest rate given the constraints (the law of maximum entropy production), then the world can be expected to produce order whenever it gets the chance (Swenson, 1989d, 1991a, b, 1997a, b; Swenson & Turvey, 1991). The world can be expected to act opportunistically in the production of dynamical order because potentials are thereby minimized at a faster rate. The world, in short, is in the order production business because ordered flow produces entropy faster than disordered flow, and this, in most direct terms, provides the nomological basis for the reconciliation of the otherwise two incommensurable rivers. Rather than being anomalous with respect to, or somehow violating physical law, the "river that flows uphill" that characterizes the active epistemic dimension of the world is seen to be a direct manifestation of it.


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