Thermodynamics of evolution

Prigogine, I., G. Nicolis & A. Babloyantz (1972). Thermodynamics of evolution. Physics Today 25(11), 23-28.

The functional order maintained within living systems seems to defy the Second Law; nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes how such systems come to terms with entropy.”

Prigogine, I., G. Nicolis & A. Babloyantz (1972). Thermodynamics of evolution. Physics Today 25(12), 38-44.

The ideas of nonequilibrium order and of the search for stability extend Darwin’s concept back to the prebiotic stage by redefining the “fittest”.”

By evolution Prigogine means a theory of the origin of life. Hence his papers have nothing to do directly with biological evolution.

The next quotes shows that as one should have expected, Prigogine is a good thermodynamicist:

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.”

We have seen that the formation and maintenance of self-organizing systems are compatible with the laws of physical chemistry.”

Biologists often forget the constraint of an isolated system.

I would not agree with this statement:

The thermodynamic theory of open systems, systems exchanging both energy and matter with the environment, has long been developed by Theophile DeDonder and the Brussels school (for a historical account, see reference 1).”

The thermodynamic theory of open systems is already available in Gibbs’ “On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances” (1875–1878). Nonetheless, it may depend on definitions. Prigogine likes the entropy production principle and cannot imagine the thermodynamics without it.

Some other problem that I also see is that Prigogine ties the entropy and the order with each other:

In contrast to this is the familiar idea that the evolution of a physicochemical system leads to an equilibrium state of maximum disorder.”

This celebrated second law of thermodynamics implies that in an isolated system the formation of ordered structures is ruled out.”

What about miscibility? Do two phases in the case of a miscibility gap have less or more order as compared with a possible homogeneous solution?


2 responses to “Thermodynamics of evolution”

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  1. Georgi says:

    Origin of life and its evolution are the result of action of laws of hierarchical thermodynamics.

    Criterion of evolution

    The approval about the reduction of the entropy of living systems as a result of biological evolution is incorrect. The criterion of evolution of living system is the change (during evolution) of the specific free energy (Gibbs function, G) of this living system. The evolution of living system takes place against the background of flows of energy (e.g., light, energy of physical fields) from the environment. It increases its specific free energy. At the same time, the specific free energy of this living system is decreased as a result of spontaneous processes in this system.
    Thus, the total change in the specific free energy of a living system is composed of two parts: 1. The change of free energy due to the inflow of external energy (G1> 0) and 2. The change of free energy due to spontaneous transformations in the system (G2 < 0) . The evolving system constantly adapts to a changing environment. The principle of substance stability contributes to this adaptation.
    Thermodynamics of evolution obeys the generalized equation of Gibbs (that is the generalized equation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics)*. Biological evolution and the processes of origin of life are well described by the hierarchical thermodynamics, established on the firm foundation of theory of JW Gibbs. Our theory created without the notion on dissipative structures of I. Prigogine and negentropy of L. Boltzmann and E. Schrodinger.
    “Thermodynamics serves as a basis for optimal solutions of the tasks of physiology, which are solved by organisms in the characteristic process of life: evolution, development, homeostasis, and adaptation. It is stated that the quasi-equilibrium thermodynamics of quasi-closed complex systems serves as an impetus of evolution, functions, and activities of all levels of biological systems’ organization. This fact predetermines the use of Gibbs’ methods and leads to a hierarchical thermodynamics in all spheres of physiology. The interaction of structurally related levels and sub-levels of biological systems is determined by the thermodynamic principle of substance stability. Thus, life is accompanied by a thermodynamic optimization of physiological functions of biological systems. Living matter, while functioning and evolving, seeks the minimum of specific Gibbs free energy of structure formation at all levels. The spontaneous search of this minimum takes place with participation of not only spontaneous, but also non-spontaneous processes, initiated by the surrounding environment.”
    Works of the author:

    Georgi Gladyshev
    Professor of Physical Chemistry

    *) The generalized equation of Gibbs (See: )

    P.S. Lastly, it is important to take into account, from the viewpoint of hierarchical thermodynamics, that anti-aging diets and many drugs can be used for the prophylaxis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and for numerous other illnesses.