Unfolding Complexity: Chaos, Patterns & Creativity
Dr. Vasileios Basios, (Physics of Complex Systems Dept., University of Brussels, ULB)
Ilya Prigogine’s legacy is as multi-aspected as his scientific contributions, his ideas and his personality. He bravely introduced new concepts such as open systems’ thermodynamics, dissipative structures, self-organisation, irreversibility and time’s arrow, fluctuations, bifurcations, pattern formation, the emergence of non-linearities and the importance of historization in science.
As a thinker he has influenced not only physical-chemistry and physics but also biology, social sciences, economics and even art. He could be found conversing with ease with his colleagues, like Heisenberg, Feynman and many other leading scientists, and with the same ease with artists like Salvador Dali, spiritual guides like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Dalai Lama as well a many influential political figures of his times! To be noted here, also, that he had a strong resonance of ideas and a mutual admiration with the great physicist David Bohm. Especially about the unfolding of ‘active information’ and the emergence of form.
If there was a characteristic trend in Prigogine’s thought and contributions this would have been his ability to question key assumptions and follow to the end the path of this questioning. He was never afraid to question even his own assumptions. Prigogine’s thinking was never trapped in a paradigm or a school of thought. In his most creative moments he could transcend paradigmatic thinking itself. This is how he extended the second law of thermodynamics to include open systems. This is how he managed to incorporate chaos, chance and fluctuations and show the ubiquity of pattern formation in nature.
The legacy of Prigogine led us to a world-view where the cosmos emerges as an interconnected organic whole. He delineated the limits of mechanistic and reductionistic thinking. He opened the doors for us, as if he anticipated them, to the recent developments that enable us to perceive the universe as a mindful cosmos, aboriginally endowed with the unfolding of its own complexity.
What always amazed Prigogine was “fluctuations – their efficacy in striking coincidences”, as he put it. In the turbulent world of our days this carries an optimistic impetus. It gives us courage to audaciously hope for the emergence of a new kind of science, that he too heralded, which would serve humanity and the planet, the same.