Prigogine: Rejecting the narrative of alienation

Nobel winner Ilya Prigogine, born on this date in 1917, from the 1987 paper, “Exploring Complexity”:

Let us summarize our main findings. The universe has a history. This history includes the creation of complexity through mechanisms of bifurcation. These mechanisms act in far from equilibrium conditions as realised in the earth’s biosphere. They may also have been of special relevance in the early stage of the universe, where we have to expect a strong coupling between matter and gravitation.

Non-equilibrium physics is at present a subject in a state of explosive growth. I have tried to show you in this lecture some of the reasons for this fascination. It leads both to new applications of direct scientific and technical importance, and to new perspectives on the very foundations of physics, which will also be likely to lead to new technology developments in the next century.

Rationality can no longer be identified with ‘certainty’, nor probability with ignorance, as has been the case in classical science. At all levels, in physics, in biology, in human behaviour, probability and irreversibility play an essential role. We are witnessing a new convergence between two ‘visions of the world’, the one emerging out of scientific experience, and the other we get from our personal existence, be it through introspection or through existential experience.

Sigmund Freud told us that the history of science is the history of an alienation: Since Copernicus we no longer live at the centre of the universe; since Darwin, man is no longer different from other animals; and since Freud himself conscience is just the emerged part of a complex reality hidden from us.

Curiously, we now reach the opposite view. With the role of duration and freedom so prevalent in human life, human existence appears to us as the most striking realization of the basic laws of nature.

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